Christians United for Israel (CUFI) held its 10th annual Summit in Washington, DC on July 13 and 14. The Summit brought together some 6000 Zionists from across America and Canada and from recently established CUFI outposts in Europe to discuss issues affecting the well-being of the State of Israel. Representatives of the Christian, Jewish and Israeli people followed intense learning sessions with visits to their legislators on Capitol Hill.
The largest pro-Israel organization in the world, CUFI has about 2.2 million members worldwide. The organization, founded by Pastor John Hagee and his wife, Diana, calls itself a “national grassroots movement.” Similar in mission to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), it is an advocacy group that presents pro-Israel policies to the Congress and Executive Branch of the United States.
Two events marked emotional high points of the two-day conference. Monday evening’s “A Night to Honor Israel” filled the room. Flags waved, dancers rounded the floor and the First Baptist Atlanta Choir raised the spirits of almost 6000 mostly Christian (plus a significant cadre of Jewish) Zionists. After a day of lobbying their legislators on Capitol Hill, over 1000 gathered for the annual CUFI Summit dinner. Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel was to be honored with the organization’s “Defender of the Faith” award. With over 1000 major donors gathered to hear him speak, word came that the honoree, who is well into his 80s, had sent heartfelt apologies, having been advised not to travel to Washington. In his stead and on his behalf, Irving Roth, himself a survivor of extermination camps and death marches, received the award from Pastor John Hagee and his wife, Diana.
Roth, founder of the Holocaust Resource Center in Manhasset, NY, has said “God has sent CUFI to the Jewish people.” He accepted the award for Elie Wiesel, saying the famed author “has gone from total darkness to be a symbol of light,” emphasizing that “70 years ago, this would have been more than a dream!”
Irving Roth arrived in Auschwitz after three days and three nights packed in a cattle car. He was 14, very soon alone, frightened. Standing before the members of CUFI and their Jewish guests, he recalled the sights that shocked his eyes. The young teenager was separated from all of his family except his brother upon their arrival to the death camp. His grandfather, aunt, cousins all perished in the same flames.
Somehow, Roth survived. He was sent to work in the fields, draining swamps. Wiesel, he said with a bit of wry humor, had more fancy work—having been sent to labor in a chemical factory. In January, 1945, they were marched to Buchenwald. They survived.
Roth recalled the morning of April 11, 1945, when he and Wiesel cowered on the floor of their comfortless bunk, hearing bullets fly above them. “By 11, there was silence. At 3 p.m., two American soldiers walked into the barracks.” One, he recalled was black, the other, white. They arrived to a chorus of “amen” and “praise.” Roth said, “To us, the Messiah had just arrived.”
Elie Wiesel and Irving Roth were young teenagers when, in May 1944, each arrived separately to Auschwitz. Both experienced tragedy and triumph, suffering and survival. They survived Auschwitz, they survived death marches, they survived Buchenwald.
Well into his ninth decade, Roth is a vibrant speaker whose words brought the enthusiastic CUFI crowd to its feet. He has been part of CUFI for over five years. He has related his history to thousands of members of CUFI on campuses across America. Wiesel, winner of the Nobel Prize for a life centered on humanity, is the author of 13 books, one of which is Night. In this narrative of just over 100 pages, he describes his Holocaust: “Here there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends...everyone lives and dies for himself alone.” Describing his first night in Auschwitz, Wiesel wrote “the smoke, the faces of children turned into smoke; the flames which consumed my fate.”
“In the 20th century, how was it possible? The citizens of Europe were transformed from decent human beings into murderers.” Roth minced no words, saying “the Holocaust was helped by hundreds of thousands, all were part of the murderous regime.”
“It’s a simple process—demonization. Blame the Jews for every difficulty in the world.” The survivor continued, saying sadly, “And the world did nothing. Step by step. The first step was a boycott—something like what is going on now—boycott, intolerance to Jews.” He spoke of the 1936 Olympics in which no Jews were allowed to participate.
Roth was 9 when the English ceded Czechoslovakia to Germany. “The world stood by and did nothing,” he reminded. “The world gave a hechsher—a sort of Good Housekeeping seal,” he added ruefully, “to the persecution of the Jews.” His clear references to the pending Iran “deal” were clear: “They did not ask ‘will you disarm?’ Rather they (the Germans) continued the militarization.”
“Nothing has changed,” warned the Holocaust survivor. “The demonization is still there. No one cares. Half the college population does not know where Israel is, repeating nobody cares.”
Roth spoke within hours of the signing of “The Deal” between the P5+1 and Iran. Commenting, Roth rhetorically asked, “Don’t these people understand negotiation? (John) Kerry does not understand...The scary part is that our political system uses words that demonize the Jews. Kerry has said ‘if Israel doesn’t do something about negotiating with the Palestinians, (Israel) will be an apartheid state.’ This is the hand of Joseph Goebbels in the 1930s. It’s like deja vu all over again.” He paused, then declared “but, not, because you’re here! Because 6,000 Christians stood up and shout ‘United for Israel!’”
Roth has been associated with CUFI since it had less than 500,000 members. Then, John Hagee had said, “Once we reach a million, we just need the other 49 million evangelicals to join!” Nominating CUFI members as “my dear friends,” Roth continued, saying, “You are the most important people—the righteous of the world. CUFI supporters have given money, given time, given soul, to work for the state of Israel. Your continuous support will grow from strength to strength.”
Declaring “Am Yisrael Chai,” Roth left the stage to a standing ovation.
By Maxine Dovere