Women of valour

Three Christian ladies who loved and served the Jewish people.

By Charles Gardner | | Topics: CHRISTIANS
Philippe Sands with his mother Ruth who was rescued as a baby by Elsie Tilney.
Philippe Sands with his mother Ruth who was rescued as a baby by Elsie Tilney.

Sometimes I think we afford far too much attention to the heroic efforts of men in the long history of the church. So I am delighted to focus on three Gentile women whose love for the Jewish people made a significant impact on the world.

And I am so grateful to Dr Theresa Newell, founding director of the USA branch of the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people (CMJ), for uncovering their stories.

Johanna Cartwright, a widow, was a 17th century Puritan (dedicated to the restoration of pure doctrine) exiled from England and living in Amsterdam. From there, along with her son Ebenezer, she petitioned for the readmission of Jews to England, from where they had been banished since 1290.

The 1649 petition was presented to the War Council that emerged from the English Civil War and also called for the transport of “Israel’s sons and daughters” (in English and Dutch ships) to the Promised Land.

It further stipulated that “in coming back to England, they, together with us, shall come to know Emmanuel, the Lord of life, light and glory.”

So the motivation for readmission was clearly founded on the idea of an ultimate return to their land, and their Lord, while in the meantime expecting England to be blessed for this action (Genesis 12:3) under the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, which indeed laid the foundation for the Balfour Declaration 250 years later.

Two more petitions were made, this time from Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel, also exiled in Amsterdam after fleeing the Inquisition in Portugal (as my own ancestors were also forced to do). But none was immediately acted upon until a Parliamentary decree in 1665.

Two centuries on, Elizabeth Anne McCaul Finn (1825-1921) made her mark on history as the wife of the second British Consul to Jerusalem, James Finn. A strong believer in the return of the Jewish people to their land, she was an evangelist, pioneer photographer, archaeologist, philanthropist, diplomat and hostess, as well as a mother and carer of the poor and destitute. She also taught needlework and knitting.

She attended her last charity board meeting only months before she died, aged almost 96. Fluent in Hebrew, she also learnt Arabic and set up the first kibbutz with the purchase of land to train Jews in the art of farming. She even set up a soap factory.

According to Israeli novelist Amos Oz, the Finns “believed fervently that the return of the Jewish people to their homeland would hasten the salvation of the world” and were “pious Christians who were moved by the poverty, suffering, and backwardness of Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land.”

Mrs Finn is described as a one-woman Social Service agency. Her love and concern for the Jewish people and her understanding of their need to know their Messiah and to return to the land promised to Abraham and his descendants were never far from her mind.

The third of our unsung heroines was Miss Elsie Maud Tilney (1893-1974), from Norwich in England, whose deep love for the Jewish people took her to North Africa, Paris, Vienna and the United States.

Her story was unknown until an English barrister whose Jewish grandparents escaped the Holocaust asked the question: “Who rescued my mother from the hands of the Nazis when she was an infant?”

After much research, it turned out to be Miss Tilney. As an enemy alien, she was interned in France by the Nazis for most of the war during which time she facilitated the escape of a Polish Jew destined for Auschwitz after hiding him for 16 weeks.

She also hid camp records that could have exposed internees to Nazi suspicion and took great personal risks throughout the German occupation. According to one internee, she was “une femme remarquable.”

She later worked on mission in South Africa before moving to Florida, where she died. Others at the camp described her as “a quiet, gracious lady, a remarkable, compassionate woman,” deeply motivated by her love for Jewish people and her biblical understanding of God’s purposes in human history, based upon such verses as Romans 1:16 and Romans 10:1.

Thanks to the evidence of Prof Philippe Sands as revealed in his book East West Street, she became the 21st British person to be honoured as Righteous Among the Nations by the official Holocaust remembrance authority at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

I myself am greatly indebted to Dr Newell, the author of the paper on which this article is based, herself a remarkable woman who has done so much to promote Jewish mission and has been something of a mentor to me over the past ten-plus years since I met her in Jerusalem in 2013.

 


 

Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.comTo the Jew FirstA Nation Reborn, and King of the Jews, all available from Christian Publications International.

 

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