In the heart of America after a brief stop in Vancouver, Canada, I recently undertook a journey to share Israel’s story. This is what I’m passionate about, it is why I became a tour guide. But on October 7, war brought tourism to a halt. I couldn’t continue telling Israel’s story here at home. I felt moved to bring the story of Israel abroad. When a friend whom I guided almost 10 years ago on a Christian leadership delegation called to asked how I was doing (Thank God, I’m ok), I raised the idea with him, the response was overwhelming encouragement and support, not just in words but in deeds. My first speaking tour was underway. For three weeks, I traversed cities, engaging with diverse communities. I found a common thread weaving through the tapestry of America, one of friendship and understanding. My travels took me from the vibrant business circles of Vancouver, where I met with business leaders, CEOs, and entrepreneurs eager to understand the realities behind the headlines concerning the war, to the serene faith communities in churches and private homes across Oklahoma, Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois. I connected with church goers in prayer, engaging with community leaders, elected officials, and law enforcement officers who wanted to have a deeper understanding of Israel. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first. My initial surprise turned to cautious amazement and finally tremendous gratitude and appreciation.
The warmth extended far beyond religious and cultural boundaries. Though I mostly met with Christian audiences, I also had the opportunity to speak at Sioux City’s synagogue, Kansas City’s Jewish Community Center and day school and with smaller groups over Shabbat meals. I sensed a powerful kinship with Jewish communities that were still in shock from the events in Israel and the explosion of antisemitism at home.
When my Christian hosts in the Midwest introduced me to the Jewish groups and expressed their support, there was a tangible sense of relief and heartfelt gratitude. I could hear an audible sigh from the audience that they are not alone in this desert of hate. The outpouring from the Christian community overwhelmed me and my Jewish friends. I came to inform and educate but I realized then that maybe this tour had bigger implications and importance than when I started.
The lesson was clear – we are not alone. Our friends are not just a minority; they constitute the majority. I found solace in the fact that, while media and college campuses may echo disinformation, antisemitism and hatred about Israel, there exists a powerful collective of Americans who stand firmly in opposition to voices calling for the elimination of Israel and supporting terrorism.
Reverend Dr. David Daniel of Ardmore’s First Methodist Church, whom I’ve also had the pleasure of guiding in Israel on their previous visit were incredibly gracious, generous, and warm in hosting me
. During Sunday services, he said: “Our commitment to support and stand by Israel is resolute,” he continued “As Christians, we are forever intertwined with the Jewish People in our faith and practice.” I was overcome with emotion when we prayed together for Israel, for our soldiers and hostages. It felt pure and sincere.
In Israel and more broadly in the Jewish world, “Christian Love” is often met with suspicion. Given the historical experience of blood libels, pogroms, expulsions, persecutions and inquisition, Jews have had with the Catholic Church and early Protestant writings in Europe, that’s not surprising. My experience as a guide to many different Christian groups taught me that not all who call themselves Christian are cut from the same cloth. I found support for Israel among Catholics and Protestants even though there are big differences in their approach and even differences within the Protestant and evangelical world. Oh I know that antisemitism and replacement theology are alive and well unfortunately. Yet, in my visits to evangelical churches across the MidWest I had not encountered any of it.
I asked my good friend Pastor Jim Johnson of Sunnybrook Christian Church in Stillwater, Oklahoma, to explain this to me. He said, “I have always felt a close affinity with the Jewish people. Maybe because my favorite book (the Bible) is filled with them. I am not exaggerating when I confess that growing up eight of my top 10 heroes were Jewish, and two of them were hockey players (I am Canadian). The apostle Paul [Saul of Tarsis] explains that one of the reasons we have a close affinity is that as followers of Jesus, we have been grafted into God’s family. There is something very special and unique that we share. In difficult times like these, it is important to remember how much we share as Jews and Christians. It is all important to speak out about what is right and true and just in the world.” Jim continued to explain, “’Liberation Theology’, essentially a Marxist idea [the notion that the world is divided between oppressor and oppressed, victimizer and victim, and that truth and justice is always on the victim’s side. In this oversimplified, reductionist and warped world view, the Jews are cast as white oppressors and Israel by extension as a white colonial occupier, therefore can never be on the “right” side. UG] has taken greater hold of many Christians. This is particularly true on college campuses in the US.” But, Jim concluded, “Bible readers and followers of Jesus, a Jew born in Judea, don’t accept this world view and know that what binds us is greater than what separates us”.
This journey was not without its challenges. The media’s portrayal of Israel, often biased and skewed, found echoes in the halls of college campuses and among many young Americans. These were issues I had to address and questions I had to answer. Still, in every radio interview I conducted for local stations that reached tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of listeners, and in every conversation with community members, the prevailing sentiment was one of support and a desire for genuine understanding.
As the situation unfolds and the war continues, I will be returning to the US for another speaking tour this winter. We face challenges at home and criticisms abroad, we need the support of our friends and allies. Let us remember the majority of Americans who stand as pillars of support. Together, Jews and Christians can build bridges that defy borders, fostering a world where understanding triumphs over division and love prevails over discord. As Jews, we have become very good at identifying enemies. It’s been an understandable evolutionary necessity. However, for us, the world has changed on October 7th. Nothing is, or will be, as it was. Maybe it’s time we also learn to better identify our friends.