"Comfort, comfort my people says your God" Isaiah 40
  1. Thursday saw the Supreme Court of Gibraltar ordering the release of an Iranian oil tanker which had been seized by that territory’s police force, with assistance from British Royal Marines, as it attempted to pass through the strategic waterway because of suspicions that Iran was attempting to send oil to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in violation of US and EU sanctions. The order to release the Iranian tanker was the latest move in a geostrategic chess match between Iran and the US, which also involves several other global powers including Israel.

    The original seizure of the Iranian tanker on 4 July sparked a series of events including the shoot-down of a US military drone over the Persian Gulf and sabotage attacks on oil tankers flagged by several countries, as well as seizures of British-owned oil tankers by naval units of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the pretorian armed faction which answers to no one but Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khemenei and in the assessment of many analysts the force which controls much of Iran’s economy and government. The British tankers were seized under legally nebulous circumstances as they attempted to pass through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway separating Iran from Oman and the United Arab Emirates at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. 20% of the World’s daily energy supplies pass through the Strait of Hormuz and Iran has historically made use of threats to close it in order to gain leverage in its geostrategic position. Should Iran ever follow through on those threats and close the Straits of Hormuz, even for a short time, the global economy would suffer a terrible shock.

    Another strategic waterway playing a role in the crisis is the Bab al Mandab, the southern gateway into the Red Sea through which ships travelling to and from the Suez Canal must pass. Hundreds of ships a week go through this chokepoint including tankers carrying oil from the Gulf to Europe as well as cargo vessels taking goods and people between Europe and Asia. Iran’s role in supporting Yemen’s Houthi rebels gives it the ability to harass ships traveling through the Bab al-Mandab while allowing it to plausibly deny that it is doing so.

    Last but not least, military ships pass through and guard all of these strategic chokepoints, and that’s where Israel comes in.

    The IDF, along with the US, France, China and others, maintains a military base in Djibouti, the tiny rump state on the African coast across from Yemen. This base allows Israel to play a role in maintaining the security of international shipping through the Bab al-Mandab Strait, much to Iran’s irritation. But it was the possibility that Israel would join an international coalition, led by the US and UK, to maintain sea lines of communication in the Strait of Hormuz which ignited the full fury of Iran’s leaders in recent days.

    In sentiments echoed by several other senior Iranian officials, Commander of the IRGC Navy, Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri, told the Lebanese news agency Al Mayadeen this week that "Any kind of presence of the Zionist Regime (Israel) in Persian Gulf is illegal as it may trigger war and conflict in the region."

    In this context, the Iranian-backed Lebenese Shi’ite terror militia Hezbollah, fresh from its successful military intervention in the Syrian civil war, has been making threatening statements that it is prepared to unleash its vast arsenal of rockets on Israeli cities should a conflict involving Iran erupt, whether Israel is directly involved or not. The Islamist terror militia Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has made similar threats, making a two-front rocket barrage against Israel a very real possibility.

    Hovering over all this geostrategic drama is the increasing tension over Iran’s renegade nuclear program and the unraveling of the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement which was meant to address it. A related trend is the budding military, intelligence and even diplomatic relationships between Israel and the Western and Arab governments which are also opposed to Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons and regional hegemony.
    With all these unfolding developments on multiple fronts across different dimensions, one of the few things which can be known for certain is that the world is, both literally and figuratively, in the midst of Dire Straits. Israel, as always, is poised to play a crucial role while also being potentially threatened by devastating consequences for a mistake or miscalculation by any number of players.

    Here are two videos giving some analytical context to this story

  2. A team of archeologists from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, announced this week that they have uncovered ancient relics supporting the Biblical account of the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 587/586 BC. "The team believes that the newly-found deposit can be dated to the specific event of the conquest because of the unique mix of artifacts and materials found -- pottery and lamps, side-by-side with evidence of the Babylonian siege represented by burnt wood and ashes, and a number of Scythian-type bronze and iron arrowheads which are typical of that period," the UNC archaeological team wrote in a statement.

    "Alternative explanations for the artifacts can be eliminated," the researchers claim in their release. "Nobody abandons golden jewelry and nobody has arrowheads in their domestic refuse. Frankly, jewelry is a rare find at conflict sites, because this is exactly the sort of thing that attackers will loot and later melt down.” A further exposition gave details of some of the “Scythian arrowheads” that had been found at the site, that "They were fairly commonplace in this period and are known to be used by the Babylonian warriors. Together, this evidence points to the historical conquest of the city by Babylon because the only major destruction we have in Jerusalem for this period is the conquest of 587/586 BC."

