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Shielding northern Israel’s vulnerable border towns

Within four kilometers of Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, the village of Hurfeish is home to a mix of Israeli Druze and Christians. The Druze minority are exceptionally loyal to Israel and consider it a great honor to serve in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Many continue in security professions after completing their service with the IDF.

While the Druze and Christian residents of Hurfeish live in peaceful coexistence, the community does face a serious external threat. They live under the constant fear that Hezbollah terrorists operating freely on the Lebanese side of the nearby border will decide to fire rockets into Israel, with Hurfeish right in the line of fire! They literally have seconds to find shelter.

Israel’s entire northern border region is hilly, forested terrain dotted with picturesque villages like Hurfeish. The area is home to around 250,000 residents – an ethnic mosaic of Jewish, Druze and Arab Christian towns and farming communities. One thing they all have in common is a lack of adequate bomb shelters for the local inhabitants.

During a recent spike in tensions with Hizbullah across the border, local council heads learned that the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem had placed over 110 portable bomb shelters in Israeli communities along the volatile southern border with Gaza. So they invited an ICEJ delegation to visit the area and consider donating shelters in the North as well.

After assessing the need, the ICEJ decided that Hurfeish would be the first village to receive shelters. The heartbeat of Hurfeish is its community cultural center. Usually a hive of activity, it is comprised of an outdoor sports complex and the indoor community center which hosts public events, daily activities, and educational courses. Through the generous donations received from our Christian supporters, the ICEJ recently was able to place two bomb shelters at the facility, giving peace of mind to those who use and enjoy it.

Unfortunately, the delivery of the bomb shelters was not without incident. As the truck carrying the two heavy portable bomb shelters made its way through the hills on the way up to Hurfeish, the driver had to break and swerve to avoid a motorcyclist who suddenly cut in front of him. The biker was spared any harm, but the truck’s heavy load – each shelter weighing 23 metric tons - went flying into a nearby field! Thankfully, no one was injured, but the shelters were now flat on their sides.

A police investigation ensued, while an independent engineer examined the shelters for structural damage. To our relief, the damage was only cosmetic, confirming the resilience of these shelters to protect lives! After repainting the bomb shelters, they soon were re-loaded onto a truck and safely delivered to the eagerly awaiting Hurfeish community.

Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President of Aid and Aliyah, was thrilled to finally see the shelters in place next to the cultural center and the adjacent sports field, complete with dedication plaques crediting ICEJ-Germany for the donations that made it possible.

Hurfeish also has a village church where local Arab Christians congregate and participate in activities. The ICEJ hopes to embark on a second project in this village, which will see additional shelters being installed at other defenseless sites.

The need remains acute, as Lebanon is in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis due to Hizbullah’s misuse of public funds, and some analysts believe the Shi’ite terror militia may seek to extricate itself by starting a war with Israel. The IDF is holding a large training exercise this very week to prepare for such a conflict, but the local residents need more time to install shelters.

A recent State Comptroller report warned that 2.6 million residents of northern Israel do not have access to functional bomb shelters. The need is most acute in the towns right along the border, where shorter range rockets cannot be stopped by the IDF’s Iron Dome batteries. These villages are desperately looking for funding to provide better protection for their communities, and the ICEJ is grateful for our friends worldwide who are enabling us to offer them these urgently-needed bomb shelters.

Please consider a generous donation to help protect the vulnerable communities of northern Israel.

Donate today at int.icej.org/civicrm

A Shining Light in Nazareth and Bethlehem

Situated in the unlikely location of Nazareth’s industrial zone, you will find an evangelical Arab church dedicated to serving both the Arab and Jewish communities surrounding them.

During this time of Corona crisis, Pastor Saleem Shalash and his church are a shining light for this historic town, which today has Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. With mounting requests for assistance coming in, he recently arranged for church volunteers to help pack Rosh HaShana food baskets for distribution to Israeli families in need. Without hesitation, Nicole Yoder, Vice President of Aid and Aliyah, along with her assistant Jannie Tolhoek, took a road trip to Nazareth, where they too extended a helping hand.

Walking upstairs to the church’s packing area, Jannie was blessed to see a small humanitarian center offering clothes, shoes, and household supplies to those in need. Moving along, they found boxes laid out and many volunteers on hand, so the food packing process sped along joyfully, with much laughter filling the room.

Speaking with Pastor Saleem afterwards, Nicole Yoder shared how joyous it was for the ICEJ to partner with his congregation to help these families in need by providing some 100 food baskets. With much appreciation, Pastor Saleem responded that “God told me to feed His people and to do good in a practical way in bad times.”

