Jewish and Protestant leaders say the relationship between the two communities is flourishing on a grassroots level, even while it has been floundering in the national and international arena.
“On the local and regional level there is a lot of cooperation,” said Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee. “The problems are higher up.”
Typically, Jews and Protestants work together on projects related to poverty, health and race issues.
In hundreds of communities around the country, together they initiate and maintain shelters for the homeless, soup kitchens, outreach to people with AIDS and literacy programs.
“On a lot of these projects people don’t ask what religion you are, but they’re interfaith from the get-go,” noted Jay Rock, director of Christian- Jewish concerns at the National Council of Churches.
“People get involved in a direct service project with people who are Jews or of other faiths, and start to wonder and ask questions of each other,” he said.
“Community-based issues are our common heritage that brings us together. That’s really the strength where interfaith relationships come from,” said Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, secretary-general of the NCC, the North American umbrella organization for 32 Protestant and Orthodox denominations.
The high level of intermarriage has contributed to increased Protestant interest in working with the Jewish community, said Rock, as has interest in understanding the roots of Christianity.
“It’s partly motivation to understand what kinds of relationship we have with those who are the direct heirs of our mother faith,” he said.
“And an increasing number of Christians who are aware that the origins are more complicated then what we heard about in Sunday school. They want to understand what it means.”
The contentious topic of proselytizing is become less problematic, said Brown Campbell.
“Increasingly, larger number of Christians believe it is not the responsibility of Christians to ‘save’ Jews, but for us to live in peace and harmony with one another,” she said.
“That requires acceptance of the other’s faith as valid.”