One of the toughest neighborhoods in Israel
The area of Tel Aviv’s central bus station where we do our food outreach to the homeless is a very tough neighborhood—it may even be the worst in all Israel. The streets where we serve –where the hard-core drug addicts hang out and there is much prostitution— are controlled by Arab crime families from the cities Lod and Ramle in central Israel and from Rahat, a troubled Bedouin city in the Negev where crime is out of control.
At the mercy of criminal gangs
So how do the criminal gangs that control the area view our presence there? To say that they don’t like us is putting it mildly. Criminal gangs make their money by selling drugs and running brothels, so when we help drug addicts and prostitutes get off the street, we are hurting their ability to make money. Every drug addict is like a walking ATM for the dealers because each day he goes to great lengths to get money for drugs. The same goes for the girls who are working in prostitution, many of whom have been coerced or forced into it: each girl turns a profit for her pimp. Most of the women in prostitution are also drug addicts, and they pay for their drugs through prostitution: when these women succeed in getting off the street, it is a double loss for the drug and prostitution rings.
“Why are you here?”
To be able to do the work that God has called us to do in this area, we have to be diplomatic and smart. Honor and respect are inherent currency in the Middle Eastern culture, especially in Arab communities, and we always make sure to be very respectful to criminals running things in our area. Very often, they will ask us why we are doing this, who is supporting us, and what our motivation is. That is when we have the opportunity to share the gospel with them.
Sharing the gospel with Arab-speakers
Whenever there is opportunity, we share the gospel with anyone who crosses our paths, and many who do are Muslim-background Arabs. In addition to the Arab criminal groups who control the area where we serve, many young Arab Muslim men come to this area because of the prostitution. There are also Palestinian construction workers from Judea and Samaria (called the West Bank in the media), in Israel legally and some illegally, who end up sleeping on the streets here because they do not want to risk not being able to get back to their jobs if they go home for the night.
In addition to Hebrew and Russian, we keep Arabic bibles and outreach material at our center which we hand out on a regular basis. In order to be able to discuss the gospel with Muslims, we need to have a basic knowledge of how the Koran speaks about Jesus. When we talk about Ee’sua ibn Miriyam (Jesus the son of Mary), using His proper Arabic name from the Koran, it somehow opens their hearts and we are able to share about His work of redemption and the forgiveness of sins.
A surprising outreach tool
There is one book that we always make sure to have on hand in Arabic: Run Baby Run by Nicky Cruz. In the 1950’s, Cruz led a notoriously violent street gang in New York City and was saved by the gospel of love that he heard from preacher David Wilkerson. Because many of the Arab men in our area are either directly involved in criminal gangs or influenced by them, this book has a powerful impact on them.
When the crime gangs loose profit
Just recently we dealt a blow to the bottom line of the drug dealers’ bottom line when I had the honor of driving a man to a rehab center run by believers. This man who suffers from a serious drug addiction has been coming to our center for meals for several years. This man knows us well and over time has learned to trust us. At one point when he was badly wounded in a street fight, he came to us for first aid.
Recently he shared with us that he has a little son whom he is not allowed to see because of his drug addiction. During the day he keeps himself busy at a construction job, but in the evening, when he is alone and has nothing to do, he ends succumbing to his addiction. Each day he tells himself that he will break the cycle of addiction so that he can make a new start and have a relationship with his son, but each evening after work, he falls back into his addiction. That evening when he was sharing with us his sadness and frustration, he let us pray for him. As we prayed for him, he asked the Lord into his life, and, immediately afterwards, he threw away all the drugs that he had on him. Right then I asked him if he wanted me to drive him to a drug rehabilitation center run by believers, and he said “Yes!”
That evening when I drove him to the rehab center, I felt such joy! Serving on the streets, we see so much pain and sadness in the lives of many who are unwilling to make the serious commitment to go to a rehab program. Not only did this young man open his heart to the Lord, but then he agreed to being taken physically out of the cycle of crime and enslavement to addiction and brought to an amazing rehabilitation center run by believers where he will have every chance and support to become free through God’s grace. It is truly a lifesaving step!
I want to thank you so much for your faithful support of this ministry! Without your help we could not be out there providing food, love and hope to so many.
by Moti Cohen
The Shock of War
No one believed that Russia would attack Ukraine, and when they did, everyone, including the Ukrainians, were shocked. I have friends all over Ukraine, and they started sharing with me harrowing stories of bombings, constant fear, confusion, food and water shortages. I was in shock that this could be happening in Europe today.
A Great Desire to Help
Day after day as I followed news of the war, I felt an intense need to help but had no idea how. So, I began asking God to send me an opportunity where I might help: I immigrated to Israel from Latvia when I was a little girl and grew up speaking both Russian and Hebrew. With my language skills, I felt that I could offer practical help with the refugees who were beginning to stream into Poland and Germany.
Within a week, God sent me an opportunity through a ministry my husband works with: I was chosen to put together and lead a team of Russian\Ukrainian-speaking Israelis to volunteer for a week at a refugee intake center in Berlin, Germany. Financial and practical support for the refugees was pouring in from all over the world, but there was still a great need for Russian-speaking volunteers.
Choose Your Team Wisely
While I was choosing my team of volunteers, the team we would be replacing debriefed me: the hours are long, the work intense and emotional. I knew that I had to choose the volunteers who would join us carefully and prayerfully: they needed to be strong believers, able to withstand the challenging physical conditions and also have the emotional maturity to be able to offer the refugees spiritual and emotional support. The eight individuals who joined my team are amazing people: ranging from ages 22 to 60, each one was willing to put their lives on hold and to invest their time and energies in this important undertaking. We spent a lot of time in prayer together before we left—we knew that we would need God’s grace, protection, strength and wisdom to be able to do what He had called us to do.
