“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.”
When speaking of the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD on the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, most people generally think of the physical destruction and burning of the Temple by Titus and his Roman legions. It was a profoundly momentous historical and spiritual event, which Titus himself even recognized; he reportedly refused a victory wreath, claiming that he was just the vehicle through which the Jew’s God was punishing them. Perhaps during the three-month long siege Titus had witnessed enough of the wretchedness and suffering of the people of Jerusalem to be able to celebrate it as a brilliant military victory.
Indeed, the siege of Jerusalem that led up to the destruction of the Temple was a long, drawn-out nightmare for those trapped in the city. The proportions of their suffering are staggering and recall Yeshua’s prophetic exhortation a generation earlier to the women of Jerusalem who were mourning for Him as he bore His cross through the city:
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”’
The Beginning of the End
The revolt against Roman occupation of Jewish lands began in 66 AD led by rival Jewish rebel groups. Some were driven by the desire for political freedom from Rome, some by messianic fervor for a full physical and spiritual redemption. After being defeated in campaigns in the Galilee, these rebel groups fled to Jerusalem where they began fighting each other, plunging the city into chaos.
The Romans legions commanded by Titus began the siege of Jerusalem during the festival of Passover with wicked calculation: Titus had allowed the Jewish festival to continue unhindered, and the population of the city had swelled with pilgrims arriving from all over the country for the feast. Then Titus began his siege, trapping Passover pilgrims together with the city residents: outside were four Roman legions. Inside, three rebel factions vying for control with increasingly cruel violence.
A House Divided
The Jewish resistance in Jerusalem had no chance to withstand four Roman legions. Eventually, they would have been overcome. However, the cruelty that the rebel zealot factions inflicted on each other made the lives of the people far more miserable and increased the number of causalities beyond what the Romans could have done. Plus, it made the job much easier for the Romans. In fact, Titus decided to let the Jews destroy themselves. His calculation was right: at the beginning of the siege, zealot factions burned a stockpile of grain that could have lasted the city for years. This insane act quickly brought on starvation and suffering beyond the Roman’s actions and hastened the fall of the city.
“Weep for Yourselves”
The vision of suffering and destruction that Yeshua saw a generation before came to pass. The account of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus describes the situation at the beginning of the siege: there was constant noise, the sound of the rebel zealots fighting each other together with the sound of weeping and mourning over the dead.
Eventually, the stench of death covered the city, and the misery of starvation changed the sound of the city. It was complete quiet. In his book Of the War, Josephus writes:
The upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine, and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged. The children also, and the young men wandered about the market places like shadows, all swelled with the famine, and fell down dead, wheresoever their misery seized them. As for burying them, those that were sick themselves were not able to do it; and those that were hearty and well, were deterred from doing it, by the great multitude of those dead bodies…A deep silence also, and a kind of deadly night had seized upon the city.
Crucifixion and Desolation
One of the most startling things to imagine is how Jerusalem looked toward the end of the three-month siege. According to Josephus, Jerusalem was a stately, beautiful city surrounded by richly wooded hills. During the siege, all the timber was completely cut down on the hills for fifteen kilometers to use in constructing bulwarks, battering rams and also for crucifying people. Anyone caught escaping the city, whether man, woman or child, was crucified atop a great siege bank built up around the city.
At one point, as many of five hundred people a day were being caught trying to escape and were crucified opposite the city walls. Inside the city there was death from starvation and murder. Outside the walls surrounding the city were literally thousands of crucifixions. Beyond that, barren hills whose trees had been cut down. It is a scene that calls to mind the most harrowing images of the holocaust.
On the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, (4th of August), Titus’s forces breached the city walls from the north and commenced a great slaughter of those who were left inside. Many fled to the Temple for protection. According to Josephus, a river of blood flowed down the Temple stairs. Before they set fire to the Temple, the legionaries made pagan sacrifices on the holy alters. Nearly 100,000 captives were taken and sold into slavery across the Roman empire.
Seenat Cheenam – Baseless Hatred
Years ago, my husband and I were on a tour of the temple tunnels led by a young orthodox woman. After detailing the destruction of the Temple, she added, “The Romans did not destroy the Temple. We did with our baseless hatred. That’s why we were in exile for two-thousand years.”
She was echoing the understanding the rabbis had reached several generations after 70 AD: the rebellion had been a bad idea, and the destruction of the Temple was not due to Roman military superiority but due to “seenat cheenam” or baseless hatred among the Jews.
We told her that baseless hatred of the zealots fighting against each other did not make sense as the cause for such a total destruction of the Temple and for a two-thousand year exile: the first Temple was destroyed and the people exiled for only seventy years for worshipping other gods and even sacrificing their children to Molech. She did not know what to say. “Seenat Cheenam” was the reason the rabbis had given her. What other reason could there be?
If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason ’
In the Hebrew translation, Yeshua says: seenat cheenam sanuni, quoting Psalms 35 and 69. Yeshua agrees with the assessment of future rabbis that because of “baseless hatred” the Temple was destroyed and the Jews exiled—but with one key difference: it was the rabbis’ “baseless hatred” of Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel, that led to the Temple’s destruction and to the great exile. Not the hatred of rival zealot factions.
