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Becoming Bridge Builders

November 10, 2016

Dear Friend of Israel

The day after one of the most divisive presidential elections in memory, you could almost hear the entire country breathe a sigh of relief. Finally, Americans seem to be thinking, we can have respite from the harsh rhetoric that has marked this election season. But many questions remain: Where do we go from here? How do we heal the bitterness and disunity that have grown between so many Americans?

The answer, I think, is clear: We need to become bridge builders. We need to fight the temptation to view those with whom we disagree with disdain, and instead seek to find ways to work together for the common good.

I can attest to the fact that bridge building is difficult work. When I formed The Fellowship more than 30 years ago, there were many who said it would be impossible to mend the broken relationship between Christians and Jews.

But thanks to hard work, God’s blessing, and the support of people who believed in my vision, we have made great strides toward healing the millennia-old rift between members of these two great communities of faith. I’m reminded of God’s response to Abraham when he expressed disbelief that his wife, Sarah, would have a son, even though she was well past the age of childbearing: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14).

All of this was on my mind as I prepared to speak Thursday at the 109th Holy Convocation of COGIC (the Church of God in Christ), a large and influential African American denomination. The Fellowship was proud to host leaders of COGIC on a trip to Israel in 2015, and I am deeply honored that I was invited to give the historic plenary address at this conference.

African Americans and Jews certainly have their differences, but they also have a shared history of cooperation. During the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, Jews around the world stood with Black Americans in their struggle for their most basic rights. And today, many African American Christians are standing firmly with Israel.

Sometimes the intersection between two seemingly disparate groups happens in unexpected ways. When Bishop Kenneth Ulmer, a prominent African American church leader and member of The Fellowship’s African American Advisory Council, developed a program to treat people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in poor neighborhoods marred by violence, he looked to Israel as a model. Bishop Ulmer knew that Israelis deal with terrorism every day, and he drew on their expertise to help his own community. The program Bishop Ulmer developed is doing much good in communities where violence is a daily reality. And I’m happy to say that The Fellowship is looking for ways to support this program.

Is anything too hard for the Lord?” The answer, of course, is no. If we move forward prayerfully, always seeking God’s guidance, and trusting wholly that He will heal our differences, our efforts will bear fruit. This does not mean that we will always agree. But it will mean that we will continue to view our fellow citizens as our brothers and sisters, and that our disagreements will be civil. And, in the process, we just might find that we have more in common than we ever imagined.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

Read more about Rabbi Eckstein’s lifetime of bridge-building in his biography, The Bridge Builder.

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