A Night to Honor Israel

A Night to Honor Israel raised $40,000 for underprivileged Ethiopian Jews.

A Night to Honor Israel raised $40,000 for underprivileged Ethiopian Jews.

Photo By D. Brian Burghart

It’s not usually the purpose of this feature to stray into the realm of politics, except when politics, spirituality and religion intersect. So, it’s purely coincidental that last week I attended and wrote about an Obama stump speech, and this week, I went to A Night to Honor Israel, an event sponsored in part by Reno’s Faith Alive Christian Center and a fundraiser to provide educational materials to underprivileged Ethiopian Jews.

I told one of my hosts, Michelle Lacerda, that I thought the event was more political than spiritual, but I’d changed my mind before I’d even walked out the door. The problem was that since I couldn’t put a political/spiritual event in context, my mind immediately moved it into the more recognizable area.

A Night to Honor Israel was presented by Christians United for Israel. The bottom line for the purpose of the event is a literal interpretation of the Bible, including Genesis 12:3: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

The Christians who subscribe to this reading believe all the covenants of the Old Testament are still honored by God. The Jews of Israel are the chosen people.

And despite some of the pre-event publicity in the Reno Gazette-Journal, these Christians do not believe in converting Jews to Christianity. They are sorrowful for not helping more during the Holocaust, and they believe in supporting financially, spiritually and politically the nation of Israel. They wholly dismiss what the keynote speaker David Brog (author of Standing with Israel) calls “replacement theology.” Replacement theology basically is the concept that Jesus Christ changed the game and broke the contract made with Abraham. In other words, according to replacement theology, Christians are the new chosen people.

Brog quoted Pastor John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel, “If you take away the Jewish contribution to Christianity, there would be no Christianity.” All the books of the Bible, with the exception of Luke (although I know there is some debate about Luke’s ancestry), were written by Jews.

It’s a wholly different view of the Bible than what I grew up with, but I can buy the argument made by the literal fundamentalist readers. I mean, if you’re going with a literal interpretation, you’ve got to accept all the verses.

At any rate, from a straight journalistic standpoint, I saw a couple of county commissioners, a district judge and a couple of city councilmembers in attendance. Really, that some 800 people would turn out to the Atlantis Casino Resort on a Sunday night to participate is quite remarkable.

Speakers were varied, ranging from Rabbi Jacob Benzaquen (of Temple Emanu-El), Israeli Consul General of Los Angeles Jacob Dayan, Michal Kohane (of Jewish Federation of the Greater Sacramento Area), Faith Alive pastors David Oberg and Joseph Bock, and Christian United for Israel Northern California director Victor Styrsky. Music was energetically provided by Wild Branches, a Christian band, with a couple of special guests to add a Hebrew flair. The fundraiser brought in $40,000 for Atidim. Rabbi Bezaquen actually told a pretty good joke about a priest, a minister and a rabbi.

While the vibe was a combination of emotional highs—Michal Kohane’s family story of how they came to Israel—and lows—the history of Christianity’s abuse of the Jews—the evening really had a serious theme: “Israel is in extremis; Israel is in danger,” said David Brog. He went on to say that there’s a new Hitler in the Middle East, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and every day he gets closer to a nuclear weapon. He has frequently called for the annihilation of Israel.