“Israel Team” fights burgeoning antisemitism on college campuses
When churches reject Israel, nations fall in line
Aaron Früh is, among other things, an author, an Evangelical pastor and a Jew. For the past two years, Früh has employed his unique combination of talent, vocation and heritage to oppose growing antisemitism in the United States, particularly among millennial Evangelicals, by “helping them to discover their authentic Hebraic root system” and to become supporters of the Jewish people.
Früh’s vehicle of enlightenment is Israel Team Advocates International, a non-profit corporation launched in 2017 to support Israel and the Jewish people in accord with their mission of sharing truth, standing for justice and showing mercy. “My burden is for the Gentile Church,” Früh, President and CEO of Israel Team, told The Messianic Times, “because, historically, whenever Jews are persecuted, it’s always been The Church that has led the charge… When churches foment rejection of Israel, it seems like nations politically fall in line.”
The need for defense and support of Israel and the Jewish people is greater now than at any time since the Holocaust and its aftermath. And though the Anti-Defamation League has reported that antisemitic hate crimes in America rose 57 percent in 2017 from 2016, the largest single-year jump on record, other recent, “non-violent” manifestations of growing antisemitism are even more disturbing.
Extreme worldwide media bias against Israel, one-sided pro-Palestinianism, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) and the resurgence of replacement theology repackaged as a principle of “social justice” are all on the rise as well.
Shining a light?
Israel finds herself under continual, “well-meaning” assault by many of America’s churches as they descend toward BDS. During the Presbyterian Church’s 2014 General Assembly, for example, Reverend Susan Wilder of the Presbyterian Israel/Palestine Mission Network, made comments to Voice of America News about Israel and BDS typifying what might be characterized as the modern, kinder, gentler realization of antisemitism.
The church’s aim is not to delegitimize Israel, Wilder explained, “but we do need to shine a spotlight on Israel’s bad policies. This isn’t about good guys and bad guys or being against Israel or wanting to isolate Israel or even punish Israel. This is about wanting to shine a spotlight on actions that are harming everyone.”
What reasonable person would challenge the simple shining of a light?
But in the same Voice of America story, Reverend John Wimberly, Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, addressed the Church’s efforts more plainly. “There’s a 2000-year history of economic sanctions being used by Christians aimed at Jews. And it’s a bloody and it’s a nasty history. That’s my bottom-line opposition [to support of BDS] right there.” Wimberly pointed out that the BDS movement ignores Palestinian attacks on Israel and has been pushed by lobbyists outside the Presbyterian denomination.
“This divestment thing has come up ever since 2004 at every General Assembly…” Wimberly added, “and has been defeated, so Israel has lots of friends in the mainline churches.”
Voting 51 percent in favor, 49 percent against, a 7-vote difference, the 2014 Presbyterian General Assembly ultimately passed a resolution supporting divestment, a vote that suggests that Israel’s friends are diminishing and, as Früh pointed out, churches are once again leading the way.
StandWithUs.com, whose mission is to support Israel around the world through education and fighting antisemitism, reported in an article condemning the Presbyterian General Assembly’s decision, “Voters, many of whom knew little about the conflict, were swayed by an unrelenting barrage of propaganda against Israel.”
College Outreach to millennial Evangelicals
Enter Israel Team and its mission to counter anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda on college campuses. “The goal of Israel Team campus chapters is to help millennial Evangelical Christians between the ages of 18 and 34 grasp their Hebraic root system,” Früh said, “and help them become supporters of the Jewish people, loving them, unto death.” Their website, IsraelTeam.org, invites visitors to become part of the solution by discovering truth, deepening their understanding of the Middle East conflict and biblical issues and seeking justice for all involved.
All interested students are welcome to join Israel Team college chapters, not only those who favor Israel. Members are encouraged to explore issues together in a “biblical, covenantal, non-political” setting. Three principle topics among many within the chapter curricula are justice for Jews and Palestinians, antisemitism and the BDS movement.
