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ICEJ Rallies Worldwide for Israel

Over the past week the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, through its national branches and supporters around the globe, has been organizing and joining numerous pro-Israel rallies held worldwide in the wake of the latest Hamas rocket war against the Jewish state. The various rallies have expressed solidarity with Israel and its right of self-defense, as well as challenged their governments to stand against the surge of antisemitism now sweeping the globe.

In one of the ICEJ’s largest rallies, held in Stuttgart last Saturday (22 May), over 1,500 Christians from across Germany gathered with Jewish leaders to voice their support for Israel. ICEJ-Germany national director Gottfried Bühler convened the rally and called upon the federal government to take firm action against the “aggressive climate change of antisemitism” now being witnessed in Germany. He also commended the recent statements in support of Israel made by the German president and foreign minister, but insisted these declarations must be followed up by concrete steps “to deprive antisemitism in our country of its breeding ground.”

Gottfried Bühler urged the German government to:
1) Prevent the flow of German taxpayer monies into the 'treasure boxes of Hamas' and other terror-supporting institutions.
2) Distance Germany from the ‘club of antisemites and anti-Israel revolutionaries’ at the United Nations.
3) Join the alliance of nations that are confronting the antisemitic regime in Iran and its designs to annihilate Israel.
4) Repudiate any effort or plan that would render Judea/Samaria (the West Bank) ‘judenrein”, and instead highlight and support the many successful examples of co-existence between Jews and Arabs in these areas.
5) Recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the German Embassy to Jerusalem.

Other speakers at the Stuttgart rally included Sandra Simovich, Israel’s Consul General in Munich; Dr. Michael Blume, Government Commissioner for the State of Baden-Württemberg for the Fight against Antisemitism; Susanne Jakubowski and Barbara Traub, Board members of the Jewish Religious Community in Württemberg; Bärbel Illi, President of the German-Israeli Association in Stuttgart; Isabel Fezer, Mayor of Stuttgart for Youth and Education; and Udi Lehavi, representative of Keren Hayesod.

Israeli Consul Sandra Simovich thanked the Christians for their “true friendship and commitment,” and described the harrowing experience of recent weeks when Jews in Germany were confronted with hateful threats. When pro-Palestinian protesters call for the destruction of Israel, “it is not a show of solidarity but of pure hatred and antisemitism,” she said. Simovich added that foreign aid to rebuild Gaza must not end up an investment in Hamas terrorism.

Other speakers noted that Israel was being forced once again to fight for its survival, while also voicing dismay that in the very year the nation is marking 1700 years of Jewish life in Germany, Jew-hatred is finding its way back onto German streets.

One poignant moment came when the crowd listened in silence to 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Eva Erben speaking from Ashkelon, in southern Israel, even while sirens were wailing in the background. Erben described the horror of living under constant rocket barrages and her concerns that Hamas was abusing the Palestinian population as human shields.

Other recent pro-Israel rallies with ICEJ sponsorship or involvement have taken place in dozens of other countries, including Denmark, Liberia, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Mexico and Slovakia.

        

ICEJ-Mexico convened a solidarity rally in front of the Israeli Embassy in Mexico City. Leaders from several large Christian organizations attended the demonstration, which featured many banners of support for Israel and prayers for the peace of Jerusalem. Enrique Anaya, ICEJ-Mexico Public Affairs Secretary hosted the event and welcomed Israeli Ambassador Zvi Tal, who expressed appreciation for the show of Christian support. He also noted the insanity of Hamas “firing rockets towards Jerusalem, which is a holy city also for Islam. So, we face this terrorist organization that has nothing to do with the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, with whom we would like to live in peace, in coexistence.”

      

 

ICEJ-Slovakia also organized a rally of 200 Christians and Jews in Bratislava with several politicians and cultural and church personalities taking the stage to express support for Israel.

ICEJ leaders and supporters also attended large pro-Israel demonstrations in Copenhagen, Denmark; Monrovia, Liberia; The Hague, Netherlands; and in many other cities over the past week.

   

Meantime, many ICEJ branch leaders voiced their support for Israel in media outlets within their home countries. For example, ICEJ-Estonia national director Peeter Vosu wrote strong opinion columns backing Israel’s right of self-defense which were published in the two largest papers and news sites in Estonia.

 

 

 

Finally, ICEJ staff members in Jerusalem were active in reporting events accurately during the recent conflict. For instance, Fine Ditoka and Harry Cirimaiwasa appeared on national TV in their native Fiji live from Jerusalem to talk about the Hamas rocket war.

 

And ICEJ Vice President & Spokesman David Parsons also appeared in an online rally for Israel in the Philippines hosted by the River of God church movement and attended by scores of pastors and Christian supporters of Israel.