Beauty for Ashes
As we observe the solemn date of the 9th of Av, a divine date on which my nation has suffered so much, I feel a sense of sadness and heaviness just like on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The holocaust of Jerusalem in 70 AD was brutal and desolating, and it marked the beginning of the end of Jewish rule in the Land. It would not return until 1948. I find that fact overwhelming. In Israel today, we are living a miracle: Jewish rule in the Land for the first time since 70 AD. And just like during that time, there are also Jewish followers of Yeshua living in the Land, a part of the people. How can anyone not be encouraged and excited considering those facts? How can we not be filled with awe and wonder at how good and faithful our God is!
This week as we sat in our team meeting, I received a call from our lawyer who had unexpected and wonderful news for us: the Israeli Supreme Court had just ruled in our favor in our eight year-long battle to receive non-profit tax status as a religious non-profit organization. This is a huge and meaningful victory for several reasons.
First of all, Tiferet Yeshua members who support the congregation through their tithes and donations will receive, like all religious congregants in the West, tax reimbursement at the end of the year—in our case 35%. Furthermore, the ruling of the Supreme Court has made a bold stand for religious freedom here in Israel and called out the politicians’ efforts to deny our rights by labeling us “dangerous to Israeli society” as nothing short of religious discrimination. Finally, this victory for us will open the door to other Messianic Jewish congregations in Israel to also receive non-profit tax status.
A ceremony marking 50 years of law held at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem in 1998
All non-profit organizations in Israel must go through a rigorous verification process, and we began our process eight years ago. Our petition for non-profit tax status (article 46(a)) was granted by the Israeli Tax Authority but has been repeatedly denied by the parliament Finance Committee which has been chaired by the ultra-orthodox Moshe Gafni who openly declared that our congregation, Tiferet Yeshua, will receive article 46(a) “over my dead body”. The reasons for his opinions against us are obvious and not surprising. What was surprising was how Gafni, the head of the Finance Committee, was able to unify all parties in the Knesset behind his campaign against us.
Unprecedented Political Unity against Us
In October of last year we wrote this article about the decision of the special Finance Committee session, representing members from all across the political spectrum, which unanimously denied our petition. Even our new foreign minister, Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, made a special effort to participate in our Finance Committee vote and to add his comments that we are “dangerous missionaries”. The flash point which unified the entire Israeli political spectrum against us at the time was the issue of the conversion of minors and financial coercion to faith, which are against the law in Israel. Conversion of minors is an issue that hits a raw nerve with Jews as it conjures images from Europe’s dark past of forced conversion when Jewish children were abducted, baptized against their will, declared Christian and taken from their families to be raised in the church.
Tiferet Yeshua’s article 46(a) petition was considered together with that of a Jehovah’s Witness organization which engages in questionable practices regarding minors, and most of the session was devoted to them. However, spurious allegations were made that Tiferet Yeshua also engages in the conversion of minors, which is patently false as we completely abide by the law regarding minors and financial coercion to faith, and the committee failed to produce any concrete evidence to the contrary.
“There are Judges in Jerusalem”
Former Prime Minister Menachem Begin was an advocate for a powerful, independent judiciary and saw it as the “last fortress of human liberty”. Begin knew that a majority in parliament could become a tool of oppression in the hand of politicians, and a strong, independent judiciary is needed to check government action and guard citizens’ rights, even when a majority seeks to disenfranchise them. This is exactly what happened this week in Israel regarding our case.
With one accord, Israeli supreme court justices expressed that the Finance Committee had overreached their authority by declaring the activity of a religious non-profit illegal because of “personal emotions or deep disagreements” with us as Messianic Jews. Judge Anat Baron stated that the Finance Committee’s criteria of labeling religious activity as illegal because it is, in their opinion, “controversial” would set a dangerous precedent of reaching decisions about non-profits “…based upon extraneous considerations, prejudice, inequality, and arbitrariness.”
We thank God that, as Menachem Begin said, “there are judges in Jerusalem” who protect the rights of minorities and apply the standards of equality and freedom of religion according to the spirit and values of Israel’s Declaration of Independence. We hope that this decision which came after eight years of legal battle will open the doors for many other Messianic congregations to receive this tax credit status and that it will benefit the Messianic public in Israel in large. Moreover, we pray that prejudice and discrimination will continue to break as truth shines forth in Israel.
Lead Pastor, Tiferet Yeshua
The vision of our Feed Tel Aviv outreach was born, first and foremost, out of a desire that our congregation would be a blessing to the community around us. One community near Tiferet Yeshua happens to be the worst area for homelessness and drug use in Israel. Since its beginning, Feed Tel Aviv has been a labor of love that has blessed many of us by seeing lives touched and people saved from the streets. What I never imagined is the fact that Feed Tel Aviv would become a “discipleship training” of sorts for believers who want to serve the poor and learn how to witness on the streets but don’t know how to begin or have the opportunity. It has been such a surprise and a joy for me that through this ministry we get to see so many sincere believers from all over Israel who want to serve the poor get touched with the passion for outreach and sharing the gospel!