Overwhelming and overwhelmed
Our team arrived in Berlin and were brought to the central train station where refugee transports arrived all day-long. We went through an orderly briefing, were cleared as volunteers and received a special orange vest indicating that we were qualified to volunteer (orange meant we spoke Russian or Ukrainian). At first, we were overwhelmed by the size of the train station—it is enormous, more like a city. But very quickly we learned our way around and, within a day or two, knew it like the back of our hands.
As we were receiving our orientation at the train station, we came to a platform where a train of refugees had just arrived, and I found myself suddenly overwhelmed by the sight of all those refugees, mostly women with children, exhausted, confused and broken. I wasn’t sure how I was going keep it together to be able to help them. But amazingly, God gave all of a certain numbness to our emotional shock so that we could do the work He had called us to do.
What was special about our team
There were many volunteers from Germany and all over Europe, but Russian\Ukrainian-speaking volunteers were few. We got along amazingly well with all the different volunteers and were blessed by the cooperation and teamwork there was between us. All the local volunteers and the refugees knew that we were from Israel. They also came to know that we were Israeli followers of Jesus who were there to share the love and hope of God with them.
Trains arrived every couple hours all throughout the day with anywhere from 300 to 700 refugees per transport. Our job was to help the people off the train, direct them to their connecting trains or to buses going to temporary housing, or to various rest areas in the train station for food, medical help, diapers or hygiene products.
Sometimes we only had a short time bringing them from one train to another in which to share a few words of encouragement. If there was time, we always asked if we could pray for them: everyone wanted prayer. No one who refused.
Predators and human traffickers
One of the disturbing things we discovered was that human traffickers were there at the train station trying to exploit the vulnerable women and children. Quite a few times there were warnings sent out among the volunteers that predators were spotted trying to take young women and children – this is a sad reality that my friend and colleague Moti Cohen at Tiferet Yeshua knows through our outreach ministry in the streets of Tel Aviv where he has seen an alarming number of young teenage girls from Ukraine showing up on the streets. Each time the volunteers received a message about human traffickers, our team came together and prayed: each time, praise God, the perpetrators were caught and the children returned.
What was special about the refugees
Ruth, a volunteer from Tiferet Yeshua who joined our team, shared that she was struck by how kind and thankful the refugees were. We never heard anyone complaining or angry at their situation. Every single one expressed sincerest gratitude and thanks, which is amazing considering that these were mostly women with children who had left their husbands behind in a war zone, with all they had in the world packed into a couple bags, arriving in a place they don’t know the language and have no idea where they’ll be staying.
We were amazed by how much love we received in return from the people we were serving. We felt that God directed us to those who needed our help the most. Countless times we were able to pray with people, and many opened their hearts to ask God to come into their lives. We got so many warm, heart-felt hugs from people! The mother of two young girls I had time to take McDonalds for lunch told me, “Seeing you come all the way from Israel to help us gives me hope there is still good in the world.” I told her, “It is the goodness of God that brought us all the way from Israel to help you.”
Some very special connections
Every connection was special, but there were a few instances that were extraordinary or that left a powerful impression on me. One afternoon I arrived on a train platform and a German volunteer who saw my orange vest indicating that I was a Russian\Ukrainian-speaker motioned for me to come help her. She was trying, unsuccessfully, to communicate with an elderly woman in a wheelchair. I started speaking with the woman and quickly discovered that she has a son living in Israel – many of the refugees arriving did not have cell phones or cell phone service. This woman gave me her son’s number and I immediately contacted him in Israel on WhatsApp to let him know that his mother was okay and sent him a picture of her. He was so incredibly thankful: it had been many days since he had last heard from her and didn’t know whether she was alive or dead.
Alone, lost and traumatized
One day I approached a thin, pale young woman with one small bag in her hands who looked completely lost. She did not know English or German and asked me to accompany her to the next train she needed to take. She told me that she had escaped her city in a hurry on a bread truck and that all along the way out of the area they were exposed to intense bombardment from Russian tanks. I could see that she was very traumatized. I prayed for her and encouraged her that God is close to her: all she needs to do is to call out to Him in Jesus’ name and He will be there to help her through every situation. She thanked me with tears in her eyes before she got into her next train.
A lost teen
Before I left Israel, I posted on social media that I would be in Berlin helping with refugee transports. In Berlin, I started receiving calls from people in Israel asking me to meet their relatives who were on their way to Berlin from Ukraine and had lost contact along the way. One family asked me to look for a 17 year-old girl who had been on the road for a few days by herself with no internet and no possibility to call. Her family sent me a picture and, amazingly, we were able to find her, let her talk to her family in Israel, and help her onto her next destination.
I can’t begin to even scratch the surface of all the stores we heard, all the connections we made, how God put us in the right place at the right time to help people in distressing situations, and how many opportunities God gave us to simply show these precious people His light and love and to sow seeds of hope and faith in their hearts.
Please do not forget about what is happening in Ukraine, even though the headlines might be losing their impact after several months of war. Please pray that through all this difficulty and suffering the Ukrainian people would find comfort in God and draw closer to Him!
by Victoria Trubeck
Nothing leavened may be found among you, nor shall leaven be found anywhere within your borders.
Passover cleaning – most Jewish mothers start thinking about it with dread a couple months before Passover. On top of getting rid of all leaven products in the home, it means washing out kitchen cupboards and drawers, scrubbing down the refrigerator and the freezer, and vacuuming under furniture and between sofa cushions. Passover cleaning is a thorough process which we manage to turn into arduous one!
The Bible, however, does not command us to do “Passover cleaning” in the way that we do it today. Exodus 12:19 simply says that there should be no leaven found in our houses for the seven days of Passover. It doesn’t say to search out every last crumb in the furthest corner of your house. God commanded the children of Israel to eat only unleavened bread during Passover as a remembrance because it is, as Deuteronomy 16:3 says, the bread of affliction they ate when they fled Egypt in haste. God commands us to remember in many places in the Bible because all of us humans so easily forget what God has done in our own lives, let alone in the lives of our forefathers.
