International Jewish Communities
The war with Hamas in Gaza has now dragged on for a month! More than 3,300 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel, and it is believed that the IDF destroyed an additional 3,000. Today begins another cease-fire, brokered by Egypt. Israel has withdrawn most of its ground troops and for the moment there is a break in the rocket fire.
As one of our Chosen People Ministries staff members serving in Israel wrote this morning,
"Please pray that this time the truce holds. It is so discouraging to see a headline online about an agreement for a truce, and then to immediately afterward see the rolling scroll of up-to-the-minute news on Jerusalem Post of another missile attack. So far, every truce has been broken and who knows, by the time you get this note today - it may have already become a 'non-cease fire'"
Let's pray it holds!
In the midst of all of this terrible destruction, there is a group of innocent victims in Israel that I wanted to tell you about…people whom we have been serving and showing the love of Jesus throughout the year - and especially now during the conflict.
Holocaust Survivors in Israel
There has been a sizable immigration of Russian Jewish people to Israel over the last twenty years, and among this group were hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors. By God’s grace, we have been able to have a growing ministry among these precious and quite elderly Jewish people.
One of the Holocaust survivors we have had the privilege of helping this past year, both materially and spiritually, penned this heart-wrenching description of his suffering:
My mother, my older sister and I were sent to a labor camp, where my mother and sister worked in the kitchen. All the small kids were held in one place without knowing what would happen to us but hearing rumors that we might be sent to Auschwitz. We managed to survive because of my mother, who stole potato peels to feed me and some of the other kids from our city. Day by day, month by month, we suffered—sick and starving—until the end of the war.
More of his story in a moment!
There are still almost 200,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel today. This number increased significantly with the immigration of Jewish people to Israel at the fall of the Soviet Union.
However, according to what I heard during my most recent trip to Israel, this number is decreasing by about 30,000 people each year. This means that within ten years, there will no longer be any Holocaust survivors left in Israel.
We have a very short window of time to reach these who suffered so much! And unfortunately, these precious and very elderly Jewish people often blame their troubles on Eastern European Christians! This makes evangelism all the more difficult!
Our Ministry to Russian-Speaking Survivors
The efforts of our Israel staff among elderly Holocaust survivors are simply amazing! We minister to their physical needs through providing food each month to hundreds who are in need. We offer hot meals each week in a number of cities in Israel as well.
We also take these survivors on trips around Israel, as they often live alone and feel lonely!
But one of our most profound and creative ministries for these folks is taking them on trips to Eastern Europe—the very places they fled because of antisemitism. In Germany, Poland and this year, Denmark, we are able to bring the survivors to experience a different type of Christianity!
Teams of Christians in these various countries receive the elderly Israeli survivors and open their homes, campgrounds and hotels to care for these beautiful people for a week at a time. They provide much more than housing and food, though! These true followers of Jesus spend time with the survivors, getting to know them and enabling them to see the true Gospel in action.
During the trip, the survivors are able to see the love of Jesus through the lives of these Christians.
The impact of one of our trips was used by God to transform the lives of many…this same Holocaust survivor said:
Something did change when I went to Poland on a Chosen People Ministries Israel trip for Holocaust survivors. Something happened in my life.
I met a wonderful man called Maxim. I received a Bible from him, which I read day and night while we were in Poland. I felt the need to belong to a group where I would receive support and guidance. Maxim put me in touch with a congregation in the center of Israel and there the penny dropped! Since then, I have dedicated myself to reading Scripture and studying. Through this, I have found what I believe is the path that God had predestined for me. The leadership of the congregation helped me get through the days and especially through the nights. I was baptized in water in front of the whole congregation—something that no one can take away from me.
Your Partnership and Prayers
We need to continue developing this ministry, as the remaining survivors do not have a lot of time!
We have rented a new center in a better area of downtown Tel Aviv where we will be able to do more for these precious survivors and others. We need your prayers and help to continue serving this treasured community, which will die out within a decade!
The budget for the work of Your Mission to the Jewish People in Israel over the next twelve months is more than a quarter of a million dollars.
We hope to increase our staff to serve the survivors, our ministries to secular Israelis, Jewish children and much more! Our Mission is growing in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and all around this miraculous nation of almost seven million Jewish people!