    UN Committee Calls out PA for Anti-Semitism
    United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination held a session in Geneva on Tuesday which included a statement calling the Palestinian Authority to task. “Several NGO reports pointed out antisemitic and anti-Israel prejudice and incitement to hatred, especially in the [Palestinian] media and speeches of state officials. Can the state party [the PA] provide any explanation in this regard?” asked committee member Chinsung Chung of South Korea, who serves as the special rapporteur for the PA review by the committee. “Our convention obliges state parties to adopt immediate and effective measures, particularly in education,  to combat racial discrimination and prejudice between different racial and ethnic groups, over jurisprudence,” Committee member Silva Albuquerque added.

    Questions were also asked about various human rights issues and the lives of minorities such as the Druze and Circassian populations living in PA administered areas.

    PA Foreign Ministry representative Ammar Hijazi responded with a statement that such questions were “regrettable” adding that “We do not discriminate against any of our citizens based on ethnicity and religion or sex. We are a state that is trying to find its path and still formulating its laws.” He added an accusation that the committee members who had asked the questions were reacting to false charges by NGOS which were “founded and funded to deny Palestinians their rights, their narrative and to spread untruths about them.”

    Meanwhile, UN Watch’s legal adviser Dina Rovner told the committee that the PA media “perpetuates antisemitic stereotypes such as that Jews are greedy, that they are part of a conspiracy to control the world, that they are baby killers, and that they poison Palestinians and steal their organs. The Palestinian media also glorifies and encourages martyrdom in the fight to liberate Palestine from the River to the Sea – meaning to eliminate Israel – and broadcasts songs and videos advocating to kill Jews and Israelis.”

    In related news, PA President Mahmoud Abbas met with Essawi Frej and Noa Rothman, candidates for the next Knesset from the Democratic Union faction, at his office in Ramallah, on Tuesday. Frej told The Jerusalem Post after the meeting that Abbas “is eagerly waiting for the Israeli election. He complained that Netanyahu has barely spoken to him over the past decade and that he hopes the next government begins a new peace process.” He added that the candidates had met with Abbas “to return hope. We in the Democratic Union believe the Palestinian issue needs to be a top priority.”

    Netanyahu posted a link to the article about the meetings in the Jerusalem Post with a caption saying: “If anyone needed another reason to vote for Likud...”

    Israel’s Response to Hamas Protested
    A demonstration against Israel’s policy regarding the Hamas terror militia which rules the Gaza Strip took place outside the main public entrance to the Knesset on Wednesday, highlighted by a 10-meter tall inflated chicken with the words "putting an end to fear, demanding an Israeli victory" emblazoned on its chest. The balloon was placed at the protest by an NGO called the Israel Victory Project (IVP) and follows threats by Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, who told a crowd in the Gazan city of Khan Younis on Tuesday evening that Hamas would “shower” Israeli cities with missiles in any future confrontation.

    “We will break the defeated occupation army if it crosses into the Gaza Strip. We know what we say and mean what we say,” Sinwar said in a speech celebrating the Eid al-Adha religious holiday. “If Israel launches a campaign in Gaza, we will shower their cities with hundreds of missiles in one go. If a war occurs, we will strike on the occupation army and break its power once and forever. We are not joking.”

    Here is another video which shows how Israel is blessing the world

  3. Commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri, recently told the Lebanese news agency Al Mayadeen that "Any kind of presence of the Zionist Regime in Persian Gulf is illegal as it may trigger war and conflict in the region." Without citing any reasons why he might think there were Israeli warships in or near the Persian Gulf, he added that his government is doing everything it can to maintain peace and stability in the region despite unending “provocations” by Israel, the US, UK and Iran’s Arab neighbors. These sentiments were echoed by other Iranian officials in recent days.

    In related news, Reuters reported on Monday that Germany’s exports to Iran have dropped by nearly 50% in the first six months of 2019 while Iranian exports to Germany fell by nearly the same amount, in a sign that US-imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic are having their intended effect.

    Here is a video about Iran’s threats to its neighbors

    IDF Navy Leads Large Multi-National Earthquake Drill
    In yet another defeat for the movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel, the IDF Navy hosted ships from 10 foreign navies in recent days for a massive joint disaster response exercise in the Eastern Mediterranean. Operation “Mighty Waves” brought together ships, aircraft and sailors from Israel, the US, Greece, France, Cyprus, Canada, Ireland, Germany, Britain and Chile, as well as a delegation from NATO, to practice procedures for assisting recovery efforts from a large-scale earthquake. Other branches of the IDF as well as the Haifa Port and civilian emergency response agencies also took part in the five-day exercise.

