WHEN HE was unanimously elected as president of the Great Synagogue last January, Malcolm Hoenlein said that one of the first things he wanted to do was to honor Pastor John Hagee, founder and chairman of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), and his wife Diana, for their unstinting and dedicated support for Israel in general, and Jerusalem in particular.
The pandemic got in the way of realizing that ambition throughout 2021, but on Sunday of this week, almost exactly four years to the day that Hoenlein himself and World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder had been honored by the Great Synagogue, it was Hagee’s turn to receive peons of praise from Great Synagogue board members, who appreciate the importance of his work and who marvel at the extent of his influence.
Also among the speakers was Prof. Jonathan Halevy, president of Shaare Zedek Medical Center, which is among the many beneficiaries of CUFI’s charitable activities in Israel. Synagogue vice president and former longtime acting president Zalli Jaffe recalled that Hagee had written that in 1978, he came to Israel as a tourist and left as a committed Zionist. Hagee confirmed this in his own acceptance speech. The invitation to the ceremony was at very short notice, but even so nearly all of the approximately 100 chairs that had been set up in the huge lobby of the synagogue were occupied.
Following the start of the ceremony, the national anthems of Israel and the United States were sung by the synagogue choir conducted by Elli Jaffe with soloists cantors Tzvi Weiss and Avraham Kirshenbaum. The choir sang several liturgical pieces including a rousing rendition of “Hallelujah” to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s popular version.
Hoenlein, who is invited to be among the speakers at the annual CUFI conference, said the people who attend are the finest of America, and that he has never seen a better assemblage. “You go there to recharge your batteries,” he said, noting that CUFI representatives confront members of Congress on behalf of Israel, and denounce extremism, racism, BDS and antisemitism, while helping to promote various pro-Israel projects. “As much as we want to honor you,” he told Hagee, “your presence honors us.”
Hagee responded that no words could express his appreciation to Hoenlein and the Great Synagogue. He then spoke of being inspired when he prayed at the Western Wall in 1978. “No city in the world is like the city of God,” he declared. “Jerusalem tops every city in the world because it is written about in the Bible. Jerusalem is the epicenter of the world and the shoreline of eternity.” There were cheers and applause when he said: “Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of the State of Israel. The Jewish people do not occupy this land. They own this land!”
After his experience at the Western Wall, he recalled, he had told his wife that he wanted to bring Jews and Christians together as one. Aware of the sharp differences between the two over the centuries, she had asked, “how on earth are you going to do that?” His first step was to buy a lot of books to acquaint himself with history and tradition. It came as a shock to him to learn that Martin Luther had been a rabid antisemite. “There is nothing more disturbing in your adult life to discover something which you believed to be true, is not true,” he said.
Explaining his own strong feelings toward the Jewish people, Hagee said: “The Jewish people brought to Christianity every gift we have. Take the Jewish people away from us, and we have nothing.” That message is shared today by millions of Americans. In order to beef up support for Israel, Hagee invited 400 of the most eminent pastors who were linked to radio and television broadcasting outlets – and they all came. He told them that they had to form a grassroots organization to rally on behalf of Israel.
The upshot was the formation of CUFI, where today, according to Hagee, there are 11.5 million people ready to stand up for Israel at a moment’s notice – and the numbers are growing.
■ THERE ARE many choirs in Israel – men’s choirs, women’s choirs, children’s choirs and mixed choirs. Most synagogue choirs in Israel are composed of men only, but Jerusalemite Hadass Levmore is starting a mixed choir of cantorial music in the belief that cantorial music is so soul-stirring, that it is unfair for women to miss out. The name of the choir is Zimrat Haaretz, and it is being run in collaboration with Mechon Hadar, which empowers Jews to create and sustain vibrant, practicing, egalitarian communities of Torah, and includes recorded prayer songs in its teachings. The choir will also support the work of The Honey Foundation, which encourages Jewish religious pluralism within the context of Torah learning.
Beginning March 22 at 8 p.m., the choir will meet weekly at Mechon Hadar, 63 Emek Refaim. The choirmaster will be Akiva Segal while Levmore will be its manager. Cost of membership, which includes training and learning of cantorial melodies, is NIS 180 per month. Singers who cannot afford this sum may be entitled to subsidies. For further information and registration, call 050-8925102 or email [email protected]
■ FORMER CHIEF psychologist for Israel’s Education Ministry Reuven Asch, who made aliyah from New York in 1970, and was among the recipients of the Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize in 2020, recently won another prize. At the ceremony attended by Education Minister Dr. Yifat Shasha-Biton, Asch, who is impressed by her intelligence, her ability to stand true to her beliefs and her attractive appearance, wanted to tell her how pretty she is, but received a sudden red-warning light in his brain. When he came on aliyah, to tell a woman she was pretty was a compliment. Today, it comes within the legal definition of sexual harassment.
Among Asch’s achievements during his many years as an educational psychologist was the training of almost a thousand immigrant psychologists to specialize in educational psychology and helping their integration into the workforce. He is particularly proud of that now, because a significant number of those psychologists came from Ukraine, and since the outbreak of the war, they have been corresponding with colleagues in Ukraine via Zoom and helping them with the treatment of the children in the schools to which they are attached. It is important that they are able to speak to them in their own language during this period of intense stress.
■ IN SYNAGOGUES last Saturday, congregants read the biblical injunction to “remember what Amalek did to you.” Rabbis in many synagogues referred to this in their sermons, but also spoke of the ongoing catastrophe in Ukraine. At Hazvi Yisrael synagogue, Rabbi Yosef Ote stated that what is happening in Europe cannot be ignored. While we must remember the evils perpetrated against us by our enemies, we are also commanded to help those in need. Ukrainian refugees are very much in need, and the first consideration should be of a humane nature, without questioning their religion. They should be allowed into the country and given decent treatment. If they are not eligible to stay, they must be told that they have up to six months to decide where they want to go, and if they don’t leave voluntarily after such time, they will be deported. This gives them breathing space and the opportunity to choose their next steps without panic.