Your gift this summer will be used to reach Israelis with the Gospel. The summer months are financially challenging, as many people are away from home on vacation. Yet our evangelistic schedule is full. Your sacrificial gifts help so much!
Allow me to mention a pressing need we have that is critical to our ministry in Israel at this very moment. The rent for the new center in Tel Aviv is due this month and we are paying ahead to save money! The total amount is $80,000.
Would you pray about helping us pay the rent as soon as possible?
On behalf of our Israel staff and the Holocaust survivors we serve... thank you for your generosity!
Considering that Israel officially defines itself as "a Jewish and Democratic State," it is not surprising that religious faith and practice shapes Israeli culture. Recent surveys provide a better picture of the importance of Judaism in Israeli religious life, including some surprising trends. Contrary to popular perceptions, Israeli society has nearly equal representation between the religious and secular.
Recent surveys show slightly more than fifty percent of the population identifies as religious, with 7% self-identifying as Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), who are most recognizable by their traditional Jewish dress, 15% as Orthodox and 32% as traditional. Slightly less than half of Israel’s Jewish population consider themselves secular, with only 3% having an antagonistic view of religion.
Despite an even representation between religious and secular, most Israelis maintain some type of traditional observance, with 40% of the nation having a rigorous or very extensive religious practice. Only 16% of the Jewish population does not observe any religious tradition whatsoever. Even 62% of the secular population continues some traditional observances. The major practices during the Jewish lifecycle, which include circumcision, bar mitzvah, being married by a rabbi and burial traditions, are important to at least 80% of the nation.
Other research indicates a slight increase in both religious beliefs and observance within Israel over the last twenty years. Research has also shown that religious belief is not directly connected to religious practice, since a significant percentage of the secular community still believes that at least some form of traditional Jewish observance is important. In the context of sharing the Gospel, such surveys remind us that both belief and religious observance are important to many Israelis - even those who appear to be quite secular.
What Is the Relationship Between Religious Israelis and Secular Israelis?
Although Israel is one country, there is still a massive cultural divide between the secular Israelis and the very religious community. This group, often termed "ultra-Orthodox," gravitates toward distinct neighborhoods and its members have special bus lines, special stores where they shop and special schools for their children.
The very religious have had the rights to study in separate schools (called yeshivas) and to be exempt from mandatory army service. However, this privilege may be coming to an end. The current prevailing view among secular Israelis is that it is highly unfair that they have to send their 18-21-year-olds to defend the country, while religious youth are let off. The draft has now come to the religious communities, and they are fighting it.
On the whole, the secular do not have anything against the religious; they just do not share the same lives. Secular Israelis go about their business, and if they have opportunities to work with a religious person, everyone is cordial and respectful. If someone needs help on the street, there is no doubt that help will be received. It's the Israeli way - a small country made up of Jewish people who may not always agree, but generally preserve basic respect for each other and for God.
Tourists to Israel: Three Strategies for Reaching Secular Jewish People
As a tourist, the vast majority of people you will encounter in Israel will be secular. They are not hard to approach. They love practicing their English and even want to hear your story. Here are three ways you can engage secular Israelis.
First, if you express your genuine love for Israel, you will win favor in their eyes. With this comes open ears and maybe a willing heart to listen to you.
Next, when your journey ends, you can tell the Israelis that you will be encouraging others to come to Israel. Israel needs spokesmen and advocates, so this will be appreciated. Also remember to pray for peace and divine protection in Israel.
Finally, if you want to take your witness one step further, seek out volunteering opportunities with local ministries in Israel - especially Chosen People Ministries! Nothing will surprise an Israeli more than to hear that you, as a visitor, are using your own time and resources to give back to the people of Israel. This will open up many doors of conversation to explain why you, a Christian believer in Jesus, have come all this way to help the ones He dearly loves.
Young Secular Israelis - Who Are They?
Young secular Israelis are not their parents' generation and certainly not their grandparents' when it comes to fulfilling traditional Jewish religious obligations.
So who are they? Although they don’t all fit one mold, it is not hard to distinguish some of their typical behaviors. Here are some examples:
They tend to live in Tel Aviv, which is for the most part a secular city, in small (often shared) apartments due to the high cost of living there.
