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Issues in Focus Christians Sharing in Israel’s Life

March 2, 1979
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A unique view of a segment of Israeli life will be shown on "Bill Moyer’s Journal" on Public Broadcasting Service television stations across the country Monday night. It is "The People of Nes Ammim," about a kibbutz comprising some 120 Christians in the Galilee near Nahariya.

In an absorbing and sometimes moving hour the documentary, produced by Mark and Elizabeth Fink Benjamin, demonstrates that the Christian Kibbutzniks came to Israel for the same reasons many Jews did–the Holocaust. They were not survivors, of course, and most were small children or not even born during World War II. Yet, as committed Christians, they feel deeply that they must do something since the crimes against Jews were committed by people who called themselves Christians.

A desire to demonstrate solidarity with the Jewish people was the reason given in the documentary by Rev. Simon Schoon, a Dutch minister who now heads Nes Ammim (Message to the Nations), why he and other Christians have been coming to the Kibbutz since it was founded in 1961. Schoon said he and fellow Christians, mostly West Europeans but some Americans, were "sharing" in the life of Israel including its "difficulties," since the area in which the kibbutz is located is subject to Palestinian terrorist attacks.


"We are not becoming Israelis since we are not Jews nor Arabs," he said. "We live here as a sign of friendship." The kibbutz, which grows roses and avocados for the European market, operates on the Israeli six-day work week. The Nes Ammim members, all apparently deeply religious, observe Saturday as their Sabbath. The Kibbutz members were shown singing hymns in English but Schoon also recites some prayers in Hebrew, such as the Jewish blessing for wine.

The affect of the Holocaust permeates this documentary. Nes Ammim, either by accident or design, is located only two Kilometers from Lohame Hageta, a kibbutz founded by Holocaust survivors. The kibbutz members, many of whom come only for a year or so, are taken to the Holocaust museum at the Lohame Hageta Kibbutz where the events of the Nazi horrors are depicted. Both the Jews and Christians interviewed in this documentary agonize over how the Holocaust could have occurred but none have any answers.

But it was not only the Holocaust which brought Christians to Nes Ammim, according to Schoon and Christine Pilon, widow of Nes Ammim’s founder Johan Pilon. It was the centuries of Christian persecution of Jews that included the Crusades, the Inquisition and the everyday anti-Semitism which culminated in the Holocaust. "I think all of us are affected by our teaching, "Mrs. Pilon notes." Saying the Jews are Christ killers makes a terrific impact on a child. And I think maybe certain ideas are formed as a consequence."


The documentary points out that Nes Ammim faced hostility from both Jews and Christians at the beginning. Schoon said Jews suspected them of being missionaries and some Christians attacked them because they were not. They are missionaries, Scho a said, but to Christians not Jews. He said through the visitors who come to see the Kibbutz and the pamphlets issued by it, Nes Ammim tries to be an "influence on Christians."

Schoon described how the Orthodox-rabbi in Nahariya wrote against the Kibbutz during its first six years but then visited it and became a friend when he was convinced it was not seeking to convert Jews. The rabbi is shown on a visit to the Kibbutz and he tells Mayors that Jews cannot forget or forgive those who caused the Holocaust. But he said he can live with the people of Nes Ammim in mutual respect because neither seeks to convert the other.

In an interesting aside, the rabbi is seen showing surprise when Schoon tells him his grandfather died in a concentration camp. He wasn’t Jewish? the rabbi asks. He was a member of the Dutch resistance, Schoon explains.

At a preview screening for Christian and Jewish leaders yesterday, Moyers said he had not done a story on Nes Ammim with the idea of presenting a message, the message came as a result at what was found at Nes Ammim. He revealed he decided to film Nes Ammim after his wife returned from Israel where she had visited the Kibbutz and said that was a story he must do.


Moyers concluded the documentary by noting that the people of Nes Ammim have little influence and "no constituency except their conscience. Nes Ammim is a very small place, but it harbors a very large idea. The people here have seen a great evil done in the name of their God, the evil of anti-Semitism. The world isn’t free of it yet.

"Jews know their best defense is in strong arms and shrewd politics, not in sentiments of good will. But Nes Ammim matters. . . because it speaks the truth. It isn’t so much guilt that has brought these people here, as-resolve that it must not happen again."

It is fitting that this program is being shown during Lent. Schoon is shown at one point telling his fellow Kibbutzniks that Golda Meir spoke of her first memories as being that of the Christians in East Europe coming on Easter to attack Jews. He said he wants Jews to see the arrival of Christians as one of friends.

The story of Nes Ammim is one that it is hoped will be seen by churches and synagogues across the country, according to Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, director of the interreligious affairs department of the American Jewish Committee. He said the program will be available for churches and synagogues and Jewish and Christian educational institutions. It will be accompanied by a study Kit prepared under the auspices of Tanenbaum, Dr. Eugene Fisher of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Rev. William Weiler, of the National Council of Churches.

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