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Farewell to Dr. Susanna Kokkonen

Recently, Dr. Susanna Kokkonen decided to end her time as Director of Christian Friends of Yad Vashem, which operates in partnership with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. She held the position for ten years, and her daily work and impact at Yad Vashem will be greatly missed. Ms. Sari Granitza, a long-time deputy with the International Relations Division at Yad Vashem, will assume her role.

“For the past decade, Dr. Susanna Kokkonen has provided outstanding leadership to one of the most vital and sensitive aspects of our ministry by overseeing the Christian Desk which we helped establish at Yad Vashem”, said ICEJ President Dr. Juergen Buehler. “Dr. Kokkonen put her academic skills as a Holocaust scholar to full use in such initiatives as the annual Christian Leadership Seminars. She also brought a unique spiritual touch to Holocaust remembrance and education, even by creating a place of prayer in her special corner of this revered institution. Most of all, Susanna was a ‘light’ amid the painful, dark memories housed at Yad Vashem. She knew her Bible well and had a distinct way of relating its eternal truths to the universal lessons which Yad Vashem teaches on Antisemitism, racism and genocide.”

Originally from Finland, Dr. Kokkonen received her Ph.D. in Holocaust Studies in 2004 from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where her dissertation focused on Jewish Refugees in Post-War Italy, 1945-1951. She later worked as a pro-Israel Christian lobbyist at the European Parliament in Brussels and as cultural attaché at the Embassy of Finland in Tel Aviv.

In 2008, Dr. Kokkonen was tapped to serve as Director of Christian Friends of Yad Vashem, which was still relatively new. Over the ensuing years, she solidified the work of the Christian Desk as an important facet of the Yad Vashem campus, and expanded its reach to Christian communities on all continents. She hosted scores of Christian dignitaries, addressed hundreds of Christian tours groups, and organised numerous Christian Leadership Seminars that drew participants from over 50 countries. Dr. Kokkonen also successfully launched the CFYV’s Prayer and Study Tour, reliving history in Israel from the times of the Bible until today. In addition, she became known for having a special rapport with Holocaust survivors and turned much-needed attention on the needs of elderly, forgotten Righteous Gentiles in Israel.

Fluent in six languages, Dr. Kokkonen will continue to make appearances for Yad Vashem while also travelling around the world to speak to Christian, Jewish and civic audiences about the Holocaust, genocide, Antisemitism and Israel today, as well as to engage in humanitarian work. To keep up with her activities, please visit:

Shalom From Burundi

“We are honouring Israel first, because Israel is God’s firstborn among the nations,” announced the First Lady of Burundi, Her Excellency, Reverend Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza as she introduced our ICEJ delegation from Israel. We were greeted with an enthusiastic “SHALOM", because “shalom” is a common greeting in Burundi.

Representing ICEJ headquarters, Jo Olsen, Jannie Tolhoek and I were incredibly honoured to take part in the first International Women Leaders’ Conference in Burundi organized under the theme, “Women of Destiny, arise, be courageous and act for the matter concerns you.” The conference was attended by 500 Burundian women and 116 delegates from 24 nations, as well as the First Lady of Zambia, Her Excellency, Esther Nyawa Lungu and the First Lady of Central African Republic, Her Excellency, Brigitte Touadera. The First Lady of Burundi is an ordained minister who has a passion to mobilize the women of Burundi to understand their role as leaders, not only in their homes but also in their nation.

As part of the conference, we travelled three hours north to the province of Ngozi to take part in the launch of the First Lady’s “Free to Shine” campaign, which has a mission to eradicate mother to child transmission of HIV. We also visited the “Good Samaritan Orphanage”, which is now caring for 40 orphans. We had the opportunity to pray for the orphans and caretakers, as well as bless them with supplies for the orphanage.

