Pastor Hagee and Our Jewish Federation

Sermon delivered December 21, 2007, by Rabbi Barry H. D. Block

The Jewish Federation of San Antonio has decided to add its name to future invitations to “A Night to Honor Israel” at Cornerstone Church. The vote of the Federation Board in this regard was overwhelming, though not unanimous. The matter is highly controversial. More than a few members and leaders of our Jewish community believe that Jewish association with Pastor Hagee’s Israel efforts is bad for our Jewish Community and not in the best interest of our Jewish State.

I am, perhaps too clearly, on record opposing decisions like this most recent decision of our Federation. Tonight, though, is not the time to restate my strongly-held convictions in this regard. Instead, let us acknowledge that each side of this debate asks very good questions of the other. Let us affirm that, whether we join hands with Pastor Hagee and his particular efforts or we do not, our decisions are based on our Zionism, on our strong support of the State of Israel. Let us agree that our Jewish Federation does extraordinary good, to which we should all contribute, even when we may disagree with a particular action. Let us pray that those of us who dissent with respect to “A Night to Honor Israel” will be a loyal, not disloyal, opposition. Finally, and most challenging, we who would not partner with Pastor Hagee have much work to do. Nurturing and enhancing vocal support for Israel among Catholics, mainline Protestants, and mainstream Evangelicals is our job, our responsibility, our sacred duty.

But first, the questions.

Those who favor adding our Federation’s name to Pastor Hagee’s efforts ask how others of us can fail to acknowledge with gratitude a man of God who has given so much money to worthy causes in Israel and even in our own Jewish community. They point out that Israel often lacks friends, and they wonder why some Jews, even Zionists, would oppose Jewish engagement with a large and powerful group of Americans who are eager to speak out on Israel’s behalf: clearly, repeatedly, and enthusiastically.

Others ask opposite questions. Does the Jewish State benefit when Jews link our name to support for Israel that is often accompanied by vitriolic hatred, characterizing Islam itself with even satanic language? Do we want to be part of an event that routinely includes denunciation of the Israeli governments’ own policies of seeking a two-state solution?

Each side has answers to the other’s questions, of course. And yet, on both sides, the answers fail to satisfy. Our love for Israel is so strong; we all are deeply committed to doing what each believes at our core to be best for the Jewish State. While the questions I have described barely scratch the surface of what divides us, we are united by so much more.

We are Jews, called into covenant with God, and also with one another, with all the people of Israel, and with the Land of Israel.

We may not agree about how best to live out our covenant, but we are obligated to that sacred bond nonetheless.

A secure Jewish State in Israel helps to ensure our future as Jews, even in America.

The strength and unity of our local Jewish community sustain Israel itself, even as we support one another.

For the good of Israel – and yes, for our own good – we must remain unified as a Jewish community. Let us acknowledge the good will of those who disagree with us, and let us celebrate all that brings us together.

Let those who rejoice in our Federation’s recent decision affirm the deep hurt, embarrassment, and even potential alienation of those who would avoid association with Pastor Hagee. Let them acknowledge that we, too, are passionate Zionists and committed Jews.

And let those of us who found ourselves in the minority in that decision understand that, for a long time, many San Antonio Jews were mortified and embarrassed that our Jewish Federation did not link its name with Pastor Hagee. Let us affirm that all our fellow Jews pray for a future for Israel at peace.

The Jewish Federation whose Board recently had to take that divisive vote is the same Jewish Federation that brings us together.

Whatever position our Federation might have taken with regard to “A Night to Honor Israel,” that issue is peripheral to that organization’s good and sacred work.

The Jewish Federation of San Antonio assures that folks on Medicaid, Jewish or not, receive quality nursing home care at Golden Manor.

The Jewish Federation of San Antonio provides countless services to senior citizens through Jewish Family Service and the Jewish Community Center.

The Jewish Federation of San Antonio is critically involved with helping communities in northern Israel recover after the devastating war of the summer of 2006.

Each and every one of us shares an obligation to continue supporting the essential and life-giving work of our Jewish Federation. Let none of us be distracted from that sacred calling, no matter what the level of our distress at any particular Board vote.

In fact, those of us who opposed engagement with Pastor Hagee bear a special burden. Jewish supporters of right-wing evangelical efforts for Israel rightly point out that no other Christian community galvanizes support for Israel like Pastor Hagee and his colleagues.

Too often, mainline Protestants protest Israeli actions without acknowledging all that is right with Israel and all that is wrong with Islamist extremism. The Catholic Church is quite good to Israel, but generally too quiet. Mainstream evangelicals are often enthusiastic Israel supporters, but they do not frequently produce the level tangible support offered by Pastor Hagee and his co-workers.

North American Reform Judaism and its Rabbis have repeatedly reaffirmed our Zionism, together with our concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people. We actively advocate for a peaceful future, with a two-state solution in the Middle East, as the United Nations voted in 1947.

Catholics, mainline Protestants and mainstream evangelicals, essentially all of them, share our views about Israel. I speak with many of their leaders, though, and I can report with authority: Most American Christians find the Israel activism of right wing evangelicals to be dangerous, even repugnant. No coincidence put the Union for Reform Judaism at the center of the successful drive to end anti-Israel divestment in the Presbyterian Church. Other national Jewish organizations rightly stayed away. If American Catholics, mainstream evangelicals and mainline Protestants are to be encouraged to do more for Israel, as they should, American Jews who stand apart from efforts like Pastor Hagee’s bear the key responsibility to marshal that critical support for Israel.

Our Torah portion tells the story of Jacob, Joseph and their family, living in Egypt, but focused on the Land of Israel. They relate lovingly and in sincerity with their neighbors, even as Israel is their holy land.

Like Joseph and Jacob, we are blessed with plenty, and with all kinds of good friends in the land where we dwell. Like our patriarchs and matriarchs, we share a commitment to our covenant, to our people and to our Land. Let us learn from Torah. Let us work for the welfare and unity of all Jewish people, when we agree and when we do not. Let us disagree with respect and understanding. Let us serve Israel and all the world, through our Jewish Federation and all the means at our disposal.

And let our prayers include Israelis as well as Palestinians. Let our prayers include Jews who support Israel with Pastor Hagee and those whose Zionism is expressed by opposing that connection. Let our prayers be for the Jewish people, for Americans of every faith and no faith, for peace in the Middle East and throughout the world.