In that day, the stock of Jesse that has remained standing shall become a standard to peoples – nations shall seek his counsel and his abode shall be honored. -Isaiah 11:10
As you drive north from Acco towards Nahariyah you pass a large strip mall at the entrance to Moshav Regba. Branching off just before the gate of Regba is a narrow road that winds for a few miles through the avocado orchards that are characteristic of the Galilee coast, and ends at the gate of Nes Ammim. You enter a green and calm community, with large expanses of grass and well tended flower beds and shrubs along the paths and around the homes and public buildings. Nes Ammim was founded in the 60s by Dutch and German Christians seeking a place where they could get a deeper understanding of Judaism and Israel, and facilitate reconciliation among people of all faiths. “Nes Ammim” means “a standard to peoples,” from the verse quoted above from Isaiah. In the early years there was some opposition from local Jews to the establishment of a European Christian community in the neighborhood, but the rabbi of Nahariyah and several other public figures came to their support.
Originally they operated as a sort of quasi-kibbutz, with several businesses owned by the community and operated by the members – flower hothouses, avocado orchards, a carpentry shop, and a hotel. However, if real kibbutzim have had a hard time surviving, this community, which remained quite small (under a hundred inhabitants even in the best of times), and which never really had a full-time, long-term population, has struggled to make it economically. Generally, the “members” consist of families and individuals coming to spend anywhere from a few months to a few years here, mostly from Europe but with a smattering of Americans. They come to experience Israel, to volunteer in the community, to learn about Judaism. Today, the only business remaining is the hotel. There are about 40 residents, mostly young volunteers. The community continues to receive support from “Friends of Nes Ammim” groups in several European countries. Their “House of Prayer and Study” is a graceful, simple structure, a non-denominational chapel/community center where the residents meet to pray and study, and events are held for the wider community.
I have gotten to know and appreciate Nes Ammim over the years, as a participant in various events held there (e.g., Kristallnacht commemorations and interfaith conferences), and as a guest lecturer on Jewish topics for their volunteers’ study program and for visiting groups from abroad. I have gotten to know them better in the past year, as a member of their board in Holland is also involved in a youth circus there, and he has actively encouraged Nes Ammim to serve as a point of contact between our Jewish-Arab youth circus and its Dutch counterpart. Now we have a German college student who coached for the Dutch circus, doing a year-long internship with our circus, living at Nes Ammim.
I have found it fascinating and humbling to get to know, over the years, Nes Ammimers and other western Christian groups and individuals living in Israel – including a number of Franciscans and Carmelites stationed at monasteries around the Galilee. Not Crusaders, not missionaries, not waiting for Armageddon, but thoughtful people for whom this is place is special, holy – and who want to be in some way part of the project. They are “insider-outsiders,” seeing us close-up and sympathetically, smiling at our embarrassing behavior. Trying to see ourselves as they see us is a useful exercise in self-criticism and keeping things in proportion.
Rabbi Marc J. Rosenstein is executive director at the Galilee Foundation for Value Education, Shorashim, Israel. Learn more at www.eng.makom-bagalil.org.il