JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel enjoys a lot of support in the United States. The largest group, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), has grown to more than 4 million members. And it all began with a simple friendship that got its start nearly 40 years ago.
Each year, CUFI brings its members to Washington, DC. Pastor John Hagee formed the organization to be a political advocate on behalf of the Jewish states. It's come a long way since 1981 when Pastor Hagee sought help from the local Jewish community to host his first night to honor Israel. He reached out to Rabbi Areyeh Scheinberg with Congregation Rodfei Sholom in San Antonio, Texas.
Pastor John Hagee at CUFI's Annual 'Night to Honor Israel'
"In September of 81 when he went to the Jewish community in San Antonio and agreed to represent us and get their permission to have that night to honor Israel. Had there been no night to honor Israel, there wouldn't have been a second nor a third and most assuredly there would not have been a Christians United for Israel. So it was a very pivotal moment and rabbi was the man and the only man who could and went to the Jewish community and got their permission," Hagee told CBN News.
So why did Rabbi Scheinberg say yes?
"Because I thought Pastor Hagee was a person who would say something, do something, carry it out. I felt that the first time I met him. I was impressed with his commitment, with his zeal, with his strength, with his courage, with his knowledge," he said.
Recently, an event at Israel's Foreign Ministry honored Rabbi Scheinberg.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely Presents Award to Rabbi Scheinberg
Host David Nekrutman, who now serves as executive director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding & Cooperation, credits the rabbi for breaking down a wall between Christians and Jews.
"From the Jewish side to have an Orthodox rabbi say yes to an evangelical pastor in 1981, it's unheard of. Mainstream Jewish Christian relations was usually with Catholics and mainline Protestants, reform and conservative Jews, with a handful of Jewish rabbis in academia. But on the grassroots level, never had anything like that and Rabbi Scheinberg changed the history of the Jewish Christian landscape as we see it today," he told CBN News.
Pastor Hagee at Night to Honor Israel, Cornerstone Church, San Antonia.
Nekrutman says the friendship of an orthodox rabbi and an evangelical pastor has left a rich legacy.
"In 1981, he said yes to a relationship that has lasted over 38 years, which has accomplished 37 nights to honor Israel at [Pastor Hagee's] Cornerstone Church alone. It's also influenced millions of Christians to do nights to honor Israel. He's raised over $100 million for Israeli causes and Jewish causes and it's all because a rabbi said yes," he concluded.