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Christian Zionists' Night to Honor Israel in Albuquerque

Pastor John Hagee and Dennis Prager speak at Christian United for Israel event

Sophia B. Rich for, March 6, 2011

Two months after local Jewish protest prompted Denver's Jewish Federation to "disinvite" Christian Zionist leader John Hagee, the Jewish Federation of New Mexico joined with Hagee's organization, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), in a public event featuring the controversial televangelist and his high profile friend and supporter in the Jewish community, talk show host Dennis Prager.

Rev. John Hagee, chairman of CUFI, speaking in Albuquerque, January 11, 2011.

CUFI's Night to Honor Israel, billed as "the annual demonstration of solidarity for Israel and the Jewish people," took place Tuesday, January 11, at the Albuquerque Convention Center. It was the third such event to be held in Albuquerque and the first attended personally by Pastor Hagee.

Among the speakers were Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, New Mexico Jewish Federation President Hank Crane and Past President Robert Efroymson, and Chabad Jewish Center of Santa Fe Rabbi Beryl Levertov.

Also taking the podium, against a backdrop of six alternating Israeli and American flags, were CUFI New Mexico State Director Annette Garcia, local CUFI On Campus Student President Jenelle Moya, CUFI City Directors Pastor Barney Carbajal (Belen) and Pastor Rick Ketterling (Carlsbad), and other CUFI officials.

The convention center's Kiva Auditorium, with a capacity of 2,338 seats, appeared one-third full with about 800 in attendance. In a January 19 phone interview, a representative at Son Broadcasting, cosponsor of the event with CUFI and the New Mexico Jewish Federation, estimated the attendance at 1,100 to 1,300. Son Broadcasting (KDAZ) operates a Christian radio station that syndicates Pastor Hagee's weekday morning programming throughout New Mexico.

Mainline Jews Avoid Event
Notably absent at the Night to Honor Israel were representatives of New Mexico's mainline congregations and organizations from the roster of speakers and the audience. New Mexico is home to more than 10,000 Jews, with as many as ten rabbis, three cantors, and numerous prayer and musical leaders. Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos, Las Cruces, and Carlsbad all boast reform and conservative congregations.

The absence of Jews at the CUFI event was noteworthy because of the recent growth of friendly relationships between local evangelical Christians and the Jewish community. Events including a joint visit to Israel have been sponsored by Yad B' Yad (Hand in Hand), a Christian evangelical group.

Yad B'Yad's website describes the group as dedicated to building non-proselytizing relationships of trust with New Mexico's Jews through education and dialogue. Its partners have included the Jewish Community Center of Albuquerque and a couple of Albuquerque's mainline congregations.

Mainline Albuquerque Rabbi Voices Discomfort with CUFI
Rabbi Art Flicker, leader of Albuquerque's conservative Jewish Congregation B'nai Israel, said he was not surprised at the absence of mainline rabbis and their congregations at the January 11 CUFI event.

In a phone interview on January 20, Rabbi Flicker commented: "You can say something to the effect that we certainly support Israel and the Jewish Federation,"

Flicker, who has participated in the past in Yad B'Yad events, noted: "I happen to have concerns about this particular group, Christians United for Israel, and its ultimate goal."

"I do not support the Night to Honor Israel because of Reverend Hagee's ‘End of Time' perspective regarding Jews, that some of us will be converted and the rest of us . . . ." The rabbi paused to find the right words. "The rest of us will die."

"I also feel very uncomfortable with Hagee's perspective on gays, lesbians and transsexuals," Rabbi Flicker stated. "His views are very different from what we believe as conservative Jews, that there need to be equal rights, equal opportunities, and justice."

The Albuquerque Convention Center, where the CUFI event partially filled an auditorium

About the event itself, he said, "I don't go and I don't support it. But I didn't tell anyone not to go. The Federation is its own entity. We've talked to them and respectfully decided to differ on this issue."

Dennis Prager's Epistle to the Gentiles
Dennis Prager is self-described on his website and in a press release issued by Christians United for Israel and the Jewish Federation of Albuquerque as "one of America's most respected radio talk show hosts." Prager started broadcasting on station KRLA in Los Angeles in 1982. His show has been nationally syndicated since 1999.

The white-haired, husky 62 year old radio personality began with lavish praise for Pastor Hagee and Christians United for Israel. "In the life of a speaker," he said, addressing an audience marked by a strong presence of evangelical Hispanics and Native Americans, including self-identified Navajos, "the greatest is to be at a CUFI event as a Jew and as an American."

"As I put on my kippah," he continued, in a display of Jewish credentials, "I open with a bracha, a blessing in Hebrew . . . if the Jews will recite with me . . . the Shehechiyanu."

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