They need to work long and hard to keep afloat financially. The partying lifestyle is particularly popular. They are mostly unmarried, with the current statistics showing that 78% of 20-29-year-olds in Tel Aviv are single.
Since they are not religious, the Sabbath is a time of rest and recreation when they go to the beach and hang out, or go hiking around Israel.
They are generally very curious about and interested in religion of the far east—mysticism, Buddhism, Hinduism and New Age practices.
They do not generally keep a kosher diet, although many of them avoid eating forbidden foods such as seafood and pork.
They often travel abroad upon completion of their national military service. Popular countries to visit include India, Thailand, New Zealand and Argentina. Chosen People Ministries has an established and active hostel ministry to Israeli backpackers in New Zealand and has also sent teams to Goa, India and Buenos Aires, Argentina—popular destinations for young, secular Israelis in their quest to see the world and experience new things.
Shalom from New York City. Thanks for your prayers and support for our ministry among the Jewish people. We are in the midst of an intensive summer of outreach in New York City, Israel and around the globe—so please pray for the harvest!
A Ministry Flyover
Recently, I had the joy of ministering in Argentina. We had a number of public lectures on Isaiah 53 where Jewish people who are not yet believers, as well as Christians, came to hear the message of the suffering Messiah. The time was fruitful and I deeply appreciate your continued prayers for the follow-up with the Jewish seekers who attended.
I also traveled to Israel last month to encourage our active and growing Israeli staff. I had quite a few opportunities to share the Gospel with Israelis, and I'm so glad God gave me a wife who speaks Hebrew; she was a great help!
Our Isaiah 53 campaign is off and running in Israel and Argentina, in addition to the United States. In fact, our Spanish Isaiah 53 website is drawing quite a bit of attention not only in Latin America, but also in Spain, Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries. We are thrilled with the response! Thankfully, God has given us a number of Spanish-speaking staff members who are able to engage in an ongoing dialogue with both Spanish-speaking Christians who love the Jewish people, and with Jewish people from these countries who are seeking the Lord.
We are now serving the Lord among the Jewish people in fifteen countries outside of the United States. Our staff proclaims the Gospel day in and day out, in at least a dozen different languages, to Jewish people in countries encompassing 96% of the worldwide Jewish population.
We could not continue without your prayers and faithful financial support - thank you!
Reaching Secular Jewish People
We are deeply burdened for Orthodox Jewish people. This is one of the reasons I am so excited about our new Brooklyn Center, where God is giving us many unique and wonderful opportunities to reach out through this new center in the heart of Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn.
But the fact is that the majority of Jewish people today are secular. According to the recent Pew survey of the Jewish community, the Orthodox religious community continues to grow! However, it represents only about 10–15% of the nearly fifteen million Jewish people in the world. Although it may be disturbing, the majority of Jewish people nowadays are not particularly religious. Many do not believe in God or accept the authority of the Bible.
This does not mean that they do not identify as Jews - they do. It also does not mean that secular Jewish people do not have strong values. Their values are often compatible with a positive, biblical worldview; they care deeply about their families, can be profoundly philanthropic and try to do as much as they can to make the world a better place for their children and grandchildren.
But when faced with religious or spiritual choices, this group does not feel limited to the answers provided by traditional Jewish religion. This became very evident to me in Israel last month, as I talked to many Israelis who are looking for spiritual answers, but simply do not want to become religious Jews. Secular Jewish people in Israel and elsewhere may still be very spiritually minded... and many are searching! A number are attracted to Eastern religions or New Age spirituality.
Secular Jewish People Identify as Jews
Although someone might not participate in the everyday expressions of religious Judaism, they probably do celebrate Passover, Hanukkah and other Jewish holidays. However, the thinking of secular Jews has also been shaped by many centuries of Jewish antipathy towards Jesus and Christianity. Just because a person is a secular or non-religious Jew does not mean they are open to the Gospel! I wish this were true.