Biblical Holidays – a spiritual meaning beyond the literal
As New Covenant Jewish believers, we know that beyond the literal meaning of the biblical holidays in the Hebrew Bible, there are also symbolic, prophetic meanings for all of us today which the New Testament makes clear to us. Passover, the seven-day feast God commands the children of Israel to observe as a remembrance of their exodus from Egypt, pointed to the ultimate Passover which would happen many years later when God provided His perfect Passover lamb so that we all may be set free from bondage to sin. In that symbolic context, many elements of the Passover feast take on new and deeper spiritual meanings. One of those elements is leaven.
The gospels tell of Yeshua’s warning His disciples of the “leaven” of the Pharisees. At the time, they were confused about His use of the term “leaven” in a symbolic sense because they were still in the “literal” mindset, and He had to explain it to them. By warning of the Pharisees’ leaven, Yeshua was warning them of falling into a particular sin they excelled at—hypocrisy. Later, when Yeshua took the unleavened bread on the night of the Passover before His crucifixion, He made another powerful correlation to leaven, or the lack thereof:
And He took bread (unleavened matza), gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
What a powerful image of Yeshua’s sinless (free from leaven) life, pierced and broken for us! The unleavened bread of affliction now symbolized the great affliction that He would endure on our behalf. Later on, the Apostle Paul would give us even more clarity about the spiritual meaning of leaven and what it symbolizes in our lives:
Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
-1 Corinthians 5:6-9
Clean out that leaven!
God’s original command to the children of Israel to remove all the leaven from their homes turns into a command for all of us to remove the sin in our lives. Passover, along with the holy Day of Atonement, are biblically appointed times that direct our hearts towards repentance. Even though our spirits have been born again, a purified new creation, and filled with the Holy Spirit thanks to Yeshua’s atoning sacrifice for sin, we must still live lives of repentance because we are still at war with sin in our souls and physical bodies—with increasing victory thanks to God’s abundant grace!
The New Testament is filled with countless warnings and exhortations to beware of allowing ourselves to fall into sinful behavior, to repent when we do and to continue fighting the good fight. Another way to think of fighting the good fight is Passover cleaning!
B’deekat Chametz – Checking for Leaven
On the night before Passover when all the cleaning and removing of leaven has been completed in orthodox Jewish families, the father takes a candle and a feather to search for leaven in the house, looking in all the nooks and crannies where it might have been missed and using the feather to sweep out any remaining crumbs he finds. The following morning, the family gathers together and the father burns whatever leaven he found in his search together with the rest of the leaven that was removed from the house.
The Father’s Candle and Feather
While the strenuous religious lifestyle of the orthodox is burdensome with constant attention to rigorous rules and regulations, we can possibly learn something from their ardent attention to searching out leaven in our lives if our motivation is love for God. Some feel burdened by the idea of repentance, and some may avoid it altogether due to feelings of shame from the enemy or because they have been wrongly taught that there is no need to repent after accepting Yeshua as Lord. Whatever the reason, God is gently calling each of us to seek out the leaven in our lives.
Now imagine God the Father as the Father of your household: invite Him to come with His candle to help you find the leaven with the gentlest of tools—a feather. He is the only one you should let in to join your search because He is motived only by love, and He is the only one with the authority to burn the leaven—completely removing it from your life!
Wishing you all a meaningful holiday season, filled with the blessings and wonder of God’s amazing love for us!
by Gil Afriat
“Now in the twelfth month, that is, the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, the time came for the king’s command and his decree to be executed. On the day that the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, the opposite occurred, in that the Jews themselves overpowered those who hated them.”
The central narrative of Purim is summed up in a Hebrew phrase from the book of Esther – v’nahafoch hu – “and the opposite occured” or “it was turned upside down”. The Purim principle of V’Nahafoch Hu highlights the dramatic reversals in the story: what Israel’s enemy planned for destruction was suddenly turned into their own destrction and Israel’s salvation.
The theme of the “dramatic reversals” in the story of Esther begins with Haman and Mordechai the Jew – Haman desired praise and the king’s favor, but he was forced by the king to give it publicly to Mordechai, the Jew he despised. Haman then concocted a plan to get Mordechai sentenced to death for his faithfulness to worship only the God of Israel and had a large gallows constructed for that purpose, where, ultimately, he was hanged instead of Mordechai.
The Purim story of dramatic reversals prophetically points to the most dramatic reversal in all history. But, before we get into that, understanding the roots of the conflict will show us how deep they are and how determined God is to remove them.
The Roots of the Struggle – Mordechai and Haman
First let’s look at what the Bible says about Mordechai. Ester 2:5 describes him as “…a Jewish man from the tribe of Benjamin…son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish.” The fact that Mordechai is described as the son of Kish should make us think of another biblical character: Saul, the son of Kish:
“Now there was a Benjamite, a powerful man, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. And he had a son named Saul, choice and handsome, without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the people.…”
1 Sam 9:1-2
The Bible shows us that Mordechai is from the family of King Saul, either descended from the same forefather or perhaps even a direct descendant.
Now let’s look at the personal identification that the book of Esther gives of the villain, Haman. Ester 3:1 describes him as the “… son of Hammedatha, the Agagite.” This title given to Haman points us to another place in the Bible where we get more information about his background:
“Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. He captured Agag king of Amalek alive, but devoted all the others to destruction with the sword.…”
1 Samuel 15:7-8
Here we discover that Haman is a descendant of Agag king of Amalek. Saul, from whose family Mordechai is descended, and Agag king of Amakek had serious issues with each other. The prophet Samuel had sent King Saul into battle against the Amalekites, because, as 1 Samuel 15:1-3 describes, the time had come to destroy Amalek, the ancient enemy of the children of Israel.
