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‘Faith without works is dead,' says German tour group leader visiting Israel in its darkest hour

A group of 20 Germans visited Israel to show solidarity and spread love

 
German Christians visiting Israel (Photo courtesy)

Since the 'Black Shabbat' of October 7, tourism in Israel has abruptly come to a complete stop as airlines canceled their flights amid Hamas’ intense rocket bombardment and dozens of countries evacuated their citizens.

Among the many tourists who were stranded in Israel and experienced the traumatic first days of the war against Hamas was German travel agent Werner Hartstock, who had come to Israel for the Feast of Tabernacles celebration.

But when he finally got a flight back home, something didn’t sit right with him.

“We had the feeling of betrayal, like were escaping to the safety of Germany and going to relax, looking forward to Christmas, and 'you [Israelis] do your thing, it’s gonna be alright,'” Hartstock told ALL ISRAEL NEWS.

To people who know Israel, this statement may sound familiar, and indeed many more Israelis have returned home since the start of the war than have left the warzone.

Hartstock has clearly been influenced by his numerous visits to the Jewish state. As vice president of the Saxonian Friends of Israel, he has been taking groups to Israel for decades to improve Christian-Jewish and German-Israeli relations.

The organization developed in the 1990s in Saxonia, in Eastern Germany with the goal of spreading its love for Israel throughout the churches and educating German society about Christianity’s Jewish roots.

They are “Christians who believe that what is written in the Bible is true, including what’s written about Israel,” according to Hartstock.

To express their love for the Jewish state, the organization brings about 150 Germans to Israel each year, with one of their main activities being the renovation of the homes of Holocaust survivors.

“Faith without work is dead; we want to do something,” Hartstock quipped.

Christian tourist, Markus (45) from Schwerin, Germany, donates blood in Israel (Photo courtesy)

But with the war going on, the regular activities were on hold. Back in Germany, Hartstock told himself: “You can’t just sit and act as if nothing’s going on.”

“So, then, at some point, I decided to come up with this solidary tour, together with my partners here in Israel, Keshet Journeys.”

He gathered about 20 people who were willing to fly to Israel during the war to demonstrate their love and solidarity in the most practical way.

After their first preparatory meeting, Hartstock said he knew this was the right decision, despite the government’s travel warnings and the financial risk.

“Because they all looked for a release valve for their love… to bring it to the country. And so I was at peace already on the first day. When we arrived here in the Hotel lobby, the people received us with standing ovations, tears in the eyes on both sides. And so I thought, we’re in the right place.“

This feeling only grew stronger as the group visited a school in Jerusalem, visted the wounded in a hospital, and “helped out” on a farm near the Gaza border - if that is the right term. They collectively cut over 1,200 tomato plants, more than fulfilling the cliché of the hard-working Germans.

The experiences of Hartstock and his group during their time on the ground will also make them more effective ambassadors for Israel upon their return, Hartstock said.

“Nobody in Germany can stupidly talk to me anymore in regard to these comparisons, [saying] that the Israelis are also evil,” he said emphatically while describing the visit to the ruins of Kibbutz Nir Oz.

The smell of the dead bodies that were stored in the refrigerators of Kibbutz’s common eating hall was still perceptible over two months after the massacre perpetrated there by the Hamas terrorists.

Later on, the group visited a group of IDF soldiers in the fields near the Gaza Strip to drop off a load of socks, hand-knitted by a group of elderly women who put little notes saying “We are praying for a new Hanukkah miracle” into each sock.

The soldiers also showed them the IDF’s command and control software, explaining that buildings known to contain civilians are blocked off and cannot be targeted by Israeli aircraft and artillery.

“That was very surprising to me. Well, I actually knew this but [to see] what it looks like in practice was very, very impressive to me,” Hartstock said.

He also commented on the professional demeanor of the soldiers. “They were not like, ‘Let’s really go punch [the enemy] in the face. They were working in a  concentrated, objective, and quiet manner… doing their job.”

Everywhere the group went, Israelis received them with touching warmth and gratitude for standing with them.

On Shabbat, the German group visited Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square and strengthened the families of the hostages still being held captive in the Gaza Strip.

“It was deeply moving. We sang there, the people were deeply touched. We prayed, we talked to people, also with family members of hostages who were there.”

“I gotta say that I love it, to cry together,” Hartstock explained. “I also love laughing together, but sometimes – you just get closer, and you can’t really cry on demand.”

Toward the end of our talk, I asked Hartstock what lessons he drew from his visit and what Christians around the world could do to help Israel in this situation.

The situation in Israel is a wake-up call to pray, not just for Israel but for believers all over the world, he said. “And when the alarm goes off, you have to wake up.”

“So my feeling is that we are now really called out by God to pray for Israel and also to go out in public for Israel… this has a nice effect [in Israel] because people are comforted but outside of Israel, it has the effect that our politicians also understand this.”

Hartstock recommended preferring concrete, face-to-face initiatives over big organized fundraising campaigns when it comes to supporting Israel.

“Simply to support concrete projects with things that are really needed. For example, like the socks … I think, if this happens from person to person, then you have two factors, you have helped practically and you also helped personally, you strengthened people in what they do and in who they are.”

If you are interested in organizing your own Solidarity Mission in any other language (min. 15 people) please approach Keshet Journeys at https://keshetjourneys.com/query/.

Hanan Lischinsky has a Master’s degree in Middle East & Israel studies from Heidelberg University in Germany, where he spent part of his childhood and youth. He finished High School in Jerusalem and served in the IDF’s Intelligence Corps. Hanan and his wife live near Jerusalem, and he joined ALL ISRAEL NEWS in August 2022.

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