Photo credits:
Germany: Levi Dörflinger
Mexico: EnlaceJudío
Netherlands: Jacob Keegstra
Slovakia: Peter Svec
Denmark: Christina Leinum
Liberia: J. Aaron Wright 

Aliyah Super Week: Over 500 olim from 20 countries arriving this week

We are living in a unique and historical time when neither a global pandemic nor a rocket war can stop the fulfillment of biblical prophecies that the Jewish people will be gathered into their ancestral homeland. An unprecedented ‘Aliyah Super Week’ organized by the Jewish Agency with sponsorship from the ICEJ is vivid evidence of this.

Even despite the recent Gaza conflict, Israel is welcoming a wave of over 500 new Jewish immigrants from more than twenty countries this week. And the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is one of the main sponsors by helping to bring 148 of these new Jewish immigrants from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, France, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Finland, Switzerland, Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States and other countries.

This special week of aliyah flights from all over the globe has been in the planning over recent months as Israel began emerging from the coronavirus pandemic, but the 11-day Hamas rocket war which ended last Friday threatened to disrupt those plans. While there were a few cancellations of flights as the conflict raged, most of the aliyah flights are landing at Ben-Gurion Airport this week with hundreds of olim ready to build their future in the Jewish state.

“Given the intense conflict we have witnessed here over recent weeks, it is quite remarkable to see these hundreds of Jewish immigrants coming home to Israel from more than 20 nations,” said ICEJ President Dr Jürgen Bühler. “This is so inspiring to see these Jewish families cast their lots with Israel just days after the country was under such intense rocket barrages, and it bodes well for the future of the Jewish state.”This special week of aliyah flights from all over the globe has been in the planning over recent months as Israel began emerging from the coronavirus pandemic, but the 11-day Hamas rocket war which ended last Friday threatened to disrupt those plans. While there were a few cancellations of flights as the conflict raged, most of the aliyah flights are landing at Ben-Gurion Airport this week with hundreds of olim ready to build their future in the Jewish state.

Among these new olim we welcome young people, elderly couples, families with children, so many seemingly different people are united by this incomparable joy and a radiance of hope shines through their eyes.

In addition to sponsoring flights for 148 of these new immigrants coming as part of the ‘Aliyah Super Week’, the ICEJ will be covering flight costs and other travel expenses for 99 members of the Bnei Menashe community who have been approved to come to Israel under an emergency decision of the Israeli cabinet due to the current coronavirus surge in India. The decision will allow 548 Bnei Menashe to come as soon as possible, with the first flight of 274 currently scheduled to land on Monday, May 31.

In total, the ICEJ will be sponsoring aliyah flights for 247 new immigrants over an eight-day period ending next Monday. This will bring to 1,132 the total number of aliyah flights sponsored by the ICEJ so far this year.

Thank you for your support of the ICEJ Aliyah efforts! Together, we can help many more Jewish families return to the Promised Land.

 

CREDIT PHOTOS as ‘Courtesy of JAFI’

Life on the Gaza Border

Forty-one years ago, hope filled Margaret Duvdevani’s heart when she, along with her husband and three small sons, decided to immigrate to Israel from Birmingham Alabama. With trepidation, her friends reminded her that in Israel, her sons (a 5-year-old and a pair of 3-year-old twins) would one day need to serve in the Israeli army. In Margaret’s mind, though, that day was still far in the distance.

Settling into a moshav (farming community) near Gaza, her life was idyllic. Away from the city, beautiful fields surrounded them, as did the sounds of happy children playing in big back yards and pet animals roaming the village. The years flew by, and all three boys entered the Israeli army when they turned 18 years old. Each one then returned safely after completing their three years of required service.

Unfortunately, their serene life came to an abrupt halt one summer’s day in June 2007, when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip! Ever since, their new norm has included intensely frightful episodes of sudden rocket barrages, “red alert” sirens, the stress of all-out war every few years, incendiary balloon assaults, and other forms of terror attacks.

Initially, there was nowhere to run and no shelter nearby when the sirens alerted of incoming mortars plummeting down within 15 seconds. So Margaret and her family would lie down on the ground with their hands covering their heads.

“I can’t even remember how many times we have gone through this, but I can tell you it doesn’t get easier”, Margaret recently told the ICEJ.

She now has a bomb shelter in their home, yet she added: “However great this is, our days are long and filled with lots of noise both from Gaza as they fire their missiles, and also from our own army and air force with planes flying in the skies most of the day and night, helicopters patrolling the area, artillery shooting their cannons and shaking our house, and even the noise of the Iron Dome missile interception system as it takes off miles away to intercept an incoming missile.”

During the recent Hamas rocket war against Israel, traumatic stress once again reared its ugly head for Margaret’s village. Children could not enjoy the playgrounds or meet friends, as everyone needed to stay close by the shelters in their own homes. Her family spent hours in the shelter with sounds of explosions and other sudden noises all around.

