By Greer Fay Cashman
February 11, 2017
Approximately a year and a half ago, the church was vandalized and set on fire by Jewish arsonists. Police characterized the incident as a hate crime.
President Reuven Rivlin will participate in an interfaith gathering this morning at the restored historic Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
On June 17, 2015, the church was vandalized and set on fire by Jewish arsonists. Police characterized the incident as a hate crime.
The church was badly damaged and the government dragged its heels in making available promised payments toward restoration. In fact, the initial payment for restoration came more than a year after the fire.
The government did not fully compensate the church, because the Finance Ministry was reluctant to accept the fact that the crime was of a nationalistic nature. However, two Orthodox young Jews, Yehuda Asraf and Yinon Reuven, were charged in the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court with the arson, after which the Justice Ministry issued instructions for the church to be compensated.
The compensation given by the Finance Ministry was inadequate and because the church is of particular significance to German Christians, a crowdfunding campaign in Germany produced a sufficiently positive response to enable the restoration to be completed.
The German involvement is one of the reasons that speakers at the event celebrating the restoration and re-opening of the church will include Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, the archbishop of Cologne, and Berlin’s Ambassador to Israel Dr. Clemens von Goetze. Also participating will be Druse spiritual leader Sheikh Moafaq Tarif and Rabbi Alon Goshen Gottstein, the founder and director of the Elijah Interfaith Institute.
Rivlin has hosted interfaith meetings as well as interfaith delegations from abroad at the President’s Residence and has visited with Christian, Druse and Muslim spiritual leaders in different parts of the country.
Rivlin firmly believes that spiritual leaders have an important role to play in the fight against terrorism, and the best way to do this, he has said many times, is in a spirit of interfaith unity toward the common goal of peace and harmony between people of all creeds, races and nationalities.