This is a mission we certainly share at ICEJ, and Pastor Saleem’s Arab Christian congregation is carrying it out with passion there in Nazareth. Many requests for assistance are referred to the church by the Israeli social welfare department, and they reach out to as many as they can.

When asked by the Jewish mayor of nearby Nof HaGalil why they, as Arabs, are reaching out to the Jewish community, Pastor Saleem said: “We want to bless them as we are blessed by the Jewish Scriptures.” This began a wonderful relationship serving both the Arab community in Nazareth as well as Nof HaGalil, a neighboring Jewish town.

Not long after this visit by our AID team to Nazareth, Jannie Tolhoek drove to a church in Bethlehem along with ICEJ staff member Tricia Neighbors, this time to personally hand out 70 food bags packed at our Jerusalem offices. After a warm welcome by Pastor Naim and Elvira Khoury, they enjoyed fellowship in the evening church service before giving out the food bags. Tricia was especially moved by the expressions of gratitude for the gift baskets, which were received with many happy smiles, thank you’s, and “shukrans”.

During their visit, our team learned about the difficult times faced by the people of Bethlehem. Pastor Naim explained that many locals work in Israel, but with the Coronavirus lockdowns, many have not been able to work or have been sent on unpaid leave. Those who rely on Christian tourism to Bethlehem are also suffering. He thanked the ICEJ, emphasizing how necessary the aid was for them. “Our people are suffering with no work, no food and many are depressed. It is a disaster! Your support came in such a timely way”, he said.

Pastor Naim and Elvira also noted that over recent months, the ICEJ is the first organization which has reached out to see how they are coping during this difficult time, and to support them. He went on to say how the food bags are “an encouragement to each of us, a bag of hope and confirmation that God sees us and watches over us.” Jannie assured him that the ICEJ indeed cares for them and is standing with our Arab Christian brothers and sisters.

Thank you to those who have faithfully given so we can meet the needs of the less fortunate in Israeli society, especially in these difficult days. Your gifts to our “Israel in Crisis” fund at this time are doing a world of good!
 

Please consider donating once more to our “Israel in Crisis” fund. DONATE NOW

A Ministry of Comfort Inspired by the Heart of Ruth

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem was founded in September 1980 with a clear calling from Scripture to be a ministry of comfort and blessing to the restored nation of Israel and the Jewish people. This biblical mandate is drawn from the book of Isaiah.

“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” says your God. “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1–2)

After their many long centuries of exile among the nations, the Jewish people have finally returned to their ancient homeland, just as the Hebrew prophets foretold. These same prophets also foresaw gentile believers one day assisting the Jews in this time of restoration. This is a recurring theme, especially in Isaiah (e.g., Isaiah 40:1–2, 49:22–23, and 60:10–11).

The Bible contains many other prophetic passages on this future restoration of Israel with gentile assistance, including the inspiring book of Ruth.

The Kindness of Ruth

The book of Ruth opens with an Israelite woman, Naomi, who left her home in Bethlehem with her family to escape a famine. They found refuge in Moab, but life was hard over time as she lost her husband and two sons. When the famine finally lifted, Naomi returned home in poverty. But her daughter-in-law, Ruth, a Moabite, nevertheless decided to journey alongside Naomi, declaring: “Wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried” (Ruth 1:16–17a).

In this prophetic story, Naomi is a picture of Israel returning from exile with few possessions left. She had nothing to offer her daughter-in-law Ruth, as she now had no male heir left to reclaim her family property. But Ruth saw something great in the God whom Naomi served, and thus refused to leave her side.

God soon led them to the fields of Boaz, a close relative of Naomi whom she realized could help her regain her family’s lands. As Ruth labored during the barley harvest to provide for her mother-in-law, Boaz noticed all her kindnesses to Naomi and blessed her with gifts of extra grain. Boaz eventually married Ruth, which restored Naomi’s land inheritance. The newlyweds then gave birth to Obed, King David’s grandfather, thus making Ruth part of Jesus’ lineage (Matthew 1:5).

Ruth is a prophetic depiction of a gentile church that fully identifies with the wearied people of Israel returning from exile because they are in awe of the God of Israel. Ruth wins the notice and favor of Boaz, a kinsman redeemer, because of her caring heart for Naomi. Boaz even told her: “It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before” (Ruth 2:11).

