April 20, 2023
Nestled along the northwest coast, Haifa is sometimes called “Israel’s San Francisco.” It lies along the Bay of Haifa right on the Mediterranean Coast and is the principal port of the country. The city also resides on the northern slopes of Mount Carmel. Yes, this is the same mountain where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest in which the God of Israel prevailed (1 Kings 18). Haifa has a long Jewish, Arab, and Christian history. Today, it is Israel’s third largest city (after Tel Aviv and Jerusalem) and a key economic center.
By the grace of God, Haifa is also home to many Jewish and Arab believers. Chosen People Ministries has maintained an active ministry in this city for more than sixty years. In this article and video, we introduce a brief history of Haifa and our ministry there.
History of Haifa
Haifa is a truly ancient city. Its earliest settlements date to the 1300s BCE. Since then, several different cultures have inhabited it. Evidence points to Jewish settlements in Haifa in the ancient Greek and Roman periods. The crusades in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries devastated the city, and it remained largely uninhabited until it came under Ottoman control. The Ottoman Empire, a powerful Arab kingdom, ruled Haifa until World War I. Largely due to this period, Haifa has a rich Arab history and is well-known for its present mixed population of Jewish and Arab people. Today, 13.6 percent of Israel’s Arab Christians live around Haifa.
Haifa has been home to a significant Christian community for centuries. Greek monks founded a monastery at Mount Carmel in 500 CE. In the Middle Ages, the Carmelite monastic order formed at this site. The present monastery in Haifa was built in the nineteenth century. Due to Mount Carmel’s connection to Elijah, it was a popular pilgrimage site for both Jewish people and Christians during medieval times.
Jewish settlements in Haifa revived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Especially important were the First and Second Aliyahs, which primarily consisted of immigrants from Russia. In 1918, the British gained control of Haifa and shaped it into the modern town we see today. They built the Port of Haifa, which is the city’s most valuable asset. The 1939 completion of the oil pipeline to Iraq also boosted Haifa’s economy. Following Israel’s independence in 1948, Haifa continued to draw many industries in large part because of its port. The city remains an economic center featuring a mix of Jewish and Arab cultures.
History of Our Ministry in Haifa
While our ministry in Israel started before the modern state was established, our ministry in Haifa began in 1962. Chosen People Ministries met Peter Gutkind, a Jewish believer from Poland who was living in Haifa. The ministry brought him on staff to oversee the work in Haifa. Gutkind taught Bible classes, provided care packages, and distributed gospel literature. By 1965, this ministry was thriving, with Israelis putting their faith in Jesus and getting baptized.
Sadly, because of their success, Gutkind and his ministry received threats from activists. In August 1965, more than one hundred ultra-Orthodox youth attacked Gutkind’s home and destroyed much of what was inside. Thankfully, our missionary fled and escaped physical harm. Peter Gutkind also initiated the launch of our gospel radio broadcast throughout Israel using HCJB and Trans World Radio shortwave radio. After beginning with a thirty-minute segment seven days a week, Chosen People Ministries soon expanded the broadcast to sixty minutes seven days a week. Gutkind ministered faithfully until he retired in 1972. He continued to live in Haifa and remained active well into his nineties. Our ministry persisted, and we now have outreaches not just in Haifa but also in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Our Ministry in Haifa Today
Today, our staff in Haifa have a thriving ministry among new immigrants. We help them with practical needs and adjusting to life in Israel, while providing emotional and spiritual support. It is a joy to see smiles on the faces of the Holocaust survivors during the tours of the country we offer, Sabbath dinners, and concerts our staff host for them. Relationships are deep, and conversations about the Messiah are life-changing. Another staff member relocated to Haifa to host a home group as God was touching hearts and people came to faith. He is actively discipling them and conversing about Jesus with others.
Surprisingly, there are many believers and growing congregations in this primarily industrial port city. Once our staff were among the few believers in the city. Now, as the body of believers in Haifa has grown, we can invest more in discipleship. We love training young believers to demonstrate the love of Jesus to His chosen people. Our staff in the north of Israel also partner with our Arab brothers and sisters in the Lord to preach the gospel and make disciples.
We believe the only way for true unity and peace is in knowing the love of Jesus, and we pray our ministry can be salt and light in this city. Behind the headlines and news stories, Jesus is reconciling Jewish and Arab people to Himself—and one another. “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14).
Header photo from Unsplash.
 Jerusalem Post Staff, “Merry Christmas: Israel’s Christian Population Thriving, New Data Shows,” Jerusalem Post, December 24, 2022, https://www.jpost.com/christianworld/article-725661.
 Cross, F. L., and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds. “Mount Carmel” and “Carmelites” in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).
 In the history of modern Israel, there were five distinct pre-1948 waves of Jewish settlement in the land. These waves are called Aliyahs (from עלה, meaning “to go up”).
 “Haifa: History and Overview,” Jewish Virtual Encyclopedia, accessed April 10, 2023, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/history-and-overview-of-haifa.
 Harold A Sevener, A Rabbi’s Vision: A Century of Proclaiming Messiah: A History of Chosen People Ministries, Inc. (Charlotte, NC: Chosen People Ministries, 1994), 168–69.
 Sevener, A Rabbi’s Vision, 175.