Recently, a man named Eliav contacted me: he is a youth group leader from a congregation in the north. Eliav wanted to know if it was possible to bring their youth group to Tel Aviv to volunteer with us during our outreach to the homeless. I told him that we would be happy to have them join us, and we set a date for them to come. Eliav brought his youth group—twelve young men and women, salt of the earth, who want to devote their time serving Israeli society.
The first thing we did was to prepare the food together, making over a hundred hamburgers and other sandwiches to hand out on the streets. That day in Tel Aviv turned out to be quite cold and rainy, so we also prepared large pots of hot sweet tea and filled a few large serving thermoses to take with us. We also brought with us winter gear—jackets, blankets, gloves and hats—in order to give to the homeless who would end up sleeping on the street though the cold night. The fact that there were so many helping hands with the youth volunteers made it much easier to bring the winter gear and tea thermoses with us.
That day the youth group had many special encounters with people on the street. Some people just wanted food. Others asked for prayer in addition to the food and warm clothing. Some just wanted to talk and pour out their hearts to someone who would listen. It was amazing seeing these young people responding with love to some of the most shocking sights of poverty and desperation they have ever seen. With God’s grace, these youth overcome their shock and feelings of awkwardness and began praying for and sharing the love of God with the people on the street.
Eliav and his youth group are Hebrew and Russian speakers: because a large percentage of the homeless drug addicts are from a Russian background, there was a special connection and they ended up spending much more time speaking with, listening to and praying for Russian speakers they met. Many drug addicts, even Arab addicts, came up to this group of young people to give them a warning: “We were young like you when we started trying drugs, and look where we ended up. Don’t make the mistakes we did!” It was a powerful thing for the youth to hear such sober warnings from the drug addicts themselves, and to hear their sincere hurt and regret over the choices they had made.
We are so thankful that God is putting it on the hearts of many here in Israel to devote time to serving these “invisibles” on the street and that He is using this outreach to train believers here in Israel to walk out their faith like Yeshua did: reaching out to the lost and suffering with love, mercy, and hope.
Thanks to your support, we can continue this important outreach here in Israel. Thank you!
The past six months, we have been experiencing what we can only call a harvest that God has been bringing in. Israelis from all different backgrounds have been reaching out to us in numbers we have never before experienced. Some have been searching and found information about Yeshua and the New Testament online. Some started searching because of a powerful dream or vision they had. Some we have met during street outreach. No matter the story, they all have one thing in common: they have a hunger and an openness to the gospel that we have never seen before. Clearly, God is stirring up the hearts of His people! Here are some of their stories (their names have been changed to protect their privacy):
A Scene from the New Testament appears to a man in a dream:
Yaron, a man from a secular background who never really searched for God or spiritual meaning in His life, had a dream about Yeshua. In the dream, he saw Yeshua teaching on a mountain surrounded by a great crowd of people. Yaron could see that there were people who received what Yeshua was teaching and believed, while, at the same time there were others who did not believe, and it caused a division among them. Yaron knew nothing about Yeshua or the New Testament (which is amazing because the dream is a scene straight from the New Testament!) The dream stuck with him, and he began searching for information about Yeshua online and even was connected with Tiferet Yeshua through a local outreach ministry. Yaron is now studying with us weekly and growing in his faith. He wants to be connected with a local congregation or home group (he lives in the south). There are a couple congregations in his area, but they cater to Russian and English speakers. We are praying for a Hebrew-speaking, culturally Israeli home group in this area where Yaron can connect!
A spiritually hungry man we met on the street: When we were doing street outreach, we met David. Not only was he open to talking to us, but he was happy to take a New Testament. He has been delving into the New Testament and meeting with us a couple times a month for discipleship.
A man overheard a conversation about Yeshua at work and was intrigued: About eight months ago, one of our congregation members was sharing the gospel with someone in a store, and Pinchas, who worked in the store, came up to him and asked him, “Are you talking about Yeshua? For years I have felt drawn to him!” The man from our congregation connected Pinchas to Kosta from our team who is devoting his time solely to discipling new believers. Pinchas, a Jewish immigrant from South America, has been studying the New Testament with Kosta every week, joining weekly meetings, and is growing in his faith. The Lord is touching him and setting him free from his old lifestyle of sin in powerful ways.
A Religious man finds answers in Yeshua: Eitan grew up in a religious family and went to a religious school. From a young age he asked questions about traditions and faith but was never satisfied we the answers he was given. He began searching outside the traditional Jewish religious world he grew up in, and he came across outreach videos online. Eitan began reading the New Testament online and fell in love with Yeshua, and even committed his life to Him before reaching out to us online. Eitan is deeply committed in his faith and is preparing for water immersion next week.
A Yeshiva student wants to learn about Yeshua seeks someone to study the New Testament with: just last week, a woman at Tiferet Yeshua who has a Facebook outreach profile received a call from an unknown number. Yossi, a young man from Jerusalem, wanted to join Tiferet Yeshua’s prayer and worship meeting. It turns out he is from Jerusalem and studies at a Yeshiva. Devorah, the woman who received the call, was unprepared for the call, but the Holy Spirit led the conversation, and this young man who has been reading the New Testament online prayed with her to invite Yeshua into his heart. He told her that he would be in touch with her in the morning to study the New Testament together, and he called the next day! Please pray for Yossi and for Devorah whom the Lord is using to disciple him!