The beauty of the story is how Naomi and Ruth each sought something precious to them, but journeyed together. Naomi wanted her land back, while Ruth wanted a husband, and they both received the desire of their heart in one person—Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer and type of Messiah.

So Israel and the “Ruth church” are on a journey together that will end with them gloriously reconciled together in the Messiah. Until that day, the story of Ruth teaches us that gentiles can gain the attention and blessing of God by comforting and caring for Israel in real, practical ways—just as God promised Abraham: “I will bless those who bless thee” (Genesis 12:3).

A Firm Commitment

For the past 40 years, the ICEJ has been blessing and comforting Israel based on the inspiration of Ruth and other biblical passages that encourage gentiles to show mercy and kindness to the Jewish people. The Christian Embassy made a firm commitment four decades ago to come alongside Israel and help this nation no matter what it might go through along the way. Israel’s journey home has not been easy, and even though the nation is restored and prospering, it still faces many threats and challenges. And the ICEJ is determined to continue standing by the people of Israel until they reach their redemptive destiny in God, restored to their full land inheritance and safe in the arms of their kinsman redeemer.

Comforting Israel

Giving a Future and a Hope

ICEJ AID helps needy Israeli youth and families reach for a brighter future by providing educational enrichment, vocational training, and other practical assistance to improve the long-term quality of life for Israelis. This benevolent outreach is making a difference in the lives of the disadvantaged, children from broken families, at-risk youth, women in crisis, and minority communities, among others.

Caring for Holocaust Survivors

The ICEJ’s Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors has housed and lovingly cared for almost 100 elderly Survivors since its founding over ten years ago. In addition, many Survivors living throughough the Haifa area come to the Home to participate in special events with their peers. The Haifa Home provides a warm, loving family in a secure place of residence. Daily hot meals, medical care, and activities are provided for these precious souls who have known great tragedy and loneliness in their lives.

Israel in Crisis

Israel is often forced to deal with sudden crises, when war or natural disaster strike. ICEJ AID steps in to help vulnerable communities in such times of turmoil. This includes providing emergency bomb shelters, firefighting equipment, subsidies for trauma treatment, and professional training for first responders. During the recent arson attacks coming out of Gaza, the ICEJ equipped every municipality throughout the region with firefighting vehicles and trailers. Due to ongoing rocket attacks in the area, the ICEJ has placed some 110 bomb shelters protecting playgrounds, schools, synagogues, and community centers. When emergencies arise, it is a tremendous testimony when Christians are the first to arrive with help.

Aliyah and Integration

The ICEJ has answered the call for Christians to partner with God in the Jewish people’s great prophetic ingathering in modern times. We believe it is the hand of God, in keeping with His promises, to restore Israel after their long exile. For example, the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed: “For I will set my eyes on them for good, and I bring them back to this land; I will build them and not tear them down, and I will plant them and not uproot them” (Jeremiah 24:6). The ICEJ has now assisted nearly 160,000 Jews from around the world to make Aliyah (return) to Israel. ICEJ AID has also helped tens of thousands of new Jewish immigrants adjust to their new lives once back in their forefathers’ land. The ICEJ Homecare program also sponsors Christian nurses who provide in-home hospice care to elderly or disabled Jewish immigrants. 

Your gift today will help us continue these ministries to the people of Israel.

Comforting the People of Israel

“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” says your God. “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1–2)

When the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem was founded in 1980 by visionary leaders like Jan Willem van der Hoeven, Johann Lückhoff, Timothy King, Merv and Merla Watson, Lance Lambert, and others, there was one passage from the Bible that inspired and guided them more than any other. This was from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah: “‘Comfort, yes comfort My people!’ says your God.”

That heavenly mandate continues to motivate the Christian Embassy to this day. It is a scriptural command to stand in love, kindness, and hope with God’s people. It was ignored for far too long by too many churches. Yet it rings forth today and is more relevant and timelier than ever. And it still inspires the vision of the ICEJ, as we seek to connect Christians from every nation with every segment of Israeli society through acts of genuine love and concern for their welfare and destiny.

The Gentile Role in Israel's Redemption

The first verse of Isaiah 40 is like a God-given headline for a momentous salvation plan that is unveiled throughout the entire chapter. Here, God heralds a new season of restoration for Israel, a time when “her warfare has ended.” It announces the coming of a “voice in the wilderness,” a preparer of the way for Messiah. The chapter then announces the coming of the Shepherd-Messiah, who will tend His flock. At the same time, God rebukes the nations’ folly to worship their man-made idols rather than the Creator of the heavens and the earth. The chapter concludes with the groundless complaint that God has forgotten His people.