The opinions of Christianity formed by Jewish people, whether religious or secular, are often based on the way Jewish people were historically treated by nominal "Christians" in Europe. Remember that Jewish people may place the blame for the horrific persecutions that took place during the Crusades, the pogroms (persecution of Russian Jews in the nineteenth century) and most of the Holocaust at the feet of these "Christians."
In fact, the objections that both secular and religious Jewish people have about Jesus are founded mainly upon a history of Christian persecution rather than theology.
How to Share the Gospel with Secular Jewish People
Secular Jewish people do not have the array of theological arguments against the Gospel that more religious Jews have cultivated, but this does not mean they are more open to the Lord. They have other types of objections, such as a deeply-seated suspicion of religious authority and a fierce sense of independence. Secular Jewish people might not believe in God, the Bible and have little understanding of religion or theology. They probably do not have a concept of sin, atonement or redemption. All of these basics need to be explained to a secular Jewish person, whether they live in New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Israel or Argentina!
Begin by building a relationship that helps your Jewish friend see the difference between the "Christianity" they were taught to avoid and dislike, and the true Gospel that has transformed your life. Just be yourself, and your Jewish friend will come to see an entirely new view of Jesus—living in you! This is what made the difference for me and for so many of my Messianic Jewish friends in our faith decisions.
Try to demonstrate the practicality of faith by showing how believing in Jesus impacts your life. Be quick to pray for and with your secular Jewish friend, and let them see the comfort and power you receive through your relationship with the Lord. They might have rational arguments against the existence of God, but seeing leads to believing! Show your secular friend how Jesus makes all the difference to you.
Finally, show an appreciation for Jewish culture. Let your Jewish friend know that you are grateful to the Jewish people for the foundations of your faith. Allow your secular Jewish friend to see that their heritage has great value…this is a great ministry to a secular Jewish person. By affirming the Jewish identity of your Jewish friend, he or she might see that their Jewish identity is not a mere accident of history, but instead a divine choice and destiny.
We have a wonderful little book on how to share your faith with your Jewish friends, and I would love to send you a copy for your gift of $50.00 or more.
Thanks for your prayers. However we can help you witness to your Jewish friends - secular or religious - please let us know.
Your brother in the Messiah,
Reaching the Jewish Community of South Africa
Over this past year, the tumultuous history of South Africa has been featured in the news as a result of the passing of Nelson Mandela. Jewish people have been present for much of this history, from the early days of Portuguese exploration and the Dutch settlement dating from the middle of the seventeenth century. Jewish numbers began to swell in the 1820s, and the first Jewish house of worship was established in 1841. Today, 65,000-70,000 Jewish people live in South Africa, most of whom reside in Johannesburg.
Jewish believer Manfred Nochomowitz, together with his wife, Isit, lead Chosen People Ministries in South Africa and call this ministry Emet, a Hebrew word which means "truth."
Manfred recently reported:
“We are looking to set up a teaching seminar to equip people to take the Gospel to the Jewish community in Cape Town and also to meet with and motivate the Messianic community there.
I was also contacted by a Messianic Jewish lady in Durban. Apparently there are a number of Jews in Durban, and she wants me to do an ‘Equipping Weekend’ for her and her group so that they are prepared to take the Gospel to Jewish people in Durban. We are also looking to get some of the churches involved in this as well.”
MANFRED NOCHOMOWITZ: I was born in Pretoria, South Africa and was brought up as an observant, practicing Orthodox Jew. We were very involved in the Pretoria Hebrew Congregation, and I attended and graduated from a Jewish school.
When a family member came to faith in Messiah, we would often discuss God (which I loved doing), but I would not discuss Jesus. For me, Jesus and being Jewish did not go together. I was invited to a Bible study given by a Jewish believer and I decided to attend. However, on the way, I became very angry. I decided to disrupt the Bible study and make the people sorry that they ever invited me.
The teacher was a young Jewish believer named Lawrence Hirsch. I tried to disrupt the meeting, but I couldn't - so I decided to listen. It was the first New Testament teaching that I had ever heard. After the Bible study, Lawrence asked if anyone would like to receive Yeshua (Jesus) as their Messiah and I put up my hand. Lawrence led me in a salvation prayer, and on that wonderful evening in April 1994, I came to faith.