A man sees a New Testament at his friend’s house: When Tomer sees a New Testament on the coffee table at his friend’s house, he asks her, “Are you a Messianic Jew? I’ve been reading the New Testament and I’m interested in learning more with someone.” Tomer’s friend connected him with Kosta at Tiferet Yeshua. This week, Tomer met with Kosta in person, and he gave his heart to the Lord. Please keep him in prayer as he commits himself to discipleship and growing in his faith.
Without healthy, local congregations, there would be no place for these seekers to connect, to be discipled and to grow in their faith. Please consider partnering with what the Lord is doing here in Israel by supporting Tiferet Yeshua.
Shavuot – Harvest, Heavenly Fire and the Great Commission
This year on the evening of May 16th begins the biblical holiday of Weeks (Shavuot in Hebrew). Shavuot is a little known but important biblical holiday which is filled with significance for all believers! By looking at the different aspects and traditions from this holiday, we get a clearer picture of God’s wonderful redemptive plan for Israel and for all the nations.
Weeks is the festival that marks the start of the wheat harvest in Israel:
“And you shall observe the Feast of Weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest…” -Exodus 34:22
God commanded Israel to observe this holy day by going up to Jerusalem to bring a sheaf from their wheat harvest to the Temple:
“When you come into the land which I give to you, and reap its harvest, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest.” -Leviticus 23:10
All biblical holidays have a literal and agricultural meaning for the ancient Israelites, and they also have a future symbolic\prophetic meaning. In John 4 Yeshua says to His disciples, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” The harvest He spoke about was the harvest of people into the kingdom of God.
Weeks is also known as the holiday that the ancient Israelites would offer the first fruits in temple before the Lord as described in Deuteronomy 26. This aspect of the holiday reminds us to always give back to God the first fruits of the abundance He has given us as a sign of thanksgiving and worship.
Today Israel’s modern agricultural communities (kibbutz) make great celebrations during the festival of Weeks with dancing, singing and special ceremonies to present the first fruits of their crops, including the babies who were born in the year before.
Giving of the Law – Mount Sinai
According to rabbinic sages, Moses received the law on Mount Sinai on the festival of Weeks which falls on the 6th of the Hebrew month Sivan. While the Bible makes no mention of the specific day on which the Ten Commandments were given to Moses, it does state that it happened in the month of Sivan.
In Hebrews 12, the Apostle Paul describes Mount Sinai burning with fire when Moses received the law, a sight which terrified the great mixed multitude gathered there and even Moses himself. Paul then points to another mountain and a new covenant, to another divine moment that is filled with joy for all nations (Hebrew 12:22-24)
Giving of the Holy Spirit – Mount Zion
According to Acts 2, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the first believers in Yeshua when they were gathered on Mount Zion in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of Weeks:
“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.” -Acts 2:2-3
Immediately after receiving the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Peter began proclaiming the gospel to the many Jews who were gathered for the feast of Weeks in the Temple, and a great many believed—becoming the “first fruits” of the harvest that Yeshua had declared was ripe and plentiful (John 4:32). The festival of Weeks jump-started the great commission!
Shavuot Heart Focus Today
Each year we celebrate this holiday as believers in Yeshua with thankfulness in our hearts for the gift of God’s provision and for the gift of His Holy Spirit. We also celebrate this holiday with longing for and prayers focused on the end-time out outpouring of the Holy Spirit which will lead to the completion of harvest.
by Tamar Afriat
by Tamar Afriat
Several weeks ago, Israel honored Holocaust Memorial Day, a solemn day of radio and television broadcasts devoted to holocaust survivor stories, difficult and chilling documentaries, and deeply touching memorials to the survivors. It is a national day of mourning. Israel was born out of the ashes of the holocaust: even if your parents or grandparents are not holocaust survivors, you know someone who is the child or grandchild of survivors. At this point you may be wondering, “What does the holocaust have to do with Israel’s green passport system?” The answer is: absolutely nothing. But that is precisely the issue: recently some believers abroad and even a few here in Israel have begun comparing the Israeli government’s vaccination campaign to Nazi medical experimentation and the green passport system to the Nazi use of the yellow star.
When I first became aware of this fact, I was shocked. Israel-supporting Christians were comparing Israel’s government to the Nazis because of its vaccination campaign? Criticizing Israel’s government is fair— we Israelis have plenty of criticism of the government and the way it has handled this pandemic. Expressing concern about the covid-19 vaccine and criticizing the way the government is dealing with the pandemic is one thing. Comparing Israel’s attempt to deal with the pandemic (an unprecedented health and economic crisis) to the tactics of the fascist, racist National Socialists who instituted one of the world’s most brutal and murderous totalitarian regimes ever and perpetrated genocide and torture on an unprecedented scale against Jews and other undesirables…is way beyond the pale. It is wrong and dangerous.
Using the Holocaust-Hyperbole as a Political Weapon in the US
When I started researching the covid-19\holocaust comparisons, I quickly discovered that they were already surfacing last summer: like when a Kansas newspaper published a cartoon comparing its state’s mask-mandate to the yellow star. In reaction to that cartoon, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted: “To compare COVID-19 rules to the slaughter of millions in the Holocaust is disgusting, wrong and has no place in our society.” But that was just the beginning.