It is in the context of the coming redemption of Israel—and the world—that Isaiah commands us to comfort God’s people. Please note that God is not telling Israel “to comfort themselves.” It is not a message for Israel’s people to grit their teeth and hope for better times. Rather, God commands another people who know the Lord “to comfort My people.” And because of this gentile mercy, a people crushed by 2,000 years of exile, pogroms, and anti-Semitism will “lift up their heads,” even as we proclaim: “Behold your God.” Indeed, a new season of restoration has started for Israel. And it is an end-time mission for the true church, before the second coming of Jesus, to stand with his people and to instill hope in them by declaring “the time to favor Zion has come” (Psalm 102:13).

God commands us to “speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” The original Hebrew text says to “speak to the heart of Jerusalem.” It is not a theological or intellectual discussion that is needed but a message that touches the heart and directs them upward to God. Here we desperately need the Holy Spirit, and we need to demonstrate it through love in action, which speaks louder than words. More than our statements of solidarity and remorse, we need to pursue practical acts of kindness, like when the ICEJ helped build a synagogue in Ma’ale Adumin on the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht. As former ICEJ chairman Leif Wellerop always said: “Our love has to have hands and feet.”

This passage also conveys the message: Tell Israel that “her warfare has ended, and her sins are pardoned” (ESV). This and many other Scripture passages reveal that Israel’s restoration to their homeland means God has moved from judgment to redemption. A more fitting translation of the Hebrew phrase “your sins are pardoned” would be, “Your sins have been completed” or “God is not dealing with you any more according to your sins.” Our message should be that Israel has already “received double for her sins.” Undoubtedly, no other nation has suffered more than the Jews. But now God asks the church to proclaim in love that the greatest chapter in their entire history is about to unfold. This command to declare salvation to Israel is echoed in Isaiah 62:11:

“Indeed the Lord has proclaimed to the end of the world: Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Surely your salvation is coming; Behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him.’”

God wants to mobilize even the ends of the earth to speak to Israel about her salvation. That is why the ICEJ has a very clear vision: to connect Christians from every nation of the world with every segment of Israeli society. Thus, we are grateful for a growing network of over 90 national branches around the world and for supporters in over 170 nations. At every Feast of Tabernacles, one of the highlights is when the Pacific Island nations come from “the ends of the earth” to show their love and friendship to Israel. It is a time of tears flowing down happy faces.

Reaching All of Israel Today

After 40 years of faithfully pursuing this call to comfort God’s people, we know this mandate has to be passed to a new generation. In 1980, the Jewish people were still not that far removed from the Holocaust in Christian Europe. Back then, many Israelis identified Christianity with Germany—the country of Martin Luther and the Reformation that had just set Europe ablaze with a maelstrom of anti-Semitism that cost the lives of six million Jews.

Therefore, the Christian Embassy’s early pioneers’ task required not only patience but also determination to go on—even when their love for God’s people was not reciprocated. But by building synagogues, swimming pools for the handicapped, and absorption centers for new immigrants, and by helping tens of thousands of Jews to make Aliyah to Israel, the suspicions toward Christians slowly gave way to an understanding that evangelical Christians are Israel’s best friends today—as has been repeatedly affirmed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many other Israeli leaders. From Knesset members to ordinary folks at the shouk, one of the most common refrains we have heard from Israelis over the past 40 years is that “now we know we are not alone!”

Today, our ministry of comfort to Israel has many facets and seeks to touch all the diverse segments of Israeli society. Modern Israelis are both young hi-tech innovators in Tel Aviv and traditional farmers and factory owners in Judea and Samaria, who show tremendous courage and vision by building industrial hubs to employ their Palestinian Arab neighbors. We are reaching out to the remaining 180,000 Holocaust Survivors still living in Israel. We are helping the Jewish Agency bring more Jews back to the land of their forefathers. We also are assisting the various minorities in Israel—whether Arab, Muslim, Christian, Druze, or Bedouin. And while in the past this work was mainly a one-way street, today we increasingly see our love is more appreciated and our friendship is now reciprocated through greater cooperation and partnerships with the Knesset, the Jewish Agency, Yad Vashem, and many other institutions in Israel.