Walking away from this conference, I am inspired by the First Lady’s life and her amazing endeavours. It was also touching to see a genuine love for Israel exuding from the Burundian people. Many conference attendees even came to our Israel delegation to say they pray for Israel and have a dream to one day visit the Holy Land. God moved powerfully during this conference, and we look forward to seeing what the Lord will continue to do through this historic moment in Burundi’s history!

Hearts of Generosity in Bolivia

When Pastor Alberto Magno Sales de Oliveira was baptized in the Holy Spirit, he received a new vision and love for Israel that not only impacted his life, but also brought a spiritual renewal to his family and congregation. One of His dreams was to bring large groups of Bolivians to the Feast of Tabernacles, and he has seen God fulfill this dream year after year.
He shared, “We dreamed that our people would be a part of this move of God. Step by step, God supported us and confirmed our dream. Today, we not only have a group of pilgrims, but the love of Israel in the hearts of Bolivians.”

As pastor of the First Evangelical Baptist Church in Bolivia, Oliveira witnessed his congregation express their love for Israel, not only in words but in action. The people of Bolivia come every Shabbat with generous and voluntary donations that God miraculously multiplies each year. Pastor Oliveira explained to his church, “This will be for exclusive use of the ICEJ in Jerusalem, because ICEJ is our arm and extension of the church. They can do what we cannot throughout the year. We have decided to be a part of the Christian Embassy, not only during the Feast, but also in everything ICEJ does throughout the year.”

Other churches have seen what God is doing in Oliveira’s church, so today his church bring donations from several ministries to donate to the ICEJ. As one final comment on their giving, Oliveira said, “When we see the work of the Embassy, we feel very happy. It ensures that our offering of comfort is indeed comforting the people of Israel. The ICEJ can put into practice the generosity of the people of Bolivia. We are glad to know that the money is used in a precious way through the ministry of the ICEJ.”

OFEK- New Horizons in Aliyah

Ofek Israeli means “Israeli horizon” and is the name of the coordinating body for Jewish Aliyah efforts and initiatives. Since the Israeli government seeks to maximize its resources for the greatest impact possible, Ofek was created to harness the dynamic – but at times disorganised – power of grassroots organisations in 22 nations around the world.

Ofek’s recent annual conference with Jewish leaders was held in Ashkelon, bordering the restive Gaza strip to the north. This location, a natural choice for Ofek’s CEO Shimon Cohen, a retired general, was chosen to show solidarity with border communities along the Gaza Strip, which currently face challenging, turbulent times.

The theme of Ofek’s recent annual conference was “From Vision to Reality.” Many Aliyah experts and operators from several countries were in attendance, which made it a great honour and privilege for ICEJ’s Barry Dennison to deliver a keynote speech during the conference. Barry was warmly welcomed by CEO Shimon Cohen, who stated in a subsequent interview how grateful he was for ICEJ’s engagement and support in Aliyah conferences for Jews in former Soviet republics, where freedoms are often highly restricted. The success rate for these conferences is high, with 70% of participants choosing to make Aliyah.

Barry Denison delivered a well-paced and poignant survey of Evangelical Christians’ Bible-based motivation for wholeheartedly engaging with Israel and Aliyah, clearly demonstrating the shared biblical foundation between the two faiths and thus the natural practical partnership. Using this principle, it is clear that “when we read the Bible text… Israel is there. God’s calling of the Jewish people is without regret. It was His choice.” He captivated his hearers and laid out how “God has a plan for the Gentiles to bless the Jewish people.”

The ICEJ’s proud track record of unwavering and effective support for Israel through aid work and advocacy left a strong impression, especially the ICEJ’s help to the Gaza border region and the fact that the ICEJ has helped 140,000 Jews return home to Israel. Duly impressed, the audience dispatched Barry from the podium with strong and heartfelt applause.

ICEJ looks forward to continued cooperation with Ofek to help bring more of God’s people back home.

12th Annual Festival of Tolerance in St. Petersburg

The 12th annual Festival of Tolerance in St. Petersburg, Russia was yet again a great success. ICEJ Russia and our longtime partner in the Jewish Community, the “Eva Foundation”, organized this event to raise awareness of the Holocaust.

