This Wednesday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, when we mark the anniversary once more of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp on 27 January 1945. One of the best ways to honor those who perished in the Nazi genocide against the Jewish people is to care for those who survived, which is what the ICEJ does at our Home of Holocaust survivors in Haifa.
The ICEJ has a team of dedicated Christian volunteers serving and comforting the elderly residents living in our Home for Holocaust survivors. This time of the coronavirus pandemic has been especially difficult for our aging residents. As Israel has experienced three long lockdown periods, the isolation and lack of freedom to meet with family, friends and each other has been the most difficult aspect over the last year. This has impacted many both mentally and physically. But renewed hope rolled in as 2021 began!
Although Israel is currently in another lockdown, there are flickers of hope for protecting those in high-risk groups like the elderly, thanks to a fast-paced vaccination drive now underway. For residents in the Haifa Home, the idea of life returning to normal is certainly a comforting thought. Most of our residents have received their first and some even their second shot of the vaccine. By the end of January, the majority will be protected. And during February, we hope to open the community dining hall again, so the survivors can eat together, socialize, and feel alive again! That is a day that we are all so looking forward to!
Celebrating the many years
Meantime, birthdays do not go unobserved! Yaacov, originally from Poland, has been living at the Home since 2012 and just celebrated his 97th birthday! Although his birthday party was in the corona ‘complete-lockdown’ style, there was good reason to celebrate. In the past three years, Yaacov has had a live-in caregiver, who takes great care of him. He still walks every day and is grateful for the life he has at our assisted-living facility. Once he said: “It was a good idea to make Aliyah and come to Israel in 1948, but it was the best decision to move to the Haifa Home. It’s like a family here!”
Snippet of a conversation
That feeling of family expressed by Yaacov is shared by many other residents. One of the ICEJ volunteers, Kerstin, cleans their apartments, accompanies residents on their visits to the doctor and dentist, and helps wherever she is needed. She recently recalled a conversation with Judith on their recent trip to the doctor. Judith is a 92-year-old survivor from Auschwitz and here is a snippet of their sweet conversation:
Kerstin: “Judith, you are looking so beautiful again today. I especially like your scarf.”
Judith: “Really, do you know how old that scarf already is? For sure 20 or 30 years!”
Kerstin: “Wow, Judith, then is that scarf even older than I am?”
Judith: “It was given as a present from my friend. We were the same age, but she passed away already. All my friends have died. I am the only one remaining, but I am not alone. I have you and you are always there whenever I need you.”
So many of these tender interactions are experienced daily at the Haifa Home. Mania is an 87 year-old survivor from Bessarabia who became an artist and writer. Although this time of corona has been extremely difficult and lonely for her, she tries to keep herself busy by being creative. “We need to create and keep our minds busy and not sit passively behind a TV, which only depresses us”, she tells the others. An avid painter, she has now taught herself to paint on the computer. Every day, she draws a new picture and writes a poem with it. She was excited to share her latest poem:
The school opposite my home
Watching children play outside my window.
Whose only worries are
To play, do homework and study
At my old age
I long again for those days… (Translated from Hebrew)
On the 27th of January, it will be exactly 76 years ago since Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp, was liberated by the Russian Red Army. Like every year on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we will conduct a ceremony at the memorial flame of the Home. However, due to the strict lockdown regulations this year, it will be a very small ceremony. These days are always very difficult for our residents. Some of the survivors have seldom shared their experiences, but now they are more determined than ever to tell their stories, as they bear the weight of responsibility of being the last witnesses to the Holocaust.
Judith (92) and Miriam (98) both survived Auschwitz. Miriam often says: “Even one day in Auschwitz can not be described, no one is able to understand what happened there.”
It is such a great privilege for us to take care of these precious people, for as long as they are still with us. Your support goes a long way in helping us to do so. Please consider making a difference in the life of a Holocaust survivor today, while there is still time.
This week, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is hosting its annual Envision Conference for pastors and ministry leaders, which has drawn over 650 participants from more than 50 nations, making the online event the largest Envision gathering ever.
Envision 2021, which runs from 25-28 January, is largely a live streaming and Zoom webinar conference this year, due to the corona pandemic, but the response from pastors and ministry leaders around the globe has been unprecedented.