Another important aspect of our work is our stand with the growing Messianic body here in Israel. Often ostracized in the past, this group is now more accepted in mainstream Israeli society. They serve in the Israeli army’s top combat units, in leading law firms, as research professors, and even in government offices. They represent a vital connection for us to Israel, going back to our Christian faith’s roots. After 2,000 years, there is once again today a dynamic body of Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus) here in Israel. Their Jewish forebearers in the faith left Jerusalem in the days of the apostles and brought the good news of their Messiah to every corner of the world. Today they are back in the Land waiting for Israel’s promised hope, and it is our privilege to stand with them.

This means our ministry is here for all of Israel. Whether Jews or non-Jews, we bless them, support them, and show them the love of Christ in practical ways on behalf of born-again believers from around the world. I invite you to join us in this exciting redemptive journey. God is not only opening a new chapter for the people of Israel, but He also invites us to be part of writing this incredible story. What a privilege to be alive today and see with our eyes His salvation plan unfolding!

Spreading a Little Holiday Joy!

 

There is an excitement in the air and greetings of “Shana Tova” can be heard everywhere! On the eve of the holiday of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, there is new hope and optimism after a very trying year.

At Hineni, a soup kitchen in downtown Jerusalem, there is loads of activity happening as the holiday rapidly approaches. The aroma of nourishing food is cooking in the kitchen and ICEJ staff together with other helpers, are preparing take-away meal boxes and packing Rosh Hashanah gift parcels, to be given to those living below the poverty line.

Time is of the essence, as exactly at mid-day the doors open to a queue of people who have been gathering for an hour, so as not to miss out on their meals for the holidays. Each person who arrives at the door receives four packed meals to see them through the long Rosh Hashanah weekend, as well as a lovely gift parcel containing special holiday treats like a jar of honey, apple and honey cakes, dates, biscuits and tinned food.

Hineni’s founder and director, Benjamin Philip, says that over 700 gift parcels were made up for the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, and around 400 of those are being delivered to Holocaust survivors living in protective care facilities, along with lone soldiers, as well as other underprivileged families throughout Jerusalem who have contacted the Social Welfare department for help. “Many of these people do not have family to visit them, and especially at this time of Coronavirus they are left without support”, says Benjamin.

When the Coronavirus hit Israel last Spring, it was with much joy that the ICEJ stepped in to help Hineni continue to feed the less fortunate in society. With the closing of Israel’s borders, Hineni suddenly lost their many volunteer helpers who come from abroad. Without hesitation, the Christian Embassy saw the need and met it! From March until today, our staff have been assisting Hineni every day to feed those in need by packing approximately 400 take-away food boxes for distribution, and lovingly serving around 100 of those less fortunate who come into the restaurant in person to have their meal. Benjamin says that those coming to the restaurant “have the sense that they are being served by those who have a heart and love for them, which gives them strength.”

The busy preparations for Rosh Hashanah ended with Benjamin thanking all the Hineni staff and volunteers for their hard work and support this past year. He reminded everyone of the story of how God delivered His people from Egypt, as well as the story of Esther and Mordechai and how God saved His people then as well. In these holy days of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah, it is a time to reflect on the past year, ask for forgiveness, and look with hope to the year ahead. Everyone present celebrated by having a toast of grape juice and a sweet chocolate.

Benjamin also expressed his gratitude to the ICEJ for physically helping in preparing tens of thousands of meal packages this year, which he assured is “saving many people in a very difficult time.”

Thank you to everyone who has been a part of touching the lives of so many people living in need here in Israel. And please consider a generous gift towards our “Israel in Crisis” fund at this time, as we enter the new year still facing the challenge of Corona’s impact, especially on the poor.

A New Wave Of Ethiopian Aliyah

The Israeli government has just announced plans to bring at least 2,000 more Ethiopian Jews to Israel by the end of December 2020. The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem immediately welcomed this decision to accelerate the Ethiopian Aliyah and reaffirmed our commitment to do all we can to assist with their successful immigration and absorption in Israel.

While most of the Ethiopian Jewish community is now residing in Israel, some 8,000 Jews remain in transit camps in Addis Ababa and Gondar awaiting their chance to reunite with their families in the Promised Land. Most are living in impoverished conditions, but have refused to give up on their dream to re-join the Jewish people back in the Land of Israel.

After years of delays, the Israeli cabinet decided in 2015 to resume the Ethiopian Aliyah by bringing this last remnant home to Israel and reuniting them with their families on humanitarian grounds. In response to a request from the Jewish Agency for Israel, the ICEJ agreed to begin sponsoring their flights to Israel. Since then, the Christian Embassy has funded Aliyah flights for over 2,200 Ethiopian olim, including 268 this year – despite the Corona travel bans. And we remain committed to helping bring home as many as we can from among this latest wave of Ethiopian Jews.

