LAKELAND -- Flanked by a banner that reads "Israel shall stand forever," Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein sings a song in a rousing mix of Hebrew and English.
U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris is on her feet, stomping and clapping to the beat from her place on the stage.
The predominately Christian audience waves its arms to the music as Eckstein, the founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, praises Israel.
Next, Harris gets her turn.
"Nothing that we believe in the world would exist without you," she says to Jewish leaders in the crowd. "We're all sort of Jewish wannabes."
[...] Here, Harris doesn't talk about the Iraq war, oil drilling off Florida's coast or whether Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, her opponent, is too liberal.
Instead, she focuses on her love of God and gets her message out to hundreds of people without ever mentioning one line from her campaign speech.
Jews "are the chosen people," she tells the crowd, to uproarious applause and whistles. "You are the apple of God's eye."
The crowd of more than 1,000 people is part of a movement that believes Jews play a key role in the fate of Christians.
For them, the Rapture -- a miraculous event where Jesus Christ resurrects the dead and sweeps his loyal followers from the Earth -- depends on a complete restoration of the nation of Israel, including the rebuilding of the Temple on the Mount and the reclaiming of all the holy lands.
Some believe the Rapture is coming any day now.
The movement has led to a unique marriage between Christian evangelicals, the Republican Party and pro-Israeli groups across the country.
But it has also drawn criticism from some Jewish leaders who fear it provides Christians with an outlet to convert Jews.
"It's a problem to many in the Jewish community," said Kenneth Wald, a distinguished professor of political science at the University of Florida and former head of the Center for Jewish Studies. "They are only seen as a bit player in the larger Christian destiny."
[...] "We have to stand with Israel," she said. "Our futures are linked."
She also condemned the United Nations for its failure to take stronger action when the terrorist organization Hezbollah attacked Israel this year.
"The United Nations should be held to account for its anti-Semitism," she said.
When Harris wrapped up, Without Walls Scott Thomas, organizer of the event, reminded his followers to vote for her in November. ( ! )
Harris' campaign would not comment on whether she subscribes to the idea of the Rapture. [...] heraldtribune.com