Ever since becoming a Christian, I have been fascinated by all things Jewish. I know that sounds contradictory, but let me explain. I remember when my fascination began. I was at a healing conference, and during a time of pretty intense worship , someone began blowing a shofar. It’s an eerily beautiful and haunting sound…one that begs you to lie prostrate before your God in awe and amazement. Something about the sounding of the shofar calling to my spirit gave me chills. To this day, hearing a shofar causes me to both tremble and feel at peace(shalom) all at the same time. This began my search into the signifigance of the shofar, and thus began my love affair.Over the years, I’ve studied more about Judaism, the Hebrew people, Jewish custom and tradition, and the history of the conflict in the Middle East. I love the Old Testament for the way it reveals God’s character, foreshadows the coming of the Messiah through the prophetic word, and reveals the symbolism behind many things in the New Testament. I also love the insight it provides into the political, social and religious climate of not only those times, but also the conflicts we have currently going on in the Middle East.Today is Rosh Hashanah, or the beginning of the Jewish New Year. My friend Jon (who was raised Jewish but is now also a follower of Christ…and who is also always SO patient in answering my questions about Jewish custom and law) explained the history behind this holiday really well this morning in an email.
At sundown yesterday the New Year 5768 began! The month of Elul has come and gone, and today is the 1st of Tishrei. The Bible calls this day the Feast of Trumpets. Jews refer to the day as Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah translated means head of the year. Rosh Hashanah commemorates the month in which God created the world. Rosh Hashanah is also the start of a special ten day period called the Days of Awe. These Days of Awe conclude with the holiday called Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement. Over the next ten days Jews are instructed to scrupulously examine their deeds and, more significantly, their misdeeds during the preceding year. It’s a time of repentance of sins, and to restore your relationships with people and most importantly your relationship with God. On these Days of Awe, Jewish tradition teaches, God decides who shall live and who shall die during the coming year. One powerful instrument used to motivate repentance during Rosh Hashanah is the shofar or ram’s horn, which is blown in the synagogue one hundred times on each of two days of Rosh Hashanah. One of the most well known customs of Rosh Hashanah is the dipping of apples into honey and then eating them. You then wish your family and friends “a sweet new year”. This is a very interesting custom that I would like to expand on more in another email. If you have never had apples and honey before, I encourage you to try it. It’s even sweeter if your last name is Sweet. (Jon’s last name is…you guessed it…Sweet)
Recently I came across and article on http://www.relevantmagazine.com/ that so wonderfully addresses so many of the points I find fascinating about the land of Israel and the Israeli people. I’ve copied it below.
Israel – Why You Should Care
by Andrew Myers
Smaller than New Jersey, mostly desert and less than sixty years old, the nation of Israel is a mere crumb on the plate of earth. Few places, however, draw more attention; fewer still elicit more passion and animosity than Israel.
The hype is justified.
Israel represents humanity’s most intense struggles: religion, politics, racism and war. Investigating Israel means asking uncomfortable questions, broaching taboo subjects, uncovering personal prejudices, traditional assumptions and destructive ignorance. A discussion about Israel cuts to the heart of every important controversy. Israel matters.
Israel matters because its existence is a miracle.
“There are in this part of the world [East and Central Europe] 6,000,000 Jews … for whom the world is divided into places where they cannot live and places where they cannot enter.”—Chaim Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Organization, 1936
In 1948, the unprecedented occurs. A people group that traces its roots almost to the beginnings of history became a nation again. After thousands of years of dispersion and intense, concentrated persecution, the Jewish state of Israel exists anew. After walking around with a target on their back (or a star on their front) since time immemorial, the Jewish people make their home once more in the exact same place their culture was born. Many younger generations take for granted the simple fact that Israel shows up on a map, failing to recognize the miraculous events that revived this country and this people from literal near-death.
Around the turn of the last century, Jewish immigration to Israel experienced an upsurge due to pogroms (organized persecution, often violent) in Europe and Russia. These early settlers purchased land from absentee landlords (often foreign investors) and immersed themselves in an agrarian lifestyle on infertile land. Ingenuity and grace, however, coaxed life from the barren deserts and malaria-infested swamplands. Where no civilization had thrived for hundreds of years, the Jewish people began a new chapter in their history.
This story turned infamously tragic during World War II. The British “White Papers” and U.S. policy denied millions of Jewish refugees entrance into the Palestine region, effectively signing a mass death sentence executed by the Nazis. Once European Jewry was all but obliterated, the U.N. drafted a conciliatory partition plan outlining a two-state Palestine: part Jewish, part Arab. The Arab League rejected the proposal.
Since the end of World War I, the British exercised sovereignty over Palestine. On May 15, 1948, the British Mandate ended, and all British troops withdrew immediately, Israel declared independence, and the newborn country was promptly invaded by seven nations: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iraq.
In all of these wars, numbers, resources and reason suggest that Israel should have been defeated with ease. The result in all cases, however, was that Israel won back more land, simply by defending itself. Demonstrating unprecedented humility and mercy, Israel has returned much of this land to aggressor nations in exchange for peace. In some cases, the land was given back for nothing more than the mere hope of peace, as was the case last August, when Israel forfeited the Gaza strip with no guarantee of capitulation.
Since the 1970s, Israel has risen to become a powerful military force. Unfortunately, this demonstration of strength remains necessary because it helps dissuade the many nations and peoples who would still see Israel’s demise.