Who is Amalek?
The Amalekites were the first nation to attack the children of Israel in the desert after their exodus from Egypt. Unprovoked, the Amalekites ruthlessly attacked the weak and the weary Israelites who were at the back of the procession. Ultimately, the children of Israel defeated Amalek in battle, but God commanded Moses to record their treacherous attack for posterity.
Israel had many enemies – so why was God so adamant about wiping out Amalek specifically? As a people, the Amalekites had most likely become completely corrupted by darkness, and for that they received God’s judgment to be wiped out entirely. In Exodus 17:16, God promised to wage war against Amalek in every generation and ultimately to wipe out the memory of Amalek from the earth. Clearly, God did not mean he would be fighting the Amalekites throughout the generations, because they no longer exist as a people. However, God uses Amalek to represent Israel’s spiritual arch-enemy: Satan. The struggle against “Amalek”, in the symbolic sense, is the ultimate battle for the hearts of mankind: God created us with a free will to choose between good and evil, to choose the ways of God or of Satan, i.e., Amalek. When God told Saul that he rejected him as king, it was because he had kept the Amalekite king Agag alive – essentially, Saul had compromised with Israel’s most deadly spiritual enemy – Satan.
Israel’s Battle against Amalek and a Picture of the Cross
A day before Israel’s battle against Amalek, Moses said to Joshua: “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” The next day, when Moses stood on a hill overlooking the battle and raised his staff over his head, with Aaron and Hur holding up his arms on either side, Joshua and the Israelites succeed in overcoming Amalek. The image of Moses holding his staff over his head, shows us a very literal picture of the cross. The figure of Joshua, (Hebrew Yehoshua) who is the leader of Israel’s armies fighting Amalek, is also a picture of Yeshua, Commander of the amies of Heaven.
A Hand upon the throne of the LORD—Yad al kes Yah
Exodus 17:16 makes an interesting and somewhat puzzling statement, one that is translated in multiple ways.
“And Moses built an altar and named it The LORD Is My Banner. He said, ‘A hand upon the throne of the LORD. The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.’”
The most literal translation of the words is: “A hand upon the throne of the LORD.” While translators of the Bible have given this phrase different meanings, I see this verse as speaking of the future Messiah who would wage the ultimate war against Amalek for the hearts of mankind. Yeshua the Messiah is described as Yemin Adonai – the right hand of God. We know that the Messiah sits at the right hand of the Father’s throne –the Messiah is the Hand upon the throne of the LORD.
The battle against Amalek in the book of Esther and the Grand Reversal
Saul’s compromise with Amalek, essentially with sin, fell to his descendant, Mordechai, about six hundred years later. Mordechai was not a king with an army to fight Amalek: though just a lowly Jewish subject to the Persian king, he was humble, faithful and uncompromising. Mordechai’s battle begins when he refuses to bow to Haman:
All the royal servants at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, because the king had commanded that this be done for him. But Mordecai would not bow down or pay homage.
This enraged Haman so much that he came up with a scheme to destroy Mordechai and his people, building a grand gallows especially for Mordechai. Eventually, Haman is hanged on his own gallows. Haman is publicly humiliated and Mordechai is praised. The king could not nullify His own decree to kill the Jews that Haman had legislated, but he decreed a new law that gave “the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate the armed men of any nationality or province who might attack them and their women and children, and to plunder the property of their enemies.” (Esther 8:11)
Purim’s dramatic reversal foreshadows the most dramatic reversal in history
The most dramatic reversal in history is accomplished by Yeshua on the cross: from seeming defeat by the forces of darkness with His death on the cross and descent into Sheol, Yeshua reversed it in His resurrection, overcoming death and the powers of darkness:
I was dead, and behold, now I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of Death and of Hades.
Yeshua’s earthly ministry began after he was tempted as a man and refused to bow down and pay homage to Satan. Mordechai refused to bow down and pay homage to Haman. There was a death sentence and a gallows waiting for Mordechai. Satan thought he overcame Yeshua by seeing Him crucified on the cross. But it was not Yeshua who was ultimately put to death there on the cross: sin, Satan’s power, was put to death on the cross.
…having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Haman had to make a public spectacle of himself by leading his hated enemy, Mordechai, through the streets on the king’s horse, wearing the king’s robe and proclaiming, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!’” (Es. 6:9). After Haman is hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordechai, Mordechai rises to become the king’s chief advisor. After Satan is defeated on the cross that he thought would defeat Yeshua, Yeshua rises to be above all power and principality and sits to the right hand of the throne of God the Father. That is the most dramatic reversal in all human history. The story of Esther and the “dramatic reversals” in it encourage us and point to the ultimate reversal that the Messiah would bring about on the cross.
Though we are saved – the battle continues!
In the Spirit, the “Nahafoch hu” was completed for us when our spirits were born again, made holy, and we are seated in heavenly places with Yeshua above every power and principality of darkness. But in the realm of our souls and our bodies, the situation is different – there we are still engaged in a process to battle against our spiritual enemy to attain that “great reversal” in ourselves, another way of describing the process of sacntification and victory over the enemy. Just like the Jews in Esther were empowered and backed up by the king to “destroy, kill and annihilate” their enemies, we have been empowered by the High King of heaven to battle our ancient enemy in our hearts and minds unto victory!
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5
by Gil Afriat
Watching the main Israeli news coverage of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, I was struck by how vastly different the Israeli perspectives are from the West’s. The most startling fact is that the vast majority of Israeli experts have reached a sobering consensus on Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine: it represents a dramatic change in world order. Furthermore, such a new world order, they contend, places Israel in a precarious position.