The festival began with a Jewish drama group from Bryansk performing the play, “The diary of Ann Frank.” The program continued with a discussion about the book “The German’s are Hunting us with Dogs”, which is the story of two young sisters who escaped the Holocaust. The book contains a series of drawings done by young Jewish children to illustrate the poem written by Alla Aisensharf, one of the sisters. A video presentation of the story followed, as well as dramatic readings by middle school children.

ICEJ has translated, printed, and distributed the book in Finland as a contribution to this Holocaust awareness campaign. Proceeds from the Finnish book went to purchasing warm bedding for the remaining 68 Holocaust survivors living in St. Petersburg that the ICEJ helps care for, along with other elderly Jewish people and invalids.

The festival was a great success and provided an excellent method of Holocaust education for those that attended.

Ebenezer Testimonies

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us.” (Sam 7:12)
Ebenezer means “stone of help” and was set up by Samuel as a marker and memorial of God’s help and provision. After the 2018 Feast of Tabernacles, the ICEJ staff can testify the Lord has helped us “thus far” and continues to be our Ebenezer.

1. Days before our grand opening event at Ein Gedi, the police said the festive evening must be cancelled. The night before the event, God did a miracle by giving us the permit we needed for the opening night to go on just as if nothing had happened!
2. As Daniel Kolenda prayed for God’s healing touch over the crowd at Ein Gedi, a woman in her 80’s was instantly healed from the chronic pain in her legs and back which had plagued her for many years. After realizing God had healed her, she began dancing and praising God!
3. ICEJ VP and Senior Spokesman David Parsons, sick with a head cold and fever during the Feast, was daily strengthened by God, who enabled him to emcee, speak, and connect with people throughout the entire Feast.
4. ICEJ’s President Jürgen Bühler, still recovering from a recent major surgery, felt God’s continuous provision of strength and energy to serve as the keynote speaker for the opening night in the arena and to attend each day of the Feast.
5. An 84-year-old pastor from the Philippines came to Israel for the first time; in one of the sessions of the Feast God healed him from a heart disease that he had for several years.
6. Christine from the USA shared, “My husband changed his opinion about Israel after reading the ICEJ Word from Jerusalem magazine, and he was finally open to come to Israel. I am here with my husband at the conference.”

All Alone at the Wall

“When I was in the children’s home, I had nowhere to visit on Shabbat. Sometimes I would go to my sister, but it wasn’t always pleasant for me to be there and to be a burden on her with her own children and husband. So, on Shabbat I would travel to the Kotel (Western Wall) – not only to pray, but also because I knew that I could remain awake all night without people thinking that it isn’t normal, and people didn’t bother me.” These are the words of a young girl sharing her reality of being homeless in Israel.

Galit and her two sisters grew up with a mother who was mentally ill and a father who abandoned them, and the sisters ended up in a children’s home. When Galit finished her time at the children’s home, she left her belongings at her older sister’s house who was by this time married with children of her own. With her youngest sister still in the children’s home, Galit worked night shifts in a hostel for children with intellectual disabilities, so she could sleep at the hostel during the day. This was her home until she began her national service which provided an apartment for her during her time of service.

As Galit was leaving the national service and getting ready to go to college, the ICEJ gave her a scholarship to help her succeed in her studies. She was also assigned a mentor to visit her and show Galit that she is not alone.

In Times of Sadness & Joy

Leonit knew tremendous sadness in his young life. He told Homecare that until he met his wife, he had never known that love and joy could be his.

He was born in Belarus, the fifth child of his Jewish parents. When war came, his mother fled with him and his siblings to the Urals, but his father was killed in action. At five years old, Leonit lost his mother to cancer, and joined the ranks of Russia’s many war orphans. Because of a law which placed siblings in different orphanages, he was placed in an institution of 300 children and his sister was placed separately.

