When Israel went into lockdown in mid-March, we started hearing about people in need who had lost jobs or income due to the crisis. As a congregation, we decided to reach out to help those in the community around us: we asked Tiferet Yeshua members to recommend people they knew who were in need, and each week we filled grocery bags for families with enough essentials to help get them through the week.
When we first started out in March, we were bringing groceries to around twelve families. Each week, we were hearing of more families in need so that in the end, we were providing weekly groceries to twenty-three families. Most of the recipients were non-believers, and all of them expressed sincere gratitude that a community of Messianic Jews wanted to bless them. Tiferet Yeshua Elder Moti Cohen who helped organize the grocery delivery shared that a Muslim woman who received groceries asked him what organization was supporting this outreach; when he explained to her that it was a congregation of Jewish believers in Yeshua that just wanted to bless her, her eyes filled with tears.
Miriam, a woman in our congregation who works with the Israeli pro-life organization, B’ad Chaim, recommended several single mothers for our grocery outreach. These were women whom Miriam had counseled through their decision to keep their babies and supported through their pregnancies. Because the corona lockdown closed all childcare facilities for over two months, forcing parents to stay at home to care for their children, these young mothers had fallen on hard times. Every week during the lockdown we brought them groceries and diapers. It was so special for Miriam to be able to be a part of supporting these single mothers, to see the babies whose lives she had a part in bringing into the world. For us it was an honor to be able to encourage and bless these single mothers who had chosen life for their children.
When we first started our outreach, we posted pictures of the teams of volunteers shopping and preparing the grocery bags on Tiferet Yeshua’s Hebrew Facebook page in order to share with our members that the congregation was still active despite the lockdown. A non-believer and single mother of a child with special needs saw our post on Facebook and sent us a message asking if she could be included in our grocery outreach because she also had to be quarantined at home caring for her child. Praise God we could help her!
Overall, we provided groceries for the two and a half months that Israel was in quarantine lockdown. It was a difficult and trying period for everyone. But, it was such a blessing for us to be able to help and support those in need around us during that time, to bring the groceries to their homes personally and to see how it touched and encouraged them.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
We would not be able to maintain our giving fund without the help from our friends around the world! Your support allows us to respond to immediate needs as they arise, like those that came to our attention during the corona crisis, and to be a blessing to the people of Israel. Thank you!
(Tzipi is a mature woman of God and has been an integral part of Tiferet Yeshua congregation for years. She shared this powerful testimony with us while we were still in quarantine, and it was a great encouragement to us. We pray it encourages you too.)
Dina (not her real name) and I have been friends over 15 years. We worked closely together in a kindergarten for a long time. When we first became friends, I never talked to her about my faith. At first it was because of the school setting where we worked. Being around the children and their parents made it difficult to have an open discussion about faith (in Israel it is illegal to knowingly “expose” anyone under the age of eighteen to the gospel). When you are building a relationship with someone, and you don’t share about your faith at the outset, it becomes harder to do it as time goes on. Fear creeps in. The fear of losing the friendship.
I told myself that I was waiting for the right moment to have the conversation with her, but the right moment never seemed to come. I wanted so much to share my faith with her, but fear was holding me back. Over the years, as our relationship grew, Dina and I became like sisters. We had family gatherings together. We celebrated holidays together. She became like family, which made the fact that I had never shared my faith with her so unbelievable: I knew my dear friend could not really know me because she did not know about Yeshua (Jesus), the most important part of my life. Beyond that, how could I not share the most precious gift I know of with my friend?
Cancer: a wake-up call!
About three years ago Dina got sick with cancer, which made the pressure to witness to her greater than ever. But I just wasn’t able to do it. During that time, my daughter kept telling me, “How will you be able to look yourself in the mirror if something happens to her? You have to share Yeshua with her. It’s wrong not to tell her, she’s your friend!” I knew she was right.
“Soon. I’ll do it soon,” I would tell her. But I never did.
Corona Changed Everything
A couple weeks into Israel’s quarantine lockdown, Dina called to tell me that she was having a hard time financially because of the situation. I had been volunteering at Tiferet Yeshua to help out with the grocery outreach for the needy that we organized every week during the corona lockdown. I told her that I was volunteering with a project that provided groceries to people in need during corona and that I would be happy to include her in the outreach.
