In Bensalem, Congregation Tifereth Israel and the Christian Life Church are around the corner from each other. Yet until recently, they had no relationship. There was no animosity. The congregations just hadn’t interacted.
But after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, CLC Pastor Mark English called CTI Rabbi Jeff Schnitzer. English told Schnitzer he wanted to swing by. The rabbi said sure.
English walked in with a painting of the Israeli flag hand-painted by his wife. On it were the words, “We pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” accompanied by the signatures of many of Harris’ congregants. The pastor also presented the rabbi with a check for $500. Schnitzer and his congregation sent it to the Lone Soldier Center to support Israeli soldiers.
“When he came over, we sat down and had a chat for a minute or two, and then he went out to the car and brought this thing in,” said Schnitzer. “I was absolutely blown away.”
It was early November, less than a month into the conflict between Israel and Hamas. The rabbi had watched public sentiment in the United States turn quickly from support for Israel to opposition. At that moment, he was “looking for criticism in people, not support,” he said.
“And then to see this really brought back my confidence that people really did understand what was going on,” he said. “It brought back my faith in people in general.”
The painting stands outside of Tifereth Israel’s sanctuary. That way, members see it when they walk in for Shabbat services. When she walks by it, Cindy Citron, CTI’s educational director, is reminded of “what a passionate Zionist I am.”
“It reminds me that Israel has the right to sovereignty,” she added. “It has made me feel like lighting Shabbat candles every Friday night, which I haven’t done in years. I’m walking around with a Magen David around my neck. It makes me think of Am Yisrael Chai. And it reminds us that not everybody hates the Jews.”
Antisemitism has increased in the Philadelphia area since the Oct. 7 attack. Anti-Defamation League Philadelphia has received more than 100 complaints during the ensuing war. It received more than 500 in all last year.
Citron called this moment “the worst antisemitism that I have experienced in my life.”
“We’re nervous about showing our Jewish symbols on our bodies. We’re nervous about putting Israeli symbols on our lawns or cars,” she said.
The educational director decided against putting an Israeli flag on her car. Her social media timelines are “flooded with ‘free Palestine’ and all kinds of lies and bigotry and hatred,” she said.
It made the gesture from English and the Christian Life Church even more meaningful.
“For an entire community to come out of nowhere and say, ‘Hey, we’re here, we support you,’ it was just an incredible gesture,” Citron said.
“It has helped lift the hearts of our community, knowing there are people who really care,” Schnitzer added.
The congregation plans to frame the painting inside the sanctuary, according to Citron. Schnitzer also said that the two congregations have a relationship now.
“We spoke about how this could open up some tangible activities between the two communities,” he said.