"The spiritual destruction of a Jew is as serious ...as the physical."
By Gaby Wenig
Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert will appear in San Diego Oct. 15, but there will not be any official representatives from the Jewish community to welcome him at the $1,000-a-plate dinner.
However, Olmert will not find an empty room. The mayor was invited by the Mission Valley Christian Fellowship, an Evangelical Christian church that will present Olmert with a $500,000 check "for the urgent, critical and immediate support of the victims of terrorism."
Olmert's appearance at the dinner sponsored by the church -- which Jewish groups call a proselytizing organization -- has sparked a debate in San Diego. It is the same debate that is taking place around the country, as Jewish groups ask: Should we ally ourselves on the Israel issue with organizations that we'd otherwise oppose?
In San Diego, the answer seems to be no. Jewish groups are boycotting the Oct. 15 event, at which part of the money being raised by the dinner for 400 will go to the Nicodemus Project, a church program aimed at spreading the word of God in Israel.
"There are people in the community who are very concerned about the nature of this group," said Jane Scher, chair of the Community Relations Committee of the United Jewish Federation of San Diego.
At issue in the Olmert visit is whether the Mission Valley Christian Fellowship is simply a community of Israel-loving Christians, or whether it is a group of Israel-loving Christians who are making concerted efforts to proselytize Jews in Israel.
Leslie Decker, a spokesperson for the Christian Fellowship, denied that the church has an evangelical component. However, she admitted that conversion of Jews is a church dream.
"Our Nicodemus Project is going to be spreading the word of God as coming from the Torah alone," she said. "Our aim is to spread Judaism.
"Of course, we would love them [the Jews] to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah, but the primary goal is to show them that there are people in the United States who love them, and who are standing beside them no matter what," Decker said.
"This is subterfuge, and the church is covering it up," said Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz of Jews for Judaism, a Jewish anti-missionary organization. "Their Web site states that their mission is to 'seek to point others to Jesus Christ' and that 'putting the word of God up throughout Israel will turn the hearts of Israel to the Lord,' who they say is Jesus Christ. Jews for Judaism did an independent investigation of the church, and we found that they really want to bring Jews to Jesus."
Olmert would not return calls for comment.
Others in the community said that no matter what the church's motives are, this may not be the right time for Jewish groups to alienate friends of Israel.
"At a time like this, when the world community is so notoriously anti-Israel, and there are Evangelical Christians supporting Israel, I think Israeli officials have an obligation to accept that support," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "Israeli officials should be doing all they can to muster Christians' support of Israel, but that is not to say they should tolerate any missionary activities," he added. "And if that is the price of support, then they should withhold their support."
Yariv Ovadia, consul for communications and public affairs at Israeli consulate in Los Angeles, which covers San Diego, said that the consulate supports Olmert's visit.
"The church that organized and financed mayor Olmert's trip has been a vocal advocate for the State of Israel, particularly in this hour of need," Ovadia said. "While we understand the sensitivity of the issue, we feel that a fundraising event for the victims of terrorism in Jerusalem is a tremendous support for the people of Israel, and Jerusalem in particular."
Around the country, Jewish groups are divided on the issue, concerned about the evangelical underpinnings of Christian support. Right-wing Christians believe that the second coming of Christ will occur when Jews return to Israel, and at The End of Days, Jews will accept Christ as their savior.
In a recent New York Times piece, Maureen Dowd quoted the Rev. Jerry Falwell as saying, "You and I know that there's not going to be any real peace in the Middle East until one day the Lord Jesus Christ sits on the throne of David in Jerusalem."
In the same article, Leon Weiseltier, Jewish scholar and literary editor of The New Republic, called Christian support of Israel "a grim comedy of mutual condescension. The Evangelical Christians condescend to the Jews by offering their support before they convert or kill them. And the Jews condescend to Christians by accepting their support, while believing that their eschatology is nonsense."
But turning away from Christian support might be too much to ask from a country constantly on the defensive in front of world government bodies, such as the European Union and the United Nations, and facing a devastating tourism decline. For example, approximately 3,500 Christians from 70 countries visited Israel during Succot, and on Friday, Oct. 11, the Christian Coalition will rally in support of Israel in Washington, D.C. Moreoever, Christian groups are as vocal in condemning suicide bombings and endorsing pro-Israel politicians as Jewish leaders.
But some are not swayed.
"Do I believe that Christians should give money to Israel? Yes," Kravitz said. "Should they help the victims of terror? Yes.
"But something is wrong here," he continued. "We have to do everything to survive -- but is it only survival to not be physically hurt? According to Jewish tradition, the spiritual destruction of a Jew is as serious an issue as the physical destruction."