“There were times when my 8-year-old granddaughter would not come out of the shelter, even to eat”, Margaret shared. “We can only follow the rules of the Israeli Home Front Command and pray for safety every time the ‘code red’ siren goes off. This is the never-ending story of our lives here on the border of the Gaza Strip.”

“Sadly, this is only one account of the trauma experienced by those living near the Gaza border”, explained Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for AID and Aliyah. “Whole communities are being traumatized. We are acutely aware of the desperate needs these communities have and we are committed to letting them know that they are not alone by providing practical aid.”

While a fragile ceasefire is now in place, this does not mean the quiet will last. The situation on the border remains tense and very uncertain.

The ICEJ is currently responding with emergency relief efforts that include:
1) Providing bomb shelters in public places so that residents can go about their daily lives on the front lines with greater peace of mind. The need for more bomb shelters is immense, as a state comptroller’s report last year found that about 30% of Israelis (2.6 million) do not have access to functional bomb shelters near their homes, including over 250,000 civilians who live near the Gaza and Lebanese borders – areas under the highest threat of rocket attack.

2) Providing protective vests and other gear for volunteer security and first responder teams who are on the front lines 24/7. They remain in full-time emergency mode as Palestinian terror militias in Gaza continue to ignite wildfires in their fields and villages with incendiary balloons.

3) Supporting trauma relief and assistance projects in the Gaza periphery communities, where resilience centers and trauma counsellors are helping families and children deal with the immense anxiety and the long-term impact of the incessant rocket and terror attacks.

4) Assisting with social welfare projects which are providing basic aid and relief to desperate and disadvantaged Israeli families in the hardest hit areas of the conflict, including in Sderot, Ashdod, Ashkelon and other cities and towns which recently came under repeated rocket fire.

Thank you for standing with us as we continue to respond to the destructive impact of the recent conflict with Hamas in Gaza. Please continue to support our efforts in relieving the trauma experienced by Israeli families living on the Gaza border.

 

ICEJ Expanding Response to Crisis in Israel!

With the Hamas rocket war against Israel now in its eighth day, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem is expanding our response to meet the many urgent needs amid this ongoing crisis. Besides the 15 portable bomb shelters we will be providing to vulnerable Israeli border communities over coming weeks, we also are reaching out to Israelis living near the Gaza border area with a variety of humanitarian assistance.

Our emergency relief for Israel will include:

1) Providing protective vests and other gear for volunteer security and first responder teams who are on the front lines 24/7 in this conflict. They actually went into full-time emergency mode 12 days ago, when Palestinian terror militias in Gaza started igniting dozens of wildfires in their fields and villages with incendiary balloons.

2) Sponsoring respites for several days away from the conflict for needy Israeli families, especially children and the elderly, who have been under constant rocket and mortar fire over the past week.

3) Supporting trauma relief and assistance projects in the Gaza periphery communities, where resilience centers and trauma counselors are helping families with children deal with the immense anxiety and long-term impact of the incessant rocket and terror attacks.

4) Assisting with social welfare projects which are providing basic aid and relief to desperate and disadvantaged Israeli families in the hardest hit areas of the present conflict, including in Sderot, Ashdod, Ashkelon and other cities and towns under repeated rocket fire. Many Israelis were still out of work from Corona and now the Hamas rocket barrages have crippled their chances of finding a job, while children are out of school and businesses are failing. Others have lost use of their homes due to rocket damage. We want to be there to help wherever we are able.

The longer this Hamas rocket war goes on, the worse the impact will be on Israelis under fire, whether physically, emotionally or economically.

So please help us expand our urgent relief efforts for Israelis in peril from Hamas rockets and terror tactics. Our assistance can do the most good right now, when it is needed most.

Give your best gift today towards our emergency response by giving to our Israel in Crisis fund.
 

 

Haifa Home gets a new resident!

It can be extremely traumatic packing up one’s home, downscaling dearest possessions, and leaving most memories behind. Especially when deep down inside one knows this will probably be the last move.

For Holocaust survivor Yaacov, however, his decision to move is a choice which he could completely make for himself; unlike during the war years when he was forced to move from his home in Poland to far-away Siberia.

“I expect good things. I move with joy”, Yaacov shared with Yudit Setz, ICEJ Aid’s Director for Holocaust Survivor Projects.

The Jewish and Christian staff at the ICEJ’s Home for Holocaust Survivors in Haifa warmly welcomed Yaacov with flowers to his new home. “We are so excited to have him as a resident” said Yudit.

Upon entering his new residence, Yaacov was wonderfully surprised at the beautiful clean apartment, which is fully furnished and has its own bathroom and small kitchenette area, as well as a flat-screen TV.

Knowing that a chapter of his life is finishing and a new one begins, Yaacov said: “The question is only, how much time, how many years I will still enjoy living there.”

