Orthodox rabbi meets with evangelicals in Colorado Springs

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — A rabbi told members of Colorado’s largest church that both Israel and the post-September 11 United States are threatened in today’s world, and that Jews and Christians need to “reverse history” and support one another.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, told the congregation of New Life Church on Sunday that when missiles were paraded in Tehran, Iran, recently, they were painted with the phrases “Kill the Jews” and “Kill the Crusaders.”

“We have the opportunity today, I would say the obligation and the responsibility, to extend love, true love toward one another,” said Eckstein, whose Chicago-based group has raised $50 million a year for charities helping Jews in Israel and other parts of the world.

Eckstein was invited to speak at the 11,000-member church by Pastor Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, to mark a day of solidarity between Christians and Israel.

While some Protestant denominations have been critical of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, including plans to build a security barrier to deter suicide bombers, American evangelical Christians have been strong supporters of Israel.

The questions from Sunday’s audience ranged from the significance of the Palestinian election victory by the Islamic militant group Hamas and the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to whether more Jews were accepting Jesus as savior.

Eckstein said most Christians think Jews are thinking a lot about Jesus, but they’re not. He said more Gentiles are becoming Jewish than Jews are becoming Christians.

Church member Dayna Ross said she was surprised by the rabbi’s answer since many Christians devote much of their lives to spreading the gospel. Her husband, Joe, was also surprised when Eckstein challenged his view of the apostle Paul.

But Joe Ross said those differences would not keep him from supporting Israel, and he believes that President George W. Bush and his advisers are strongly committed to that as well.

“They recognize if we turn our backs on Israel, God will turn his back on us,” Ross said.

Eckstein’s group was criticized by some prominent Israeli rabbis last year who said they feared Christian supporters’ true motive was to convert Jews. Eckstein said an internal poll by his group said most Christians supporting the group are motivated by Israel’s shared democratic values. He also said evangelicals tend to look to a passage in the Book of Genesis, which says that those who bless Israel will be blessed.

Eckstein also commented on Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson. He said Robertson made a “serious” mistake in saying Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke because he was being punished by God for pulling out of the Gaza Strip.

Eckstein warned Christians against trying to figure out if recent events in the Middle East mean that the end of days is near.

“We Jews look at it with a greater sense of history than what just happened last week,” Eckstein said.

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