God is back! And He has His own amusement park right here in Florida—you know, home of Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Seaworld. Welcome to Holyland!
Complete with a replica of Jesus’s tomb, a bookstore and gift shop appropriately called “The Old Scroll,” a legion of actors in biblical-era costume (including armored Roman soldiers) detailing the persecution of the early Christians, it’s easy to imagine how Jesus must have felt walking the streets of Capernaum or the waters of the Sea of Galilee. I can almost taste the pomegranates now. And all for a measly $17. It sure beats the hell out of that other shrine down the road where, in place of a golden calf, they worship some silly rodent.
The only problem is that this latest attraction in the Sunshine State is currently under attack by a group of militant Jews, led by Mr. Irv Rubin of the Jewish Defense League, who feel the new park is nothing less than a conspiracy designed to undermine Judaism by stealthily attempting to convert Jews to Christianity, a blasphemy in itself worthy of a Roman crucifixion. To back him up, Mr. Rubin, along with Rabbi Merrill Shapiro of the Congregation Beth Am, has encouraged the entire Jewish community in Orlando—and anyone else, for that matter—to boycott the new Holyland.
If not for the Christian elements, presumably many Jews would welcome these 15 acres of prime Promised Land—which include a replica of Herod’s Temple, the Ark of the Covenant, and more sofars, caftans, and shawls than you can shake a menorah at—not only for its historical accuracy but for its overall authenticity. That the creator of his $16-million tourist trap. Baptist minister Marvin Rosenthal, is actually a Jew by birth makes it even more suspect in the eyes of the zealots out to stone him to death (at least financially).
According to the protesters in Orlando, any Jew who proclaims the Divinity of Christ cannot be a Jew—a stipulation Jesus Himself would obviously have a problem with, and one St. Paul easily (and quite eloquently) disputes.
Mr. Rubin and his cohorts call Holyland an attempt at “soul-snatching,” but if their faith is so weak that it cannot withstand a weekend at Mr. Rosenthal’s holiday camp, how is it ever going to survive a real challenge, like when President Hillary Clinton appoints Sewar Arafat to be governor of the new Palestinian State and gives Prime Minister Sharon 24 hours to pack up his camel and get out of Jerusalem before Saddam Hussein begins using it for target practice? Or when the Church of Lilith finally proves that David was actually a lesbian queen, in much the same way they try to portray Jesus as the first gay, feminist vegetarian?
From an historical standpoint, it might be easy to empathize with the Jewish resistance in this particular case. They, after all, had to guard against such enterprises in the past, and understandably so. They are no strangers to persecution; but neither are Christians, nor any other culture or religion, for that matter. The difference is that, for the Jews at least, their culture is their religion. Unfortunately, Christians, with their many denominations, cannot claim that distinction, having been called from all corners of the earth. Had Jesus not been born a Jew, Mr. Rubin’s assertion of cultural privilege and conflict of religion (which seems to be the basis for all the turmoil going on today in the Middle East) might be defensible.
Of course, there are good reasons to object to the “Holyland experience,” as it is called. There is a danger in mixing capitalism and religion; just ask the moneychangers at the Temple, or Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker.
For that reason, it will be interesting to see if Holyland will follow in the footsteps of the prophet Eisner by surrendering its streets to the modern equivalent of the doomed residents of Sodom and Gomorrah, or—like the early Jews and Christians—keep the faith pure and unabated so that it doesn’t eventually wind up resembling the barren walls of today’s public schools and halls of justice. Obviously, the two orthodoxies may have more in common than they care to admit, including enemies. As one Jew once said: “He who is not against me is for me.” As another one put it some years later: “It couldn’t hurt.”
Of course, I still don’t know where my family and I will spend our vacation. But if we ever get to Holyland, I’ll be sure to write . . . if I can find my scroll.