Blessing Israel in word and action

Folks in the Messianic and Hebrew Roots Christian world really do love Israel.

Last week, some friends from my congregation approached me and asked for help in starting a non-profit organization, Bless Israel. The idea is, get lots of people together and raise money to bless the Jewish people and the land of Israel in tangible, material ways.

This week I filed with the federal and state governments the non-profit 501c3 organization, Bless Israel. Got an EIN, got a bank account, started work on a website. (Slightly surprised the name Bless Israel is not already taken, but hey, we’re honored.)

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This weekend, we pulled in Hebrew Roots teacher Brad Scott to bring some people together to the Bless Israel event. People came from all over Minnesota, packed our little congregation to standing room only.

We sang some songs of Zion:

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Myself and a few others singing “Am Yisrael Chai!”

We prayed for Israel.

We studied the Scriptures together.

We spoke of the miracle that is Israel. Recounted God’s hand in preserving the Jewish people until now.

We read Psalm 122, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, may all who love her prosper.”

Psalm 137, “If I forget Jerusalem, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth and my right hand lose its skill.”

Isaiah 49, “I, the Lord, have engraved Israel on the palms of My hands – she will never be forgotten.”

Jeremiah 31, “When will I forget Israel? Only when the sun goes out, and the moon and stars cease to be.”

Something very right about that, people who follow Jesus as Messiah praying for Israel and helping Jews in tangible ways.

After all this, the people – Messianic folks, Hebrew Roots folks, Christians – donated money (several hundred dollars last night alone!) to Bless Israel, 100% of which I will personally funnel to our first Israeli charity recipient: Shilo Israel Children’s Fund (SICF).

SICF is a wonderful Israeli charity. They help Jewish families who have been victims of Palestinian terrorism.

The head of that fund, David Rubin, former mayor of Shilo, Israel, visited our congregation a few weeks back, and we felt God pulling on us to help them.

More and more, people are turning against Israel; you see it here in the US particularly among the political left. Universities are increasingly anti-Israel and even boycotting Israeli products and businesses. Media outlets like CNN and the New York Times are increasingly turning against Israel and trying to find ways to validate opposition to Israel while veiling the underlying anti-Semitism, encouraging their vast American audiences to do the same.

Think of Bless Israel as a righteous countermeasure. Disciples of Jesus helping Jews in Israel. It ain’t no heavyweight CNN or NYT, but it’s something and it’s grassroots. And I am glad to be a part of it!

Thanks to all my Minnesota Messianic and Hebrew Roots friends who prayed, gave, and joined in agreement in blessing Israel. And thanks to my friends, Jerry and Gloria Whittlef, who lead the charge and started this Bless Israel event and invited me to help start this organization.

Something very right is happening among Messiah’s people in Minnesota. Smile

Raising Jerusalem

Behold, I have engraved Israel on the palms of My hands.

-Isaiah 49

When I was in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem the other month, there were people dancing right there in the streets, singing some joyful songs of Zion. Such a memorable time!

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One of the songs they were singing – a song I vaguely recognized, but could only mouth broken Hebrew to – was this beautiful piece:

Playing on the guitar tonight and sitting in front of my computer, I figured out the chords for that, and uploaded them to MessianicChords:

Chords and lyrics, Hebrew and English: Ben Snoof – Im Lo A’aleh et Yerushalayim

Beautiful little piece, taken from Psalm 137, where the Psalmist wrote,

"If I forget Jerusalem,
Let my right hand lose her skill
Let me tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
If don't raise Jerusalem (im lo a'aleh et Yerushalayim)
Above my highest joy (al rosh simchati)."

Now that’s something, fine Kineti readers.

Jerusalem above all other joys.

A high standard for us as Messiah’s disciples.

It’s not just the psalmist, either. It got me thinking about God’s words in Isaiah 49:

Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me!”
And, “God has forgotten me!”
But I say, can a woman forget her nursing child?
Or fail to have compassion upon it?
Yes, even she may forget
But I will not forget you, Israel!
Behold, I have engraved Israel on the palms of My hands
Her walls are always before

I liken this to a work that God did in the last century. The Jewish people had suffered nearly 2000 years of exile and humiliation. “The Lord has forsaken Jerusalem!”

But then, in the 1800s, God stirred men’s hearts towards a love for the deserted land of Israel. In the late 1800s, God turned men’s hearts towards a love for the nearly-abandoned language of Hebrew. By the turn of the century, some early pioneers were making the trek back to Israel.

I sometimes wonder, had kol Yisrael made the trek, perhaps the Holocaust could have been avoided. But even the Holocaust was used by God to soften the hearts of the nations towards the idea of Israel rebirth.

And surely enough, 3 years after the Holocaust, in 1948, Israel was reborn. “Israel is always before Me.”

And the Jewish people returned en masse to our historic homeland.

God didn’t forget Israel. Israel is engraved on the palms of the hands of God, and will not be forgotten.

My interaction with 3 Arab youth in Nazareth

Star of David at the entrance to Nazareth Illit
The top of the hill in Nazareth Illit, snapped during my recent stay in Israel

 

We had been chatting for almost an hour before the otherwise-friendly Arab youth asked,

"You know Hitler?"

I suspected where he was going with this, but, hoping I was mistaken, I responded,

"Of course...why do you ask?"

His answer was the sad but unsurprising,

"Because Hebrewi is Hitler."

 

That about sums up my interaction with 3 Arab Israeli youth on Mt. Precipice, Nazareth.

I had been out exploring Nazareth that evening. A real tale of two cities, Nazareth: there's old biblical Nazareth -- Jesus' hometown -- now an Arab town with garbage-lined, tightly-packed streets.

Then there’s Nazareth Illit, the Jewish town, clean and modern and situated on the hill overlooking old Nazareth.