That day when I was bringing the groceries to her house, I felt God saying, “This is it. This is the moment that you are going to witness to her.” The whole way there I was praying, asking Him to give me the words. It wasn’t going to be easy…I had been putting this off for fifteen years!
When I got to her house, I gave her the groceries and told her, “I know that all these years you have questions for me about what I believe.” She waved me off saying, “Yes, yes, I know, you are into the Reform thing (Reform Judaism).” I had always talked openly about God, about going to conferences, but I had never specifically mentioned Yeshua.
I told her, “No, it’s not that. Bring me the Bible (Hebrew scriptures)”. When I witness to people, I prefer that they bring their own bibles so that they don’t think I’m reading something to them out of a different Bible because everyone is always so surprised when they read the prophetic messianic scriptures for the first time.
Dina brought me her Bible and handed it to me. I don’t know how I did it—it was like strength from above was filling me. I started at the beginning, in Genesis. I showed her how it is written that God created man using the plural pronoun, saying, “…let us make man in our image and in our likeness”. Then I went to the story of Abraham and the three “angels”, one of whom is described as the LORD (YHVH). I wanted to show her that God reveals Himself to man in the Hebrew scriptures as a physical person.
Finally, I got to Yeshua. When I said His name, Dina just looked at me. After a moment she said, “Tzipi, I want to tell you something. When I was little, someone put a flier in our mailbox that offered these books. The information in the flier fascinated me, and I wanted to find out more about it. Without telling anyone, I returned the flier in the mail to get the books. The books came in the mail, without anyone noticing. I hid them in my room and started secretly reading them. One day my father caught me. What a beating he gave me over those books! He yelled at me, ‘Do you know what this is? It’s Christianity!'”
A Family Secret
Dina then told me something she had kept to herself for years. Dina’s mother had been sent into hiding in a Christian convent during the Second World War because her parents were afraid that the Nazis would take control of Algeria where they were living. All her life, Dina remembered her mother crossing herself. When she would do it, Dina would ask her, “Mom, what are you doing? We are Jews!” One day, Dina’s mother told her, “You don’t know this, but there are Christians who you think are Christians, but they’re actually Jews.”
I looked at Dina in shock and said, “Your mother knew about Messianic Jews!”
That day, we sat together for over four hours, going through the Word together and talking. I had no idea how the time was flying! In the end I told her, “I don’t want you to take my word for it. Search it out for yourself. It’s all here in our Bible.”
On my way home, I called my Mom to tell her. My Mom is a believer, and she was so happy to hear that I had finally witnessed to my dear friend. She and I both prayed for Dina there on the phone, that she would continue reading the Word and that Yeshua would reveal Himself to her.
That evening Dina called me: it was like our four-hour conversation from earlier that day hadn’t been enough. I told her, “Maybe it’s not the best idea for you to talk to your family about this right now. Search it out for yourself first before you share it with your family. They might get worried and start driving you crazy about it.”
“That’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about!” Dina said. “I already told my brother. He’s intrigued and wants to find out more too.”
Since then, Dina and I talk every day. She is so hungry for God! It’s a miracle.
I told her that I never talked to her about my faith because I was afraid of losing her as a friend. Her answer to me was, “It’s a shame you didn’t tell me sooner.”
***Thanks to your support, we are able to continue special projects like our corona grocery bag outreach which became an open door for Tzipi to share the gospel with her friend***
We’d like you to get to know a very special person. Halel is one of the most amazing people we know, and we are incredibly blessed to have her leading Tiferet Yeshua’s youth group. She is on fire for the Lord, has boundless energy, a huge heart, and is devoted to helping those in need.
At the beginning of the corona crisis here in Israel, Halel got a call from a young man, saying that there were many families of African migrants in south Tel Aviv who had lost their jobs due to the crisis – they had no food, no diapers for their children. Halel asked how on earth he got her number: it turns out this young man got to know believers at a conference here in Israel, and when he contacted them about getting immediate help for his community, they gave them Halel’s number.
“Hello, my name is Halel Goldman and I am twenty-two. At age sixteen when I started becoming more serious about relationship with God, I would go with two of my sisters to the only youth group we knew about in Tel Aviv (my family had started going to congregation Tiferet Yeshua in Tel Aviv).