A March 29th Fox News article quotes Republican congressman Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina stating that proposals for vaccine passports in the US “smack of 1940’s Nazi Germany.” On the same day, the Libertarian Party of Kentucky tweeted: “Are the vaccine passports going to be yellow, shaped like a star, and sewn on our clothes?” That tweet caused a wave of condemnation, including from the spokesman of the Kentucky Republican Party who publicly responded by saying that their state’s party members “will always condemn this kind of hateful and extreme rhetoric.”
However, the trend of March 29th continued unabated, with the former US ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell tweeting a meme comparing vaccine passport with Nazism. Ironically, in 2019 Grenell, who is a member of the US Holocaust Memorial Council, tweeted: “Never compare the Holocaust to anything. Ever.” Back then he raised that standard as a response to liberal Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who was then labeling immigrant detention camps on the Mexican border “concentration camps” and using the phrase never again—which is the byword of holocaust remembrance—in connection to the border situation.
Christians Focus the Holocaust Rhetoric on Israel
For some months, the vaccine passport-holocaust canard circulated in social media, making itself acceptable speech in the anti-vaccine camp. It was particularly upsetting, however, when Christian leaders began using this speech specifically to describe Israel’s vaccine campaign. Prominent Christian leaders called the Israeli vaccine campaign “a war crime” and compared it to the barbarous medical experiments performed by Nazi doctors on Jews and other “undesirables” without their consent, without anesthesia, in de-humanizing conditions. What the Nazis did can only be labeled torture.
These leaders also likened Israel’s green passport to the yellow star which the Nazis made Jews wear as they began systematically removing them from all spheres in society in preparation to annihilate them. Note: their reason behind making Jews wear the yellow star was to systematically remove them from society and annihilate them because they hated them and viewed them as racially inferior. To label Israel’s vaccine campaign a gross human rights violation on par with Nazi medical experimentation and to call the green passport system the yellow star and a slippery-slope to totalitarianism, is simply insane—but what is mind-boggling is that there are many people, many believers, who do not bat an eye at this comparison.
A Quick Reality Check
In case we have forgotten, there is a global pandemic on, and every nation around the world (perhaps with the exception of Brazil which has largely adopted personal freedom over quarantine and vaccine, to unfortunately disastrous effect) is trying to get covid-19 vaccines to its citizens and re-open its economy. Therefore, Israel is not special or extraordinary in that regard. The Nazi regime, on the other hand, was advancing a campaign to conquer the world with its radical, racist cultural theory in a brutally violent war. They were not trying to stop a global pandemic – that is, to save lives and livelihoods.
It is interesting to note that in his address to the Conservative Political Action Conference in February of this year, former President Trump took personal credit for the swift production of the covid-19 vaccines in the US, saying: “I Pushed the FDA like they have never been pushed before…What the Trump administration has done with vaccines has in many respects perhaps saved large portions of the world. Not only our country, but large portions of the world.” I have yet to see anyone compare former President Trump to the Nazis for what he did concerning the covid vaccine. Sadly, some Christians and a few believers here focused on Israel for that instead.
A Lesson from the Holocaust
Viktor Klemperer, a Jew who survived Nazi Germany in the city of Dresden, risked his life by keeping meticulous diaries of daily life during the Rise of the Third Reich and throughout the war. He was also a linguistic professor and offered insights about the powerful role extremist language played in the Nazi’s take-over of German society. Klemperer observed: “Words can be like tiny doses of arsenic…they are swallowed unnoticed, appear to have no effect, and then after a little time the toxic reaction sets in.” Right now, many are using reckless language and exaggeration to express their opinions and alarm about government handling of the coronavirus without taking into consideration how powerful their words are: unwittingly they are sewing fear and confusion. A natural reaction in the human heart to fear and confusion is anger and hate. Antisemitism has seen a dramatic rise during the last four years, particularly during the pandemic, even among Christians. The Nazi comparisons used by some Christian leaders recently to criticize the Israeli government is deeply troubling and should be a red flag to us all.
A note on the use of the Nazi epithet in Israel
In Israel, the ultra-orthodox community makes regular use of the “Nazi” epithet or put on the yellow star in protest when they feel persecuted or oppressed by the secular government. Whenever the Israeli police has to engage with ultra-orthodox communities, they are called “Nazis”. Most Israelis shrug their shoulders at this because the ultra-orthodox communities are viewed as “fringe” or extreme to begin with.
This year, Israeli anti-vaccination protests began using the holocaust comparison, with protestors donning yellow stars. In response, Israel’s Yad V’Shem issued a warning against “the demagogic abuse of Holocaust imagery and language which distorts the past as well as the current reality for political purposes.” Further they added, “Exploiting these terms from the Holocaust, in order to incite and inflame hatred, desecrates the memory of the Holocaust.”
by Moti Cohen
Sometimes our work serving the homeless in south Tel Aviv can be intense and emotionally challenging, but one thing I have learned: God always gives us grace to continue in the calling He has given us by showing us that we are doing is making a difference. I would like to share a couple encounters we had over last few months which were a great encouragement to me and to the teams of volunteers who serve with me.