The ICEJ usually holds its Envision conference to coincide with the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27th each year – the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz – so that Christian leaders can observe this event at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and learn more about Israel. However, with the corona threat still with us, along with its harsh economic impact and disruption of daily life, including weekly church services, this year’s conference also is seeking to inspire greater leadership in the Body of Christ as we confront the ongoing crisis.
This year’s line-up of Envision speakers includes Rev. Ingolf Ellßel (Germany), Dr Billy Wilson (USA), Rev. Mats Ola Ishoel (Russia), MP Kenneth Meshoe (South Africa), Rev. Peter Tsukahira (Israel), author Joel Rosenberg (Israel), and ministry/business consultants Phil Cooke and Stephen Mansfield (USA).
“The world around us is in crisis,” said Dr. Jürgen Bühler, ICEJ President. “The COVID-19 pandemic, the disputed American elections, a looming global recession, the erosion of Judeo-Christian values – all of these unsettling developments are causing people to lose the fixed points in their lives and look for real leadership in this season of great uncertainty. As church and community leaders, we are called to be lighthouses in these stormy times, and this year’s Envision conference is geared to help pastors and others in ministry to take courage and find a godly, sure path ahead for those we serve.”
Envision 2021 features daily live shows from locations in Jerusalem and around Israel, more than 30 seminar messages from proven church leaders, plus Q&A sessions and prayer times which will allow our guest speakers and pastors from around the globe to interact and fellowship together. Conference topics will include leadership in ministry, government and business, Israel in prophecy and current affairs, and the move of God in the Middle East.
You can still register for Envision at on.icej.org/Envision2021. And the program will be available for viewing on demand until April.
The days we live in are truly challenging times. The year 2021 started out with more worrisome news: new mutations of COVID-19, talk of an economic meltdown, and disturbing scenes from the Capitol building of the United States. It seems that indeed everything that can be shaken is being shaken.
The global pandemic has impacted not only our economies, but also the way we worship and fellowship as believers. The recent US elections seem to have put America on a new path that already appears to be threatening the Judeo-Christian values upon which America and the Western world were founded. Many ask: ‘Where is God in all this?’ This is particularly so as many prayed for a different outcome in the US elections, and even more have interceded for an end to the corona pandemic.
For me, the book of Habakkuk holds more relevance today than ever before. The prophet Habakkuk lived in a time when he did not understand the world anymore – and more importantly he did not understand God anymore. As you read this, I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire book of Habakkuk and have your Bible ready as you read along. Allow me to take you through the three chapters of a prophetic book that I believe many of us can identify with today.
The book of Habakkuk differs other prophetic books in the Hebrew Bible. The prophet did not receive a message directed to Israel, but it is more the very personal dialogue of a troubled man of God with His Creator.
From the very beginning (Habakkuk 1:2-4), Habakkuk voices his complaint to God: ”How long must I call for help but You do not listen!” The prophet comes straight to the point: Lord, my prayers are not answered! In addition, he feels God is just looking on as injustice spreads, and strife and conflicts abounds. He sees the people of God and the law being paralyzed (v. 4) and losing their impact in the land. Instead of righteousness, he sees injustice and violence taking over.
God’s first response
God’s response (vs.1:5-11) was definitely not what the man of God expected: God instructed him to observe what is going to happen, not only in Israel but among the nations. “I will raise the Babylonians … that ruthless and impetuous people” (1:6). They will come to destroy and to take captives wherever they go. In other words, God told him: “You think it is bad now? Just wait, it is going to get even worse and …. I am in the midst of it.”
In fact, God told Habakkuk: “I am doing something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told (Habakkuk 1:5).”
The man of God
Let us take a step back and see who Habakkuk was. He was not your average Sunday church-goer who once a week bothered go to the church to fulfill his religious duties. He was not a complainer upset that his prayers did not get instantly answered. We are dealing here with one of the great men of God from ancient times. Habakkuk was one of the few persons whose writings ended up in the Bible. His declaration that “the righteous shall live by faith” (2:4) is one of the most quoted Old Testament verses in the New Testament. He was a man of prayer and heard the voice of God like few did in his generation (He was a compatriot of Jeremiah).
It was exactly this rare man of God who saw his prayers go unanswered. His “how long shall I cry” (v. 1) is the despair of possibly many years of prayer for revival in Israel, and yet he saw nothing happening. And honestly, that might be the situation of many dear men and women of God in our times, who have hoped and prayed for another revival for decades. Truth be told, it has been a long time since we have seen revivals like Azusa Street, the Welsh revival, and the Wesleyan or Pietist revivals, in many Western countries. “How long” might be the cry of many believers today.