To get to these youth meetings we had a long way to go from where we lived at the time in Caesarea (a town in north-central Israel): we had to take a train, buses and then walk for about a mile from the central bus station in south Tel Aviv which is one of the worst areas not just in Tel Aviv, but in all Israel. Walking to youth group each week I ended up seeing many lost, suffering people. The poverty and suffering I saw deeply affected me, and I started to pray about what I could do to help. Sometimes I would bring food with me to give people I saw along the way. I would sit and talk with people and pray for them. God gave me a burden for the people I saw there, and over time it would continue to grow.
Over the years, I began finding different ways to reach out to the people of south Tel Aviv. When I was serving in the army, I decided to start a project that would allow youth from different congregations along with youth who weren’t believers to volunteer with me to go out and serve the homeless in south Tel Aviv. Youth groups from various congregations joined us to learn how to become involved in outreach in a way that would forever change the way they view the needs of those around them.
Last year my dad left his job in the tourism industry to take over leadership of a ministry here in Israel called “Hands of Mercy”. As a humanitarian outreach organization, we realized that it made sense for me to join him in their ministry by adding my project to reach people in desperate situations on the street. We also run a ministry house in Jerusalem that provides a place for disenfranchised youth who have left the ultra-orthodox background who need a warm meal and home atmosphere (this ministry home was continually attacked and vandalized by extreme ultra-orthodox groups at the beginning of this year).
I continue to go out on the streets two to three times a week. I still see very difficult things, and over time I have gotten to know and develop a relationship with most of the people on the streets in south Tel Aviv: those same alleyways filled with drugs that shocked me when I was sixteen now almost feel like home. My heart goes out to each and every person there. Today when the see us coming with our cart of food, hot drinks (in the winter months), and clothes, they all run up to us, sometimes just for food, sometimes to receive prayer.
Our vision is to help people get off the streets, and we have succeeded in getting scores of people into rehabilitation programs here in Israel. There is still a great need out there on the streets: one need in particular that has become apparent to me is that there is no Hebrew-speaking rehabilitation center for women run by believers here in Israel. It has been my hope and prayer that we will one day be able to open a rehabilitation center for Hebrew-speaking women from the street. Amazingly, through the crisis of the corona virus, God has opened the door for us to useour ministry house as a place for women in crisis, which is an amazing answer to prayer!
With God’s grace, we have been able to continue to provide food and support to many people in several cities in Israel while time training volunteers, believers and non-believers, to serve in love and patience. We also want our volunteers who go out on the street have first aid certification: so many people on the street needlessly suffer injuries from simple cuts and scrapes that become infected, so it is a great help when volunteers are professionally trained to know how to safely disinfect and dress simple wounds.
We would be so grateful for your prayers right now as we are still experiencing persecution and financial difficulties. We would be happy to have you join us sometime on one of our trips out to streets to see what God does when you follow Him to serve the poor and needy. Blessings from Israel!”
Because of your support, we are able to respond quickly to needs on the ground here in Israel, like supporting Halel’s project to help the Nigerian families in need in south Tel Aviv. Thank you for standing with us!
by Olga Gez
Here in Israel we went into coronavirus home quarantine the week after the holiday of Purim on March 18th. Now, the week after Passover, we are still in quarantine, although our government is slowly trying to ease restrictions. The same storm is hitting people all over the world, but, as a certain Facebook post I recently read pointed out, everyone is in a different boat: this crisis is hitting everyone financially, emotionally, and spiritually in different ways.
For me personally, it has been a challenging time, and the week of Passover was especially difficult. My husband and I usually host a large Passover meal for our extended family (I love to cook, especially the Tunisian and Moroccan dishes I grew up with). This year, however, because of the quarantine restrictions, I decided to cook Passover meals to bring to my elderly in-laws who live nearby, for another family member in a difficult situation, and for another elderly lady from our congregation.
As Passover drew near, we were in our third week of total quarantine, and my family and I were starting to feel the effects. I suddenly found that I couldn’t sleep at night, and my exhaustion during the day made it all the more difficult to deal with the challenging situation, not to mention all the extra work I had taken on for the holiday.
As part of the team at Tiferet Yeshua, I have a calling to be there for others: one of my daily activities, even more so now, is to call our congregation members, pray with those who need encouraging, and coordinate with our team to help those who are in immediate need. I didn’t realize it at the time, but trying to be there for everyone, including my immediate and extended family, I was reaching a breaking point.