In 1995, my wife and I joined Hatfield Christian Church, where we served in many capacities over the years. God then called me to Jewish ministry. In 2007, God birthed Emet Ministries, giving me the vision "to minister the truth of the Gospel to the Jewish people, and the truth of the Jewish people and Israel to the Church."
Jewish Missions in Argentina: A Divine Partnership
Today there are almost one million Jews spread throughout twenty-seven Latin American countries. Since the late sixteenth century, European Jews, many of whom were fleeing persecution, sought a safe haven in Latin America. They were especially attracted to Argentina, whose government passed a law in 1864 offering forty acres of free land to Jewish immigrants. Thousands of European Jews, especially those escaping the Russian pogroms, settled in the Argentine farmlands. Argentine Jewry is one of the largest Jewish communities in South America.
Argentina is a major destination for backpackers for a number of reasons. There are half a million Jews in the country, so many Jewish travelers know somebody in Argentina. They love Patagonia, the bottom tip of Argentina, which is the southernmost part of the world. Backpackers also love the city of Buenos Aires, with sixteen million people, more theaters than London and more restaurants than Paris!
For all these reasons and more, the Chosen People Ministries Messianic Center in Buenos Aires, hosted by two American couples, has become a warm home for our ministries among Argentine Jews as well as young Israelis passing through.
Over the years, Chosen People Ministries has developed a good relationship with these two couples, who are missionaries to the Jewish people appointed by the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. When they moved to Buenos Aires, it became clear that the partnership was a divine appointment.
With volunteer help from the United States and additional funding from Chosen People Ministries, the sanctuary and classrooms of the building were remodeled, and they are now being used for outreach. In addition to regular Bible studies and services, they began hosting Israeli tourists who traveled to Argentina after completing their military service in Israel. Hardly a week goes by without a dozen young Israelis sharing a meal in the center, where they have a chance to hear the Gospel from one of the workers who is able to speak with them in Hebrew!
We look forward to expanding our ministry in Argentina. We have printed the Spanish version of Isaiah 53 Explained and we are also launching a web-based campaign utilizing this book as an evangelistic tool.
We are grateful for what the Lord has allowed us to do for the hundreds who have come to hear the Gospel through our partnership - yet we know that so much more can be done for the salvation of our Jewish brothers and sisters in Argentina. Our ministry partners in Argentina are gifted missionaries, dedicated to full-time Jewish evangelism, but we also need Argentine workers. That is our number one prayer request.
Hong Kong in Israel
Testimonies from staff members of Chosen People Ministries Hong Kong, currently serving in Israel
For the past few years, I have used a religious survey to reach out to the Israelis in my neighborhood. This brief survey, which includes questions about Christianity and Yeshua (Jesus), has a very good response, as most Israelis are open to dialogue. After they complete the survey, I hand a Gospel tract or Isaiah 53 booklet to them. They are always amazed when they hear my testimony of how Yeshua changed my life.
In addition, I provide a tutorial class for Israelis who are learning the Chinese language. If you are a Chinese believer, this is a great opportunity to make Israeli friends and to share the precious Gospel. The Jewish people are very friendly to Chinese people, as they remember that China opened its borders to accept Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.
Two years ago, I brought my son to see a doctor here in Israel. When he realized that we were Chinese, he greeted us in Mandarin. He explained that his parents survived the Holocaust by escaping to China. After the establishment of the State of Israel, the family moved back here. I told him that I am a Chinese believer in Yeshua who loves Israel and Jewish people, and shared the Gospel with him. He said that he would read the New Testament and try to learn more about Yeshua. I always pray that more Chinese believers would share the Gospel with Jewish people. This is my passion.
I am a Chinese believer in Yeshua (Jesus) currently living in Israel, studying Hebrew and meeting with people. In recent months, I have been visiting a Jewish man ("Uncle E.") who is suffering from serious depression. He is an Orthodox Jew and he receives my visits even though he knows that I am a believer in Yeshua. I remember the first time I visited him. I suggested that I pray for him before I left, and he accepted.
We have a mutual friend who is also Chinese. This friend wrote Uncle E. a letter to express her care and concern for him, and Uncle E. asked me to read the letter to him because he couldn't read the cursive English writing. In the letter, our friend wrote about the Gospel and encouraged him to put his trust in Yeshua the Messiah. At this, Uncle E. stopped me and said, "We Jewish people could not believe in a man."