A Surprise Encounter at the Super Market
Each month we prepare 1,400 hot, home-cooked meals to serve the homeless, so, needless to say, I spend a lot of time in the supermarket. The past several months I noticed that a young Arab man who worked at the meat counter would go out of his way to give me wonderful service. He always smiled at me, almost like he knew me, and made sure I was getting what I needed, even if he wasn’t serving me directly.
One very rainy day in Tel Aviv, I was doing the shopping during a downpour and I practically had the place to myself. When I got to the meat counter, the polite young man was there to greet me with a smile. “You don’t recognize me, do you?” he asked me. I told him that I didn’t. “I’m not surprised that you don’t recognize,” he replied. “The last time you saw me a year ago, it was in a rainstorm like this, and I was lying like a dog in the street. You and your people brought me hot tea, soup, warm clothes and a sleeping bag.”
I was shocked. The young man standing before me was tall, handsome and looked healthy. I remembered that night, and back then he was a shadow of the man standing before me. “I will never forget what you all did for me,” he said. “The love and kindness you showed me stirred something up in me, and that night I vowed to get off the street.” He explained to me how has a daughter and that he promised himself to get off the street for her.
Each time I go into that store, I ask him how he is doing: he is grateful for his job which keeps him busy during the week. He said that the weekends are difficult because he is alone, and every few months he cracks and goes down to south Tel Aviv for a hit. I asked him, “Do you remember what we talked to you about that night last year?” I reminded him that we shared with him about the love of God. This young man is from a Muslim background, and God is giving grace on how to share Messiah with him. Please keep him in your prayers!
A Seed that Bears Fruit Comes back to Visit
This past year we have begun partnering with a discipleship program run by Yuval and Valerie Yanai called Your Kingdom Come: each week during their studies, the students of the program join me in preparing food and serving it on the streets in Tel Aviv. One evening after our outreach on the streets, we still had food left over and decided to distribute it at a nearby park where many drug addicts and migrants congregate.
There in the park, a certain young man caught Valerie’s eye, and she tried speaking to him. When she realized that he only spoke Russian, she asked one of the youth serving with them who knew Russian to translate for her. Valerie felt burdened for this young man and he seemed open and receptive: she shared with him about God’s love, that He has a plan for his life, and that God’s grace will give him strength to get off the street. Finally, they gave him the contact information of a drug rehabilitation for Russian-speakers in Jerusalem run by believers.
Fast forward two months: Valery is at their discipleship training center near Jerusalem when she notices a young man fixing a light and recognizes him: it is the is the same young man she witnessed to in the park! It turns out that he contacted the rehab center that very night and has been there ever since. How did he end up at Yuval and Valerie’s discipleship center, you ask? The leaders of the rehab center decided to bring some of the young men in their program over to help with some building maintenance at the discipleship center and to join their program for the afternoon.
That afternoon, Valery got to see the young man she had witnessed to in the park two months earlier leading worship for the students in the program: it turns out that he is a gifted musician and has found what is intended for—worshipping God. Praise God for his goodness and faithfulness to save the lost and to bless us so deeply by giving us glimpses of the fruit that comes from seeds of the gospel we sew!
Thanks to your generous support, we are able to continue reaching the homeless in Tel Aviv!
by Tamar Afriat
We are year in this covid pandemic (which has felt more like ten years!) and I believe it is important for us to stop for a moment and take a step back. When I look around in the secular society and even among believers, I see much fear and confusion. But when I look at God and focus on what He is doing, I am filled with gratitude and excitement. I will go so far as to say covid has been a blessing, and most of us don’t know it.
A year ago, Gil wrote these words:
“Why would God use a plague to judge the earth? …Trial and tribulation are a tool that God sometimes uses to wake people up, to cause them to seek Him. Looking at the present sufferings in that light, this pandemic can be seen as an expression of God’s grace and love in that He is shaking the very things that may be hindering many from seeking Him. God is more concerned about our eternal destiny with Him rather than keeping us comfortable in our temporary lives here on earth.”
The Covid Harvest at Tiferet Yeshua
While we have experienced many trials and difficulties the past three months here at Tiferet Yeshua, at the same time we have had an unprecedented number of young Israeli seekers, some from religious backgrounds, contacting us and joining us each week in our services. Gil had the opportunity to partner with an outreach ministry here in Israel to teach a seminar on Yeshua’s parables. From that seminar, two young people have been joining our services regularly.
It is such an amazing blessing that God gave us the budget to hire Kosta last year to focus on discipleship: Kosta is busy meeting weekly with new believers for discipleship and communicating with new seekers who are asking for New Testaments and information about Yeshua.
Kosta shared this testimony about a young man he is discipling through zoom:
While I was praying for E., I felt like I couldn’t continue, like something was blocking me. God put on my heart that E. has an issue with forgiveness. So, I stopped and asked him if there was someone in his life he was not able to forgive. He told me that there was a difficult situation with someone at work, and he had told himself that he would never forgive this person. So, I prayed for E., that God would touch his heart to help him with forgiveness. The next week when we met, he told me, “I can’t believe it! When I went back to work after you prayed for me last week, I saw that guy, and I was actually happy to see him! I can’t understand it. It’s like my heart has totally changed toward him.”
