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Church Invests in Israel

March 30, 1991|MATHIS CHAZANOV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eric and Pearl Wright, joint pastors of a small church, were looking for ways to help Israel during the recent Persian Gulf War. Their answer was on page 9 of the sports section in a newspaper.

"State of Israel Bonds Launches Emergency Campaign," said the full-page ad, placed by the Jewish state as Iraqi missiles hit Tel Aviv, Soviet immigrants poured into Ben-Gurion Airport and tourism all but vanished.

All this strained Israel's hard-pressed finances, the ad said. The Wrights, whose Gospel Light Fellowship serves 75 to 100 parishioners in the predominantly black and Latino city of Lynwood, saw it as a chance to fulfill a biblical injunction.

When they bought a bond this week, it was the first time that any non-Jewish religious group in Southern California had made such an investment, said Miriam Pery, assistant executive director of Israel Bonds in Los Angeles.

"It's really the Christian duty of every Christian to befriend and support Israel, because the Bible tells us to do that, and I wanted to do more than just say that I support Israel," said Eric Wright, a retired chemist and electrical engineer.

Pearl Wright cited Scripture, Psalm 122:6: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem . . . and peace be to the walls of Jerusalem."

"And we believe it," she added. "You'll notice that none of the Scud missiles went over into Jerusalem."

The Texas-born Wrights, both 60, believed it so much that they used the money raised by several years of choir concerts and barbecue dinners to buy a large Israel Bond.

The Wrights asked to keep the amount a secret. Desperate folk in their poverty-stricken area of southeastern Los Angeles County might see them as potential robbery victims, they said.

But Pery said that it was "a major investment," and Eric Wright's voice showed the strain as he wrote out the check to the State of Israel.

"You realize that this is the biggest check I've ever written in my life?" he asked.

"We love Israel," his wife replied.

The Gospel Light Fellowship, which the couple founded in 1974, falls into the Pentecostalist family although it is not affiliated with any denomination, Wright said.

The pastor said that he had wanted to buy an Israel Bond for years.

"I was always interested in the state of Israel since its modern-day founding in 1948. It was the first miracle that I witnessed."

But none of his Jewish friends knew how to do it.

"I didn't know how to buy Israel Bonds until I saw about it in the paper on the day after the Super Bowl," Wright said.

Indeed, the Israel Bonds organization rarely advertises, relying instead on synagogue appeals and word of mouth in the Jewish community.

A recent drive among Israeli immigrants yielded $6 million in Bonds purchases from 600 individuals, Pery said.

About 30% of its assets come from non-Jewish sources such as pension funds, she said.

The organization, which operates on behalf of the Israeli government's Ministry of Finance, has sold $11-billion worth of bonds since 1951, $7 billion of which have been redeemed.

The money goes to develop the Israeli economy, funding projects from an expansion of the port of Haifa in 1950 to the construction of housing for new immigrants in 1990.

Much of it stays in the United States to pay for American-made products, Israel Bonds officials said.

To buy a bond, an investor puts up anywhere from $250 to $1 million, leaving it for up to 12 years while collecting twice-yearly interest payments.

Interest on bonds of the size purchased by the Wrights are paid at a variable rate, now 8.21%. The principal is repayable after five years.

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