How it all began
Judaism does not believe in coincidences. Everything happens for a reason though the reason is not always apparent.
I received a call from a friend of mine who was in Jerusalem and he asked me if I could take a nice Christian couple on a tour of the City of David in Jerusalem. I readily agreed and met the couple in their hotel in Jerusalem the next morning.
While spending a few hours with them they shared with me that they were in Israel for a CUFI (Christians United for Israel) conference, an organization that I knew nothing about. They explained to me that there are millions of Christians around the world that support Israel and the Jewish people and that they were here for a Night to Honor Israel which would take place that evening in a large hall in Jerusalem.
Sounded interesting. I asked them if there was any way that I could attend. “I don’t see why not! It would seem strange to have a Night to Honor Israel and to not allow a resident of Israel to come. We’ll ask our Pastor to put your name on the list” was their enthusiastic reply. We returned to the hotel and Pastor Tim was happy to help and managed to get me on the list. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew was that it was a conference unlike any other I had ever attended..
When I arrived at the hall there was a long line outside waiting to get through the security at the entrance. As I took my place on the line I turned to my left and greeted the man standing next to me. I met Tom Baggett who in turn introduced me to his wife Shelli Brim-Baggett.
Tom is a pastor and dentist and his wife Shelli is a minister. They were both outgoing and friendly and we proceeded to have a short conversation. I mentioned to Tom that his last name is actually a Hebrew name found in the Bible (Genesis 30:11). When Leah names her son Gad she declares “BaGad” (Good fortune has come!) Baggett and Bagad are etymologically related. Tom then told me that he had just recently found out that his grandfather was in fact Jewish! The line began to move so we quickly exchanged emails and said that we would be in touch.
After going through security, I entered the large hall which was filled with mostly Christians and I took a seat not far from the exit just in case I would want to leave early. I looked around the room wondering how the evening would unfold.
I did not leave early. The three hour program felt like minutes gone by. The evening was filled with a mixture of speeches, song, affirmations, blessings and inspiration. Somewhere in the middle of the evening during one of the numerous thunderous standing ovations on behalf of Israel I was moved to tears. I looked around and was struck by the depth of support that I was feeling for Israel and the Jewish people. It appeared to be deeply sincere and genuine. It was not the first time that I had been in a room with enthusiastic support for Israel. It was however, the first time that I had been amongst Gentiles who were so supportive.
As a Jew, I have always felt profoundly alone in this world and with good reason. Historically, over the last 2000 years it is undeniable that the Jewish people have suffered greatly. We have experienced the Hadrianic persecutions, blood libels, pogroms, Crusades, Inquisitions, ghettoes and expulsion from every European country at one point or another. The culmination of it all was Hitler’s Final Solution when some 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazi’s and their collaborators. I grew up living among Holocaust survivors, went to synagogue with them and watched them don prayer garments with numbers printed on their arms. It is understandable why the Jew would feel alone in this world and I was no exception. Sadly, much of the anti-Semitism was church based.
While sitting in a room amongst so many Christians who sincerely support the Jewish people and Israel I was overcome with joy and gratitude that we finally have good friends in the world. Never in my life did I expect to see this day.
Growing up in the Jewish community and having gone to Orthodox Jewish private schools my whole life I had very little exposure to Christianity let alone Christian Zionists or Christians who support the Jewish people.
When I found out that there are millions of Christians who support Israel I was in shock. I needed to learn more and I began by reading “Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State” by David Brog who is the executive director of CUFI. In his book Brog asks what the motive is of Christian Zionists? He answers that the central motive is Christian theology. The predominant theology is that the Jews of today are the “same Israel to whom the Bible promises so much. This theology (as opposed to replacement theology) “practically instructs Christians to be Zionist.”
The verse “Those who bless you will be blessed..” is often quoted by Christian Zionists as well. They bless the Jewish people with material and emotional support and hence will receive blessing in return. For others the motive is the moral imperative to pay a debt to the Jewish people who provided Christianity’s with its first family. At the Night to Honor Israel in Jerusalem Pastor John Hagee said that Judaism is the roots and Christianity is the branches. “The branches,” said Pastor Hagee, “cannot exist without the roots.”
Many Jews believe that the Evangelicals extend their hand in friendship as part of some devious plan to convert Jews or to bring them all to the Promised Land only to be killed in Armageddon. I was one of those Jews. I no longer believe that to be true amongst the mainstream Evangelicals.
I believe that their friendship is deeply sincere and we need to extend our hand as well in friendship. The friendship is long overdue. No question that there is a theological divide between Judaism and Christianity but nevertheless there is so much that we agree upon and that is where we need to focus. We need to usher in a new age of understanding and reconciliation.
We are living during an incredible time period in history. We are witnessing the ultimate battle between good and evil, dark and light. We – Christians, Jews, and good people of any denomination are fighting for the God of Love. Our enemies believe in a God of Domination. Golda Meir once remarked that “peace will come to Israel when the Arabs love their children more than they hate the Jews.” This idea is true on so many deep levels. Ultimately, light is more powerful than darkness and love will prevail over hatred. Jews and Christians coming together can only make the light brighter and the love stronger. Together, we can heal the past, strengthen the present and catapult the world into a new era of peace, understanding, morality, spirituality, and brotherly love.
Nothing happens as coincidence. Here’s hoping that a chance encounter in Jerusalem between a Rabbi and a Pastor leads to something much intended in God’s Great Plan.