    “Israel has to prepare for an earthquake. Statistically it occurs every 100 years and this is the right time to prepare and carry out such a drill,” Maj. Amichai Rahamim, head of the exercise section in the doctrine department of the Israel Navy told The Jerusalem Post. “We are sure that the navy will be in charge of humanitarian aid…after an earthquake, we will need to bring humanitarian aid to Israel and we know that Israel, which has many allies, will need them to come help. It’s going to be a coalition event and more countries than those who participated in the drill will likely send humanitarian aid.”
    In related news, the IDF Ground Forces announced this week that it is cancelling several large-scale exercises planned to take place in coming months due to budget cuts. Some commanders expressed concerns that this would negatively effect the IDF’s preparedness for a renewed round of conflict, especially in the North.

    US Army Formally Purchases Iron Dome Batteries
    An official with the US Army’s air and missile defense modernization program confirmed on Monday that the Pentagon has signed a contract to purchase two batteries of the Iron Dome system, which was jointly developed by US company Raytheon and Israeli defense firm Rafael. The IDF has deployed the Iron Dome system and credited it with shooting down hundreds of incoming rockets in recent conflicts with terrorist organizations in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Several other militaries around the world are reportedly interested in acquiring the system.

    Casspi Officially Signs Contract with Macabbi Tel Aviv
    Israeli athlete Omri Casspi formally announced on Tuesday that, following a 10-year career in the NBA, he is returning to Macabbi Tel Aviv with a three year contract. “I am coming home to Maccabi Tel Aviv, back to where I grew up and learned how to play basketball,” he said. “I was 13 years old when I first arrived here and I am proud and excited to once again be wearing the Maccabi jersey with the Magen David on its back. This is a great privilege.”

    Netanyahu Congratulates New President of Guatemala
    The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement Tuesday morning, saying “I congratulate Alejandro Giammattei on his election as President of Guatemala. He is a friend of Israel and I am convinced that together we will strengthen the excellent cooperation between the countries. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my friend, President Jimmy Morales. During his tenure, relations between Israel and Guatemala reached new heights, thanks also to his correct and brave decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move the Guatemalan Embassy there.”
  4. Sari Granitza may be stepping into the shoes of Dr. Susanna Kokkonen as Director of Christian Friends of Yad Vashem, but she is no stranger to this revered institution and to the tragic legacy of the Holocaust, which it seeks to memorialize in perpetuity. Her family on both her father and mother’s side lost many members to the Nazi genocide against the Jews of Europe. She has worked for well over a decade at Yad Vashem to help preserve the memory of the six million Jews killed in the Shoah. We recently asked Sari to share about her work with Yad Vashem and her vision for its outreach to Christians going forward.

    From childhood, the subject of the Holocaust always moved and interested Sari, who grew up surrounded by Holocaust Survivors in the Israeli city of Bnei Brak. Even her kindergarten teacher had a number tattooed on her arm. This early introduction planted seeds deep in her heart that blossomed when she joined the staff at Yad Vashem more than 15 years ago.

    “I feel that Yad Vashem is fulfilling an important mission, and I am proud to be a part of this great institution, which gives a voice to the Holocaust victims and Survivors,” Sari explained. “As time goes on and the number of remaining Survivors dwindles, we need to continue to pass on their legacy and to learn and teach about what happened to ensure for a better world of acceptance and mutual respect for one another.”

    WFJ: As the new Director of Christian Friends of Yad Vashem (CFYV), what is your basic message to Christians about the importance of Holocaust education and of supporting the mission of CFYV?

    SARI: In the Bible, we are commanded to remember [significant events] and pass [them] on to future generations: “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 25:17). We are to tell our children about it, let our children tell their children, and their children another generation—which is exactly what the Christian Friends of Yad Vashem does.

    It is important to recognize and be vigilant when we see hatred and anti-Semitism rising. Being a bystander is not an option as that just endorses them. To stand up to anti-Semitism, it is crucial to know the facts, to recognize it, and to know how to fight back within our communities. I believe this starts with education—[by arming] people with historically accurate facts in order to combat distorted and false facts.

