By Rabbi Elchanan Poupko
It was my first trip to Texas. I did not know what to expect.
It was in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge. During the trip, my contact was mostly with the Jewish community, and I did not get to see much of the general population in Texas.
When I arrived at the airport and came to the TSA security check, I was shocked to be asked by the security official a question I had not expected. “How are the people in Israel?” he wanted to know. His friend joined in the conversation and told me that in his church, they follow the news and pray for the people in Israel.
Once we got to the boarding area, as an Orthodox Jew who prays thrice daily, I found myself a quiet corner to pray before boarding the plane. As I stood with closed eyes facing Jerusalem, I suddenly heard the playful voices of children who rushed to the formerly empty and quiet area I was standing and praying in.
I heard the urgent hushing of a man with great urgency in his voice. When the children expressed surprise at what had just happened, I heard a whisper from the man, who was apparently the children’s father, telling the kids: “I will explain to you later.” Never before have I displayed my religion so publicly, just to feel such a strong sense of respect for it.
Christian/conservative America has shown the Jewish people unprecedented and unparalleled tolerance, favor, grace and sympathy. We should not take this for granted. With many Jewish groups making it their explicit objective to oppose what many Christian conservatives support — which, in many cases, includes the current administration — it is important to make sure that differences of opinion on matters of policy do not become personal.
We have all seen the mistake of people who dump their old friends or family for the sake of new ones, and then discover that their new friends are no longer there for them. We should not make this mistake.
American religious and political conservatives have been friends of the Jewish people in ways that are beyond what any of our forefathers in Europe, Arabia or anywhere else could have imagined. They’ve been so despite the evident gap of many political and religious differences, and that is something for us to remember.
This does not mean we need to agree on all of our domestic politics, but it means a lot about how we should be disagreeing. There is a difference between the way we argue with a friend and the way we argue with a stranger. Friends should treat friends like friends.
“Well aren’t they helping Jews just so we move to Israel and the rapture can come? Aren’t they just trying to convert Jews?” some argue.
For those who question the intentions of American conservatives and Christian Zionists, I say: Would you prefer a world in which there are no Christian Zionists?
Can you imagine how Jewish history would have looked like without noble people like Lord Arthur Balfour, Winston Churchill or Harry Truman? Historically speaking, Christian Zionists have been Israel’s most selfless and kind supporters.
The winds of change are blowing in America. It is no secret that we live in an age of political realignment. The toxic influence of the alt-right and the alt-left are things that should concern any American, but especially Jews. We should not be taking any friendship for granted.
The Jewish people have forever been a people of gratitude. From Cyrus and Alexander the Great to George Washington, Jews have always harbored deep gratitude to those who wished them well.
American Christians should be no different. Regardless of our — possibly expanding — political divides we must remember our friends. No matter how vast the ocean of differences of opinions between us and some of the Christian right, gratitude, friendship and respect should dominate our conversation with them and about them. They have given it to us, and they deserve no less in return.
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a rabbi, writer, teacher and blogger. He lives with his wife in New York City and is the president of EITAN-The American-Israeli Jewish Network.