Over the past forty years, we have assisted nearly 160,000 Jews to make the journey home to Israel, including 1,475 Jewish immigrants brought on ICEJ-funded flights so far this year, even amid the COVID-19 crisis. This is because Aliyah is clearly a biblical and historical mandate for the ICEJ.

Yet many times, Aliyah also is an urgent humanitarian mission, which is so obvious in the case of the Ethiopian Jewish remnant still living in rundown transit camps after all these years. We now want to maximise our efforts to help Israel carry through with these renewed plans to accelerate and complete the Ethiopian return.

Please pray about what you can do to help these very deserving people, many of whom have been waiting in transit camps for more than 20 years to re-join their families in Israel.
      

Please give generously towards our Ethiopian Aliyah efforts at: int.icej.org/civicrm

Personal Testimonies from ICEJ Aliyah

Thanks to the generosity of Christians worldwide, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has been exceeding its “Rescue250” campaign goal of funding evacuation flights for at least 250 Jews each month while coronavirus is still impacting the world.

With all the negative reports associated with COVID-19, it is exciting to share such good news! Over the past six months, the Christian Embassy has managed to bring 1,429 Jewish immigrants on flights to Israel arranged through the Jewish Agency.

We also would like to share the touching story of the Mashevskaya family, who came to Israel recently on one of the ICEJ’s Aliyah flights from Russia. After Lera Mashevskaya, her husband Ivan, and their three children (Slavik, Adrian, and Alice) made Aliyah, they stayed in a special quarantine hotel for two weeks. This gave them time to reflect on the long journey that took them through a family crisis and into their new beginning here in Israel.

When Lera was 13 years old, she went to a Jewish Agency summer camp for Jewish youths in Russia. It was there that Lera felt like she was really Jewish for the first time and started learning about the history and traditions of her people.

At that moment, a burning desire was kindled in Lera’s heart to go to Israel, but her mother was against it. It would take another 13 years for her dream to start coming true. Her first visit to Israel happened as part of a 10-day Taglit (Birthright) tour of Israel granted to young Diaspora Jews.

“At the time, I had already met my husband Ivan. We soon became the parents of our first son—Slavik,” recounted Lera. “I passionately wanted to make Aliyah, but Ivan would have nothing of it.”

The next time Lera came to Israel was on her twenty-ninth birthday. By this time, she and Ivan had two children. But Ivan still had reservations about moving to Israel. Deeply torn but sensing an undeniable draw to Israel, Lera left the two young ones with her husband and mother and came for another visit.

“It was very hard, but I wanted to give Israel a real try, on my own,” she confided. “I had a deep love in my heart for this country and longed to move here.”

Lera spent four months in Israel as part of the MASA program, which helps young Jews abroad come to Israel to further their university studies. She used the opportunity to receive training in a new profession and was certified as a personal life coach. The skills Lera learned were in high demand back in Russia, so the family’s circumstances improved and her husband began to see Israel differently. Then in the spring of 2019, with Lera six months pregnant with her third child, the whole family came to Israel as tourists.

“I showed them my favorite places in my beloved country,” said Lera. “For two weeks, we drove from Acre to Eilat, dipped our legs in the Dead Sea, visited Jerusalem and prayed at the Kotel, and danced on the beaches of Tel Aviv. During this trip, my husband began to really like Israel, but he still was not ready to leave Moscow.” This spring, however, the coronavirus pandemic changed his mind.

“My husband started working online, without visiting the office. Our family spent all our days together, our relationships grew closer and closer,” Lera explained. “My husband realized that he could do his work from anywhere in the world, and he agreed to make Aliyah. Finally, my dream came true—on June 16, we flew to Israel!”

Lera and Ivan have come a long way as a couple and now want to help others overcome their differences. So they created the “Family Coaching Project” to coach other couples. Even during their two weeks of quarantine after arriving in Israel, they were counseling other immigrant families in the quarantine hotel.

“We so want to become a family that will be useful for this State and its wonderful people. In response to the love and care that we received, I want to love, give, and care for others in response, three times over,” Lera concluded.

We are so glad that through the ICEJ, Christians have played a central role in changing the lives of so many Jewish immigrants to Israel. Thank you for helping Lera and her family - together let's help more Jews return "home."

Trump's Scorecard on Israel

In 2016, the ICEJ’s USA Branch launched a campaign to request confirmation from the two presidential candidates that they would abide by five guiding principles regarding Israel. The Trump campaign responded in the affirmative while we never heard back from the Clinton campaign.