As Yaacov settled into his new apartment, he gave thanks while enjoying a glass of water, saying: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe who has granted us life, who has sustained us and brought us to this season.”

In this next season of his life, Yaacov will be comfortable and cared for by the dedicated ICEJ team of Christian volunteers serving at the Haifa Home, Israel’s only assisted-living facility solely dedicated to caring for Holocaust survivors in need. In addition, he will be able to befriend other survivors residing at the facility and enjoy all the social interactions and activities provided there.

Your continued support of the Haifa Home ensures that these Holocaust survivors will enjoy a good quality of life for their remaining years.
 

 

URGENT: Give Israelis Life-Saving Bomb Shelters!

We have all watched with great concern over recent days as Israel has been pulled into another senseless rocket war with Hamas in Gaza. This is the fourth such major conflict in the past twelve years, and the toll is quickly rising on both sides.

As the Hamas rocket threat has increased over the years, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has responded by providing portable bomb shelters to vulnerable Israeli communities along the Gaza periphery. From Kerem Shalom in the south all the way up through Sderot and Ashkelon, there are now some 120 bomb shelters in place which were donated by the ICEJ to protect Israeli civilians in times like these. Local residents assure us that these shelters have indeed saved many lives, and given families living along the Gaza border the peace of mind they need to stay put.

One such assurance came while I was on a speaking engagement in Germany some years ago. I received a call from an unknown Israeli number, and upon answering a strong voice asked: “Am I speaking with Jürgen Bühler of the Christian Embassy?” I said yes, and he added: “You just saved my life, and I am calling to thank you!”

He introduced himself as Shai Hermesh, a Member of the Knesset. In amazement, I replied: “Sir, I am in Germany right now, and I don’t know how I could have possibly saved your life from here.”

He proceeded to tell me that he was living in a kibbutz along the Gaza border and the ‘red alert’ siren had just sounded, warning of another imminent rocket attack. “I ran into the nearest bomb shelter and just as I entered, a rocket exploded outside the shelter. It could have killed me! I saw a sign in the shelter informing me that it was placed there by the International Christian Embassy. So, you saved my life!” he explained.

Since then, we are in regular contact. I called my friend Shai Hermesh again just a few days ago to see if he is safe amid the current barrage of rockets.

This current crisis, with so far more than 1,500 Hamas rockets raining down on Israel, needs to remind us of the precarious situation throughout Israel, and in particular for the communities surrounding Gaza.

The events of recent days have shown that more shelters are desperately needed to protect innocent Israeli civilians being deliberately targeted by Palestinian terror militias in Gaza. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are forced to seek shelter and may even need to spend their nights there. Many homes, community buildings and other public places do not have bomb shelters nearby, and area residents only have 10-20 seconds to find shelter when the red alert sounds of incoming rockets.

My family and I found ourselves in our own shelter this week. From the shelter we could hear the explosions of the four Hamas rockets falling close by our community just outside Jerusalem. So we know the frightful sounds of rocket explosions, and we also know these shelters literally save lives! The bomb shelters that the ICEJ places throughout Israel are crucial. So please help us provide more mobile bomb shelters to the Israeli towns and villages under the constant threat of rocket and mortar fire from Gaza.

We now have another twelve shelters currently in process to be made and delivered, but there are more urgent requests coming in for additional shelters where regional security chiefs tell us there are gaps in the civilian defenses. They are sorely needed at schools, daycare centers, medical clinics, youth centers, community halls and other public places that cannot operate without adequate bomb shelters.

The price of one of these high-quality shelters is between US$ 15,000-to-25,000, depending on the size. You have an opportunity to make a difference in this conflict by saving lives. Give your best gift today towards a bomb shelter to protect Israelis now under fire.
 

 

ALERT: Help With Urgent Aliyah Flights to Israel!

If there has been a ‘silver lining’ to the global pandemic over the past year, it is the increased interest among Jewish communities worldwide in making Aliyah to Israel. Right now, there are literally thousands of Jewish families anxiously hoping and waiting to come home to Israel, which they view as safer health-wise and better suited to recover economically from the corona crisis. And the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has an opportunity to help bring hundreds of them to Israel on emergency Aliyah flights being scheduled to land before the end of May. But it will require urgent action by all our friends and supporters worldwide.

Right now, the Jewish Agency for Israel is busily planning an ‘Aliyah Super Week’ to begin on May 23, with flights of Jewish immigrants arriving from many directions in just a few days. They currently expect at least 400 Jewish olim (newcomers) coming home from the four corners of the earth – including from France, Ethiopia, the US, Latin America and Russia. It was originally set to be a festive week to celebrate Aliyah, but now it also has become an urgent window period for ‘rescue flights’ from places like Argentina and the former Soviet republics, which currently are being hit hard by COVID-19.

