ATLANTA — Reviews were mixed in the heart of the New South, as 300 people packed a posh hotel ballroom to hear a pitch from two leading proponents of stronger ties between Jews and Evangelical Christians.
Of the two main speakers, it was the baby-faced Republican and Christian leader, Ralph Reed, who seemed most intent on extending an olive branch despite persistent signs of mistrust from many in the mostly Jewish audience. It was the Jewish partner, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who delivered the sharpest criticisms of the American Jewish community.
“We [Jews] are underrepresented in basketball, professional wrestling and the military, but I don’t care about the first two,” Lapin said. “All Christians get from the organized Jewish community is suspicion, hostility and lawsuits.” He said he spoke “in hopes of postponing the day when America gets tired of its Jewish population.”
Lapin, a South African-born Orthodox rabbi, is the founder of Toward Tradition, a predominantly Jewish organization dedicated to promoting what it describes as authentic Torah values, a conservative political agenda and better relations between Jews and Christians
Lapin said Jews were naive if they thought disaster could not strike them in this country. “It has happened everywhere Jews have lived,” he said at the March 11 event.
Speaking in the opulent ballroom of the J.W. Marriott Hotel, Lapin also complained about what he described as the tendency of many American Jews to worry more about the safety of Israeli soldiers than of American troops. “Every Jewish school I have gone to prepares food packages and raises money for equipment for the Israeli army but never for our American soldiers,” Lapin said. “This is wrong and a big mistake by the schools.”
In sharp contrast to Lapin, Reed, chairman of Georgia’s Republican Party and former executive director of the Christian Coalition, offered conciliatory words.
“I like to make these appearances to promote Jewish-Christian dialogue and a greater understanding between the communities,” said Reed, who in the past has served as a behind-the-scenes peacemaker between Christian conservatives and Jewish groups.
In an interview with the Forward, Reed acknowledged Jews’ fears that Christian outreach might mask attempts to convert them, but he said assimilation and intermarriage were the real threats to the Jewish community. Reed also cautioned his fellow Christians against declaring that Jews could not enter heaven because of their refusal to accept Jesus.
“I don’t know who is going to heaven. Only God knows,” said Reed, often called the mastermind of the Christian Coalition’s political rise during the 1990s. “I’ve got enough to worry about regarding myself.”
Afterward, the presentation drew mixed reviews from the crowd.
“Rabbi Lapin distorts reality,” said Sam Fistel, a software developer and minor celebrity among Atlanta Jews for his efforts to promote weekly synagogue attendance.
“They didn’t start out killing us anywhere there was persecution, but trying to convert us,” Fistel said. “When that does not work and the fun and games are over, then the threats begin.”
That drew a retort from Sam Silver, a co-chairman of Toward Tradition. “The United States is a great home for Jews because of Christianity,” he said. “This is not European Christianity.”