Christian Zionist group holds event at Schuster to honor Israel
With a rightward evangelical pull, CUFI program aimed at Christians to support and raise funds for the Jewish state
By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer
Auschwitz survivor Irving Roth, a noted speaker who founded the Holocaust Resource Center in Manhasset, N.Y., is slated to give the keynote speech at the Night To Honor Israel, on Sunday, Aug. 30 at 6 p.m. at the Schuster Center.
Roth will be joined on the program by Temple Beth Or’s Rabbi Judy Chessin, chair of the Dayton Synagogue Forum, who will offer the invocation.
Yaron Sideman, Israel’s consul general to the Mid-Atlantic region — which includes Ohio — will deliver remarks on behalf of the Jewish state, and at the conclusion of the event, major donors will gather in a private lounge at the Schuster Center to enjoy a kosher reception.
It may come as a surprise to members of Dayton’s Jewish community that this signature event is not sponsored by any Jewish organizations.
The program — replicated in similar fashion in hundreds of cities across America each year — is a project of CUFI, Christians United for Israel.
With 2.2 million Christian Zionist members, CUFI is the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States.
The Aug. 30 event, billed as the Dayton and Cincinnati Night To Honor Israel, is the first to be held in either city. It came about through the determination of Gary Trenum, senior pastor of Victory Christian Church in Kettering.
He and his wife, Mary, are now CUFI’s Dayton city directors.
“CUFI is not a denomination,” Trenum said. “It’s not a group of people that have the same theology. But there’s one thing that they all have in common — they have a love for the nation of Israel.”
To love Israel
Trenum said he grew up with a love for Israel. Born in Virginia in a Pentecostal home, his father was an Assembly of God pastor.
“He always taught us to love Israel, to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And for most of my life, really until the last 10 years, that’s all I knew, was to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. I didn’t know a Jew. I didn’t know how to touch Israel. I didn’t know anything.”
That changed when he and Mary were visiting relatives in Virginia and Trenum heard about the first national CUFI conference, taking place nearby in Washington, D.C. Trenum hasn’t missed one since.
CUFI was established a decade ago by San Antonio-based Pastor John Hagee.
“When I saw the passion of fellow Christians for the nation of Israel that I had, I felt the connection,” Trenum said. “I had found the cause I wanted to hook up with.”
He came back to Victory Christian Church, which he had founded in 1995, and began to rally his flock around the Jewish state.
About six years ago, the church started contributing a portion of its offerings to CUFI.
Every year, the church also collects money to bring Jews from Europe to make aliyah (immigrate to Israel), through the On Wings of Eagles project of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.
“We have now brought back to Israel about 25 to 30 Jews,” Trenum said. “Prophetically, we believe that’s part of God’s plan.”
Trenum said the Christian Zionist love for Israel comes out of Scripture. He refers to Gen. 12:3 as the “foreign policy of Heaven toward Israel.”
This is the verse in which God tells Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Ethan Felson, senior vice president and general counsel of the national Jewish Council of Public Affairs (JCPA), said this verse is the main reason Christian Zionists are staunch supporters of the Jewish state.
“One of the mythologies about evangelical support of Israel is that it is solely grounded in an end-of-times theology,” Felson said, “that the reason for the support for Israel is to concentrate the Jews in Israel to hasten the end of time. That’s a small segment of Christian Zionists. For most Christian Zionists, the land is promised to the Jews, and there’s a promise of a blessing to those who bless Israel. That’s the primary reason. Then there’s that whole set of issues around shared democratic values, abhorrence for terrorism, and alignment with the modern state of Israel that you find among many people on the conservative end of the spectrum.”
To educate churches
Trenum decided to bring A Night To Honor Israel to Dayton when he was in Israel in the summer of 2014 as part of a national CUFI solidarity mission during the war with Gaza.
“It’s one of the greatest tools to educate churches about the nation of Israel,” he said of the event.
In November, he held a breakfast to interest local clergy in the project. About 70 pastors showed up; 12 agreed to help plan the night.
On the planning team are clergy from Abundant Love Christian Center, Christ Community Ministries, Dayspring Church, Lifepointe Church, Progressive Baptist Church, and Xenia Christian Center.
Also on the planning team is David Gershuny, a member of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) Cincinnati executive board.
