A Christian Concert Here Hails Israel As Divine ``israel Jubilee!'' Honors An Alliance That Is Little-known But Long-standing.

Posted: November 01, 1998

Israel's 50th anniversary has been feted this year at events throughout the United States, including a number in the Philadelphia area.

On Saturday at the Zellerbach Theater on the University of Pennsylvania campus, another celebration will take place, but this one will be unlike the others.

``Israel Jubilee!'' a musical tribute with performances by prominent pianist Menahem Pressler and soprano Sharon Sweet, is not being sponsored by area synagogues, Jewish groups or Israeli organizations.

Cohosts are, instead, two evangelical Christian organizations, the Philadelphia College of Bible in Langhorne and Friends of Israel, headquartered in Bellmawr.

The concert is a reminder that throughout Israel's modern history - and before - its strongest supporters have included American evangelicals.

``Between evangelicals and the Jewish people is a shared history,'' says Paul Jones, chair of the music department at the Bible college, and the concert's conductor. ``Coming back into the land for Israelites was a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy, which we hold to be the word of God.''

The concert is an effort to thank and ``present a gift to the Jewish people and to Israel,'' says Elwood McQuaid, Friends of Israel executive director. Its magazine, Israel My Glory, is distributed to 250,000 subscribers in 120 countries.

The fact that evangelicals wish to thank the Jewish people and Israel may surprise many, Christian and Jew alike.

In a 1995 speech to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B'nai B'rith in New York, Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed said:

``I wish to speak honestly and frankly about an issue that confronts each of us in this room and those whom we seek to represent. It is the undeniable and palpable suspicion - even fear - that divides the Christian community from many American Jews.''

That fear and anxiety, says Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, are the ``social agenda that many evangelical groups advocate. They believe they have the truth, not a truth. . . . and when their truth enters the political arena, it makes Jews nervous.''

Foxman adds, ``We should welcome their support, as long as it is not conditioned on anything else.''

Murray Friedman, head of the American Jewish Committee's Philadelphia regional office, says Jews tend to incorrectly stereotype evangelicals as ``Elmer Gantry, breast-beating, Bible-thumping. . . .

``These people are in the suburbs, not Tobacco Road. They've been in the forefront of a number of changes in American life, including the movement against slavery.

``They have very warm sentiments toward Israel and to Jews, generally because they view Israel as a vehicle through which there will be a coming of the Messiah. But it goes beyond that. . . . Jews are the people of the Book. Jews are the people who gave them their savior.''

Certainly, some evangelical organizations have no focus at all toward Israel or Jews. And some Jewish groups are not antagonistic toward the political and social agendas evangelicals may pursue.

Also true is that Israeli leaders dating back to Menachem Begin have publicly thanked evangelicals for their support and that today more than 100 U.S. evangelical groups try to influence millions of churchgoers, elected officials and the public at large by means of radio broadcasts, church visits and lobbying dollars to ensure Israel's survival and to battle anti-Semitism.

And the overriding reason for their passion comes from the Bible.

* From Romans 11:26-27: ``And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The deliverer will come to Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.''

McQuaid says it is clear from the Bible that before the Messiah comes, Jews will be living in the land of Israel. For those who read the Bible as the words of God, as prophetic writings, Israel is needed.

``We are Christian Zionists and we make no apology for that,'' says McQuaid, of Friends of Israel, which works in 40 countries on behalf of Israel and Jews. ``We believe the Old Testament teaches that there will be a return to the land of Israel. For the Jewish people, that is happening in our time. . . . And there will be a time that the Messiah will reign over Israel. It will be a universal reign and Israel will continue to be identified as Israel,'' a place where Jews will continue to live.

The thinking here is that what's in the Bible is literally true. The promises of God to Abraham, for example, will come true. For Christians like McQuaid and many fundamentalists and evangelicals, the belief is known as premillennial, that Christ will return to lead a 1,000-year kingdom on Earth.

But there are also many millions of Christians who are amillennialists, believing that the promises of God to Abraham - that there will be a land of Israel, for instance - will not be fulfilled to Israel but are being fulfilled in a spiritual or allegorical way instead in the church.

The theological divide is a chasm to some Christians, unnoticed to most Jews.

``Evangelicals support Israel out of a deep spiritual motive and we have good relations with them,'' says Dan Ashbel, Israeli consul general in Philadelphia. He adds that he believes the typical Israeli is well aware of the evangelical support, which dates back to the 1890s and Theodore Herzl's planning for a Jewish homeland.

Despite that history, McQuaid, in his book, The Zion Connection, says an underlying problem causing Jews to be suspicious of evangelicals can be summed up in one word - proselytize.

``Given the long history of persecution that Jews have endured while among those who have called themselves Christians, we can well appreciate their concern,'' he writes. ``The idea seems to be that Christians live by a scorekeeping credo that demands delivering souls to their particular sect. Therefore evangelical efforts by believers in Jesus are seen as little more than scalp-hunting expeditions.''

Indeed, Ashbel also said evangelicals in Israel ``are careful not to try and change the religion of Jews.''

McQuaid says ``grassroots evangelicals'' certainly do want to illuminate their religion, but not through ``forced conversions, material inducements, salvation through subterfuge or coming as undercover agents in the guise of Judaism.''

Among the notables in the Jewish community who have already said that they will attend the Saturday concert are Ashbel and Irvin Borowsky, president of the American Interfaith Institute.

The concert will also feature the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia with the Philadelphia College of Bible Chorale, the Concerto Soloists of Philadelphia, and a premiere performance of work by Daniel Barta for soprano and orchestra.

For information on tickets, call the Annenberg Center box office Monday through Friday at 215-898-6791.

comments powered by Disqus