The West Thumbs its Nose at Russia
The battle for Ukraine is not actually about Ukraine: it is a power struggle between Russia and the West. For years Putin has been trying to get the West to pay attention to him and respect him. In response, the West has largely written him off as a backwards autocratic dictator who suppresses the press, imprisons or kills off political opponents and stifles personal freedoms (all of which is true). At the same time, through the enlargement of NATO, the West has been expanding into Russia’s zone of influence which Russia calls a provocation. Ukraine, a country bordering Russia that wants to free itself from Russian tentacles, has been seeking NATO membership which would guarantee Ukraine military protection by the West should they be attacked by a non-NATO state. For Russia, it would mean the deployment of NATO long-range missile systems at their back door.
In 2021, Putin asked US President Biden for legal promises that Ukraine would not become a NATO member. Biden refused Putin’s request, and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg boldly declared in response that:
“Russia has no right to establish a sphere of influence.” (AXIOS, 01Dec21)
To Putin, a proud man dedicated to Russia’s dignity and securing his country’s strategic interests and resources, those were fighting words. The ones who would pay the price would be the Ukrainians.
What works: Military Action or Economic Sanctions?
Europe is unwilling to enter large-scale military conflicts. The US has become war-adverse because they still have the bad taste of costly military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq in their mouths which, to a large extent, ended badly. Instead, the West believes in the “soft power” of economic persuasion.
Russia, on the other hand, has been steadily building up and modernizing its army and is willing to use it to achieve diplomatic ends because it knows that no country in the West will try to intervene militarily. According to economic experts, sanctions, even the toughest ones, can take years to have any real effect. According to Alistair Milne, professor of economics and Swift system expert:
“The uncomfortable fact remains that economic sanctions, if they are to be more than symbolic, necessarily impose costs on both sides and might have to be imposed for a long time. Russia has spent a decade preparing for the current war and any consequent economic sanctions.” (The Conversation, 28Feb22)
This week, a leading political analyst in the US called Putin “irrational, isolated and not connected to reality”. On the other hand, Israeli analysts are calling Putin one of the smartest and most savvy leaders in the world. The difference in the assessment is stunning. So, which one is true?
The Potential New World Order
With one voice Israeli analysts are saying the same thing: Russia’s military aggression is signaling a new world order. The Russians, along with other nations, have had their eyes on the Western-led world order and see that its leader, the US, is becoming more isolationist and has been weakened by deep internal conflicts largely led by progressive liberal agendas. According to Dr. Uzi Rabi, Director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, the US has been pulling back from robust international engagement for the last ten years, and, in the absence of American power, Russia and China have been gathering strength. Top Israeli political analysts agree that the new global power dynamic that is emerging is bad news for the world: who are the members of the new global power club? Russia, China and Iran.
Russia’s Army is on Israel’s Northern Border
“…the Russians are our neighbors to the north, and it is important that we manage the delicate and complex situation there smoothly…”
-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet, Oct. 20212
Every month or so, I hear the roar of Israeli fighter jets over my home in central Israel, and I know that the next day I will most likely see in the news that Iranian arms convoys or other Iranian military installations in Syria have been bombed. What many people are not aware of is that back in 2015, Russia intervened militarily to save its old cold war ally, Assad in Syria, which it achieved with great success. Since then, Russia controls the Syrian airspace and maintains a strong military presence in Syria. In the meantime, Russia does not want to allow Iran to overrun Syria as it once did, and here its strategic interests dovetail with Israel’s: keeping Iran at bay. Israel has been maintaining a very delicate and important cooperation with the Russians in Syria which allows Israel to keep Iran’s military ambitions in check through targeted airstrikes.
If Russia comes out of its military campaign in Ukraine mostly unscathed, it will most likely start flexing its muscles more in the Middle East. While Israel’s sympathies and identity is with the West, it also has a very complex and nuanced strategic relationship with Russia. Because of this tectonic shift in the world order, Israel will have to find the right formula to be able to walk between its sympathies for the West and its ideals and Russia’s growing power and influence in the region.
We see this as continued birth pangs, and our prayer is the God’s perfect will be done to prepare all believers to stand firm during these times of shaking and to be light in darkness!
by Tamar Afriat
After the High Holidays, I started weekly “Going Deeper” meetings at Tiferet Yeshua where we could go deeper into the Word of God together. God has been blessing our meetings greatly and bringing together a wonderful group of Israeli believers who are hungry to seek more of Him in His Word. At the end of 2021, God put it on my heart to do something special and a little bit different at our weekly “Going Deeper” meeting: I wanted to somehow combine worship with our Bible reading for that week. I had in mind a couple worship leaders who agreed to come and lead worship at the meeting, but a couple days before the meeting they let us know that they could not make it.
A day before the meeting, a couple of young women from Tiferet Yeshua’s worship team happily agreed to come lead worship for our meeting. At that point, I still did not have a clear idea how I was going to combine the Bible study with the worship. The day of our meeting was especially busy: we started early in the morning with preparing the congregation to host a group of holocaust survivors for a special holiday meal, and we were busy serving and then cleaning up until late in the afternoon. Our event with the holocaust survivors was very meaningful and blessed, and we were all touched by what God had done. But little did we know that God was not finished: we still had our special “Going Deeper” meeting just a couple hours away.
That evening, we arranged our chairs in a circle and had the keyboard and our worshippers as a part of the circle. We started by reading through our passage that week and sharing what the Lord put on our hearts about what we read. Then we just started to worship together. At one point, one of our worshippers began singing in the Spirit, and there was suddenly a heavy anointing of God’s presence in the room. I felt let to read Isaiah 61:1-3
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
At that moment the Spirit fell in a surprisingly powerful way: one young man shared a vision he saw of the fire of the Lord burning up unclean spirits. A moment later he was unable to stand and sank to his knees, overcome with waves of joy. At the same time, another man suddenly started going through a dramatic deliverance from spiritual oppression. I am so thankful that Debbi from our leadership team was there with me so that we could each minister to those who were being touched by the Holy Spirit!
