By JOHN FORTMEYER
PORTLAND — When representatives of Oregon’s evangelical Christian community came to Jewish Federation of Portland offices Dec. 9, they didn’t come for a heavy debate with their hosts over theology, the merits of Christmas or other such subjects.
Instead the focus was entirely on a point of common ground that both sides equally recognize — support for Israel, especially in times of Mideast crisis.
“It never ceases to amaze me, the support the Christian movement has for Israel,” said Portland rabbi Arthur Zuckerman of Congregation Shaarie Torah, one of 15 people who met in the federation’s conference room.
“It is an inspiration to be with people that are so pro-Israel,” agreed another local rabbi, Michael Kaplan of Congregation Ahavath Achim.
In turn, Pastor Denny Stahl of Calvary Chapel Grants Pass, and Oregon director for the national ministry Christians United for Israel (CUFI), reiterated the evangelical community’s backing for that nation.
“We believe it is time for every community to start supporting Israel in their own circle of influence,” said Stahl.
Joining Stahl at the meeting as well as other events in Eugene and Grants Pass was Randy Neal of Sacramento, Calif., Western regional director for CUFI. Neal said he appreciated the opportunity to talk of closer cooperation with Portland Jewish leaders.
“Portland is a city of bridges,” he said. We’re going to try to ‘drive some pilings and build some bridges’ when we can.”
Among other evangelicals attending was Carl Laney, professor of Biblical literature at Western Seminary; James Autry, executive director of Christian Chamber of Commerce of the Northwest and a proponent of Portland’s 27-year-long sister city relationship with the Israeli city of Ashkelon; and George Dikeman of Beaverton Foursquare Church.
Joining Zuckerman, Kaplan and several others on the Jewish side was Bob Horenstein, the federation’s community relations director. He said the federation, which this past summer spoke in support of Israel’s controversial ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, quickly recognized that it needs to bolster any future such stance with the help of evangelicals. “We felt like it was only the Jewish community, and only a segment of the Jewish community, supporting Israel,” he said.
Both sides agreed Israel is a highly controversial topic, and Horenstein acknowledged that for some Jews the idea of working closely with evangelicals creates “angst” because of sharp differences on some other political and social issues.
“But we don’t take the evangelical community’s pro-Israel stance for granted,” he said.
Stahl and Neal said they are eager to help spread the word to churches on why support for Israel is important. “We would love to see the 2015 calendar filled with opportunities to educate the Christian community,” said Stahl.
Neal said he is canvassing Oregon and the West for more leadership for CUFI, which was founded in 2006 by famed Texas pastor John Hagee. “We don’t have troops on the ground they way we need,” he said.
For more information, contact Stahl at 541-476-6827 or go to cufi.org