The question of Jewish “chosenness,” often an irritant and/or obstacle to cooperation and understanding between faiths, especially to those who have been taught to embrace replacement theology, is met head on. “G‑d plays no favorites,” Israel Team explains, “but He does make distinctions… The Jews were chosen to bring the Gospel. Gentiles were chosen from the foundation of the world to make the Jew jealous unto salvation.”
Früh became President and CEO of Israel Team in April of 2018 when the organization’s founder, Mike Coleman, left the organization to start a new business. But the path that led to Früh’s leadership role, like so many latter-day stories involving Jews, belief and Israel, is a winding one.
Früh’s great-grandparents, Jacob and Tzila Krupnik, were Orthodox Jews from the Ukraine who immigrated to Canada and the U.S. before the Holocaust. Jacob and Tzila’s daughter, Früh’s grandmother, grew up in Los Angeles, California. “She had a vision of Christ on the cross,” Früh said, “and when she went to a Rabbi about it, he said it was a nightmare.”
Not long afterward, Früh’s grandmother “ended up walking through the streets of L.A. and heard music coming from a building. It was the Angelus Temple, Aimee Semple McPherson [Canadian-American Pentecostal evangelist and media celebrity in the 1920s and 1930s] was preaching, and my grandmother came to faith.”
Früh’s father died when Aaron was 3 so he was raised by his grandmother and brought up in the Gentile Church. “But I was raised with all the feasts, Jewish food and Jewish humor and, when my grandmother was dying, she told me that she wanted me to connect with my family, who lived in Israel.
“I totally forgot about that request. I went to Bible school, to Wheaton College to go to seminary. I became a pastor with no connection [to the Jewish roots of Christianity], even preaching replacement theology, not severe, but like, ‘wherever you see the word Zion in the Old Testament, it’s speaking about the Church.’
“In 2001, I’m sitting at my desk as a lead pastor in a church and the Holy Spirit just… It was like an epiphany. I started weeping. I said, ‘I don’t know why. I just have to go to Israel and find my family. I’m Jewish.’ And the next day I got a letter in the mail from the Israeli government, they had invited 100 pastors. So, a month after this experience, I’m on a first class El Al flight to Tel Aviv… I found my family after the trip and started writing. The first book I wrote was called The Decree of Esther.”
“Will you wear a yellow star?”
Früh later wrote The Forgotten Blessing, a book about the blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh. Afterward, “I connected with Bill McCartney, former football coach at the University of Colorado, who founded Promise Keepers [an Evangelical Christian organization for men] after coach McCartney came to our church to speak. He asked me to write a book with him. Over the next two years we wrote a book called Two Minute Warning: Why It’s Time to Honor Jewish People Before the Clock Runs Out, about replacement theology and efforts within The Church to erase the Jewish people.”
Früh travelled with Promise Keepers for 5 years while still pastoring in Mobile Alabama. “Paul Wilbur and the Messianic Community were hooked up with Promise Keepers at that time. Joel Chernoff and the MJAA had a presence. We did Messianic worship. At the end of the events we did a thing we called the yellow star.”
At the end of Promise Keepers meetings, Früh would go up front and ask Coach McCartney if he were willing to stand in solidarity with the Jewish people, “should we enter persecution once again,” by wearing a yellow star as the Jews in Europe were forced to do before and during the Holocaust. “Because that’s true affection and love,” Früh said, “when the Gentile Church embraces their Jewish elder brothers unto death.”
Früh would pin a yellow star on McCartney’s lapel, then “all the Messianic leaders went down to the front and would invite the attendees to come down and accept yellow stars. At the 20-year anniversary meeting, 15,000 men came forward and accepted yellow stars… It was moving.”
After experiencing such eager and willing acceptance, Früh believed his job was done, thinking, “I will never in my lifetime see The Church embrace replacement theology again.’” That, of course, has not been the case and, in what Früh calls “these dark times,” Never Again seems increasingly more likely and threatening. And Israel Team’s important work seems to have just begun.
This story was originally written for, and appeared in substantially the same form in, the May/June 2019 issue of The Messianic Times, and is reproduced here with permission.
Learn more about Israel Team at israelteam.org