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NekrutmanBy MYRON LOVE
David Nekrutman is a leader in breaking new ground in Jewish outreach to the Christian world.

Speaking to Winnipeg Friends of Israel (an almost three-year-old Israel advocacy group) on Sunday, May 7, Nekrutman, who is the executive director of the Israel-based Centre for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Co-operation (CJCUC), noted that Jewish-Christian dialogue until recently was largely an exercise carried out by academics and rabbis associated with the Reform and Conservative movements with mainstream Christian denominations.
What makes CJCUC different, he explained, is that this is an Orthodox Jewish outreach effort to Christians and, specifically to evangelical Christians at the grassroots level. Nekrutman’s appearance in Winnipeg came at the invitation of the Christian-Zionist Bridges for Peace and was part of a cross-Canada speaking tour.
So how did David Nekrutman, a yeshiva graduate from New York City, become a leader in Jewish-Christian dialogue? Well, he noted, it is a long and winding story. Until he was six, he recounted, his was a secular family. Then, the neighbourhood changed.
“Within a year (that would be 1970), we were the only white family in the area,” he said. “We couldn’t afford to move. At school, I was getting beaten up a lot – not so much because I was white but because I was shorter than most of the other kids. For a reason I still don’t understand my parents transferred me to one of the strictest Orthodox yeshivas in New York.”
S,o Nekrutman became a Yeshiva bocher. After graduating, the traditional post-Yeshiva path had him spending two more years studying Torah in his area followed by two years studying in Israel – then returning to America, joining a kolel, getting married and starting a family and working only if he really had to.
His parents had other ideas though. They wanted him to go to college. So Nekrutman enrolled at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
“It was a real culture shock from someone like me, who had spent most of my life in the yeshiva world,” he recalls. “Most of the other students were either black or Hispanic. At first, I wore a cap instead of a kippah. Based on my experiences in Grade 1, I was afraid that if other students knew I was Jewish, I would get beaten up.”
That changed quickly when he saw another Jewish student with a large kippah.
At John Jay College, Nekrutman became head of the Jewish Student Society, most of whose members, he recalls, weren’t Jewish.
He continued his studies in social work at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in the mid-1990s, and returned to New York where he found work as a political aide to various city councilmen, both Democrats and Republicans.
In 2000, he was approached by the Israeli consulate in New York to work on outreach to the Bush and Gore campaigns on behalf of Israel.
“In September 2000, on my first day on the job, I was put in charge of making arrangements for Ehud Barak and a large Israeli diplomatic contingent coming to the UN for the Millenium Summit,” he said. “Shortly after that, the second Intifada broke out. The media really turned against Israel. I was charged with putting out the Israeli narrative as best we could.”
In 2001, Nekrutman’s boss at the consulate, Alon Pinkas, was invited to attend a celebration of Israel at a Christian church in Brooklyn. At the last minute, Pinkas was unable to attend because of other urgent business and asked Nekrutman to go in his stead. This posed a dilemma for the Shabbat-observant Nekrutman. The event was on a Friday night. The church was within walking distance of his home but still – on Shabbat?
He called his rabbi, Gerald Meister, to ask what to do. The rabbi encouraged him to attend.
“The only Christians I knew were Irish and Italian Catholics,” he recalled. “But this was an Evangelical Christian Church, something entirely new to me. There were hundreds of Hispanic-speaking people enthusiastically waving Israeli flags. It was weird hearing a pastor speaking so fervently about Israel.”
The following Monday, back at the office, Nekrutman found that he was now being designated the point man for relations with the Christian communities. With the further encouragement of Rabbi Meister, Nekrutman accepted a new position with the consulate as Director of Christian Affairs. In that role, he was instrumental in the launching of “The Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem”; The “Israel Taglit” program (aimed at bringing Christian students to visit Israel;  the Christian “Jerusalem Day Banquet”; and the “Watchman on the Wall” program, with Reverend Robert Stearns of Eagles’ Wings, resulting in millions of Christians praying and supporting Israel and the Jewish people.
In 2005, Nekrutman and his family moved to Israel. “I wanted my kids to be able to grow up in a Jewish state and I had a job offer to become Ariel Sharon’s speechwriter,” he said.
Unfortunately, that job offer fell through and Nekrutman found himself unemployed in Israel with a family to support. “It was scary,” he recalled.
He worked for a time selling books,also in high tech. Then, in 2007, he received a call from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a leader in modern Orthodox Judaism and the founder of the Ohr Torah Stone Institutions, a network of high schools, colleges, and graduate programs in the United States and Israel. Riskin’s seminary in Efrat is the world’s second largest training program for Orthodox rabbis.
Rabbi Riskin’s idea was to reach out to evangelical Christian communities and build a new relationship based on mutual respect and shared values. He wanted Nekrutin to lead the new organization, which came to be called CJCUC.
Riskin initially put Nekrutin in touch with Reverend Stephen Khoury, an evangelical Palestinian pastor from Bethlehem. “We organized Bible study classes together,” Nekrutin said. “We organized a Shabbat program at the only kosher hotel in Nazareth. We sponsored a Christmas dinner for 100. We created a program for needy Christian Arab families where we distribute food parcels to 100 poor Christian families every week.”
Among the other highlights of Nekrutman’s and CJCUC’s outreach efforts over the past nine years have been: his invitation to speak to Korean Christians at a pro-Israel rally in Seoul, South Korea in 2011; his being the first Orthodox Jew to speak at a Church of God in Christ conference and discuss the importance of visiting Israel; his invitation to be the main speaker at Christians United for Israel’s (CUFI) first international event in Nairobi – in 2012 - where over 1,500 Africans attended to support Israel; and his acceptance as the first non-believer accepted into the Oral Roberts University online Graduate Theology program in 2013.
In April 2015, Nekrutman along with CJCUC Chancellor and Founder Riskin, launched the Day to Praise global initiative, an annual event in which Christians world-wide are called on and invited by Rabbi Riskin to recite Hallel with the Jewish people in a celebration of praise to God for the State of Israel.
Nekrutman was asked about hidden agendas that evangelicals have in dealing with him and supporting Israel. He responded that he is comfortable in his own faith. “They know where I stand and vice versa,” he said. “Most Christians don’t know their own history, let along the history of the relationship between the synagogue and the Church. It’s true that most evangelicals want everyone to believe in Jesus. So far, it is only a small percentage of Christians whose motives are pure, who are able to express their love for the Jewish people without feeling that they are compromising their principles. It’s not easy to overcome 2000 years of replacement theology. It is only relatively recently that the Catholic Church expressed its love for the Jewish people.
“We are just at the beginning of a journey together to build a relationship based on mutual respect.”