This last week I was sharing with a sister in the Lord about the difficult time I had been having during quarantine. At one point she said to me, “Olga, even though you’re exhausted, do you realize that you have been witnessing to people right and left?”
It hadn’t occurred to me as something out of the ordinary, but actually it was! I had told her how a family member who had always been antagonistic to the gospel was suddenly open to hear about Yeshua and was even willing to take home some literature to read about the Messiah in prophetic scripture. This family member has been completely broken through the corona crisis because his wife fell into clinical depression during the quarantine and had to be hospitalized. I also had an opportunity to share with one of my neighbors who spent time in a Yeshiva (a Jewish religious school) as a young man. Now, because of this crazy situation we all find ourselves in, he is suddenly seeking and open to hear about Yeshua.
A Prophetic Dream from 20 Years Ago
When we first went into quarantine, the Lord had put on my heart a powerful dream that He gave me almost twenty years ago when I was a brand new believer—a time when I was still immature in the faith and living in compromise in many ways. However, it is amazing to me that, despite our weakness and immaturity (think of Peter the disciple), the Lord will still give us deep and amazing revelations!
In the dream, I was dressed in the clothes of Moses, and I held his staff in my hand. I was walking the streets crying out to those around me, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand!” The sky overhead was dark and foreboding, and I saw an explosion far away to the north, like something happening somewhere else that I knew would come to Israel too. As I walked the streets, crying out to those around me, I could see that my words were going into the hearts of many, and God was touching them. There were others who did not receive my words, and I could see their hearts harden and turn away from God.
While I was sharing with my friend about my experiences during the corona quarantine, I realized that this dream the Lord gave me from so many years ago is for now! I may feel tired and broken at the moment, but God is still using me to witness to those around me who are open to the gospel like never before. And it’s not just me: during Tiferet Yeshua’s congregational Zoom meeting, Tiferet Yeshua elder David Trubeck shared how secular friends of his from the military who were never open to the gospel have suddenly started asking him questions about his faith. Elder Moti Cohen and others who witness to the poor and needy have been seeing unprecedented hunger and openness for the gospel. Other outreach ministries in Israel have been experiencing the same thing.
Pray for the Harvest
At the beginning of the quarantine, Pastor Gil shared with all of us that he felt that the Lord would use this crisis to turn the hearts of many unbelievers to seek Him, and that is exactly what is happening. Would you stand with us during this time to pray that the Lord would bring in the harvest here in Israel? There is such resistance to the gospel here—Israelis have so many hurdles to get over to be open to the gospel—and we need your prayers! God is moving, and our prayer is that what is happening here in Israel through the corona crisis will happen all around the world.
by Victoria Trubeck
There’s something that I would like to share with you that has been burning in me since the coronavirus outbreak began. In light of the extraordinary period that we are living in right now, when our day to day reality has been disrupted and we don’t know what to expect, many of us are asking, “Why is this happening? How and when is this all going to end?”
Looking for answers is a perfectly natural human thing to do. More than that, we are living in a generation that is used to having an abundance of information at its fingertips: a steady stream of news, information and updates are available to us on our smartphones at any given moment so that we can always know what’s happening right now. The one piece of information that is sorely missing from all our information options is: what is going to happen next? One of the greatest challenges that most of us are facing right now is uncertainty, the inability to plan and navigate our lives in the near future because we don’t know what will be the day after tomorrow or even three months from now.
Are We Turning Prophetic Words into Horoscopes?
One of the things that I’m discovering when I look at my Instagram or Facebook feeds is that people are frantic for answers and solutions: “This is going to be over by Passover!” I saw a video post that someone shared which calculated the gematria values of the Hebrew word “coronavirus” and the Hebrew phrase “after Passover” to prove that the coronavirus will be gone after Passover. As much as I found that post ridiculous and humorous, it clearly shows how desperately we want to be able to determine when this will end so that we can get back to our day to day lives. The fact of the matter is, we don’t know when we can get back to our lives. It’s also possible that we will never get back to the “business as usual” that we knew before corona. I can’t count the number of posts I have seen which cite this prophet or that word saying “It’s all going to be over by this and this time” or “It is all going to end this way…”
If clouds are full of water,
they pour rain on the earth.
Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where it falls, there it will lie.
Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.
As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
the Maker of all things.
