The passing of Bob Lappin leaves a large hole in the hearts of so many of us whose lives he touched personally and through the impact of numerous educational programs provided by the Lappin Foundation.
Bob had a passion to strengthen Jewish identity, Jewish family life, and to connect Jewish high schoolers to their roots in Israel and to experience the pride in being Jewish. In these troubling times of increased anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and the BDS movement, we celebrate the many Lappin educational initiatives that underscore the mega-mission of the Jewish people to bring the message of the Torah to the world, a message rooted in justice, tikkun olam, and shalom.
On more than one occasion, Bob shared with me a motto by which he sought to live: “To have a friend,” he said, “you must be a friend.” As a businessman, Bob was outgoing, thoughtful, and even courageous in the way he reached out to others and addressed problems. As a recently retired professor and longtime resident of the North Shore, I celebrate the variety of ways Bob actively sought to improve Christian-Jewish relations and partnerships locally and nationally. Bob was always pleased to find Christians who had a heart for Israel. He believed Israel needed all the genuine friends she could get.
My friendship with Bob began 38 years ago, when he extended the hand of friendship to me during Israel’s war in Lebanon against the PLO (summer of 1982). At the time, he was interested in quickly assembling a delegation of 50 Christian leaders from around the US to go to Israel and southern Lebanon right after the war. On this trip, Bob and I were roommates.
During the war, the world media often falsely accused the Israel Defense Forces as being the aggressor, killing or wounding tens of thousands of Lebanese civilians, destroying many of their churches and homes, and thus creating a huge refugee problem as the Lebanese fled their villages to the relative safety of northern Lebanon. Our Christian delegation had come to northern Israel to view many of the 26 towns in the Galilee rocketed by the PLO and to see the bomb shelters that housed hundreds of Israeli children for days. We also spent a large part of our time in southern Lebanon to view the actual damage (much different from the exaggerated claims we had been reading in the press), and to conduct interviews with Lebanese officials, military leaders, and civilians. Many of the south Lebanese we talked to were so grateful that the Israelis had driven the PLO out of their territory and had brought a new freedom from a seven-year reign of terror. The Lebanese loathed the fact the PLO used innocent Lebanese civilians as human shields.
Upon return to the States, Bob Lappin requested each member of the delegation to call press conferences, write news stories, and speak on radio and TV to share personal, firsthand perspective. Bob placed no restrictions on anyone. Our responsibility was simply truthfulness, freedom to “tell it the way each of us saw it and recount accurately what we actually heard from the locals.” I referred to my daily written notes, took part in a Boston radio talk show, wrote a news story for a local paper, and a larger account “News Special” with pictures for a national Christian magazine. I have often thought of the “ripple effect” Bob’s leadership gave to this delegation of 50 Christian leaders – each was able to tell the truth about Israel in their own words.
In the year to follow, Bob was invited to be a convocation speaker at Gordon College, the Christian school in Wenham, on “The Importance of Israel in Today’s World.” Shortly after that, a mutual friend, the late Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a strong supporter of Israel, spoke and sang at a Gordon convocation on “The Role of Psalms in the Life of a Jew.” For many years, Bob served on Rabbi Eckstein’s fellowship board; an organization that continues to bring significant support to Israel.
In the mid-1980s, Bob set aside an evening to invite many of the Jewish leaders of the North Shore to meet at his home with me and Dr. Richard Gross, president of Gordon College. The evening was mainly given to a discussion of various perspectives on Israel within the Evangelical Christian community. Six months later, the same group met at the president’s home at Gordon College with various administrators and faculty in order to have a very open and civil discussion of Christian-Jewish relations in America. Interfaith understanding best comes panim el panim, “face to face.” The evening, co-planned by Bob Lappin, was a success.
Throughout all the years I knew Bob, he and the Lappin Foundation have been true partners in dialogue and in support of Christian-Jewish relations. Bob has helped support the publication of several collections of essays of Jewish and Christian scholars and leaders that I have been privileged to edit. Bob was also very instrumental in supporting the two-hour public television documentary, “Jews & Christians: A Journey of Faith” that premiered in 2000, in two showings, with an audience of 3,000 Christians and Jews. The program has since played nationally many times on PBS.
The documentary featured several Jewish congregations and leaders here on the North Shore. Because of the friendship of Bob Lappin and the active support of the Lappin Foundation in helping to support a variety of key interfaith initiatives, hundreds of Christians and Jews of the North Shore have been able to come together in settings that continue to foster mutual understanding and respect.
As a tribute to Bob and his legacy, may we continue to build on Bob’s example of establishing genuine, cherished, and lasting interfaith friendships as we move into the future. Jews and Christians cannot afford to remain strangers or ignorant of the other anymore. According to the Tanakh, Israel’s calling is to be a blessing and light to the nations; an instrument of justice, peace, and proclamation of the Divine will. We in the Christian community have been greatly enlightened, encouraged, and blessed by the gracious friendship of this extraordinary man.
Thank you, Bob Lappin, for your humility and the gift of your kind, generous, and influential life.
Marvin R. Wilson, Ph.D., is professor of Biblical Studies Emeritus at Gordon College in Wenham.