Christians outnumbered Jews two to one in the sanctuary of Congregation Brothers of Israel in Newtown, Pa., on March 27, as members of the Conservative synagogue joined forces with a group of evangelical Christian Zionists in a show of support for Israel.
The evening included a Salute to William Sutter, a Baptist minister who serves as executive director of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, based in Bellmawr, NJ, which describes itself as “a worldwide Christian ministry communicating biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while fostering solidarity with the Jewish people.”
At the synagogue event, said Rabbi Shalom Plotkin, the congregation played host to the Deptford, NJ, branch of FOI. “We brought together Christians and Jews to celebrate Israel, where Christians are free to celebrate their faith, unlike every other country in the Middle East,” Plotkin told NJ Jewish News in an April 8 phone interview. “It took a year and a half to plan, and it was a lot of work.”
The work appeared to have paid off. The 300 people in the standing-room-only crowd came from six churches and six synagogues, jamming a room that is intended to seat only 220 people.
At the rally, the combined force of Christians and Jews raised $3,000 for American Friends of Magen David Adom and the Jewish National Fund; another $1,000 in contributions has come in since the event took place, according to Plotkin.
The money is being earmarked to JNF’s replanting efforts in Haifa’s Carmel Forest, which was ravaged by fire last December, and for an MDA ambulance in memory of the rabbi’s grandparents, Clara and Morris Enger. They were lifelong supporters of MDA, the Israeli branch of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Contributing to the “huge” event’s significance, said the rabbi, was Sutter’s presence and presentation. “Bill Sutter stood up there with his Bible in his hand quoting from Genesis and Exodus and Deuteronomy and the prophets and saying, ‘This is why we love Israel.’”
Cantor Robert Winter and Cantor David Wisnia performed and led the gathering in song in the synagogue. They sang with “such tremendous spirit,” said Plotkin, “that the roof was shaking. Everybody was waving Israeli flags and we sang “Hatikva” and “God Bless America” and “Jerusalem of Gold” and the theme song from Exodus.”
The social issues that divide many liberal American Jews from conservative evangelical Christians never entered the interfaith celebration at Brothers of Israel.
Despite the congregation’s liberal bent, said Plotkin, “we didn’t talk about that stuff. Our synagogue happens to be very gay-friendly and we also happen to be very open and welcoming to women. But our members realize that Israel needs all the friends it can get. These Christians are staunch lifelong friends and we say, ‘You know what? We are not going to focus on our differences. We are to going to focus on what brings us together.’”
Also featured at the gathering were Abu Rukun Raslan, deputy consul general of Israel, Mid-Atlantic Region; Geri Shatz, Jewish National Fund; Sharon Schmidt, director of the Philadelphia American Friends of MDA; Lou Balcher, director of academic affairs, Consulate of Israel, Philadelphia; and Edgar House, president, Bucks County JNF.