Much has happened in the last four years, and since we are again in a presidential election cycle, it seemed like a good time to score President Trump on his performance to date about these agreed principles.

Principle 1: Recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the US Embassy there

After Trump’s confirmation in January of 2017, the ICEJ moved quickly on this issue, sending him a strategy paper in April, laying out the benefits of moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem. In May, the ICEJ joined another 60 US Christian leaders in urging Trump to keep his promise but were dismayed when he followed the example of every president before him since Bill Clinton and used a security waiver to delay the move by six months. (A clause was built into the 1995 Jerusalem Law allowing presidents to postpone moving the embassy due to perceived security threats.)

Undeterred, the ICEJ joined several key Christian leaders in November—ahead of the next possible security waiver—to once again remind President Trump of his promise to move the embassy and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 

In December, President Trump ended years of heartache for millions of evangelicals in America and shocked the entire world when he did not renew the waiver and declared that the United States was officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and would be moving the embassy there from Tel Aviv.

If that did not cause enough of an uproar around the globe, in January 2018, President Trump surprised everyone with the announcement that the US Embassy would open in Jerusalem on May 14—Israel’s 70th anniversary—that same year. Not many saw that announcement, and the initiative certainly laid to rest any lingering doubts about the president’s willingness to fulfill his promise on this count. It also shot a big, gaping hole through the security threat excuse that every president for the last 20 years before Trump had used. For those who had never accepted the perceived wisdom on this issue, validation had seldom been sweeter, and the world war that failed to materialize wasn’t much of a surprise either.

President Trump gets full marks on this point.

Principle 2: Renew the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Israel, which provides aid in response to Israel’s growing security needs

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) provides security assistance to Israel so it can maintain its military edge in the region and defend itself against an array of threats. A new MOU was agreed to on September 14, 2016, under the Obama administration and contains the largest single pledge of military assistance in US history.

Under President Trump’s leadership, Congress passed a funding bill in February 2019 allowing for the $200 million increase in annual spending required to meet the obligations of the new MOU.

So while credit must be given to President Obama for his leadership on the new MOU agreement, President Trump still gets full marks for ensuring this important agreement is carried out.

Principle 3: Oppose the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel

On February 5, 2019, Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) bill, the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act (S.1), passed in the Senate by a vote of 77–23. Unfortunately, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives refused to take up the bill due to a provision included called the Combatting BDS Act of 2019.

Rubio’s provision would have empowered states in their efforts to disengage from contracts with entities involved in boycotts of Israel. Some 27 states have already passed legislation against the BDS movement, and this would have provided some cover from counter lawsuits from organizations such as the ACLU.

The record of what followed in 2019 is truly distressing. By March, Congress was forced to respond to vile anti-Semitic tropes regurgitated by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), but in their confusion, all that resulted was a watered-down rebuke that condemned both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. It’s worth noting that, according to the FBI, over 50 percent of all religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States are directed at Jews or Jewish institutions. There is no parallel.

In April, the Chabad of Poway synagogue in California was attacked on the last day of Passover by a deranged gunman who killed one and injured three, including the rabbi. This was less than six months after the deadliest anti-Semitic attack to ever occur on US soil when the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was attacked, killing eleven and wounding six. 

By the end of the year, President Trump had grown frustrated with Congress’ lack of action in response to the growing problem of anti-Semitism. Recognizing the role college campuses play not only in fermenting anti-Semitic ideas but also in real discrimination against Jewish students, President Trump signed an executive order against anti-Semitism on December 11, 2019. The order specifically protects Jews from discrimination at taxpayer-funded universities and recognizes anti-Zionism as being anti-Semitic. This is important because the BDS movement is built upon the insidious idea that Zionism is racist and the Jews have no right to live in Israel as their ancestral homeland.

While more could have done over the last four years to oppose the BDS movement in the United States, President Trump still gets full marks for taking as much initiative as he could to combat the problem at its source.

Principle 4: Sanction Iran’s relentless actions as the world’s leading sponsor of terror

On May 8, 2018, President Trump announced that the United States was withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA), or Iran Deal as it is better known. Trump called it “a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made.” He also promised to snap back US nuclear sanctions, which had been suspended under the Obama administration. By the end of the year, some 1,000 Iranian persons and entities had been targeted for sanctions. The sanctions were tagged in response to terrorism, human rights, WMD proliferation, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). 