In May, Trenum held another breakfast; 130 pastors turned out, as did Rabbi Shmuel Klatzkin of Chabad.
“He and I are brothers and have become friends,” Trenum said of Klatzkin. “I ask him about his understanding of Scripture. He’s come here to my facility and talked to the team that I have that’s putting this on. And he taught us from the Jewish perspective. We want to learn.”
There is no charge to attend the Night To Honor Israel and seating is general admission. Doors open at 5 p.m. and an offering will be taken to support the work of JNF as well as CUFI on Campus, which combats antisemitism and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses.
According to Trenum, JNF will earmark its funds for Nefesh B’Nefesh, a nonprofit that facilitates aliyah from the United States.
He said the planning team aims to hold the Night To Honor Israel event annually, alternating between Dayton and Cincinnati.
Hoping Jews attend too
Trenum hoped members of the Jewish community will also attend the Night To Honor Israel, though he said he understands why they might be ambivalent toward the project.
“I just want to be a friend to them,” he said. “And to let them know that there is a group in this city that will not try to change them, that will love them and will support them.”
He emphasized that it is not a conversionary meeting.
“I am trying to build a solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters,” he said. “I realize there’s skepticism and I accept it because I understand history. I understand the Spanish Inquisition and the pogroms and the Holocaust. We’re going to stand up and speak up for the nation of Israel.”
The pastor is also aware that Christian Zionists — who tend to come from evangelical churches — lean heavily to the right, while the American Jewish community leans heavily to the left.
One of the key speakers at the Dayton event will be Gary Bauer, founder of the take-no-prisoners conservative Family Research Council, who is now director of CUFI’s new lobbying arm, CUFI Action Fund. Trenum said Bauer will likely be the only speaker to talk about Iran.
“I don’t think it should be partisan,” Trenum said of CUFI’s makeup. “I wish it was more diverse because it would remove that partisan side. I’m not trying to meddle in Israel’s politics. They should have the right to determine their own borders. They should have the right to determine if Jerusalem becomes the capital. Our position is to say we stand with you (Israel) to have that right. And then let them choose.”
Trenum also knows that Jews can be put off by the notion that some Christians believe they are damned to Hell because they don’t accept Jesus.
“I don’t believe it, and I believe it’s a detriment,” he said.
“God doesn’t tell us everything about the future,” Trenum said. “When it comes to Israel, He has a plan for Israel. And therefore I don’t need to convert Jews. Convert to what? They’re following God. I realize there are secular and agnostic, I understand that. But if we’re talking about the theology of Judaism, which is the basis of who and where we are (as Christians), then those pastors do great damage. I believe that God’s covenant with Israel is still in force. Forever.”
Yaron Sideman, Israel’s consul general to this region, said he’ll speak at the event because Israel doesn’t take friendship and support for granted.
“Christians United for Israel is an organization that is highly supportive of Israel,” Sideman said in an interview with The Observer. “We just feel that when friends invite us over, we ought to be there.”
Sideman said he’s attended several CUFI and Christian Zionist events in the Mid-Atlantic region since he’s taken over as consul general.
JCPA’s Felson said that Jewish communities at the local level have been partnering with pro-Israel Christians for decades.
“And many have close relationships with CUFI,” Felson said. “A reality of coalition politics is that you work with different groups on aligned interests, and sometimes oppose them on other issues.”
Temple Beth Or’s Rabbi Judy Chessin, who will offer the invocation for the Dayton event, said, “while we may have different politics, rhetoric, theology, here is an organization (CUFI) which provides unquestioning support to Israel and the Jewish people. I want to support their efforts.”
Trenum said he has dedicated hours and hours each week to planning the event.
“I pastor this church, but during the week I have had meetings with so many pastors. I met with a pastor a couple of weeks ago who pastors a large church. His first question to me was, ‘Why should I, as a Christian, support Israel?’ And rather than go through my list, I just looked at him and said, ‘Because we love God, and what God loves, we love.’”
By mid-August, Trenum said he had received “seven-eighths” of the $40,000 needed to put on the event. “I have not taken up any offerings, not even in this church for that event,” he added. “To us, that’s a miracle.”
For more information about the Dayton and Cincinnati Night To Honor Israel, go to www.daytonforisrael.com.