We could see that God was touching another man, and Debbi and I started to pray for him: he shared afterward that God showed him several areas of wrong spiritual ideas he had (in his younger years he was heavily involved in a cult led by a powerful guru) and that God then gave Him three powerful words for his life and his family. Flori, a new believer who prayed to receive the Lord a couple months ago during one of our meetings, said she felt that the Lord Yeshua Himself had laid His hands on her head while she was praying and worshipping. Her husband Hilik was also touched in a powerful way. Everyone who was there received some special touched from the Holy Spirit.
I had no idea that this is what God had planned for us! I just wanted to do a worship evening with the Word, but He started moving because our hearts were open and worshipping Him. All of us were astounded at the end of the meeting, and none of us wanted to leave – so strong was the presence of the Spirit! I also feel that somehow our meeting was even more blessed because we had spent the morning serving and blessing holocaust survivors. Even as I write this, I am astounded by God’s goodness to us and how He surprised us with such a beautiful outpouring of His Spirit, and how faithful He is to set captives free. We are hungry for more, and are excited for what else He has in store for us!
For a long time it has been on my heart that Tiferet Yeshua could find a way to bless and serve holocaust survivors. In December, Gideon, a friend from another congregation who has a calling to serve holocaust survivors, approached me about doing something special for a group of Russian background holocaust survivors for the Russian New Year holiday celebration “Novy God”. Through a generous donation from the Joseph Project to Tiferet Yeshua’s Feed Tel Aviv ministry, we were able to plan a special New Year’s banquet for over forty holocaust survivors.
For nearly two years of corona many of these holocaust survivors were isolated in their homes and unable to gather with friends and family. The opportunity to celebrate together one of the most nostalgic and meaningful holidays for Jews from Russian backgrounds was a great blessing for them. All of those invited knew they were coming to a holiday celebration hosted by Messianic Jews, and they all came to Tiferet Yeshua on their own, taking busses or taxis and then hiking up a flight of stairs—people in their eighties and nineties!
A Sephardic Jew Masters Russian Delicacies
Our goal was to bless and serve our special guests. When they arrived, we escorted them to decorated holiday tables and treated them to a traditional holiday sing-along in Russian. Afterward, we began serving them their holiday meal. One of my gifts that God has graciously allowed me to use for serving others in His name is cooking: each week I prepare home-cooked, wholesome meals for our street outreach to the homeless. This time, I used my cooking skills to dive into a culinary tradition that is completely new for me: the traditional Russian kitchen! With help from my wife who speaks Russian, I watched YouTube videos of Russian “babushkas” cooking traditional dishes, consulted with some Russian mothers and grandmothers here in Israel, and followed their directions exactly.
When I introduced myself to the group with the help of translators, I told them that their holiday meal was prepared by a Moroccan\Persian Jew who has never tasted any of these dishes before: that fact delighted and touched them. At the end of the meal, a very old man came up to me and emotionally shared that one dish in particular that I made brought him back to his childhood in Moscow. For me it was a great honor to be able to serve these special people who survived the greatest human atrocity in living memory and chose to immigrate to Israel. And it was an honor to share with them the love and hope we have God: He truly blessed the time we had together with a spirit of openness, and Kosta and Victoria, who are both of Russian backgrounds, followed the gentle leading of the Holy Spirit to share encouraging words of hope from the Bible and New Testament.
For me this event was very special because my grandmother is a holocaust survivor from Latvia. At the beginning of WWII when the Nazis invaded Latvia, my grandmother fled to Russia with her mother and siblings. After the war, they returned to Latvia: that area of Latvia boasted a Jewish population of a several hundred thousand before the war. After the war, there were only three hundred Jews left.
When I was serving the holocaust survivors, I felt like I was serving my grandmother, and it was a great honor for me. Holocaust survivors deal with very complicated psychological and spiritual struggles. In addition to trauma and survivor’s guilt, many of them see the holocaust as proof that God doesn’t exist. I shared with them from my heart that their survival, just like my grandmother’s, is a miracle, and that the reason we are here today is because God has a perfect plan for His people Israel and for each one of them.
I felt it was important to emphasize that the miracle of the survival of the Jewish people and the establishment of the Jewish state are proof that God exists and has a plan for us. His plan for us, I told them, is that we would get to know Him. Afterward, many of them came up to me to express their thanks and tell me how touched they were by what I shared. Praise God for His love for these precious holocaust survivors and their open hearts!
“Novy God”, the Russian New Year celebration, is the most important and sentimental holiday for Russian Jews. Since all religious holidays were banned during soviet times, this holiday became our sole and central holiday. I shared with the holocaust survivors that I immigrated to Israel from Russia when I was a teenager, and that for all of us this holiday reminds us of warm, joyful times with our families.
While they may feel alone in their day to day lives, especially during covid, I wanted them know that no matter where they are, God is very near to them, as the Word says, and that He has special compassion for the lonely and broken-hearted. God then led me to read John 3:16 to them in Russian: a simple, powerful declaration of the gospel from the Word. All of us on the team felt that there was a special openness with these dear people and that God touched many of their hearts. Please pray that the Holy Spirit would water the seeds of hope from God’s Word that were sewn in their hearts, that He would speak to them in their times of loneliness and isolation and bring them comfort and peace in Messiah Yeshua.
The Valley of the Shadow of Death
by Monica Obreja
After a month-long battle with covid on February 26th of last year, my husband Aurel went home to be with the Lord. When Aurel was in the hospital fighting for his life, I did the only thing I knew how: fight for him in prayer. I asked friends and family here in Israel and all over the world to pray. We had zoom prayer meetings at our congregation devoted to interceding for him. When the Lord finally took him home, surprisingly I did not feel angry at God or confused. Instead, God gave me a supernatural peace that we had done all we could to petition heaven for Aurel’s life and that, even though we may not understand it, this was God’s perfect will. Despite the shock and incredible loss, God gave me strength and grace to worship Him and even to encourage everyone there at my husband’s graveside after my sons and the men present had filled the grave. You see, in Israel it is the Jewish custom that the family and close friends lower the casket into the earth and then fill the grave with dirt. Burying your loved one yourself is an important Jewish tradition.