    Yad Vashem is the spiritual home of the victims—those who were murdered and those who survived. They asked us never to forget and to continue telling their story. We see countries, institutions, and individuals that are not necessarily denying the Holocaust, but are distorting the facts. Through the artifacts, documents, and testimonies Yad Vashem is collecting and the research Yad Vashem is conducting, we serve as a voice to the victims and Survivors and will continue to be their voice when they are no longer with us.

    WFJ: What is your vision for CFYV going forward? What has worked best so far, and what new initiatives do you want to pursue?

    SARI: It is crucial to reach out to Christians in all corners of the world. Our mission is a common one, and we want and need Christians as partners. As the generation of Holocaust Survivors dwindles, people of all faiths must now join forces to carry on the torch of remembrance and build bridges of understanding, cooperation, and friendship between the Christian world and the Jewish world.

    It is our obligation as religious believers to learn from the past and educate future generations with the facts. We must empower the younger Christian generations with accurate and reliable historical information, teaching them to follow the example of the Righteous Among the Nations, who took it upon themselves not to be bystanders but to actively choose good over evil.

    In a private conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he mentioned that we often see that there is a lack of general knowledge in the current generation. A survey conducted by the Claims Conference published on Holocaust Memorial Day 2018 revealed some concerning statistics:

    • over two-thirds of Americans had never heard of Auschwitz;
    • half could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto;
    • one-third claim that less than 2 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust; and
    • 58% believe a similar event could take place again.

    My vision is to try and change these statistics and make the world more knowledgeable about the Holocaust. To do this, we will partner with ICEJ and continue to host many visitors and groups like the Christian Leadership Seminar. We’ll travel globally to lecture and provide ready-to-print exhibitions for display in schools, churches, universities, libraries, and community centers around the world.

    Some of our new initiatives include:

    • A new representative of CFYV in the United States, Rev. Mark Jenkins, who will regularly travel to different churches and communities to spread our message.
    • For the first time, we had a CFYV booth at the 2019 National Religious Broadcaster's (NRB) Convention.

    WFJ:  How troubled are you by the growing rise in anti-Semitism worldwide? What will CFYV be doing to combat it?

    SARI:It amazes me that anti-Semitism still exists and is thriving in the world after the Holocaust and in the twenty-first century with all its advancements. We must remember wherever there is anti-Semitism there is also hatred, xenophobia, racism, and consequently violence. It is not strictly a Jewish issue.

    A major tool to combat the rise of anti-Semitism is access to complete and accurate information. The work carried out by the Yad Vashem Archives and Research Department is crucial. As time passes, countries and institutions are distorting the facts. Yad Vashem is currently engaged in an urgent eleventh-hour project to recover and document the truth from the generation that witnessed the events. Collecting testimonies from Survivors is more important now than ever before. We want to encourage our Christian friends to partner with us in this project.

    I invite Christian leaders from around the world to participate in the ICEJ-sponsored Christian Leadership Seminar at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem to become ambassadors equipped with tools to educate their communities to stand up against anti-Semitism.

    We are all created in the image of God. With this premise in mind, I believe it is important for us to continue building bridges between Jewish and Christian worlds to advance toward our common goals.

    Christian Friends of Yad Vashem was founded in 2005 in partnership with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. It is crucial for Yad Vashem to continue with this important work! The Israeli government meets just 40% of Yad Vashem’s annual budget; the shortfall is funded through private donations.  

  5. To be honest, there is always something happening at the ICEJ’s Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors! This is what makes it so difficult to share all of the amazing events that occur. So, here’s a taste of the many activities going on at the Haifa Home.

    The Joy of Good Food

    Hunger is something every Jewish Survivor experienced during the Holocaust. Many still live with the fear of going without food. This is one reason it is so important to provide nutritious meals for the Home’s residents. The dining hall brings the community together over tasty food and makes everyone feel like family. In June, we welcomed a talented young cook to the community kitchen. He not only gave the kitchen a new look but also cooks the most colorful and delicious meals to the delight of the residents. A group of young enthusiastic employees from the Strauss Group recently prepared a healthy brunch for our residents. The presentation of the food was beautiful. While enjoying the delicious and healthy food, the residents received a lecture about healthy eating. Our residents love food and enjoy a good meal. It was such a joyful time of fellowship.

    Adopt a Survivor

    The ICEJ’s Adopt a Survivor Program provides a steady source of monthly income to meet the Home’s ongoing needs. Though this financial support is greatly needed, the adoption program offers so much more. Special relationships have been established between resident Survivors and their adoptive Christian families through letters, cards, and sometimes presents adopters send by post or even bring in person.