There was no affection shown to the children and beatings from the hand of the alcoholic Director and older children were the sorrowful norm. From the youngest to the oldest, they had to work hard all day in extreme winter or summer temperatures. Although he remained in the orphanage until he was 17, he could not recall one moment of happiness during that time, except for a rare moment during his 16th year when his sister found him and visited him.

One great treasure that emerged from his painful years at the orphanage was Leonit discovered his passion for art. The children loved the pictures he drew for them. When Leonit finally left this sad home and earned enough to study art at the university, he discovered his passion and skill in sculpting. So much so that he became famous for it!

Perestroika brought previously-unknown freedom for the citizens of the former Soviet Union, but increased Antisemitism for the Jews. Therefore in 1991, Leonit moved to Israel with his beloved wife and a son. Despite the difficulties, Leonit found his home in Israel with his family and became a well-known sculptor. His son also became a prominent artist. ICEJ’s Homecare gave assistance when Leonit’s wife had cancer. After she passed away, Leonit had so much sorrow; the ongoing contact with ICEJ Homecare is an enormous comfort to him. 

Leonit is just one of the many stories of immigrants from the former Soviet Union. They each had times of great joy and deep sadness, therefore Homecare is privileged to hear those stories as they offer practical assistance to the immigrants in their new life in Israel.

A Grand Trip to Ireland

On a grand adventure to Ireland this fall, ICEJ’s Haifa Home Director Yudit Setz accompanied Judith Rosenzweig, one of our Haifa Home residents, to share her story of the Holocaust. From a Jewish school in Dublin to a synagogue in Belfast, these two women displayed a powerful testimony of friendship and partnership as Yudit, a Christian, translated the stories told by Judith, a Jew, from Hebrew into English.

At each of the meetings, organized by ICEJ-Ireland, the audiences fell silent as they listened to Judith recount the horrors of the Holocaust which she endured as a little girl. One of the Rabbis in attendance explained he had never heard of the ICEJ, and he was thankful for the love and friendship from Christians in a time when Antisemitism is growing everywhere in Europe. The presence of Judith and Yudit at these meetings was an example of God’s restoration and healing work, and served to strengthened ICEJ’s connection to the Jewish communities in Ireland.

At Home in Haifa

Haifa has been our home for three months now, and we are living very close to the Haifa Home (for Holocaust Survivors). This gives us more opportunities to share in the daily lives of the residents, understand their needs and the needs of the home in general. I am also meeting many Israelis who not only read our sign on the building, but also engage with us wanting to know more about what we are doing.

The residents are so happy that we live in Haifa and see us almost every day. Many express that our presence gives them joy! We also meet daily with Shimon Sabag, Director of the Home, to discuss different challenges and solutions. It’s a great privilege to work closely with an Israeli organization who trusts us as Christians and sees us as true partners. Because of my many years in the land and working to build on this relationship between Jews and Christians, I can see the miracle of this. This is what excites me most.

We are developing an infrastructure for volunteers for our two current building projects. One project is ongoing maintenance of the old existing buildings, and the other is to renovate the inside of the new buildings. Many volunteers from around the world have and will come to help, so our presence in Haifa plays a vital role of bridging the cultural and language barriers between the Christian volunteers and Israeli staff.

Currently, we have two long-term volunteers from Germany, one short-term volunteer from Canada, and our first two short-term handy men. My husband, Will Setz, with great experience in building, renovation and fluent in Hebrew, English, and German, is leading the volunteer team of handy men. Our vision is to bring skilled Christian handy men to the Haifa Home to do something practical for Holocaust Survivors and introduce them to the work of the ICEJ.

The renovation of the outside walls of the building is almost finished with all new windows, and we hope to begin renovation on the inside of the building in a couple of months due to permits needed for an elevator and additional floors. In the meantime, many have showed interest in wanting to help renovate the new building, so we look forward to welcoming many short-term volunteers in the next weeks and months to come.


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