Another country struggling with a devastating spike in coronavirus is India, and an urgent effort is now underway to bring home over 500 members of the Bnei Menashe community from the northeast corner of India. Tragically, India leads the world by far in the daily number of deaths and new infections, with new cases now at nearly 400,000 per day. As of early May, more than 20 million infections have been confirmed in the country, while the number of deaths has exceeded 226,000 since the pandemic began. The country now accounts for well over 30% of all COVID cases worldwide, and its healthcare system is being overwhelmed beyond capacity.

Due to this exceptionally dire situation in India, the Israeli government has just decided to take immediate action to try to bring by the end of May a group of 548 Bnei Menashe who were already approved for Aliyah but were waiting to come later this year. They are desperate to reach Israel and need our help now!

This is truly an emergency for the Bnei Menashe, and the ICEJ is committing to sponsor flights for up to 100 of these new Bnei Menashe immigrants due to arrive later this month. We also want to cover the flight costs for as many of the Jewish families as possible arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport around the same time as part of the Aliyah Super Week. But we need your help!

The flights and other travel costs per immigrant comes out to around US$1,000 each. So please consider a generous donation at this critical hour of need to help these Jewish people in distress to safely reach Israel.

Thank you for giving to this urgent need! 

The Breach: Where the Church Parted Ways with Israel

I will never forget a visit I made several years ago with a group of home church leaders in Whenchou, a city of ten million people in China. These pastors represented some one million local believers, I was told. What a privilege this was, especially when they said I was the first person to come to them from Israel. I started explaining why Israel is important to us and quickly found out this was nothing new to them. After the service I asked the leader: “Who taught you about Israel?” I still remember the puzzled look on his face. “It’s all in the Bible”, he replied.

This begs the question: What happened in the Church for it to move so far away from this simple truth to becoming the primary force for antisemitism over the past 1500 years. Hateful preaching of contempt against the Jews, pogroms, forced conversions, Inquisitions and finally the Holocaust – all made Christianity the archenemy of the Jews, even more so than Islam.

Paul’s Doctrine on Israel
This is even more startling when the Apostle Paul could not have been more clear in his teaching about Israel, to whom “pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God.” (Romans 9:4-5)

Paul recognised that while most Jews had failed to accept Yeshua as their Messiah, they nevertheless remain “beloved for the sake of the fathers” (Romans 11:28). Paul saw their rejection of Jesus as a temporary state which the Hebrew prophets foretold (for example, Isaiah 6); yet he also believed eventually the time would come when “… all Israel will be saved, ….” (Romans 11:26). He thus admonished Gentile believers not to be arrogant against the Jews (Romans 11:18) and to consider their own origins: “… remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Yet now by grace they have been brought near and share in God’s promises.

Developing Cracks
The answer of why and where the Church parted ways with Israel is complex and cannot be fully covered just in this short article. In part we can blame Roman policy for it, but far more importantly we should hold the Church itself responsible for the decisions its leaders took in councils and synods in the early centuries after Christ.

Even before the first ecumenical councils, the Church already started drifting away from Israel and its Hebraic, biblical roots. After the very first Church council recorded in the Book of Acts, chapter 15, things started changing. First, the demographics of the Church steadily changed. While it started out in Jerusalem as a 100% Jewish church, within a century or so Gentiles became the majority. Jerusalem remained the spiritual center of the faith, but the Roman wars dramatically changed the Church’s connection to Jerusalem and Israel. In 70 AD, Titus destroyed the Temple, and a few decades later Hadrian expelled virtually all Jews from Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. The early Church’s unique spiritual connection to the Land and the Jewish people was significantly weakened. A further blow came in 136 AD when Marcus became the first non-Jewish bishop of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the spiritual center of gravity began gradually moving towards Rome and Constantinople.

Nicea and the Jews
The final blow, however, took place in 325 AD in Nicea, a city whose ruins can still be found in Iznik, in northwest Turkey. This became the place of arguably the most impactful council in Church history.

The Nicean Council was significant for many reasons. It was the first council to take place when the Christians were no longer a persecuted minority. Rather, Constantine had embraced Christianity as the official religion for the entire empire. And it was the emperor, and not the clergy, who convened this council to consolidate the Church as a unified force within his realm.

The main focus of the Nicean Council dealt with the nature of Jesus as both human and divine. On this point the early Church was riven with controversy. After lengthy and heated discussions, they finally reached a consensus on the ‘Jesus question’. For most participants, questions related to ‘Jewish’ matters were of secondary importance.

Yet beginning at Nicea and continuing at the councils and synods that followed, the largely gentile Church began separating from its Jewish origins. This shift occurred in three main areas: First, a change in calendar and religious holidays; second, a change in Church attitude towards the Jews; and third, strict rules against Christians engaging with Jews.

