By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published May 3, 2007
Over 1,200 Christians and Jews gathered in metro Atlanta March 15 for “An Evening for Israel,” where they remembered the Holocaust and passionately pledged support for the Jewish homeland as a light among nations.
The event, hosted by Trinity Chapel of the Church of God, also included civic and governmental leaders such as state Sen. Don Balfour, who spoke of leading a Georgia legislative delegation to Israel to build business ties and tour the holy sites.
The Atlanta rally was inaugurated by Earl Cox, founder of Israel Always, a volunteer group building Christian-Jewish ties and providing spiritual and financial support to Israel.
Cox and Ben Kinchlow, Christian evangelicals and hosts of the Front Page Jerusalem Radio Network, are leading rallies throughout the Southeast bringing Jews and Christians together and encouraging Christians to pray for, visit and support Israel.
The event featured Ambassador Reda Mansour, consul general of Israel to the Southeast, and keynote speaker Daniel Seaman, Israeli press director for the Prime Minister’s Office. It was held in Trinity’s contemporary worship space decked with large American and Israeli flags and hosted by Trinity pastor Bishop Jim Bolin. Some Holocaust survivors attended the event, including Andre Kessler of Marietta, a Romanian survivor, who lit a memorial candle. Kessler chairs the advisory committee for the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust.
Rabbi Neil Sandler of Ahavath Achim Synagogue and Pastor Dean Haun of First Baptist Church of Jonesboro offered prayers for unity and the peace of Jerusalem, the holy city of Christians and Jews and the third holiest city in Islam. The chair of the Cobb County Board of Commissioners, Sam Olens, offered welcoming remarks. Attendees grew quiet with the blowing of a shofar, and sang Christian and Hebrew songs, including Israel’s national anthem.
Mansour expressed gratitude for Christian support of his work since becoming consul general last summer. He emphasized the common Judeo-Christian heritage as children of Abraham.
“If you know your Bible, you know Israel, and if you love your Bible it means that you love Israel. Israel is that amazing place that inspired people all the way from Moses to Jesus. It’s a place of inspiration where people can still live and walk around with their Bible and still can see the same names of the same cities and the same valleys and same mountains. It’s as if nothing changed in the last 5,000 years.”
He noted how geographically Israel is very small, slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey, and only has about 6.3 million people.
“But it’s an amazing powerhouse of inspiration and creation. It’s a place that is fighting for its freedom and democracy. We know that the same way freedom, peace and democracy have won in Latin America and in Eastern Europe—communism was defeated, tyranny was defeated—that day will come to the Middle East and Israel will become a center for democracy and freedom and peace in the Middle East,” envisioned the diplomat. “I invite all of you to come to Israel and be with us. Be the kind of inspiration that you can come back with so we can continue to feed this amazing relationship between the U.S. and Israel forever.”
Seaman spoke of how Israel, despite grave challenges, is a symbol of hope and light of God’s love in having finally realized a dream for a Jewish homeland and having overcome the annihilation of the Holocaust.
“Israel is a light among nations and we take that responsibility very, very seriously,” he said. “The creation or recreation of the state of Israel is an everyday miracle. It’s beyond imagination that a people persecuted, who were nearly destroyed, were able to come back after nearly 2,000 years and reestablish themselves.”
“We never forget what is capable of being done to us, but we also know that today we are capable of defending ourselves. … The people of Israel are not afraid of the terrorist threats. We understand that sometimes we go through hardships, but today we will defend our children. You can be part of God’s plan,” he continued.
He emphasized how the Holocaust shapes Israel’s perspective on security.
“It’s only been 60 years out of 2,000 years we have been able to have our own self-government. It’s a tremendous responsibility. When we say ‘never again’ it’s not an empty statement. We will never again allow Jews not only to be persecuted but to be defenseless. … We will defend the state of Israel.”
David Brog, who wrote the book “Standing With Israel,” spoke on a growing nuclear threat from Iran under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has denied the Holocaust. He said there are 40 state directors and 80 city directors of Christians United for Israel, an organization he serves as executive director. They hope to bring 5,000 people to Washington in July to “let our representatives know Israel is not just a Jewish issue. It’s a Christian issue. It’s an American issue.”
Cox asserted that Christians must stand committed to supporting Israel even in times of disagreement with Israeli leaders and stated a common theme of the event. “Remember one thing tonight: God loves Israel, and we should love Israel.”
Among those spilling out of Trinity following the program was Steve Chervin, a speaker at the Marcus Jewish Community Center, who came with a busload from the center. He deeply appreciated the event. He believes that a two-state solution to the territorial conflict between Israel and Palestine is necessary, but said, “If Arabs put down their weapons there will be no more war. If Jews put down their weapons there would be no more Israel.”
Judy Marx, executive director of the Atlanta chapter of the American Jewish Committee, which works to build bridges with other religious, ethnic minority and community groups, called the event “an important cross-community voice.”
She spoke on her perspective on Israel as an American Jew in a phone interview following the event.
“Connection to Israel is part of my DNA. … Connection to Israel is part of the collective memory of the Jewish people. It’s a natural connection,” she said. “To be surrounded by people in the church who are one mind in support of the Jewish people, that was a beautiful thing. And as a daughter of a Holocaust survivor, it’s breathtaking because my historical memory tells me that doesn’t happen very often.”
She said the relationship between the Atlanta chapter of the AJC and the Atlanta Archdiocese is very good. Together they planned a 2005 scholars symposium and sacred music concert at The Temple that marked the 40th anniversary of the Vatican II document “Nostra Aetate.” A joint forum on immigration planned with Catholic Charities was held last year. It explored the spiritual imperative of the various religious traditions in regard to the immigrant population and how that translates in the political world.
She also is meeting with Bishop Kevin Boland about beginning a dialogue with the Diocese of Savannah.
“Let’s start with the love we have for Israel and see what else we have in common,” she said. “We can go to deeper subjects with friends and feel safe.”
She believes that in this cosmopolitan city the various Christian, Jewish and other religious groups have a special challenge to reach beyond their own communities to dialogue and collaborate.
“The big news about Atlanta being the fastest growing city in the country is a wake-up call to each of us who oversee some small part of that (growth),” she said. “We would like to see a greater (sense of) community, and the way to do that is to have the Jewish community and Catholic community work together. … Otherwise there will be no sense of a greater good. We have to work towards that.”