Thursday, July 29, 2010

Chelsea and John

There has been a lot of angst in Jewish quarters about the upcoming nuptials of Chelsea Clinton, the Christian daughter of a former President and Marc Mezvinsky a Conservative (religious - not political) Jew. And for good reason. Intermarriage is forbidden by Torah law. The children of this marriage will not be considered Jewish since the mother is not.

There has been some speculation that Chelsea will ‘convert’ since no Conservative rabbi will perform an intermarriage. But even if she does ‘convert’ Orthodox Judaism does not accept Conservative conversions. It would therefore be considered intermarriage by Orthodox standards.

A high profile event like this can only impact negatively on the phenomenon of Jews increasingly marrying out. It will certainly make it more acceptable among secular Jews with little to no connection with their heritage that constitute an ever increasing and unprecedented number.

So this event is nothing to applaud. However even though it pales by comparison it does have a positive element to it. It is one of two events that serve to prove just how accepted the Jewish people are in America. The second is an event organized by Pastor John Hagee. More about that later.

In all the coverage I’ve seen, heard, and read about this event, the fact that the groom is Jewish is hardly mentioned at all. It is a non issue. This marriage has even been called the American equivalent of a royal marriage – as if a princess was getting married to a commoner. The hoopla is much like it was at the royal wedding that took place 30 years ago in England between Prince Charles and Diana. Although not quite as intense - that’s the way the secular mainstream media is treating it.

It is the Jewish media that pays any attention at all to the groom’s Judaism. That is the beauty of America. The vast majority of the American people couldn’t care less whether their neighbor is Jewish or not. Nor do they care whether their ‘royalty’ marries a Jew or not. It is irrelevant to them.

So as I said, this event is nothing to celebrate. The damage done by glorifying intermarriage is far greater than yet another proof of our acceptance. But there is that element of true equality that is reflected here. And that is something to celebrate and be grateful for.

And so was the event that took place in Washington DC last week.

A recent study has shown that support for Israel by the American people is at an all time high. This - despite the best efforts of some mainline Protestant Churches to undermine that support. But this pales in comparison to the support of Israel and the Jewish people of the Evangelical Christian. There are over 50 million Evangelical Christians in this country. The vast majority of them are more pro Israel than most Jews are. That was reflected last week when over 5000 Christians showed up in the nation’s capital to lobby for Israel. They were invited by Pastor John Hagee’s organization, Christians United for Israel (CUFI).

This is one of the reasons oft cited why congress is so pro Israel. The Jewish vote is less than 2% of this country and most of those tend to be far more critical of Israel than supportive lately. Hardly worth thinking about for a politician. But 50 million Christian voters with strong pro Israel feelings cannot be ignored. These Christians make alternative J-Street type Jews look like members of the Palestinian Authority by comparison. Here are some excerpts from a JTA article that highlights the CUFI’s ‘Night to Honor Israel’ that demonstrates the kind of support we get from these great Americans:

Many (attendees) were like Shelby Shelton, 68, from north Florida, who said, "The Bible says the time for Zion is now and it’s very clear that we should support the Jewish people." Her husband, Ron, 72, sporting a flowing white beard, nodded.

(Randy Neal a senior official with CUFI said) "We believe Israel has the right to defend herself, we need to increase pressure against Iran to get it to abandon its nuclear program," Neal said. "We don't believe, recognizing Israel as a sovereign nation, that we can dictate where they can and can't build."

CUFI is the largest organization representing what are believed to be tens of millions conservative evangelical Christians who support Israel. They do so because of what they believe is Israel’s biblical mandate and, they say, because supporting Israel is aligned with U.S. interests.

In words and donations, Hagee has backed West Bank settlement, but also says he will support whatever peace solution Israel's elected government backs.

Onstage last week Hagee, who launched the first Night to Honor Israel in 1981 at his San Antonio church, riffed on President Obama's famed election slogan "Yes we can!" by asking the crowd to join him in warning, "No, we can't!" "Can we support any treaty that does not allow Israel to defend itself?" he boomed, leading the crowd: "No, we can't!"

The political message of the evening, and of the entire event, was that Obama had turned on Israel although he now seems to be correcting himself. "It's particularly unsettling for the people of Israel that the relationship between Israel and its most steadfast ally has been troubled this last year," U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), a CUFI stalwart, told the crowd.

Lieberman said he now would "hope and pray" that the relationship was on an upswing in the wake of the positive meeting earlier this month between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The message, that Obama administration pressure on Israel to halt settlement expansion is unwelcome, trickled down to the rank and file.

"We are not here on earth by accident," Lieberman said, sparking one the biggest rounds of applause of the evening. "We are here as a result of a conscious and intentional act of creation of the almighty…

There are those who say that Evangelicals are really our enemies and have a sordid past with respect to Jews. They say that their goals have always been – and still are – to convert the Jews to Christianity. That used to be the case. But it is not the case now – with perhaps the exception of Southern Baptists and a few splinter groups - the vast majority are content to leave us alone and at most pray for our salvation as they understand it. I’m not even sure they do that! They certainly do not actively seek converts among us. Why do they support us:

Thomas, the Florida pastor, spoke of discovering the "Judeo" in his Judeo-Christian heritage. "When I discovered the Judeo aspect of my Christian faith, it was the most natural response to pray for Israel," he said. "To stand for her, to support her." It was a theme repeatedly invoked by conference-goers.

"Our book that we read says, ‘Those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed,'" said Jacqueline Ulmer of New York, repeating a passage from the Bible that spilled from everyone's lips.

If Evangelicals are our enemies - who needs friends?