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The uncertainty of how a group of Jewish ?migr?s (Olim) from Britain would respond to an offer of friendship from leading Evangelical ministries based in Jerusalem was evident as they packed the International Christian Embassy's Jerusalem headquarters Tuesday night (Jan. 21).

Bret Stephens, Malcolm Hedding and Avi Lehrer confer before an unexpectedly honest exchange at the ICEJ Reception for British Olim.

The reception, jointly hosted by the British Israel Group and the ICEJ brought together over a hundred Jews and Christians in Jerusalem for an evening of dialogue that, in the words of Wilson, "had a definite edge to it."

"To be frank there's not much interaction between the Jewish and Christian communities in Israel," Lehrer observed in his opening remarks, warmly welcoming the gathering.

"For Israel few things could be more important or more timely," Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief, Bret Stephens concurred in his address.

ICEJ Executive Director Malcolm Hedding went further, "So often at events like this we can say the right things, play to the grandstand have a wonderful evening and say goodbye," he said. "But I have the feeling that there is something very genuine in this gathering here tonight."

The uneasy nature of the burgeoning friendship between Evangelical Christians and Jews clearly demands a level of sincerity that both Stephens and Hedding were willing to provide.

"I think there's something to this abiding Jewish suspicion of Evangelical Christianity and of the kind of friendship we sometimes sense they're offering," Stephens suggested in a hesitant, confessional tone.

"I think it's important that Jews? start to think very carefully about what kind of relationship they want with the Evangelical Christian community," he added.

Beneath the very personal remarks of Stephens, charting his intellectual journey as an American secular liberal Jew coming to terms with the phenomena of Christian Zionism was a clear sense of the cautious antipathy still at play when Jews encounter their so-called Christian friends.

Touring churches in America's Southern Bible belt, Stephens confessed he found the apocalyptic prophetic prism through which US evangelicals view Israel deeply disturbing.

True Christian Zionism, Hedding replied, supports Israel, not because of a prophetic expectations of Jewish conversion but because of the covenantal promises that fill the pages of the Old Testament scriptures; scriptures that equally form the basis of Jewish eschatological and messianic thinking.

"We all agree that the Messiah is coming, when he comes, we'll ask him whether he's been here before," Hedding quipped to ripples of laughter and applause.

"Are we going to force people into conversion? No! Are we here with some secret agenda?
No! Are we true friends of Israel? Yes! For we believe in unconditional love? and we are here for Israel unconditionally," Hedding went on.

"And what makes it so unique is that we are Christians and we do believe in Jesus. And although we've turned up late, after centuries of anti-Semitism, my dear Jewish friends we are here!"

"We need friends," 73 year-old Lionel Solomon mused afterwards, underlining the prevailing sense of desperation that he and many fellow British olim feel as world opinion hardens against Israel after two years of brutal terror and counter-terror.

"The Jews have been abandoned once before, it could happen again."

Solomon appeared to sum the mood of the meeting perfectly. In question after question, the "sniggering and contempt" that Stephens spoke of as typifying Jewish attitudes towards Evangelicals was nowhere to be seen.

In its stead was a broad underlying agreement that when facing a war not of its choosing spurning friends is not a luxury Israel can afford.

As for Lehrer, flanked by his 18 year-old son Aryeh two months away from three years service as a foot-soldier in the IDF, was he convinced by Hedding's response?

"Yes?I was," he ventured cautiously after a long, uncertain pause.