A Change in Holy Days
Until the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, the churches were divided on how to celebrate Easter (Passover), and Sunday was never considered a holy day. The church in Rome and other Western regions decided to tie the observance of Easter to the biblical accounts of Christ being resurrected on the first day of the week, while going by the Julian calendar rather than the Hebrew. Any link to the biblical feast of Passover was ignored. The churches of the East, however, maintained the tradition of affixing the Passion week to Passover, which kept them more in line to the Old Testament and the traditions of Jesus and his disciples.

But at Nicea, Constantine demanded a unified Christian calendar for his empire. In a synodal letter to all churches, the Council wrote: “We declare good news to you! … As of now we do not anymore celebrate Easter according to the tradition of the Jews!”

And the emperor himself wrote to the churches in the East: “It was declared to be particularly unworthy for, the holiest of all festivals (Easter), to follow the custom of the Jews, who had soiled their hands with the most fearful of crimes, and whose minds were blinded.”

Known for his hostility towards the Jews, Constantine continued: “We ought not, therefore, to have anything in common with the Jews, … [but] to separate ourselves from the detestable company of the Jews, for it is truly shameful for us to hear them boast that without their direction we could not keep this feast.”

“At the same time” he added ”it is our duty not to have anything in common with the murderers of our Lord.”

His reasoning was twofold: first, since the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, they must also be wrong in their traditions; and second, most Christians at the time simply did not follow the Jewish calendar. Thus, it was a decision based on a democratic consensus which lacked any theological basis.

Constantine’s radical approach totally ignored the multiple parallels of the last days of Jesus Christ to the biblical Passover feast. Jesus instructed his disciples to prepare a Passover meal (Luke 22:7-8) and declared “with fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer…” (Luke 22:15). He kept it in many ways like Jews do until today: Jesus took the cup after the meal and blessed it. (1 Corinthians 11:25). To this day, Jews consider this third cup to be the ‘cup of messianic redemption’. Then after the ‘Hallel’, the traditional reading of Psalms 115-118, he went to the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30). Paul also declares that Jesus is our Passover lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7). But all this was ignored.

In the same manner, a new weekly holiday was established – Sunday. Until then, Sunday was not kept at all, save for some Christians who held a time of prayers and scripture readings on Sunday mornings before going to work, remembering that the Lord was risen on the first day of the week. But Constantine’s aim was to separate the Church completely from any Jewish customs. So to keep Christians from observing Shabbat, he invented the new holy day of Sunday. A number of Christians struggled to agree. But the follow-up Synod of Laodicea settled the matter. Christians who still kept the Jewish Sabbath were to be basically excommunicated.

A Change in Attitude
Paul’s love for his people was immense. He offered, if possible, to be accursed from Christ to save some of his Jewish brethren (Romans 9:3). But these later Church councils were totally devoid of the Apostles’ passionate love for the Jewish people. Anything Jewish was unwelcome, including Jews themselves. Instead of Paul’s gospel being “to the Jews first”, the new attitude was to make it as difficult as possible for Jews to join the Church. Only if they “pronounced faith according to Nicean doctrine”, could they become members. Jews who kept Shabbat were refused baptism.

At Nicea, the bishops also asked Jewish converts to give up their Jewish names and adopt Christian ones. This completely ignored the fact that the Apostles all had Jewish names and that Mary called Jesus by the name Yeshua, Hebrew for “saviour”, rather than the Greek parallel of Isesos. And his mother was not really ‘Mary’ but the Jewish name Miriyam.

For the New Testament apostles, the world consisted of ‘the household of Israel’ and of Gentiles. Only by the grace of God could Gentiles be grafted into the natural olive tree of God’s covenant people Israel. Paul considered his Jewish ancestry as a privilege (Romans 3:1; Galatians 2:15) - though not a privilege that would save him. But for the Nicean church this biblical worldview was reversed. Paul’s question, “what advantage has the Jew” was no longer answered “much in every way”, but the opposite, only with vicious hatred. Instead of Jews being “beloved for the sake of the fathers” (Romans 11:28), they were now the “murderers of Christ”. In various council records, the list of the damned included “heretics, heathens and Jews”. In the eyes of the gentile Church, they were all the same. In Paul’s world, it was Gentiles who were without God and without hope (Ephesians 2:12), but now this applied to the Jewish people – a doctrine that ran contrary to all the New Testament taught.

Rules of Engagement
All this led to strict laws which forbade any positive engagement with Jews. Nicea and subsequent Church councils taught that Christians should have nothing to do with Jews. Leaders who visited and prayed in synagogues were to be removed from office, and ordinary Christians who did so should be “put off”. The synod of Laodicea forbade any participation in their feasts, nor were Christians to take their unleavened bread during Passover. You could not even allow a Jewish physician to treat your illness, one synod ruled. Celebrating Jewish feasts and keeping Shabbat, according to the bishops, was like “mocking Christ”.