I responded that Yeshua was not just a man, He is the Son of God. I also told him that there are indeed Jewish people who believe in Yeshua as the Messiah in my congregation. Although Uncle E. has not yet received Yeshua as his Messiah, he still welcomes my visits. I will continue to show my love and concern for him. It is a privilege to share my faith in Yeshua, and I pray that the Holy Spirit continues to work in his heart.
Please pray that I will continue to get opportunities to share my faith with God's chosen people, and that He will give me wisdom, patience and love in my witness.
Even though only a very small remnant of the Jewish community remains in Syria, Syrian Jews have a vibrant and notable history. The community is comprised of two separate Jewish groups. The first and oldest group consists of Musta'arabi or Mizrahi Jews, which refers to the Jewish communities with a long history in Arabic-speaking countries.
According to tradition, Syria's Jewish community had its origin during the reign of King David. At that time, David's general, Yoav, controlled the region of Aram-Zobah when he defeated both the Arameans and the Ammonites (2 Sam. 10).
While rabbinic tradition identifies this area as Aleppo, the largest city in modern Syria, the settlement likely existed in the southern part of the country. By the time the Romans established their kingdom in the region, both Aleppo and Damascus had sizeable Jewish communities.
It was during the first century that Paul, who was a young rabbinic student at the time, decided to visit the Jewish community of Damascus (Acts 9:1-2). On his way to the city, Paul unexpectedly encountered Jesus. Struck blind and led to Damascus, Paul was healed and discipled by a Jewish follower named Ananias (Acts 9:3-19). Paul proceeded to teach in the Damascus synagogues about how God had transformed his life through the Messiah, Jesus (Acts 9:20-25).
The Sephardi Immigration
The second group, known as Sephardi Jews, began immigration into the region of Syria in 1492, following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain during the Inquisition. Although the newly arrived Sephardi Jews eventually began to intermingle with the ancient Jewish population, they initially created two separate communities. Now, intermarriage has made it nearly impossible to distinguish between these groups, although some Sephardi Jewish families from Aleppo light one extra Hanukkah candle to express their gratitude for the way they were welcomed to Syria from Spain. In addition to these two groups, some Kurdish Jews and Jewish people from Italy settled in Syria. Today, many of their descendants also identify themselves as Syrian Jews.
Over the centuries, the Jewish people established three large communities in Syria. Damascus is home to one of the oldest Syrian Jewish communities. During the Roman Empire, the Jewish population of Damascus reached about 10,000. It remained a significant Jewish center and grew when many Jewish people fled from the land of Israel due to suffocating taxes imposed upon them by the Crusaders.
By the fifth century, Aleppo also had a large, thriving Jewish community, including a congregation of Jewish followers of Jesus, known as Nazarenes. The Nazarenes were believers who maintained their Jewish identity and continued to adhere to the Torah. For over five centuries, the Central Synagogue of Aleppo was the home of one of the oldest and most authoritative manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Aleppo Codex. This biblical manuscript is over 1,000 years old and survived a fire during the anti-Jewish riots of 1947.
Today, the Aleppo Codex finds its home at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Qamishli, a small city in the north near the Turkish border, contained the third notable Jewish community in Syria. The population reached its height in 1930 with 3,000 Jewish residents. Today, the Jewish population is virtually nonexistent as a result of heavy persecution, which began in 1947.
Surprisingly, the Jewish communities of Syria flourished for over a thousand years under Islamic control of the area. They built magnificent synagogues and established prominent rabbinic schools. Unfortunately, the Jewish people in Syria began to face significant persecution in the 1930s.
Although Syria still had 30,000 Jewish residents in 1948, when Israel declared its independence, today only about twenty elderly Jewish people remain in Damascus. The severe persecution forced the entire Jewish population out of the country.
Despite being forced from their homeland, the worldwide Syrian Jewish population has reached 200,000. The United States and Israel have the largest communities. Brooklyn, New York alone has approximately 75,000 residents, and about 80,000 Syrian Jews live in Israel.