And God’s response to the prophet is even more puzzling: “You would not believe it if I told you!” I remember hearing one of the new prophetic voices recently being asked: Where were the prophets that foretold of the global pandemic?” The lady was sincere in answering: “I most likely would not have believed it if God told me about a coming global pandemic.” I was refreshed by her honesty.
Many people today question the role of the prophets today, particularly after the recent US election so many prophetic voices foresaw Trump winning a second term. Like Habakkuk, they most likely would not have believed such a dramatic turn would happen to their beloved nation. It is easy to judge them in hindsight. But knowing many of them personally, I know that they – like Habakkuk – hoped most of all for revival in USA. They hoped, like me and many of us in Israel, that another term of Donald Trump would continue to strengthen Israel and would strengthen Christian values not only in America but in other nations as well.
Habakkuk’s third response
Yet after God’s reply, Habakkuk was even more perturbed. The pagan Babylonians would be allowed to judge the people of God? This was highly upsetting for him. “Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” the prophet asked (1:13).
But then Habakkuk made a decision that became a game-changer, both for the prophet and for the outlook and tone of his entire message.
The watch tower
Habakkuk recognized that he now desperately needed to hear from God. He understood that old paradigms and concepts would no longer work. The focus now shifted from asking God to hearing from Him.
God still speaks today, but maybe we need to reorient our hearts to hear the new thing He is doing in the world today. We all need to remember that the Bible is full of passages that difficult times will come to the world. Lawlessness will increase, He will judge the world through earthquakes, wars and even pestilences, and yes eventually there will be even a globally orchestrated war on the saints. I do not know what lies ahead, but could it be that we are entering into a new season when things will become more difficult for the Western church? Yet, as we draw close to Him and seek His face, God promises that He will draw near to us and will answer our plea!
Instead of praying what he always prayed, Habakkuk went on his watch tower to receive the divine insight for his time. We need to realize that many of the changes of 2020 will be irreversible. What worked in years past might not work today or even tomorrow. This is a time when each one of us is called to go up to our personal watch tower to pray and seek the Lord as never before.
The light house
As Habakkuk listened, God spoke to him! God’s new revelation changed the perspective of the prophet. God did not change his purposes, but He allowed the prophet to see the world how God saw it. The Lord told him to write down plainly what He was about to share with him so that others could read it (2:2). That means God gave him not just an answer for his own questions but what he heard would help others too. Habakkuk’s watch tower of prayer turned into a lighthouse of guidance for others. God used him in turbulent times to be like the sons of Issachar (1 Chronicles 12:32). This unique tribe understood the times and the seasons they lived in and also knew what they ought to do. The result was the people were at their command. God looks for these lighthouse people today – people who can give hope and direction in these stormy times.
The righteous shall live by faith
At the same time God affirmed to Habakkuk His immovable purposes. “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.… but the righteous shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:3-4)
Shakings would surely come, God said, yet the righteous shall live by faith! The most needed quality we need to strive for in these troubling times is faith. Do not allow the confusion and challenges of our time to rob your faith. In spite of all the chaos around us, God is seated on His throne. This was the vision of Isaiah when one of the greatest kings of Israel died a tragic death. He saw the Lord seated on His throne and the train of his robe filling the temple (Isaiah 6:1).
Or to put it in the words of the prophet Daniel: When confronted with death and all the wisemen and magicians of Babylon were at the end of their wisdom, Daniel was full of faith and declared… “but there is a God in heaven!” (Daniel 2:28) It means that in the midst of confusion, economic hardship, and all our unanswered questions, it is our faith in Jesus Christ that will carry us through. The righteous shall live by faith!
God is still at work!
Finally, God affirmed to Habakkuk what he could not believe anymore. In the midst of judgement and chaos, God’s salvation purposes with mankind continue apace. Like a powerful ray of light penetrating the darkness, God announces: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14) This is not just a theological or prophetic statement of the future, but an invitation of God to take an active part in His salvation purposes.
Habakkuk’s new-found faith
The prophet Habakkuk’s first reaction was to embrace God’s will. “I heard your report (3:2).” He still did not like it and was filled with fear and trembling (3:2+16). Yet he could see that God was at work. He saw pestilence and pandemics “at God’s heels” (3:5), and high places were shaken as the Lord came to visit the earth. But Habakkuk understood that He came not destroy His people but was coming on a chariot of salvation (3:8) and that God “went out for the salvation of His people, His anointed (3:13).”