However, that was just the beginning. After we buried Aurel, I went home a widow with nine children. My youngest son was just four. While I was never so thankful I had so many children—we were an amazing support for each other in the first difficult months—I also felt the crushing weight of the grief of losing the love of my life and life-partner, the man who had led me to the Lord, and of the huge responsibility for my children’s physical and spiritual wellbeing now resting solely on me. Before Aurel passed away, I fought for his life in prayer. And now, I knew I had another battle on my hands: to overcome the all-consuming grief to be able to lead my family forward.
The Weapons of our Warfare
In the first months after Aurel died, I felt like I had to fight not to fall into a pit of grief that would consume me. Again, the only thing I knew how to do is pray—but I was so broken and disoriented by grief and the shock of losing Aurel that I did not know what to pray. So I prayed in the Spirit. Constantly! The Apostle Paul says, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.” (I Cor. 14:18) During that time, I prayed in the Spirit, sometimes for hours, perhaps just as much as Paul did, if not more. The Word says that the Holy Spirit helps us in our weaknesses and expresses the inexpressible groanings of our spirits (Romans 8:26). The Holy Spirit was expressing my inexpressible grief and my deep cry for help to the Father.
As time passed, I felt like I had peace in the middle of a storm. God was strengthening me and His clarity guided me more and more. Prayer became the one thing I could “do” that consistently filled me and strengthened me – I was putting to the test all the spiritual truths I have learned from a life of walking with the Lord and reading His Word: He is a faithful rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. He comforts the brokenhearted. He gives us beauty for ashes, a garment of praise for a heavy spirit. He hears our prayers and answers. I know because I am the widow who came before her God and Judge again and again, and He has never once disappointed me. He gives me strength and wisdom to intercede for each of my children, to speak into their lives and to raise them in the knowledge and fear of the Lord. God is also speaking to me: He told me not to look back, not to cling to the past, like what He said to Lot’s wife: there was no longer a strong, supportive pillar for me in the past. Now it was just me and God in the present.
Another thing has happened in this process: my spiritual hunger for God keeps increasing. I sought Him constantly in the beginning to save me from falling into consuming grief. Now I am seeking not just because I cannot survive without Him but because I love His presence, I love His Word and I earnestly desire the spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 14). He is my exceedingly great reward!
A Revelation of Prayer
One day while washing dishes, I was pondering a passage I had been reading in 2 Kings that describes how Yoram King of Israel and Jehoshaphat King of Judah had gone out to fight the king of Moab: they got into trouble along the way when they could not find water for their troops and livestock. So, they sought out the prophet Elisha who told them:
…the LORD says, ‘Make this valley full of ditches. For the LORD says, ‘You will not see wind or rain, but the valley will be filled with water, and you will drink—you and your cattle and your animals. (2 Kings 3:16-17 Berean Study Bible)
I imagined those parched troops digging ditches in the hot Middle Eastern sun in a dry valley, how it must have seemed like pointless drudgery when they were already dying of thirst. But they still did their part. And then God did His miraculous part: He filled those ditches with water, providing for their immediate physical needs and then using those shimmering pools of water to throw the Moabites into confusion and give Israel the victory. God showed me that prayer is just like that: we are digging ditches in the dry ground when we pray. I see places of “dry ground” around me, but I do not let the dry ground determine the reality. I stand on God’s Word and promises in prayer, digging ditches in that dry ground, and then He will fill them with His miraculous water!
I AM THANKFUL
A year after losing my husband, I can say I am so thankful for God’s faithfulness and goodness to me and my family. I am also thankful for my brothers and sisters in faith: from the beginning of Aurel’s hospitalization and throughout this first year after his death, my home congregation, Tiferet Yeshua, believers from all over the body of Messiah in Israel, and even Christian friends in the nations, have surrounded me and my family with love and support in so many ways. My family and I could not stand without my brothers and sisters supporting me and my family.
Growing up in Israel in the seventies and eighties, Christmas was a far-off Christian holiday that I had no idea about other than the images of the beautiful lights, Christmas trees and decorations we saw in pictures and movies from America and Europe. Today, many Israelis visit Arab Christian villages and neighborhoods during the Christmas season to enjoy the lights and the Christmas cheer. But, for the most part, no one would know it is Christmas in Israel on December 25th—it’s just like any other day.
Experiencing Christmas for the First Time
In my early twenties, after I came to faith in Yeshua, my wife and I moved to the United States. It was then that I had my first taste of this Christmas holiday that I as a Jew had never personally seen or celebrated. I have to say that the beautiful lights and decorations, the holiday parties and get-togethers made that dark and cold time of the year truly joyful and beautiful —which is saying a lot for me as an Israeli who loves sunshine and has a hard time with the cold. It was special being together with fellow believers during Christmas church services worshiping the “King of Israel”, and the words of many Christmas songs celebrating the birth of the Jewish Messiah in my homeland, Israel, touched me deeply.
Little Baby Jesus
Of course, beyond the secular consumerism and materialism that infiltrates much of the Christmas season in the US—there was one thing about the holiday that felt a little strange to me: the widespread Christmas focus on Yeshua as a baby. I was already a believer, but I had not spent time thinking of Him as a baby. Other than His birth, the New Testament offers no information about Yeshua’s infancy or childhood before his 12th year. However, as I thought more about this “baby Jesus” focus during Christmas, I realized that Isaiah the prophet spoke of the child Messiah and described Him in terms that we rarely, if at all, hear during Christmas. The terms Isaiah uses to describe this special Child are a majestic description of His mighty and awesome character and calling.
