I am not Jewish. I feel I should make that clear from the very beginning. I don’t keep kosher. I don’t like gefilte fish. And the first time someone called me a “mensch,” I thought they were insulting me.
Surrounded by corn fields and Amish buggies, a lone stoplight at its main intersection, the rural Midwestern town I grew up in was not exactly a melting pot of cultures. It was a place where the kids knew about pickup trucks and the price of wheat, how to disembowel a deer and drive a tractor. We could point out on a map where our grandfathers fought in the War, but ask us to find Israel and you would be met with blank stares.
Despite the vast differences between me and my Jewish peers growing up, however, we weren’t all that different. I, too, believed in the Ten Commandments and thrilled at the Bible’s accounts of great men and women, like King David, Queen Esther, and Jonah. Sure, my Sunday school was held at the Baptist church, not the synagogue; but there, too, they taught about the G-d of Israel and the ancient Hebrews who would serve as role models and examples to me during my formative years.
In fact, it was while sitting in the wooden pews of that little church that the early seeds of Zionism were planted in my heart and mind. Throughout the years, the pastors of the church would often speak about G-d’s special relationship with, and love for, the Jewish people. I heard countless sermons celebrating the miracle that is the modern State of Israel — the place where theology, politics, and tomorrow’s headlines converge. I was taught — and have subsequently come to believe in, myself — the literalness and validity of G-d’s great declaration to Abraham:
“I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
In 2012, as a 21-year-old searching for his life’s work, I found myself on a plane bound for Tel Aviv. I was part of an energetic team of fellow young evangelical Christians, called ORIGINS, an acronym standing for “Our Resolve Is Giving Israel Never-ending Support.” Catchy, nu?
Our team spent two weeks at a hospital in the city of Rehovot, where we worked alongside Arab and Jewish Israelis. We washed dishes, scrubbed toilets, did landscaping, and had fun doing it. One of our primary goals in spending our summer doing grunt work at an Israeli hospital was to give legs to our convictions about God’s love for the Jewish people, and to demonstrate to them that, despite centuries of Christian persecution, there are, indeed, Christians who love and support Israel and the Jewish people, unconditionally.
I was moved by the genuine warmth the Israelis showed this group of American Christians (yes, Israelis can be warm!). They told me about their families; their hopes that their children and grandchildren would one day live in harmony with their Arab neighbors; and, of course, expressed freely their opinions about current events and politics.
Late one evening, our team visited the Kotel — that limestone monument to the arduously-won dream of Zion. After looking at it for some time, I finally worked up the nerve, placed a kippah on my head — the first time I had ever done so — and began making my way to the Wall. I raised my hand to the ancient stone, still warm from the rays of the Mediterranean sun, and began to pray. I prayed for the protection of the Jewish people. I prayed for the peace of Jerusalem. I prayed that G-d would use me to be a friend to Israel.
As I returned to the outside courtyard overlooking the Kotel, I looked back to where I had just been, taking it all in — the sights, the sounds, and the smells of a summer night in Jerusalem. This was it. This scene of hundreds of Jews from all over the Diaspora — some with beards, some without beards; some whose skin was golden-brown, others whose skin was European white, like my own; young men, tall and lean; and others whose backs were hunched, their white heads bowed in reverent prayer — this was it. This was the reality of G-d’s promise to His Covenant People:
I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. (Ezekiel 11:16).
As our plane made its ascent off the tarmac at Ben Gurion International Airport, I looked down at the Mediterranean, feeling that my heart had bonded to the nation and its people in a mysterious way. I had arrived a tourist and left a Zionist.
I have been to Israel one other time since that initial trip. And, while I hope to return again one day, I feel that the greatest work I can do as a Christian and a Zionist is to be a voice at home. Jewish students on the campuses of American universities are being targeted by anti-Semitic bigots who hide behind the politically correct banner of anti-Zionism. The BDS campaign seeks to beguile Christian churches into boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning the G-d-ordained heirs of Eretz Yisrael. And a new generation is arising that knows the Holocaust as merely an event of the past, and whose understanding of the truths of that atrocity is muddled by historical revisionism and moral relativism.
This is the world the Zionist dream faces today. These are the cultural battles that must be won. But let it be known that Israel and the Jewish people are not alone in these trials — not this time. I am just one of hundreds, of thousands, of Evangelical Christians who stand in unfeigned solidarity with the Jewish state and the Jewish people, and who daily take an active role in combating such attacks on those G-d calls the apple of His eye.
I am an Evangelical Christian. I am an American. And, as unlikely as it is, from cornfields to Kotel, I am a Zionist, and I stand with Israel.
Am Yisrael Chai.