It should make us think that the greatest revivals of recent decades have not taken place in the Western democratic, free-market countries, but in developing nations still fighting poverty in Latin America and Africa, and in places like China and Iran and even more recently in the turbulent Arab world.
In one of our weekly Global Prayer Gatherings recently, we heard an amazing testimony from our branch director in the Philippines, Pastor Stephen Mirpuri. Through November and December last year, we prayed for his region after it was horribly struck by a typhoon. Entire villages were completely submerged in water. Many people lost everything. Yet he just reported how revival broke out in this hard-hit region and only in his churches over 3000 people accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
God does work in mysterious ways. But God does work! Therefore, Habakkuk received divine faith in the midst of his challenging times. His hunger for revival in Israel was not quenched but even strengthened. “O LORD, I have heard the report of You, and Your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2)
Maybe the greatest time for the Church in the West is still ahead of us. His work is not dependent on any earthly government. In the midst of the pandemic and great political change, let us make Habakkuk’s prayer our prayer: Lord, revive your work and in wrath remember mercy!
Habakkuk’s attitude was now different from his seemingly legitimate complaints at the beginning of the book. He was able to make one of the most profound statements of faith in the Bible: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17ff)
His faith and his joy were no longer dependent of the circumstances, because he saw the Lord in control! Do not despair of your own disappointment or lack of understanding and even wavering faith. Remember that even a great man of God like Habakkuk struggled with the times he was living in. It is this book of a struggling prophet which invites us to plead our case before the Lord and He will indeed answer!
Finally, Habakkuk made one more profound statement, and this is how his book ends:
“GOD, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 3:19, ESV)
The chaos and shakings became the territory of victory for Habakkuk. God strengthened him with His strength and gave him “feet like deer” treading on “high places.” There is no doubt we live today in complex and difficult times. Reading this verse, I was reminded of a documentary on mountain goats. With uttermost ease they are able to navigate the highest and seemingly impossible terrain of the Rocky Mountains. God promises this supernatural gift to us. The capability to navigate the new realities of the COVID-19 period, or the coming economic hardships, or a new government not to our liking. He will give us not only His strategies, but also His divine empowerment.
Remember! As we man our watchtower, He might turn it into a lighthouse for others. And most importantly, keep trusting in the Lord because “the righteous shall live by faith!”
Despite the global impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem assisted over 3,100 Jews in making the journey home to Israel in 2020, making it quite a remarkable year for our Aliyah efforts.
As we look back over 2020, it was a difficult year for everyone with all the corona surges, layoffs, lockdowns and travel bans. Yet one positive development was the continued flow of Jewish people moving to Israel, as some 21,000 new immigrants arrived in the country last year. And thankfully, the ICEJ was able to assist 3,141 of these olim (newcomers) from more than ten countries – one of the best years ever for our Aliyah efforts.
Among the highlights, the ICEJ sponsored flights for 1,645 Jews arriving from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Ethiopia, India and several other countries.
In May 2020, we funded a specially chartered emergency flight from Moscow to mark the 30th anniversary of our very first sponsored Aliyah flight in May 1990, which also arrived from Moscow with hundreds of Russian-speaking Jews following the collapse of Soviet communism.
We also launched the ‘Rescue250’ campaign last summer, challenging Christians to help us bring at least 250 Jews home per month while COVID-19 was still impacting the world.
In addition, the ICEJ sponsored Aliyah flights for 384 Ethiopian Jews last year. This included several hundred who came as part of the special “Operation Rock of Israel” airlift launched at the end of year to bring 2,000 Ethiopian Jews home to Israel.
Then in December, Israel welcomed a group of 248 members of the Bnei Menashe tribe from northeast India, 49 of whom were sponsored by the ICEJ. They come from are a unique tribe of Chinese Jews who claim descent from the Israelite tribe of Menashe exiled from the Land of Israel by the Assyrians more than 2,700 years ago. One of these new immigrants is a prize-winning martial arts competitor who hopes to join the IDF and represent Israel in international matches.
