By Richard Friedman
The relationship between Christians United for Israel, America’s largest pro-Israel advocacy group, and local Jewish Federations continues to evolve. Federations are fundraising and community relations agencies that often serve as the “central address” of local Jewish communities.
In Chattanooga, in particular, where a small Jewish community lives and thrives in the heart of the “Bible Belt,” the Jewish Federation has actively partnered with CUFI. One of the advocates for that relationship has been the Federation’s long-time director, Michael Dzik.
Dzik speaks at Chattanooga-area CUFI rallies and was featured in a recent
Chattanooga Times Free Press story on CUFI.
Noting that the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga and CUFI have worked together for seven years, the story said the Federation “welcomes CUFI’s efforts in supporting legislation and advocating for the Jewish community.”
The story quoted Dzik as saying, “It’s heartwarming to see that there are Christians and churches that are supportive of the Jewish community and of Israel. At a time when there’s a lot of hate and anti-Semitism especially… to have people who are friends to the Jewish community that we have things in common with is refreshing for us.”
The story appeared just days after an anti-Semitic incident at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, which is about 110 miles north of Chattanooga. Painted on The Rock, a well-known campus landmark, was graffiti repeating the lie that Jews and Israel were responsible for the Sept. 11
attacks. (The attacks were committed by radical Muslim extremists.)
While Jewish leaders and Jewish organizations in other areas of the country have sometimes shied away from partnering with CUFI and promoting its events, other Jewish Federations, such as the one in Birmingham, have been visible supporters of CUFI.
Often, such support comes from Jewish communities where there is a large Evangelical Christian population and comfortable relations between the two groups. One of CUFI’s two co-executive directors is a Jewish woman who lives in Atlanta.
Reluctance by Jewish leaders to partner with CUFI and other pro-Israel Christian groups often comes from a suspicion that despite their support for Israel and the affection such groups display toward Jews, that their real motivations are to return Jews to Israel to hasten the Second Coming of Jesus, and to convert Jews to Christianity.
However, studies and individual conversations with such Christian activists suggest that for many Christians who support Israel, their dedication is based on gratitude to Judaism, which they see as the foundation of their faith and the religion of their Messiah; deep admiration for the modern state of Israel and its role as a key U.S. ally; and their interpretation of Genesis 12:3: (“I will bless those who bless you….”) which commands them to bless Israel and the Jewish people.
Richard Friedman will conclude his long-time career as Executive Director of the Birmingham Jewish Federation this year and join the staff of Israel InSight magazine as Associate Editor.