Another young man, B., who reached out to us through our Facebook page, came to faith all on his own through seeking information online about Yeshua. He began reading the New Testament on his own and asked Kosta if there needed to be witnesses for baptism. The reason: he already made the step of to commit his life to the Lord and baptized himself in the Mediterranean.
God is Doing a Quick Work
We have shared about H., a man from a religious background who came to faith at Tiferet Yeshua this last year. H. committed his life to the Lord over the summer and immediately started joining Moti at our weekly Feed Tel Aviv outreach to the homeless. This week I saw H. at the congregation: he was there for a meeting with Gil and Kosta, and he had a young man with him. It turns out that H. witnessed to this young man during Feed Tel Aviv outreach. Apparently this young man has a very difficult life story. During their meeting, H. told him: “I want you to know, whether or not you choose to follow Yeshua, I will be here for you. I will help you in any way that I can.” A nine-month old believer witnessing to others and leading them to the Lord – how many of us could take a lesson from this “babe” in Messiah?
I am convinced that God is using the Covid crisis to cause people all over the world to seek Him while He yet may be found. The question is: are there workers for the harvest? Yeshua’s words come to us now, almost with urgency:
Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
We are praying that that the Bride of Yeshua would look to her Bridegroom who wants to share with her what He is doing because He wants her to partner with Him. Our prayer is that God would send workers to His harvest in every nation of the world.
We want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who support us! Your generous giving is allowing us to have workers who can devote their time to this harvest.
by Gil Afriat
In the first nine months of the covid-19 pandemic, it seemed like our congregation was being protected from the covid-19 virus. Yes, it was challenging for all of us being in long-term quarantines, not being able to meet in person, and trying to care for those who had suffered either financial or emotional difficulties. However, we were all so thankful that only two people from our congregation contracted the disease and both recovered quickly and without major symptoms.
Hope and Fear
Starting late December, just as Israel was beginning to vaccinate its citizens, more serious cases of the virus started to arise in our congregation. The Israeli government’s massive vaccination campaign caused responses on opposite ends of the spectrum in the community of believers and in society at large – hope and fear. Some felt hope that the vaccination was grace from God to allow us to start making our way out of this pandemic. Others, however, were gripped with fear—some legitimate concerns about the vaccine were engulfed by a tidal wave of conspiracies about the vaccination. To this day, fear continues to cloud the decision-making of many believers, causing much confusion.
Covid Hits Tiferet Yeshua
Then on February 2nd, we heard from a dear family in our congregation that the whole family was sick with covid, and the father, Orel, had been admitted to the hospital with breathing difficulties.
Orel and Monica Obreja are parents of nine children, making the seriousness of Orel’s condition feel more dire. They are also a well-known and beloved family in Tiferet Yeshua: we are a small congregation that feels very much like a large spiritual family. While Orel was in the hospital, Monica was so weak that she could not even stand on her feet. When she finally started improving a week later, two of her teenage sons were admitted to the hospital with breathing difficulties. That same week, Olga, one of our team members, and her whole family contracted the virus. Then we got word that the doctors had decided to put Orel in an induced coma in order to intubate him, which meant that his condition was dire.
The Valley of the Shadow
The following week, Orel’s condition took a turn for the worse, and Monica called us in tears: the doctors had told her that he only had a few days to live. A week later, our sister and co-laborer in the ministry, Olga, was admitted to the hospital with breathing difficulties. Then we learned that the music leaders of our worship team, a husband and wife team, were also infected with the virus. It felt like illness was all around us and death was knocking on the doors.
We did all that we knew to do: we prayed non-stop. We asked our international friends and partners to pray as well. Without having to ask or organize anything, the congregation came together and provided food and groceries for Orel’s family. Olga’s family was provided for as well. We felt like all the challenges we faced up until this point through the last year were nothing in the light of this struggle.
Battling in Prayer
For two weeks, the whole congregation was praying, fasting, and trying to help care for the immediate needs of our families who were hit with covid. We were encouraged with updates from Monica that the doctors were amazed that Orel was still alive. Then by the week of February 21st, we had news that his condition had slightly improved. We knew it would be a long process of healing for Orel and that we would have to organize long-term support for the Obreja family, but we were also hopeful that soon we would celebrate Orel’s healing.
Purim’s Death Knell
As we approached Purim that week, we learned that our worship leader couple was now bedridden with covid and that another woman from our congregation was also very sick with covid. As a pastor of a small flock, the attack on the lives of our people felt raw and deeply personal. Purim, a holiday of joy, celebration and divine turn-arounds, was on Friday that week, the day of our services (which we still hold on zoom), and we were preparing to hear a message of faith and hope for that day. Two hours before our service was to begin, however, Monica called to tell me that Orel had passed away.
I felt broken and confused, and yet I had to find a way to lead the service, to share with everyone the devastating news and point them, somehow, in the direction of His comfort and healing—one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I should have known, though, that it had nothing to do with me—Holy Spirit arranged the service in such an intimate and special way. It was healing and encouraging to everyone, me included.
God is Sovereign
This season of trials has taught me much. The greatest lesson I have learned is that the more I grow in my faith, the closer I draw to God and the more I understand about Him, at the same time I am discovering how little I know about Him and His ways as well. All I need to know in these challenging times is that God is sovereign, and He causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him (Rom. 8:28) – even suffering and the untimely death of a loved one.
