On his first visit to the United States, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin chose to make his first speech not to Jewish leaders, but to Black Christian leaders in Brooklyn’s Christian Community Church. None of the previous nine Israeli presidents has ever addressed non-Catholic Christians inside a church outside of Israel. This unprecedented gesture was poorly covered by the media.
Short as Rivlin’s speech was, it was nonetheless a landmark event worth much more attention than the short, cordial reports in the Jerusalem Post and on Brooklyn News. Worth noting was Rivlin’s emphasis on learning history.
Lest one forget and assume history is important, former President Shimon Peres repeatedly asserted there was no need to study the past. The reasoning behind Peres’ contempt for history was his vision of a world where land no longer mattered in the formation of national identity, which in itself he viewed as unimportant. This explains his enthusiasm for the idea of “land for peace.”
Rivlin thinks otherwise. In quoting his host, Pastor A. R. Bernard, the Israeli president indirectly justified the existence of modern Israel by insisting, “We must celebrate the past. We must rehearse it in the ears of our children and the world, from generation to generation so that history does not become myth.”
Rivlin’s embracing of this profound approach to history as espoused by a wise African-American Christian leader should not be surprising. Jews have been doing this from time immemorial, and those like Peres will ultimately change nothing.
Rivlin certainly used the occasion to express much needed Israeli empathy with the American black community, but also to send a clear message to the world about the purpose of Zionism, a word increasingly associated with imperialism, occupation and injustice.
“I also have a dream,” said our president, “that once again God will knock on our door. I dream that Jerusalem, which is a microcosm of the world, will serve as a model for coexistence between different communities and religions. Jews and Arabs were not condemned to live together, but destined to live together. We are all the children of Abraham, and as the prophet Isaiah said: ‘It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it … For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.'”
Amidst all the lies, disinformation and contempt thrown at Israel, Rivlin correctly presented Zionism as an effort to create a society that will be a light to the world.
Though by no means perfect, Israel is at least attempting to achieve Isaiah’s vision, and our president believes that Zionism as it was intended to be will one day become a reality. This is a far cry from the bad press Israel receives, and it may be why this particular visit did not fit the agenda of the major news agencies.
PHOTO: Rivlin with Pastor Bernard in New York