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After Visit, Leader Discovers a Renewed Fervor for Israel

October 19, 2006 By:
Ryan Teitman
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Burt Siegel (left) and William Devlin
"I, as a Christian believer, need to be a bigger advocate of Israel, and a better friend to the Jewish people," said William Devlin of Philadelphia, after returning from a five-day stay in Israel. "Now, I have a greater awareness, and now, I can say I've been there."

On Sept. 10, Devlin went to Israel as part of a trip sponsored by the Jewish Council on Public Affairs and the United Jewish Communities.

The JCPA, with support from UJC, organizes such visits for Christian and political leaders so that they can report back to their congregations and fellow clergy members. The New York-based group serves as a hub for Jewish community-relations organizations, who choose the local leaders to participate in these junkets.

On a previous trip, leaders of the Presbyterian movement were invited at the time the church was considering divestment in companies that deal with Israel; the goal was to allow church heads to see the Jewish state -- and what it is up against -- before they came to a decision on the divestment issue.

While previous trips have generally featured Christian and Jewish religious sites as the main attractions, the recent one focused strictly on fact-finding in the aftermath of this summer's war with Hezbollah.

'Diversity of the People'

Burt Siegel, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, was asked by the JCPA to invite someone from the Philadelphia area to join him on the trip. He chose Devlin, founder of the Urban Family Council, an interracial and cross-cultural advocacy group in Philadelphia. Devlin is known in the Philadelphia-area as an evangelical Christian who strongly supports the Jewish community.

Other participants included Rev. Ward "Skip" Cornett III of Columbus, Ohio; Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff; Missouri Bar Association President Douglas A. Copeland; and Camden, N.J., City Council President Angel Fuentes.

Something that struck Cornett about Israel was "the diversity of the people and the living situations," he said. The dozen travelers -- nine Christians and three Jews -- met men, women and children throughout Israel, including Ethiopians, Arab Israelis and Bedouins, all of which was meant to show that Israel is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society.

The itinerary also included visits to Haifa and Tel Aviv to meet with Israelis and hear their stories, and to survey the damage from the war.

The participants also had the opportunity to meet with government officials in Jerusalem.

"When you meet with the officials over there, this is what they deal with on a daily basis," said Devlin of the threat of terrorism in the country. "They're very passionate."

Siegel reiterated the fact that "we recognized that there is no way for people to understand the situation in Israel as effective as being there."

Devlin heard many stories firsthand while drinking Turkish coffee -- even at 2 a.m. -- with Israeli soldiers up north. He said that he listened to "a lot of heartbreaking stories."

"It really changed my life."

He also has a renewed commitment: "I, as one person, will do my best to be an advocate for the State of Israel to exist, and for the Jewish people to pursue their destiny."

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