NEW YORK - Israel, a country known for political and religious strife that polarizes large groups of people, is simultaneously bringing divergent sects together.
As the executive director of the American Friends of the ALYN Hospital, I've seen this occur within the Jerusalem children's hospital where Israeli parents of sick children befriend the Palestinian parents of sick children as if they were soldiers on the same frontline, which, in fact, they are.
When a child is sick or hurting no one has the focus, energy or desire to perpetuate ill will. Watching an innocent child suffer makes one forget about hate.
Over the past year, I have seen two other seemingly different groups -- Jews and evangelical Christians -- come together because of Israel. In fact, I've seen this happen a few times while preaching from the altars of evangelical churches in the U.S. and Canada. That a Jewish girl from Short Hills, N.J., was preaching at an evangelical church in the first place is eyebrow raising.
Five years ago, I didn't know much about evangelical Christianity. Then I discovered the community of millions of wonderful, caring people who are committed to supporting Israel. My eyes opened to a new reality. I learned that while most had never been to Israel, and many did not have Jewish people in their personal or professional circles, many evangelicals generously support organizations within Israel without being able to name a single Israeli charity. Their reasons for loving Israel are deep-rooted and steeped in history and religion. Sounds familiar, right?
Alas, a new story begins:
Once upon a time, the traditional sources of support for ALYN Hospital were American synagogues, Jewish federations and foundations, and Jewish individuals. Israelis don't think of charity in the same way as Americans and the Israeli government does not provide any automatic government support to ALYN hospital which is the premier provider of rehabilitative and respiratory care for critically ill and disabled children in Israel and much of the Middle East. The result is that ALYN operates at an annual deficit of at least $3 million, which means the hospital always fears that the unique medical and rehabilitative support it provides will be interrupted or entirely jeopardized.
How to fill the gap in the face of American recession and the now five-year deficit in American Jewish philanthropy, which is the fallout of the Madoff scandal? ALYN's new evangelical friends are coming to the rescue. We offered two evangelical pastors seats on the traditionally all Jewish board of the American Friends of the ALYN Hospital and discussions began.
Shortly thereafter, our new Board Member Pastor Joe Green of Victory Church in Sharon, Mass., asked me to speak at a Sunday morning service. I enthusiastically said, "Yes!" and was inwardly a nervous wreck. While I've spoken at hundreds of synagogues, I had actually never been inside a church.
Standing in this church on a rainy Sunday, I was mesmerized. The music was incredible. The prayers weren't made up of words I was used to, but I couldn't resist the melodies. The sheer joy of the congregation was irresistible. I felt immersed in love. A few months later, when Board Member Pastor Dr. Peter Marshall asked me to come to his Victory Church in Hamilton, Ontario, it was like going home: a very odd feeling for this Jewish woman. Preaching, it turns out, is a lot like fundraising!
Over the course of the year, we created the Guardian Angels Program through which evangelical Christians -- or anyone, really -- can pledge to make a monthly gift of an amount they choose that will help support patient care, staff, supplies and operations at ALYN Hospital. After launching the program in May, we'll be working to expand it across the nation. We have also created our first tour to Israel specifically for evangelical Christians, called Mission of Love both programs are supported by Dr. Pat Robertson, Chairman of CBN and the 700 Club.
Already, the marriage between the two sects has brought in more than $50,000 for the hospital, with more financial support expected in the coming months. Supporting ALYN Hospital has put a face -- actually many gorgeous faces -- on the Israel that evangelicals love in the abstract. We are the Guardian Angels for these children, which is a blessing for all of us, most importantly the children in need.
Cathy Lanyard is the Executive Director of the American Friends of ALYN Hospital. For more information, visit www.alynus.org.