With Menahem Benhayim's death LCJE has lost a good friend and support.
Menahem was part of LCJE right from the beginning. At the Lausanne movement's
consultation in Pattaya, Thailand, 1980, he had a hand in drawing up
the report Christian Witness to the Jewsih People. The meeting
in Pattaya became the start of LCJE, which means that Menahem was one
of the founding fathers.
LCJE VeteranBy Menahem Benhayim at the Sixth International LCJE Conference, 1999
It was in June 1980 at Pattaya in Thailand at a conference sponsored by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization that the idea of a committee, beginning as a Task Force on Jewish Evangelism, was broached, and which later led to the formation of LCJE. The 1980 event was organized within the context of 17 consultations for group-targeted evangelism, of which one group was the Jewish people. The Jewish consultation comprised eighteen diverse workers in the field and produced an Occasional Paper No. 7 entitled "CHRISTIAN WITNESS TO THE JEWISH PEOPLE." The booklet, to which Sue Perlman and I, among others, contributed ideas, was published and widely advertised and distributed by LCWE.
In 1983 or 1984 the Israeli religious press suddenly carried a feature article to the effect that "a secret document for the destruction of the Jewish people" had been uncovered, and an Israeli Jewish apostate was involved in the secret plot. This was one local press evaluation of our carefully edited and hopefully sensitive Occasional Paper No. 7!
It was during this period that I received a phone call from the office of the sole Israeli TV channel operating at the time, asking that I consider appearing as a panelist on a popular TV talk-show called "Mifgashim" ("Encounters"). I was then serving as Israel Secretary for the International Messianic Jewish Alliance in Jerusalem. The program was moderated by Dan Margolit, a well-known journalist for the respected HA'ARETZ daily. They were planning an "encounter" between Jews and "notzrim", (the common term for Christians, usually synonymous with "goyim"-gentiles). The TV director had already invited a U.S. Baptist synoptic scholar (Brad Young), a Lutheran director of the Swedish Theological Institute in Jerusalem (Dr. Lars Larssen) and the French-Israeli Dominican, head of the Philosophy Department at the Hebrew University, Professor Marcel Dubois. I would join the Christian team, which would face an orthodox rabbi who worked for the leading anti-mission, anti-Messianic "Yad L'Ahim" society, another orthodox Jew unknown to me, a more liberal orthodox rabbi, Professor Pinhas Pelli from Beersheva university, and a very secular Hebrew University Holocaust scholar, Dr. Yehuda Bauer, who would complete the Jewish team.
Frankly, it didn't sound too appealing and was reminiscent of the medieval debates between Christians and Jews when born-Jews on the Christian side collaborated with oppressive State-supported clergy in debates aimed at proving the superiority of Christianity to Judaism. I suggested a panel with at least two Messianic Jews, preferably one a native Israeli, and an additional evangelical Christian with whom we were much more closely linked. "No," they insisted; "only one messianic Jew could be on the panel, and on the Christian side; otherwise, there would be no messianic Jew on the program." So I agreed, and was asked to meet with the moderator Dan Margolit, a secular Jew, at his newspaper office for a pre-screening interview.
When I arrived, he showed me a copy of the Lausanne Occasional paper, which he had read, and admitted that he couldn't quite understand what the fuss was about over "the secret document for the destruction of the Jewish people." He questioned me about my life in Israel, asked questions about our movement, how we were different from the "notzrim" since we all accepted the New Testament, and believed in Yeshua. I explained that not all "notzrim" are the same, and that Messianic Jews tend to have closer links to evangelicals than to the mainstream Christian churches most visible in Israel. He seconded my participation.
About two days before the scheduled taping session, I got an urgent phone call. Two of the orthodox rabbis had declared that they would never appear in public with an "apostate" Jew, and thereby give legitimacy to apostasy. The director was optimistic that they would find more moderate orthodox Jews to replace them. The following day, however, he received notice from the three Christian participants that they had also decided to pull out. My participation on the Christian side would clearly conjure up unhappy medieval associations. I suggested that an active evangelical pastor like Ole Kvarme in the Christian group and a second messianic Jew could replace them. Both Ole Kvarme and several messianic Jews had privately told me they were willing to appear alongside me. The idea was discussed briefly, but the time was too short, and they decided to cancel the planned program.
I phoned the three Christian ex-participants, whom I knew personally, to ask why they had pulled out. They each explained very politely that they had no problem with me personally, but the program was shaping up too much like one of the medieval debates, jousting over the merits and demerits of the other faith in what they were sure would be a very negative atmosphere if a messianic Jew were present.
The upshot was not entirely negative. Another "HA'ARETZ" journalist, Lilly Galilee, got wind of the cancelation and decided to do her own story on messianic Jews in which Victor Smadja, Ramona O. and I, were given a fair hearing alongside a few comments by the opposition about the "psychopathology" of the messianic Jewish movement. Since then, a number of messianic Jews have appeared on Israeli TV in talk-show panels and for interviews; in fact, the "Yad Hashmona" messianic moshav near Jerusalem later had a full half-hour program on the newer second channel to present their picture of an Israeli messianic cooperative.