Our ability to comprehend God’s plans and ways are limited. Always looking to external sources that may be as wily as the wind and clouds in order to figure out what to do will cause us to be inactive and unfruitful. If our focus is on the latest prophetic update or the latest word from this or that high profile preacher or speaker, we will most definitely miss the incredible opportunity that God is giving us right now: He wants to teach us something about the things we actually have control over in our lives—the condition of our hearts: what motivates us, what is the state of our thought-life, how are our relationships with others?
An Amazing Opportunity
More than anything, this crisis is offering us an incredible opportunity to bring our hearts before the Lord. And if we make that our focus during this time, we will be less drawn to trying to figure out the external issues at play in this pandemic and focus on that which will be fruitful and bring a harvest in our lives. In that place, I believe that God will give each one of us His deep understanding through time in prayer and meditation on His Word. He will renew and re-calibrate our understanding of the truly important things in our lives, like our relationships with our families and loved ones, how to let God transform us into better people through this, and how we can be there for others during this crisis who are in worse situations than our own.
by Gil Afriat
As Jews around the world prepare their hearts to recount the story of how God brought us out of Egypt, God is highlighting new significance in certain elements of the Passover story as we find ourselves in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis which is bringing nations around the world to their knees. In Hebrew we call this time “The Exodus from Egypt”, and I feel that God is bringing His bride, the international ecclesia, through a spiritual “Exodus from Egypt”.
Finding a Clue in the Hebrew Word for Egypt
In Hebrew, the word for Egypt is Meetzraim which literally means a very narrow place. To come out of Egypt, the Children of Israel had to pass through a narrow, difficult way. They were afforded salvation from the curse of death by putting the blood of the Passover lamb over the entrance of their homes. However, in order to come into the Promised Land, they had to go through numerous challenges and difficulties which would test their faith in the God who had just redeemed them from death and freed them from slavery.
Coming through the Narrow Place
I believe that right now during this time of Passover God is bringing the Body of Messiah through a very narrow place—a place of troubles, difficulties and hardships. In order to pass through this “narrow, difficult place”, God is removing from us the excess baggage which hinders and holds us back. In his unfailing love and grace, He is shaping us through these difficult times more into the image of His Son.
The Mixed Multitude in the Narrow Place
“Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. A mixed multitude went up with them also…” Exodus 12:37-38
Passover has deep literal and symbolic meanings for the past, present and future, and the “mixed multitude” coming out of Egypt clearly shows that God’s plan from the beginning was to have a special people from every tribe, tongue and nation (Exodus 19:5-6, I Peter 2:5, Revelation 1:6; 5:10). So, what happens when a large number of people have to go through a narrow place together? They naturally have to get closer to each other! In addition to the many things God is doing in our hearts if we allow Him during this time, He is also calling us to a deeper unity and connection with our brothers and sisters in the faith around us!
by Moti Cohen
In all the years that I have been serving on the streets, the situation of the homeless right now in Tel Aviv is the worst that I’ve ever seen. Homeless shelters have closed because of the coronavirus, making the number of those living on the streets right now five times higher than it was a month ago.
Because there are quarantine restrictions in Israel at the moment, meaning that no one can congregate in closed spaces, all the food distribution we’re doing is out on the street. There are actually restrictions against being out on the streets as well, but the Israeli police are allowing us to continue our outreach: they see it as helping keep the public order and peace because they understand that these helpless, starving people might start breaking into stores or houses in order to steal food.
We have been working in the area for years now and know all the places where the homeless and drug addicts hide out. We have found places where people hadn’t eaten all day (we head out to the streets in the evening around eight). It was hard for me to see people who ravenously devoured the food we brought and were asking for more a moment later. Remember that it is still the rainy season here in Israel, and it’s still very cold at night. It’s a difficult thing to see so many people sleeping on the filthy ground, in stairwells and bus stations. During this virus crisis, now is the time that we need people serving on the streets, to be there for people who have absolutely nothing.
It’s like Going to War
I prepare all the sandwiches at home ahead of time, wearing gloves, and wrap each one in cellophane. My children have already become experts at wrapping and packing hundreds of sandwiches: they are home because of the quarantine, so our sandwich making is an excellent activity to keep them busy! When I head out to the streets, it looks like I’m heading out to war with my face mask, googles, gloves, a hat and several layers of clothes which I spray regularly with disinfectant while I’m out. We have started doing the food distribution from the back of my car: we park, open up the hatchback and let the people come one at a time to help themselves to sandwiches, bottles of water and hot tea. We are careful to have all those who come to take sandwiches keep the two-meter distance from us and from each other as required by the government guidelines.
