Earlier this week, thousands of the most pro-Israel people of all ages you’d want to meet came to the D.C. Convention Center.
The big difference between them and us is that they are predominately Christian, hence the name of the organization CUFI or Christians United for Israel.
There was a time when that group would raise a red flag for me. What was their real agenda? I would cynically ask. Was it the conversion fear I had? Did they think the Jews in the very Jewish state they supported were going to burn in hell?
I’m certain that there are those who feel that for their messiah Jesus to return, Israel has to be secure, and that’s the major reason for their support.
After meeting and interviewing Jewish people and Christians who were at this year’s CUFI event or in year’s past, I believe — as does the Israeli government — that these people really believe in Israel, the land and the state.
It was in 1988 during the first Intifada that I heard a rabbi at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem say, “The first time a Palestinian throws a stone, American Jews cancel their reservations in Israel and head to Cancun. Christians, however, keep on coming.”
He was right. Tourist area after tourist area was jammed with Christian tours. American Jews were nowhere to be found.
I ran into this the hard way in January 2002. Remember, with the country still in pain over Sept. 11, 2001, which had occurred a handful of months earlier, my daughter Emily and I flew to Israel to visit daughter/sister DeDe, then a seminary student over the Green Line in Elkana.
There were few if any American Jewish tours there. Large groups of mostly American groups canceled conferences in Israel. The State Department warned Americans not to travel to the Jewish state.
When Emily and I walked into an otherwise empty bagel place, the counterman, with tears in his eyes, hugged me and thanked us for coming. But in other restaurants and hotels and on the road, I saw only Christian Bible-thumpers.
I interviewed many for the Baltimore Jewish Times back then. And one lady from Dallas said what seemed like the obvious. “It’s easy to be someone’s friend and supporter when the times are good,” she told me. “It’s when times are bad that you have to show that you really stand behind your faith.”
Christian Zionists are important to Israel’s economy. And perhaps more so, Christian Zionists have showed the rest of us that when stones are thrown, more busloads of Christians show up in the Holy Land.
Simply stated, the words “Holy Land” means something to the Christians.
As Jews should we be embarrassed that the Christians show up when times are rough while we by and large do not. Well, maybe we shouldn’t be embarrassed, but we should take notice.
CUFI stands by its word. The mere fact that Christians are going to Israel in record numbers from all over the world is good. But it’s not just the trips to Israel that are so important, it’s the representation that Israel receives from CUFI student leaders on campus. And let’s face it, university campuses haven’t been the friendliest places to Israel in recent years. Many of our own Jewish children don’t know the first thing to say if the legitimacy of Israel is questioned on campus by a professor, not to mention other students.
Yes, there are probably many of us who still have a predisposition to believe that Christian interest in Israel hinges on their belief in the end of days and the coming of Christ.
By and large, I’ve seen a change that has melted away my icy cynicism. Christians and CUFI desperately want to be our friends and have shown the state of Israel that as an organization or as individuals, they will support and protect the Jewish State.
I’m glad I’ve gotten to know more about CUFI.
And if there’s another Intifada and I go back to Israel for my third one, I’ll know that I won’t be alone.