Nicea’s Impact on Church History
All these new approaches not only created a rift between the Church and the Jews, but it also set the Church on a path which eventually led to the atrocities of the Crusades, where the killing of Jews was considered pleasing to God. It later paved the way to the Inquisition and eventually the Holocaust, when Hitler could quote the German reformer Luther to justify his hatred of the Jews.

What was even more tragic about Nicea is that it was only the second universal council of the Church. Whereas in Acts 15, the Jewish church went beyond their traditions and feelings to welcome and embrace Gentile believers, the Gentile church at Nicea shamelessly rejected the Jews from all church life and generated hatred towards them for generations to come. Only a few Christian movements – such as the Waldense revivalists in Italy and the Puritans in England – ever dared to challenge this hostile attitude towards the Jews.

A Modern-Day Miracle
With the rebirth of the nation of Israel and the emergence of a new stream of Christianity known as Evangelicalism, we have finally started to witness a sea-change in Church-Israel relations since the second half of the past century. While the historic churches are still struggling with their antisemitic attitudes, much has changed due to the ever-expanding Evangelical movement.

The rift between Jews and Christians seems to be healing perhaps faster than many expected. After such a horrible history between us, it is nothing short of a miracle to hear Israel’s prime minister refer to evangelical Christians as “Israel’s best friends”. Many Jewish organisations today have a “Christian friends” department, including the previously unthinkable Christian Friends of Yad Vashem, a revered institution which commemorates the darkest chapter of Jewish-Christian relations – the Holocaust. This required moving beyond many historic obstacles and deep emotional wounds, but even Yad Vashem has opened its doors to Christians.

On the Christian side, much has changed as well. Many Christians today take it for granted to participate in a Passover Seder meal, to visit their local synagogue or even to help rebuild historic synagogues. Christians from around the world support countless projects not only in Israel but also in many Jewish communities in their own countries. Most amazing to me is the fact that Chinese Christians today adopt biblical, Jewish names. Remember that Nicea called for converted Jews to adopt Christian names, yet now the opposite is happening. And every year thousands of Christians visit Messianic fellowships in Israel to experience and learn from their ancient biblical traditions.

It is indeed a new prophetic season for both Israel and the Church. At the ICEJ, we are privileged and blessed to be part of healing the historic rift between us and paving the way for reconciliation in these last days. We live in truly exciting times.

This year’s Feast of Tabernacles theme is “Beginnings”. Many speakers will give a fresh perspective on how God is taking the Church back to its beginnings – in a Jewish Jerusalem. Join us in the rebuilt city of Jerusalem and find out how together we can play a role in the divine restoration of Israel even as the Church reconnected with its roots in Israel.

Finally, please prayerfully consider what you can contribute towards our efforts to heal the rift between Israel and Christianity, which has been such a stain on the Church for so long. This is your opportunity to make a difference in Church history!

Source materials on the Nicea Council: 

  • "The Seven Ecumenical Councils" by Henry R Percival, Philip Schaff, Henry Wace, Paul A Boer Sr, Veritatis Splendor Publications, Kindle Edition
  • "Decoding Nicea" by Paul Pavao, Kindle Edition
  • “Creeds, Councils and Controversies Documents Illustrating the History of the Church, AD 337–461”, (ed. J. Stevenson, rev. W. H. C. Frend), Baker Academic, Olivetree eBook

Empowering Israelis for a sustainable future

Being unskilled in today’s harsh economic climate is extremely challenging. Frustration and hopelessness can easily creep in when one is unable to find suitable work. This desperation is felt especially among those in the most vulnerable segments of society.

Although Israel is known for its hi-tech successes, only 8.7% of Israelis work in this sector. Unfortunately, the majority of Israelis fall within a “second economy” marked by low wages and frequent job turnover, both of which hinder individual advancement and sustainable growth of the overall economy.

Noting the social-economic strains many Israelis face due to the hi-tech challenge, Nicole Yoder, ICEJ’s Vice President for AID and Aliyah, stated: “Advances in technology mean that some industries will change dramatically in the coming years, leaving unskilled workers behind. Knowing this, it is important to be preparing the workforce now for the changes ahead.”

Therefore, in recent years the ICEJ has supported various vocational training programs across the country which help unskilled Israeli workers gain new vocational skills and essential on-the-job experience to allow them to advance.

An essential component of this preparation process includes initiatives like skilling, upskilling and reskilling which provide help to increase earning potential. The program also aims to prevent Israelis earning low incomes from slipping deeper into poverty or falling prey to unemployment due to future automation or other technological leaps.

Part of the skills initiative provides vocational training and apprenticeships, while guidance also is given to those seeking work by identifying barriers that may exist and working to remove them. The services of job placement centers also are used to help find employment.