The Miracle in This Mess
There is a miracle in the mess of this situation: more and more homeless have been willing to go to the Messianic drug rehabilitation centers we recommend to them. This week alone at lease four people living on the street started a new chapter in their lives as they received Yeshua as their Messiah and started in rehabilitation programs. Additionally, so many people we know from seeing them every week on the streets are asking us to pray for them in Yeshua’s name when they see us, many more than any other time in the past. Of course, because of the restrictions due to the virus, we must pray for people from a distance, but despite that, we can clearly see that people are so much more open and hungry for the truth than ever before!
by Tamar Afriat
As the Covid-19 makes its way across the world, this little virus is bringing the economies, industries, and the day to day lives of many nations to their knees. In one fell swoop, our lives have been radically simplified. Suddenly we all have had to cancel plans, meetings, trips, business, studies. The noise of our daily lives has been shut off.
For many the correlation is clear: this virus is forcing everyone into what the Bible calls in Hebrew Shabbat Shabbatone or a Sabbath of rest—a day that is not actually the Sabbath, but is treated as a Sabbath of solemn rest. “Solemn rest” means that we seek Him as our rest and honor it by not going our own way, doing as we please or speaking idle words (Isaiah 58:13-14). It is a rest in which we find our joy in the Lord, not in binging the latest series on Netflix.
As believers, we understand the meaning of this: many of us, particularly those who work in ministry, the significance of our daily activities, even activity done of service of the Lord, has evaporated in the light of standing alone in the presence of the only One who matters. And perhaps our activity looks sorely empty if we realize that we have long neglected this first Love, that we have not sat at His feet for a long time.
God is clearly calling His bride to a time of separation unto Him, to spend time at His feet, to go deeper into His presence while all the noise and distractions of our lives have mercifully been turned off. In that place He wants to purify us, fan the flames of our love for Him and to prepare us to be the holy priesthood He intended us to be.
Repentance and Sanctification
We have experienced something incredible from our members at Tiferet Yeshua in response to this crisis: a spiritual awakening! While our weekly prayer meetings had ten to twelve participants, now we are holding prayer meetings online with over thirty people attending; everyone’s prayers are of repentance, crying out to God to prepare and mature His bride, for unity in the Body, sanctification, calling for the Lord to use this crisis to bring people to a saving knowledge of Yeshua the Messiah. May we all continue in this place in His grace all over the world as the Lord causes us all together as His Body to reach the full measure of the fullness of Messiah! (Ephesians 4:13)
by Moti Cohen
Last week in Israel the government released new updates on stricter regulations for gatherings and businesses every day because of the massive spread of the corona virus. At the beginning of the week, only ten people could gather in one place. By mid week, the Ministry of Health had ordered all non-essential personnel into home quarantine.
Because of the restrictions, we could not use the soup kitchen space in south Tel Aviv for our regular Thursday Feed Tel Aviv meals for the needy. So, we decided to improvise and, with the help of my children, we made 80 sandwiches, and I headed to the streets with a couple volunteers to set up tables in different areas where drug addicts, refugees, and those caught in the sex industry live. The police were in the area, and I made sure that it was okay with them (the police are enforcing the quarantine regulations) that I set up tables with sandwiches so that people could come and take them on their own while we maintained the required two meter distance.
I was shocked at the condition of the people on the streets: it’s the worst I have ever seen in all the years I’ve been serving on the streets. Because of the risks of having people together in close quarters, almost all the homeless shelters have decided to close their doors rather than risk having a corona outbreak on their hands. So, in a week that has been unseasonably cold and rainy here in Israel, countless homeless wound up on the streets. It was a heartbreaking sight to see people trying to cover up with wet blankets. Many came to the tables we set up and all the sandwiches were quickly gone. It was hard to keep our two meter distance because people wanted prayer, they wanted the love and warmth they’re used to getting from us. But we just can’t get physically close right now in order to keep to the guidelines (people who are caught breaking them will be fined $1,000 at a minimum, jail time in extreme cases).
