Our Good News
Joel Alperson is a Wexner Heritage Chicago alumnus. Joel lives in Omaha, NE and is a past national campaign chair of the United Jewish Appeal campaign. Joel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Imagine attending a pro-Israel event in a large venue filled with thousands of supporters. The evening includes emotion filled speeches, inspiring performances, and fundraising to serve Jews in need around the world. Picture dozens of these events being held all over North America raising millions of dollars a year (we’re not talking about Israel Independence Day celebrations). And as if all of that weren’t enough, imagine a North American college campus effort which educates and inspires college students to passionately advocate for Israel at universities across North America. Sound wonderful? Well it’s happening.
Everything I’ve described is being carried out by Christians United for Israel or CUFI (pronounced “koof-I”), an organization created by Pastor John Hagee.
Now, I can almost hear the reactions. “They’re only doing this to convert us.” “They want to lull us into a state of complacency so they can take over our Jewish organizations.” “How can I support a group whose politics and statements I so completely disagree with?” or “They’re trying to get us all to Israel to bring about the return of their messiah (By the way, why would we fear an event we don’t believe can take place?).” I’ve heard and understand these objections very well.
Having worked with CUFI and having attended a few Nights to Honor Israel (something you should seriously consider doing), these people exude a passion and sincerity that I’ve found both deeply touching and very humbling. Why are they doing all of this? The primary reason is found in Genesis 12:3 where God told Abraham, “those who bless the Jews will be blessed and he who curses the Jews will be cursed”. Evangelical Christians read our Torah literally and support us because they believe God instructs them to do so. If one believes them, and I do, that motivation is hard to argue with.
While we don’t share Christian theology and while many of us don’t endorse Evangelical political stances, there’s still a great opportunity for Jews to unite with CUFI in support of Israel and Jews in need everywhere.
I’m reminded of the story in which a man was trying to remain afloat in the ocean after a shipwreck; firmly believing God would save him. On three separate occasions he turns away rescue attempts from a passing boat, airplane, and helicopter, awaiting his Divine rescue. Ultimately he drowns. When he meets God in the afterlife, he asks Him why He didn’t show up. God replies “I sent you a boat, an airplane, and a helicopter and you turned them all away.”
I’m not saying that God sent CUFI to help us and I’m not saying we’re drowning. On the other hand, particularly at this time in history, we should be grateful that such a remarkable community wants to join us, regardless of whether they make many of us uncomfortable or not. Certainly, we’re not addressing global Jewish needs to the point where we can so quickly dismiss this kind of support. I would ask those among us who question CUFI’s intentions and at the same time tout pluralism and open-mindedness to put their claims to the test. What if the Torah, which tells us that Israel is our eternal homeland, is understood by millions of others to mean exactly the same thing? And based on that belief, what if those many others want to help us?
Consider that the greatest advocacy for Israel on university campuses, in the political arena, and financially could ultimately come from Christians. Similarly, the largest numbers visiting Israel may also come from the Christian community. Realize that almost $100 million dollars a year (and growing) is being raised for Jewish causes right now by only two Christian organizations. At the same time the overseas dollars we collectively send through our federations are diminishing. Christians go to Israel during times of conflict when we cancel many of our own missions. And I have to wonder whether we’ll have a more effective effort to support Israel on college campuses than the one being carried out by CUFI. Much as it pains me to say this, at least in the instances I’ve listed, the Christian community is increasingly becoming the pro-Israel community we’re supposed to be (like the Evangelicals, if more Jews believed in the divinity of the Torah, we would reverse that imbalance – – I am not Orthodox by the way).
We can stand aside and let organizations like CUFI work with the minority of our community who are not threatened by them. Or we can realize that the more we work together, the more powerful and effective our collective actions will be.
Christians make many Jews uncomfortable by referring to Christianity as “good news.” In terms of the time, money, advocacy, and tremendous personal energy they offer us, more Jews need to realize that organizations like CUFI have been and will continue to be very good news for us indeed.