The Trump administration has continued to tighten sanctions on Iran, targeting 80 percent of its economy and reducing the 2016 JCPA economic boon to inflationary recession.

There is no doubt that President Trump has fulfilled his campaign pledge to leave the Iran Deal and has backed that up with crippling sanctions. He gets full marks on this point.

Principle 5: Reject third-party solutions to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict not negotiated by the two parties

On January 28, 2020, President Trump unveiled his long-awaited peace plan. Presented as a take-it-or-leave-it option, the plan certainly differs from previous attempts at negotiating peace between the two sides. For example, when President Obama attempted to reignite negotiations between the two sides in 2011, he took the previously unseen position that the starting point for any deal would be a return to the pre-1967 borders. In other words, Israel was left with almost nothing to negotiate and would first have to agree to give up East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank)—areas illegally occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967.

The essential difference in approach can be distilled to this: Trump’s peace plan recognizes the rightful claim of Israel under international law to all of the territory west of the Jordan river, while previous approaches, such as Obama’s, were built on the assumption that Israel was illegally occupying the West Bank and must, therefore, relinquish it to the Palestinians for there to be peace.

Trump’s plan invites Israel to relinquish part of its inheritance—about 70 percent of the West Bank—in return for peace, with the caveat that the Palestinians must agree to the terms to actually receive a state in the areas outlined. But either way, Israel retains her rights and sovereignty. 

Notably, the plan does not offer anything to the Palestinians that Israel has not already offered in the past, and Israel’s leadership accepted the plan without reservations.
Importantly, the Palestinians were given the option of setting up a capital for their state on the outskirts of East Jerusalem but would receive no sovereignty over any part of biblical Jerusalem, commonly known as the Old City—the epicenter of the struggle between the two sides.

So how should we score Trump on this point? To be honest, there has been little progress on the plan itself to date. Prime Minister Netanyahu was recently considering annexation of the Jordan Valley as part of the plan, but in the end, that move was put on ice as a deal sweetener for the United Arab Emirates to sign a historic peace accord with Israel, potentially signaling that more Arab states could follow suit.

What’s important to note is that President Trump’s plan has laid the groundwork for peace because it is built on truth, foregoing the lie perpetuated through the decades by diplomats the world over that Israel is an illegal occupier in the ancestral homeland of the Jews. The world has now been put on notice that Israel is here to stay, and her rights and sovereignty are not up for sale. 

President Trump may not have followed our principle to the letter, but he deserves credit for a unique approach that is already producing positive results for Israel and the region. How can he not receive full marks on this point too? 

Haifa Home for Survivors September Update

The 70 elderly residents at the ICEJ’s assisted-living home for Holocaust Survivors in Haifa are slowly, cautiously emerging from the isolation of coronavirus lockdown in their rooms. They are relieved to be alive and well, happy to see each other, and grateful for the daily, loving care provided by our Christian team on-site all these many weeks.

Retirement homes in Israel and worldwide were hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis, with some decimated by the virus that has particularly targeted the elderly. But we are elated to report that not one of the Holocaust Survivors under our care at the Haifa Home contracted the coronavirus. And in fact, they have all been remarkably healthy for their age over the past two months of the lockdown, thanks to all the hearty meals, vitamins, medical checks, and daily visits provided by Yudit Setz and her six Christian coworkers at the home.

All of the sudden I felt like I was imprisoned. I couldn’t do the things anymore that I used to do like visiting friends, going out for coffee… The light in the midst of this dark time was the daily knock on the door and the visit of the ICEJ team. They took me out for a walk, brightening up my day with good talks and laughter when I felt depressed and taking care of my needs. I am very grateful."

- Rita, a resident at the ICEJ Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors

When the quarantine period began in March, the residents had great difficulties with the sudden isolation. “Our ICEJ team became their only lifeline to the outside world and their main caregivers seven days a week,” explained Yudit Setz, who heads our Haifa Home team. “We visited their homes daily to find out how they were coping, took them out for little walks, did physiotherapy, checked their medical needs, and repaired things in their homes. These may seem like small things, but they often made a huge difference in their day-to-day lives. They looked forward to our knock on their door and the human contact that broke the loneliness and brightened their day.”lping the residents create art pieces.

Even with her dimming eyesight, Bluma, a Haifa Home resident, works every afternoon in the art room on various projects. She has made a storage box for her medication and a vase for the beautiful tulips she received as a gift from friends.

Help us continue administering care, love, dignity, and respect to Holocaust Survivors.

 

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