In times of national crisis, the poorest of the poor are the ones hardest hit because all the resources and energies are being focused elsewhere and the people who regularly serve the poor find themselves in the position of worrying about their health and well-being. I will be going out a couple times each week, bringing 100 sandwiches each time. Since all my five children are home with us, I will enlist their help in making the sandwiches again!
This is a critical time for all of us, and we tend to worry about our own well-being and the well-being of our loved ones. However, I encourage everyone to take time to pray for and consider helping the poor and vulnerable in your area. While everyone’s worrying about whether they have enough toilet paper stocked, I guarantee you that there are homeless people who have lost their safety net and will be sleeping on the streets tonight. I would also like to ask you to consider supporting us with our Feed Tel Aviv outreach. Thank you and God bless you and keep you in this challenging time!
Why was I so happy to plant a tree in Israel with my son David?
In Israel, in the middle of the winter, we have a special holiday call Tu Bishvat. It’s called the New Year of the Trees or the Birthday of the Trees. It means literally the 15th of the Hebrew month Shevat, and it’s a holiday when school students are happy to get out of their classrooms for an afternoon in order to plant trees in coordinated efforts to increase forest land in Israel. This year the holiday falls on February 10th.
It’s simply amazing to me that little more than a hundred years ago this land was bare and barren. A quote from Mark Twain’s account of travelling the Holy Land in 1867, just a couple decades before the first waves of Jewish settlers began to arrive, describes what the Land then called Palestine looked like:
“…a desolate country whose soil is rich enough, bit is given over wholly to weeds—a silent mournful expanse…A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action… We never saw a human being on the whole route… There was hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those hast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.” ~Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad
Back then, it seemed nothing was able to grow here and, as Twain himself pointed out, it seemed that the land itself was cursed. Furthermore, the Turks who then controlled Palestine taxed land according to the number of trees it had on it, an incentive to remove trees from the land. When the first Jewish settlers began arriving to the Sharon area (north end of Tel Aviv today) the land was bogs and swamps.
Those who first came to start working the land (the first Zionist settlers were driven by an agricultural vision) had to first drain vast swampland, and many of them died of malaria and yellow fever. But the first Jewish pioneers who arrived with in what is called the First Aliah (the first immigration) refused to give up. They dried up the swamps though various methods, including planting huge Eucalyptus tree groves (the Arabs learned to call them Jewish Trees) which require large amounts of water to thrive.
Today, those vast areas of what were once swampland have become some of the most fertile and productive agricultural lands in Israel today, including the great Jezreel and Hulda valleys. Also, the areas that were once swampland were so disease-infested that there were hardly any animals that were able to live there. After the swamps were drained and the land rehabilitated from all the salts, animals—especially birds—began populating those areas, bringing with them the sound of birdsong—something that wasn’t heard in these areas for hundreds of years!
In the area of the Sharon today there is the forest of Petach Tikvah (Hebrew = A Door of Hope), a city which started as a little settlement which was nicknamed “The mother of settlements”. Because of the success of Petach Tikvah, many other settlements began springing up, which were also established on agriculture-especially citrus plantations of oranges, lemons and clementines.
The cursed land has become a blessed land! It’s amazing that, after hundreds of years of desolation, all the land where the Jewish pioneers arrived has turned into rich, productive land, agriculturally and industrially.
I still have strong memories from when I was a little boy in school and went to plant trees and plants on Tu Bishvat with my classmates. We felt that it was part of our responsibility to our precious homeland—we knew well how important and special it is for us to have our own homeland where we can be Jews without the fear of persecution—and to take care of and to invest in the land. So, when my oldest son was born, it was important for me to take him out on his fist Tu Bishvat to plant a tree together, which we did! David’s first tree was planted in an area that is planned to be another forest in hills of Jerusalem.
Just planting a tree that will be part of a forest in Israel: one of the ways that we can be active participants in this miracle called “The Establishment of the Jewish State”. It is a living memorial to God’s faithfulness to His promises and fulfillment of prophecy before our eyes:
“‘But you, mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home. I am concerned for you and will look on you with favor; you will be plowed and sown, and I will cause many people to live on you—yes, all of Israel. The towns will be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt. I will increase the number of people and animals living on you, and they will be fruitful and become numerous. I will settle people on you as in the past and will make you prosper more than before. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” ~Ezekiel 36:8-11
Happy Tu Bishvat!