I took my wife and kids to a restaurant in old Nazareth the week prior -- our first visit to the old biblical town. I don't know about you fine Kineti readers, but my mind's eye had a picture of Nazareth like this: a nice little town rich in biblical history, maybe some churches and otherwise unremarkable.

But the reality was kind of sad. There's a smell along some of the inner city streets due to the garbage. Seemingly poor, largely Arab, largely Muslim town. My wife mentioned she didn't feel particularly safe as we walked through that night. Left a bad taste in the mouth.

Telling about the ugly state of old Nazareth to my coworkers the next day, one of them mentioned he lived in Nazareth Illit (hi Grisha!) and that it was actually a nice place, nothing like what I was describing.

So I ventured back some days later to check out Nazareth Illit. And he was right: it’s clean, modern, commercial. Snapped a few photos from the hill, overlooking old Nazareth:

A picture of the entrance to Nazareth, taken from the hill in Nazareth Illit

After some exploring and a nice dinner, I headed back to my apartment in Caesarea.

As I’m in my car heading out of Nazareth, I see a sign:

Mt. Precipice

By now it was almost midnight, but hey, who knows when I’ll be back in Israel? (Exploring the beautiful land of Israel was my most enjoyable experience I had during the trip; more than visiting the famous sites, which sometimes feels a bit tourist-y.)

I turn right and head up the mountain.

At midnight, there are zero cars on the mountain; no people in sight. I figure I have the mountain to myself. Smile

I made it to the top. Parked my car on the side of the road, walked over to a lower ledge overlooking Nazareth and miles and miles of Israel.

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(I later learned this is traditionally the location recorded in the gospels where the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus’ messianic claims and tried to throw him off the above cliff.)

Real serene place. With nobody on the mountain, beautiful night sky above, I took it all in. Overlooking miles of holy land, no one in sight, I stood there thanked God aloud, lifted my hands thanking God for the privilege to be in the Land.

Some 30 minutes later, I hear something behind me. I turn around and see 3 silhouettes approaching the ledge where I’m standing.

“Shalom! Ma nishma?” I said.

Nothing.

“Hi there, how are you doing?”, I said, thinking maybe they’re tourists out late.

Still nothing.

It’s so dark I can’t see their faces until they’re about 10 feet from me. I see they’re older teens, and they’re speaking Arabic.

Right then in my mind, I had a moment of fight-or-flight. Smile The war was still going on in Israel, and it was sparked by the the kidnapping and murder of 3 Jews. I could easily be overpowered, kidnapped, and murdered by these 3 guys! So I thought to myself right then, “Ok, if they try anything, I’ll dart through those trees and wrap around to my car and high tail it out of here!”

Thankfully, I played it cool. Smile I see the 3 youth had brought a bottle of something, some Coca-Cola, cigarettes, and and a bag of some munchies. There were just there to have a good time.

One of them finally comes over with some broken English and asks,

“Want some?” pointing at the bottle. I declined – my mind still wondering if it was a trick to knock me out or something (yeah, paranoid, I know…)

Two of the Arab youth speak almost no English, besides a little profanity. Sh*t this, mother f**ing that.

But the oldest one comes over again and strikes up a conversation.

“Where you from?”, he asks.

“United States. You guys?”,

“We are from Nazareth.”

“Ah. I was exploring Nazareth tonight…”

“United States. Hebrewi hate you.”

Jews hate me?”, I ask.

“Hebrewi say they love American. They no love you. Hebrewi hate you.”

I laughed a little bit. I explain it’s simply not true. Israelis have shown me so much hospitality and kindness, heck, more than I receive in the US. But he persisted.

“You see this land?”, he asks as we overlook the Jezreel Valley.

“Man, it’s beautiful, isn’t it?”, I respond.

“This land is Philistina.”

“Haha. You mean all of Nazareth here belongs to Palestine?”, I clarify.

“No, no. All this land Philistina.”

I challenge him a bit, “You know, this is the homeland of Jewish people. What would you do with all the Jews who live here?”.

“They can live. But it is Philistina.”

I asked him about his life in Nazareth. Does he live a good life, is he happy.

“It is good life. But not for Hamas.”, as he brings it back to the conflict.

Pushing back, I respond, “Hamas is doing evil. They are killing any Israeli they can, even civilians.”

“Hamas no evil”, he adds, “you know Hamas only from CNN. You know CNN?”

“Sure.”

“CNN is Hebrewi.”, he says, lighting up another cigarette and pouring himself another cup.

CNN is controlled by the Jews, he says.

(For those outside the US, CNN is not particularly pro-Israel, in fact, I would argue it’s more BDS than Bibi.)

I’m shaking my head at this point.

And that’s when he throws in the Hitler into the mix. (Godwin’s law in the real world!)

“You know Hitler? Hebrewi is Hitler.”

“Ha! How can you say that, man? It’s not true.”

“I go to Nazareth Illit, they kill me.”, he says.

“Nope, I was just there tonight. I even saw some Arabs there, it’s no problem.”, I respond.

“Maybe they not kill you. But they kill me.”

We talked for a good hour altogether. It wasn’t all bad: he told me Da’ash (ISIS/ISIL army) is evil; at least we agreed about that. Perhaps trying to smooth things over a bit and try to find common ground with me, he told me, “I pray to Allah, to Jesus, and to Muhammed.” Disappointed smile

And he explained to me why all Shia Muslims are evil, and only Sunni Muslims (the variety found in Israel) are the good guys.

“Shia no real Muslim. Shia say Muhammed no big man. Shia say drinking OK. Shia say smoking OK…”, he continues.

I interrupt, “But wait, you’re drinking and smoking right now!”

The young man explains, “See…I no very good Muslim.”