Wandering through a sukkah at Sinai Temple, Jesus Alfredo Alfonso, a Pentecostal Christian, wore a navy tie embroidered with the Star of David, a menorah and the words “Amigos de Israel.”
“Every day,” Alfonso said, “me and my congregation pray three times for you. For Israel.”
Alfonso is the pastor of Iglesia Centro Christiano de Los Angeles, a 14-member church he founded two months ago. He was among about 200 Latino evangelical Christians who were guests for a Sukkot meal and Israeli flag ceremony hosted Monday by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Israeli consulate.
The event was designed to strengthen relations between Jews and a specific segment of the Latino community—evangelicals. On the whole, surveys have found that Latinos harbor stronger feelings of anti-Semitism than most Americans. But among Latino evangelicals there resides a powerful love for Israel and gratefulness to Jewish tradition.
“Ahavat Zion,” said Randy Brown, AJC-LA’s director of inter-religious affairs. “They are lovers of Israel. They’ve followed the history; some of them have visited Israel. They clearly are Christian in their faith, but for the roots of their faith they are very appreciative of Judaism.”
That’s the opening of a story I wrote for today’s Jewish Journal, and it’s welcome news considering the Anti-Defamation League and Pew Hispanic Center have found that Latinos often don’t think warm fuzzies about Jews. A 2005 ADL survey found that 35 percent of foreign-born Latinos held “hardcore” anti-Semitic opinions, down from 44 percent in 2002.
Observers generally blame this on a South American Catholic Church slower to adopt the Nostra Aetate declarations of the Second Vatican Council. But the pentecostal Latinos hanging out at Sinai Temple are more theologically in line with other evangelical Christians who see the state of Israel as part of God’s continuing covenant with his children and as the staging ground for the end of the world.