    Mania, a Survivor of the Transnistria concentration camps, was deeply touched by the lovely letter and gifts she received from one of her Finnish adopters. An elated Mania said, “Isn’t this beautiful? Look at the colors. Look how it suits me!” It is not only the gifts or words that make the residents happy but the knowledge that someone abroad thinks of them and has not forgotten them.  

      ICEJ: Adopt a Holocaust Survivor   

    Becoming a Voice for Israel

    Not one month passes at the Haifa Home without hosting groups from different parts of the world who are donors or related to the ICEJ. In the 90 minutes that they are with us, they are able to meet one of the residents and if possible hear his/her story, visit the on-site museum which is a small but powerful representation of the lives of our residents during the Holocaust, and sense the special connection of Jews and Christians in this home. Groups often leave with tears in their eyes and exchange many hugs and kisses with the residents. Not only do the residents feel heard and not forgotten, but groups are challenged to be a voice for Israel and to be active in the battle against the growing tide of Anti-Semitism.

    Sharing the Past to Make a Better Tomorrow

    So far this year, 20 ICEJ-linked groups have visited the Haifa Home. Some nations represented were Taiwan, Canada, United States, Norway, Netherlands, Finland, Hong Kong, Iceland, Faroe Islands, England, Switzerland, and Germany. When possible, the groups hear from Holocaust Survivors themselves, but we also recognize it is difficult for Survivors to share their horrific story over and over again. This is why each group gets to go through a unique on-site museum that displays many of the personal stories of the Home’s residents. This allows the Survivors to share their stories with visitors without having to relive those atrocious memories time after time.

    Once visitors hear about and see some of these tragic moments from the past, they can better understand residents’ deep wounds and minister to their hearts with compassion and grace.

    A Breath of Fresh Air for Residents

    One of the best ways to forget the daily aches and pains that come with getting older is to have a little fun! Recently, a new van was donated that gives the residents, including those in wheelchairs, the opportunity to go on leisurely outings around Haifa. One day, we took the residents to a nice restaurant at the beach where they enjoyed not only a refreshing drink but also each other’s company. With the many physical restrictions that come with old age, it’s a breath of fresh air for residents to go out for an adventure around town. 

    Getting Ready for New Arrivals

    Our “out of the ordinary Home” presents different challenges with residents’ age and physical restrictions. Some people who came healthy, independent, and mobile, are now in need of a caretaker or unable to climb the stairs anymore. In the coming months, some residents will make a move to an apartment on the ground floor, which also makes room for new residents to move in upstairs.

    With the help of volunteers from the United Kingdom plus Israeli staff, two new apartments being remodeled in one of our buildings are almost ready to receive their new residents. 

    Celebrating the Feasts

    The Haifa Home is intentional about celebrating all of the biblical Feasts. The most recent Jewish holiday we celebrated was the Feast of Weeks, Shavuot or Pentecost. This Feast is also called the Feast of the Giving of the Torah. According to Jewish tradition, God gave the Law to the people of Israel at Sinai on this specific date. We celebrated at the Haifa Home with a special gathering for the residents, which included explanations of the Feast and Jewish traditions that have been added throughout history. We also enjoyed a delicious meal and cheesecake for dessert, which is the traditional food for this holiday. The atmosphere was joyful and festive, and it gave residents another opportunity to rejoice and come together as a family!

    A Time to Dance

    Every Wednesday night at the Haifa Home you’ll find residents gathered in the dining hall for an evening of music and dancing. It’s a special time for the residents, staff, and volunteers to bond together over some great music and awesome dance moves. Because dance and music are important in Israeli culture, this weekly event is popular with many of the residents. It fills our Survivors with joy and brings back memories of good times. They dance together and alone. Genia, even at 94, is often the first to start dancing!

    “Everything hurts, but when I dance I feel young again. It reminds me of the good times and gives me joy,” Genia said.

    Not everyone is physically able to dance, but that doesn’t stop residents from coming to enjoy the music and watch others dance. It’s such a special weekly event that people and soldiers from the community often join in on the dance party!

    “It’s an evening they look forward to. On Tuesday, they are already asking us if we will come to dance,” noted Tamaris, the Haifa Home’s longest-serving volunteer.

    The Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors is in need of finances to provide the best care for its residents and to handle general upkeep of the Home. Send your most generous gift today, and impact the lives of Holocaust Survivors while you can!

    Support Survivors living at the Haifa Home.