Meantime, we also helped hundreds of other Jewish immigrants with the costs of two-weeks of self-quarantine in corona hotels required by the Israeli government. There also were hundreds of Jewish youths who arrived last year after participating in Jewish Agency pre-Aliyah preparatory programs, summer camps and weekend Aliyah fairs sponsored by the ICEJ. Plus, the ICEJ provided absorption assistance to hundreds of other needy Jewish immigrant families, such as those who needed computers for their children to take part in school classes from home.
The ICEJ is off to a good start in the new year 2021 as well! On the first day of January, the Christian Embassy funded another flight of 100 Ethiopian Jews who landed at Ben-Gurion Airport, plus we have another flight coming up in early February which is expected to bring at least 200 more immigrants from the ancient Ethiopian Jewish community.
Also in January this year, the ICEJ sponsored Aliyah flights for five more women from the Bnei Menashe community who arrived in Israel despite the country-wide lockdown. They are really a blessing for Israel, as many Bnei Menashe end up serving in elite IDF units or working in high-tech factories, while others become nurses, dental hygienists, social workers and rabbis.
So what an amazing beginning for this year as well!
Since we were founded in 1980, the Christian Embassy has been helping Jews return to Israel from every corner of the earth. In total, the ICEJ has assisted more than 160,000 Jews from over 35 countries to make Aliyah to Israel. This includes sponsoring flights, helping with ground transportation, accommodations, and other logistical support to attend Aliyah fairs, Aliyah summer camps, Aliyah seminars, consular visits, ulpan (Hebrew language) classes, and many other programs.
We also must recognize that it is Christians like you, from around the globe, who have made all this possible by being faithful to answer God’s prophetic summons in Isaiah 49:22: “See, I will beckon to the nations, I will lift up my banner to the peoples; they will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their hips.”
There are exciting days ahead as the Aliyah is expected to surge in 2021. Please consider a generous donation as we work together to gather the Jewish people back to the homeland and thereby hasten God’s purposes for Israel.
Give to the ICEJ’s Aliyah efforts today at: on.icej.org/aliyah
Many thoughts run through one’s mind when thinking about Ashkelon. This ancient Mediterranean city is situated in southern Israel. Sadly, Ashkelon is within reach of terrorist rocket attacks from Gaza, and regrettably far too many times finds itself on the receiving end of these barrages.
Moving away from the beach-front, one notices that Ashkelon is home to many lower income families. A lot of these families feel insecure as they do not have a safe-room in their apartment, and when the red-alert siren sounds they need to run to the nearest shelter. Schools operating in the area are required to have bomb shelters for the children, otherwise they are not allowed to operate during heightened tensions. Knowing a shelter is nearby may be the only peace-of-mind that local parents have when sending their children off to school.
The ICEJ recently visited the AMIT Fred Kahane Technological High School in Ashkelon, which has a good reputation for dedicated students and advanced learning. During the 2014 Gaza war with Hamas, this school took a direct hit from a rocket attack, destroying the entrance and several classrooms. Thankfully, none of the children were at school that day, as the attack took place on a Shabbat. However, what happened is engraved in the community’s memory and has left a long-lasting mark on the school.
This national religious school has around 400 students, mostly boys. Recently, however, they started a separate girl’s program, allowing approximately 60 Orthodox girls to study separate from the boys in their own school complex. As the girls’ complex was being remodeled with new bathrooms and paving outside of the classrooms, the ICEJ heard about the urgent need for bomb-shelters on the premises.
Through the generous donations received from Christians in the USA and Switzerland, the ICEJ was able to install two bomb shelters at the new Ulpana religious girls’ complex. At the dedication ceremony for the new bomb shelters, Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President of Aid and Aliyah, had an opportunity to speak to the director of this new program and several of the girls. Nicole explained that the shelters were a gift from Christians who love and care about Israel, and wished them a blessed year ahead. The ICEJ plaque on the shelters will serve as a continuous reminder of this demonstration of love.
The school director thanked our donors for this incredible gift, adding that they take security very seriously and without such shelters, they would not have been able to open the new program for observant young girls at all. Nicole responded that “although they now have the option to run to the shelter, may it be that they won’t ever need to!” At least knowing that the shelters are there, helps them to relax more and focus on their studies.
Thank you for being involved and partnering with us in protecting the lives of those living under this constant threat of terror rockets. Over recent years, the ICEJ has been able to place more than 110 bomb shelters in vulnerable Israeli communities along the Gaza border, thanks to our generous donors.
Please consider a generous donation to help protect the vulnerable communities in Israel.
"Comfort, comfort my people says your God" Isaiah 40