September 3, 2015
Dear Friend of Israel,
After being so warmly welcomed by African-American pastors and congregations of the Churches of God in Christ (COGIC) denomination in Detroit a couple weeks ago, it was wonderful to be able to return the favor and offer 20 of these Christian leaders a Fellowship-led tour of the Holy Land. It seemed altogether appropriate to be building bridges of unity in the birthplace of both our faiths, a location with such deep and shared significance.
Our distinguished guests visited the Western Wall, the Dead Sea, Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes, and the Sea of Galilee. On our boat tour of the latter, I was especially moved by our time of worship. As I played my guitar and sang, these pastors joined me in musical praise to the God of us all. It is a memory I will long treasure.
They visited several Fellowship projects, including the Fellowship House Spiritual Center, the Yad LaKashish employment project for the elderly, a Fellowship-renovated bomb shelter in Tiberias, and the Fellowship’s Tech Career employment training program for young members of the Ethiopian-Israeli community. We also had an emotional meeting with Ethiopian soldiers who are participating in the Fellowship-sponsored Amir program, which provides special training to better integrate Ethiopian-Israeli enlistees into the army. I was warmed by the COGIC leaders’ generous spirit as they jumped right in to help distribute backpacks to needy school children and prepare food. They eagerly engaged program participants in conversation, showing genuine concern for their welfare and interest in their perspective and experience.
The significance of a visit from a group of African-American pastors from the U.S. was evident from the people who were interested in meeting with them. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat welcomed the group to his municipality office, graciously answering their questions. And, over breakfast one morning, we all enjoyed an engaging conversation with Knesset (Israeli parliament) member, and former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren.
I was touched to hear what Bishop Carlos L. Moody, Sr., pastor of Faith Temple Church of God in Christ in Evanston, Illinois, said toward the end of the trip. “Being here today is a history-making time for our church, and I believe for Israel too – to have the largest Black-based Pentecostal church in the world become connected to the work that is being done here in Israel by The Fellowship. For Christians and Jews to come together in an endeavor to lift humanity and bless the world – that is exciting to me.”
It excites me as well. As I told the group at our farewell dinner at the close of the trip, I set out to inspire them, and, as often happens, was so much more inspired in return. I am eager to see where this new partnership leads. At a time when Israel faces critical threats, these pastors remind us that the Jewish people and the state of Israel do not stand alone. We need that reminder, we need this partnership, and we need these bridges built between our faith communities.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President