Beauty for Ashes
We barely see one step in front of us, but God sees the end from the beginning and where each event will ultimately lead us. Along the way, God’s Word prepares us for these moments: when we pass through the valley of the shadow of death, He is with us (Ps. 23). We are actually blessed when we mourn because He will comfort us (Matt. 5:4). We consider ourselves happy to endure in sufferings (James 5:11). We discover Him intimately close to us when we are the most broken and vulnerable. In that place, He promises us beauty for ashes, oil of joy instead of mourning (Isa. 61:3), that if we sow in tears, we will reap in joy (Ps. 126:5). We are holding onto all these promises that He will bring about a rich harvest in each one of us of being closer to Him, more dependent upon Him, and filled with a joy that not even death can steal.
During this last year of historic global shaking, we are pausing to reflect more during the biblical holidays because we understand this important reality: significant biblical events and holidays have an “in-time” component as well as a future, end-time prophetic component. The events described in the book of Esther and the holiday of Purim are no exception.
Purim is rich with lessons and morals to reflect upon, and this year’s Purim is imbued with added significance: exactly one year ago, Purim was the moment that the covid-19 pandemic blasted into Israel, sending the nation into a draconian lockdown. I have felt the somber significance of this date as the starting point for a very challenging year, and I have been asking God to speak to us about what He wants us to learn from this. I believe there is an important lesson here and, ultimately, a message of hope.
The 2020 Purim Effect – the holiday’s problematic side
Looking back over the past year, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Israel’s covid-19 crisis was jump-started by Purim celebrations which turned into mass infection events. At a recent press conference, Prime Minster Netanyahu went so far as to say:
“Last year Purim caused an outbreak that forced us to close the country.”
Since then, we have observed all our holidays in a subdued and even mournful way: each holiday the government ordered everyone to stay home to observe the holiday with only the nuclear family.
Ad lo yada – not knowing the difference between good and evil
Considering that Israel entered the new covid-19 reality on Purim, what could possibly be an “in time” lesson from this moment? It is important to point out the fact that Purim is the one biblical holiday that Jews, both orthodox and secular, observe in an unholy manner. Anyone who has been to a traditional Purim celebration will know that there is lots of food and alcohol, and things can get wild. In orthodox Judaism, the Purim principal of celebrating ad lo yada (until you don’t know), a statement from the Talmud, means you should get inebriated to the point that you don’t know the difference between evil Haman and righteous Mordechai.
In my younger days, I remember vodka shots served at the entrance of an orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem where we were going to hear a traditional reading of the Esther scroll. To be fair, every year rabbis try to reign in excessive Purim revelry and encourage temperance. However, with a green light from the Talmud, reckless abandon reigns even at many religious Purim parties. Purim is a high point for the party culture among secular Israelis who join the holiday revelry with raucous costume parties.
A Reflection Point
As I reflected on what God might want to tell us about the biblical timing of this pandemic with Purim, the principle of ad lo yada –being in a state of not knowing good from evil—struck me. Blindness to sin in the world should not surprise or shock us. What should disturb us is compromise with sin in our own lives. Personally (and for many others) this has been a terribly painful and confusing year, and, in reaction, my flesh has been crying out in frustration, depression, anger, confusion—just wanting to have the world back to the way it was. It has felt like a spiritual boot camp, and God has been showing me things about myself I was ignorant of or making allowances for.
As we approach the one-year Purim anniversary of when covid sent us into lockdown, I feel God in His grace lovingly reminding us to ask Him to search our hearts (Ps. 139:23-24). This year Purim’s dark side (ad lo yada) prompts us to ask ourselves challenging questions: in what ways have we been blind or made allowances for sin in ourselves? In what ways have we been in a spiritual stupor and lost sight of our basic calling to be light to a dark world? In what ways do we look just like the world? These are hard questions I have been asking myself. When it comes to questions like these, I always ask God to do the leading because He does it with love, grace and mercy. And we have the promise that He is faithful to complete the good work that He started in us. (Phil. 1:6)
2021 – Hope for a Purim Reversal (v’nahafoch hu)
One of the central themes of Purim for Jews is what we call in Hebrew v’nahafoch hu which literally means “it is turned upside down”. Purim is a story of dramatic reversals, of events being radically turned around and reordered in a moment by divine intervention, of death turned into life, of sorrow turned into joy. The book of Esther describes the Hebrew month of Adar, the last month in the biblical Hebrew calendar, this way:
…the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them,
and from mourning to a holiday.
The fast of Esther (Ta’anit Esther), which we observe the day before Purim, highlights the holiday’s opposites and reversals – from fasting and mourning one day, to extreme joy and celebration the next. While Purim 2020 marked the beginning of Israel’s entrance into the covid-19 nightmare, we have hope that Purim 2021 will be a v’nahafoch hu moment, turning the direction of events to come out of this pandemic with the lessons that God wants us to learn and with the fruit that He wants to produce in us. As we come to the end of the biblical calendar year, we have something to look forward to: a new year and Passover, the holiday of redemption, are waiting for us right around the corner with a promise of hope and a new beginning!
by Tamar Afriat