What Child is This?
Isaiah 9:6 describes the Child who will carry the government on His shoulders: God’s juxtaposing the smallness and weakness of a human child with the weight of this mighty calling on His shoulders highlights the incomprehensible plan of salvation in such an astounding way.
Next come the heavy titles this Child carries: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God , Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. If we focus on each title, it reveals who Yeshua is, His calling and identity. Usually knowledge of Hebrew does not give any “hands up” in understanding the Bible—the Spirit of God ensured that there are accurate and true translations in every language. There are times, however, where nuances in the Hebrew open up different levels of meaning and connections which are otherwise lost in translation.
Pele Yoetz (Wonderful Counselor) – if we allow Yeshua to be our personal counselor, He will do wonders in our lives! “Pele” is the Hebrew word for “wonder”, and Messiah’s name as “Wonderful” recalls a scene in the Torah where the “Man God” in the form of the Angel of YHVH describes Himself to the father of Samson in Judges 13:18, saying: “My name is wonderful (pelee)”.
El Geebor (Mighty God) – this title makes absolutely clear that the Messiah who is born a human child is the Mighty God himself!
Avi Ad (Everlasting Father, or…?) – this title can be a little confusing because Yeshua is God the Son, but He is not God the Father. So, what does this mean? Here, understanding the Hebrew can be helpful; looking at the Hebrew grammar, “Avi Ad’ can just as easily be translated as “Father of Eternity” which makes much more sense: it is only through Yeshua that we have eternal life. He is the Father of our eternal life.
Sar Shalom (Prince of Peace) – this Child is the bringer of peace: first in our hearts in this age, and, in the Messianic age, He will be the one who brings global peace—a great task indeed!
To all of those who are celebrating the birth of our Messiah this Christmas season, I pray that the deep and awesome revelation of the Child who is Mighty God fills yours hearts with wonder and light!
A young man asks: “If Yeshua really is the Messiah, then what should I do?”
Recently a young man reached out to us through our Hebrew website and asked if we could get in touch with him. After several phone conversations, we understood that he had been reading the New Testament and was interested in studying with someone to learn more. Kosta, who devotes his time to outreach and discipling new believers, scheduled a meeting with him to start studying the foundations of the faith. During their meetings, Kosta felt the need to focus on the love of God and how it is that the Messiah could atone for sins. This young man was open, eager and, after studying together with Kosta, he said it was clear that Yeshua is the Messiah promised Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures. “What should I do then?” he asked.
As Jews, our spiritual reference is orthodox Judaism, and the idea of becoming more “religious” or seeking God means doing certain things like keeping the Sabbath, wearing a kippa, and praying certain prayers and blessings every day.
When he asked, “What am I required to do?” Kosta told him that the first action he needed to take was in his heart: “Receive Yeshua into your heart as Lord and Savior and ask Him to be Lord over your life.” On that same day, he prayed to receive Yeshua as His Lord and Savior.
Kosta stays in touch with this young man on a regular basis (due to his work schedule, it is hard for him to make it to our Friday services): he loves spending time reading and searching the Scripture. While reading the New Testament, he came across passages describing the need to immerse in water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. During discipleship at Tiferet Yeshua, we do not rush to water immersion: we want to make sure people understand the foundations of their faith and know what it means to surrender their lives to the Lord. However, this young man was so anxious to follow through with the requirements of his faith that he decided to baptize himself in a spring of water while on a tour visiting springs and rivers in the north of Israel!
It is amazing to see how he truly loves Yeshua and is growing in his faith through God’s wonderful grace on him.
Falling in love with a believer, then falling in love with her Savior
This is a love story in every way. D. grew up friends with a family of believers from Tiferet Yeshua. Since a young age, he knew about his friends’ faith and that they attended a Messianic congregation every week. For him, their faith was something that didn’t bother him, but it didn’t interest him either. While D. was best friends with the son, and he enjoyed spending time with their family, he eventually fell in love with his friend’s sister, a strong believer. After his army service, he mustered the courage to tell her. She and her family made clear that if he was serious about his feelings for her, he would have to be open to seriously learning about her faith.
Because he wanted to show the love of his life that he was serious, he began attending services with her and her family at Tiferet Yeshua—as far as he was concerned, he was there for her, the girl he loves and wants to marry. However, it was clear that D. was not terribly interested in or connecting with what was happening around him in the congregation—during worship he would be in the fellowship hall, and during the message he would be distracted on his phone. Kosta reached out to him to schedule a meeting with him, thinking maybe time one-on-one would be the best way to connect with him. During the meeting, Kosta went through the main Messianic prophesies in the Hebrew Scriptures with D., particularly Isaiah 53. Overall, their time together was positive and eye-opening for him, but it was clear that D. was still not interested in making any serious spiritual commitments. He comes from a religious family where “religious requirements” were forced on him.
But for the love of his life, D. continued coming to services at Tiferet Yeshua. Then something happened: during one service, he decided to put his phone down and listen to the message. On that day, our friend Yuval Yanai gave a powerful message, and God used it to unlock this young man’s heart. It touched him in such a powerful and special way, we could see just by looking at him that something was happening. A week later, someone shared a word of knowledge during the service that someone suffering pain in their shoulder should come forward for healing. The word was for D.: he came forward and was healed on the spot.
The following week, D. was back in the service. This time, he participated in the worship, clearly experiencing the Lord, and he listened intently to the message. After the service, Gil prayed with him to receive Yeshua as his Lord and Savior. Some of us who didn’t know that he had just prayed to receive the Lord saw him later that evening, and told him, “Your face is shining!” Since then, the change in this young man is visible, and he is on fire for the Lord. He is studying with Kosta, reading the Bible daily on his own and already wants to commit his life publicly through water immersion.