Gaps in credentials, such as computer or language skills, also are identified and filled. For instance, many Israeli Arabs are not proficient enough in Hebrew to meet skilled employment requirements. This is noticeable when employment levels for those fluent in Hebrew are around 82%, but they drop dramatically to about 30% for those with little or no Hebrew.

When it comes to upskilling, low-income workers receive career guidance and professional mentorship, participate in professional development courses, and have access to professional networks. Employers receive guidance to identify hard and soft skill requirements as well as the necessary educational levels needed for workers to advance in their field.

The reskilling initiative helps workers adapt themselves and their skills to rapid industry changes by either advancing in their current workplace, preparing to change jobs, or developing the abilities required to freelance and seek new market opportunities.

The wonderful support offered by Christians around the world allows the ICEJ to strategically make a dent in the unemployment challenges that claw at Israeli society.

“We are thrilled to see what an impact this type of assistance makes in the lives of Israelis from every sector, and we hope that it will allow more Israelis to find their niche in the workforce and be able to support themselves with dignity,” said Nicole.

Your contribution towards this initiative will make an impact in transforming the lives of those falling behind in Israeli society. Please continue to support our work and ministry.

 

Mentoring program gives Jewish immigrants a spring in their step!

Deciding to leave one’s country is a huge and often daunting step, especially when you are a single parent with a child whose life will be greatly impacted by your decisions.

For Natali, a single Jewish mother from Colombia, weighing up her life-changing options was a two-year process. Facing economic hardship, she finally completed her Aliyah application to move to Israel, despite complications with her son’s father. However, her strong desire to seek a better future for herself and her son propelled her to overcome the hurdles, and she finally arrived in Israel in February 2019.

Feeling extremely blessed to be in Israel, Natali and her son entered an absorption center in Beersheva, where she soon joined a mentorship program for new immigrants sponsored by the ICEJ. The mentors are trained professionals who help each family over the first year-and-a-half as they adjust to Israel. They offer a range of practical advice and assistance – from showing new immigrants how things work in this country or helping them find jobs, to providing support as they overcome barriers and resolve personal issues.

Natali’s mentor Lital has been a lifeline for her, guiding her each step of the way as she has gotten settled into her new homeland. Natali recalled how hard it was to adjust to a new language and job, and to see her son struggling too.

“My son had a hard time to start speaking”, said Natali. “He missed his grandparents. He was crying. He was cranky. It was very difficult for me as a mother… I know that we don’t have control of everything, but I felt like my son was changing a lot and not for the good.”

Thankfully, she could turn to Lital for sound advice and support. Working with Lital, Natali started to focus on how her own feelings impacted her son, too.

“This was a wake-up call. No one ever told me this before and I never thought it was like this,” recalled Natali. “I started doing the exercises Lital was telling me to do, and I started focusing on my emotions, my energy, my body and asked questions to myself which I never thought about before in my life. As I started doing these things, I began to see a change in my son. I thought, ‘Oh, so Lital was right’.”

As Natali began to shift her focus and change her attitudes, life began to improve for both mother and son.

Natali’s time in the mentorship program will soon end, and she expressed great admiration towards her mentor and the program.

“This is what I have learned”, she noted. “To look at your life, and not only blame everybody or blame the government because they don’t give me money. No, it is part and part… The government gives, but you also need to give and to work… and be positive and happy.”

“So, for me, this experience with you guys – I always say this to Lital, and I say it again – ‘It is amazing!’” she said with a smile.

“I will never stop thanking you for this amazing opportunity that you are giving me as a single mother to experience this help. I see others around me who do not have this opportunity… many single moms ... What I learn from you, I pass on to them because they also need this help.”

“It is a beautiful job what you do, and my mentor has inspired me to do the same. I want to help people and build them up and to tell them this is not the end. If something bad happened, it does not mean that life stops. No, let’s go, let’s continue, let’s be strong… and this is what I want to do. I want to coach others,” Natali concluded.

Nicole Yoder, ICEJ’s Vice President for AID and Aliyah, explained why the ICEJ has supported this mentoring program ever since it began as a pilot some 14 years ago.

“I love to see the deep impact having a personal mentor makes in the lives of these Jewish immigrants as they seek to re-establish their lives anew and realize their dreams in Israel”, said Nicole. “We have witnessed again and again how stabilizing this assistance is and we are thrilled to do what we can to ensure that immigrants receive this essential help.”

Please consider partnering with us as we help more Jewish immigrants get a jump-start as they begin their new lives in Israel. A gift of $2,750 enables a brand-new Israeli immigrant less than a year in the country to enjoy the supportive care of a mentor, whereas aiding immigrants who are a little longer in the country but who have fallen into distress generally requires a larger investment of $5,500. Thank you for helping us ensure that there are professional mentors available for newcomers to Israel like Natali and her son.
 

 

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