It’s not every Sunday morning that a nice Jewish girl (well, OK…to be honest…more a woman of a “certain age” than a girl) finds herself in the center seat of the center row of a 5,000 seat sanctuary in an Evangelical church listening and foot tapping to a 200 member choir and a 100 person orchestra! And if that wasn’t enough of a shell shock for me….I was a scheduled speaker at this special service and knew not only would I have to climb the steps to that enormous stage and face 5,000 people but that I would follow world renowned Pastor John Hagee!
But I’ve gotten ahead of myself so let’s start the story back at the beginning. In November of 2015, I had the incredible opportunity to take Bishop Keith Butler, the founder and spiritual leader of Word of Faith Church, on a private tour of ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem. ALYN is a well-kept secret. It’s a jewel in Israel’s crown of accomplishments that too few have heard about or seen. It’s the most amazing pediatric rehab center where absolutely everything needed to rehab a physically disabled child (and his or her family) is under one roof. Bishop Butler flew expressly to Israel to see ALYN for himself on the recommendation of his dear friend Rabbi Jonathan Hausman. The Rabbi has been connected to ALYN for decades and I am lucky enough to count on him as my friend, my personal rabbi and a member of my Board; therefore one of my bosses.
In November, in Israel, Bishop Butler reacted as everyone does after seeing ALYN. He was deeply moved. I honestly believe that if someone tours ALYN and doesn’t have that reaction they should go – immediately without stopping – to their cardiologist and find out what’s wrong with their heart. Butler’s heart is in tip top condition and minutes after we left ALYN, he extended the most incredible invitation to me…he asked me to come to Southfield on Sunday, April 3rd and be a part of his church’s CELEBRATE ISRAEL DAY. I was asked to talk about ALYN and told that Pastor John Hagee, Founder and Leader of CUFI – the largest organization of Evangelicals devoted to Israel – was another invited guest and would give the morning’s keynote address.
To be in the company of two giants in the Evangelical world is an experience I will never forget. Butler and Hagee could not be more different physically. But their hearts and minds are one – as if they were identical twins. Both are so committed to Israel and so dedicated to the safety of wellbeing of all Jews and especially the continuity and future of the State of Israel. They both spoke on Sunday and both quoted the Bible and I learned much about how the Christian and Jewish scriptures coincide which I did not know. But it is their shared passion and commitment to Israel that is still resonating with me.
I’m also reflecting on how much we have in common despite our very different outward appearances and our very diverse lives. There was not a person in that sanctuary that did not sing Israel’s praises. When the Word of Faith church sang the Star Spangled Bangle everyone stood and cheered. And when they sang Israel’s anthem, Hatikva, there was not a dry eye in the house. I’ve never heard Hatikva sung so beautifully and soulfully and it reminded me how precarious Israel’s existence is and how crucial to democracy in the Middle East she is. I was enveloped in the love that Bishop Butler has infused into the creation of Word of Faith and that Pastor Hagee has infused into the creation of CUFI. The feeling that I had sitting there in awe and appreciation for the service and the day reminded me of how I feel every time I am at ALYN. I feel enveloped in the love that was infused into the creation of the ALYN Hospital and the love that I see there every single day as they treat the heroic kids.
So I addressed the congregation. I speak publicly all the time but I admit to being nervous having to follow the giant that Hagee is and nervous hoping I would meet Butler’s expectations. I told the audience about ALYN, of course, but I also told them that I know that peace is possible in the Middle East because it exists at ALYN. In addition to the rehabilitation miracles that we perform there every day with children who many others deem “not worth the effort” we also are world leaders in cultural diversity.
The entire span of Israeli society can be seen at ALYN. Our patients, families and staff are white, black, Jewish, Christian, Arab, Orthodox, Muslim, secular and more. Learned prejudices and hatred are put aside to face the seemingly insurmountable challenges of living with severe physical disabilities. Yes, in the face of adversity, teamwork and love can rule the day.
Then I looked into this massive sea of faces and quoted Pastor Hagee who had said in his remarks “Doing shows your love” and invited everyone to do the most they can for the kids of ALYN so that these courageous kids can stand up and dance with joy and love – whether on their own legs or with the help of crutches, walkers and wheelchairs – just like every single one of the 5,000 at Word of Faith did in Southfield.
We are forever grateful to have had the opportunity to introduce the ALYN kids to so many new potential friends. I hope I made a joyful noise.