Israel matters because hate for the Jewish people still exists in the world.
“There is no doubt that the new wave in Palestine will soon wipe off this disgraceful blot [Israel] from the face of the Islamic world.”—Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, October 2005
There are 56 Muslim countries in the world. Twenty-three Arab nations account for an area twice the size of the United States. Israel, smaller than New Jersey, is the only Jewish country in existence.
At least four times in the past 100 years, Israel has accepted a two-state proposal. The Arab authorities have rejected all such offers (most recently in 2001). Despite the turmoil that has marked its existence, Abraham H. Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, points out, “Israel remains the lone democracy in the Middle East, with all institutions—a free press, a multitude of parties and an independent judiciary—that are at the heart of true liberal democracies.”
Though the perfect government does not exist, Israel’s track record remains among the best. As reported in The International Jerusalem Post, however:
Israel is the subject of more condemnatory resolutions than any other country, it is the only UN member state that is not a permanent member of a regional group, it is alone in being ineligible for election to the UN Human Rights Commission, it is the subject of three anachronistic committees focused on Palestinian rights – and the list goes on and on. (July 1-7, 2005)
Throughout the world, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been likened to Hitler, and Zionism has been equated with Nazism. Germany and France have seen a troubling rise in white supremacist movements over the past few years. Archaic propaganda—notions of Blood Libel and publications like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion—persist in popularity. Even Holocaust denial finds prominent support in circles beyond Arab fundamentalists.
Those who believe that anti-semitism perished with the advent of postmodernism live sheltered from the thriving undercurrent of hatred that flows around the globe. False accusations and lies continue to plague the Jews and Israel. Other Middle Eastern “democracies” continue to flounder. Countries like Uganda, Sudan and Rwanda are torn apart by corruption and ethnic strife. Yet Israel, a peaceful, self-governing, diverse, thriving nation, attracts a decidedly disproportionate amount of scorn and animosity.
Israel matters because it reveals God’s character.
“I think we do not attach enough importance to the restoration of the Jews…”—C.H. Spurgeon (19th century preacher and theologian)
Belief in an omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient God renders void any notions of coincidence in this world. That the Jews still exist—as the nation of Israel, no less—is no random occurrence. Scripture makes it perfectly clear that these events have been orchestrated (TNIV):
Zechariah 8:21: “and the inhabitants of one city will go another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty’ … And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord …
Amos 9:14-15: “I will bring my people Israel back from exile … They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them … I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them.”
Ezekiel 37:11-14; Micah 4:6-7; Jeremiah 50:4-5; and more.
While certain passages in Scripture speak about specific periods of renewal during the history of Israel, there is an undeniable, ultimate restoration suggested. Shortly after Jesus’ time on earth, the Temple was destroyed. It has yet to be rebuilt, its use no longer necessary thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice. Throughout history, however, God has exhibited a dogged commitment to the Jews, preserving them despite systematic efforts to destroy them.
Why? Because God is faithful. The existence of the Jews proves His faithfulness. In Isaiah 43, God tells the Israelites, “You are My witnesses.” The Jewish people are walking testaments to the One True God, from their lineage came God in the flesh. Mankind’s inherent, sinful inclination is to rebel against this God, this Jesus. And as His collective representation on earth, the Jews feel the brunt of this rebellion.
Because “His own did not receive Him,” the salvation Jesus brought—“first for the Jew”—became available to the whole world (John 1:11; Romans 1:16). Because God has not forgotten Israel, however (according to both Scripture and history), Israel’s eventual restoration will bring much greater riches one day.
For this reason, Satan has not forgotten Israel either, hence the supernatural, mindless hatred bequeathed throughout history to all of mankind, and exacted upon Israel and the Jews. Today, that nation is back, populated by a culture that should be dead—and the Bible predicted all of this would happen. We should pay attention.
The generalities and conclusions implied within the preceding brief summary are not meant to stand as a decisive argument. This pithy survey is meant to serve as but a springboard into greater personal investigation, discussion, and action.
Check the facts: The Case for Israel, by Allen Dershowitz;
Learn the history: From Time Immemorial, by Joan Peters
Engage the Scripture: Your People Shall Be My People, by Don Finto
Witness the hate: Protocols of Zion ( www.protocolsofzionmovie.com )
Examine your conscience: Never Again? by Abraham Foxman
Go find out for yourself: apply for the Israel Experience College Scholarship Program (email firstname.lastname@example.org)
I recently met a young Israeli guy while at an international ostomy conference. He graciously stayed up half the night with me one evening, answering my questions about life in Israel and the current political climate. He shared with me many perspectives and thoughts I had never considered and I’m grateful for that insight. I’m grateful that now when I pray for the nation and people of Israel, I have a face and a perspective to put with the passion. It makes it that much more real.
Dare I say that God has given me a burden for Israel. I know that this is the case, but I also know that having that burden holds me responsible to act. Other than pray, what do I do? That is my struggle.
This may sound ridiculous (and you can add me to the “Religious Zealot Update”, if you must) but I know that God will one day call me to Israel. I don’t know in what capacity, or for what length of time. Probably it will only be for a visit, and I have no idea who or how I’ll be called to serve while I am there. But I know that for whatever the cause and for whatever duration of time, my spirit will feel at home.