The Sorko-Ram Family overlooking the hills of Bethlehem where Ruth met Boaz, David kept his sheep, and angels announced to shepherds the birth of Yeshua, son of David, the long-awaited Messiah and King of the Jews. From left, adults: Shira, Kobi & Shani Ferguson, Ari. Children: Lahav, Nevaeh, Illit, Sela.
Growing up Jewish I never had any cultural connection to Christmas. I never had the expectation of a jolly fat fellow coming down my chimney or the experience of decorating a tree with lights and bulbs. There was no eggnog in my house or reindeer on my front lawn. That was their holiday. We had Hanukkah, and quite frankly I preferred it because we received a gift every day for eight days!
When I became a believer in 1983, I was able to view Christmas differently. Having not grown up with the holiday, I was able to take a fresh look. The first thing that struck me can be illustrated in a parable.
A young man is turning 18. He comes home to find a massive surprise party. Everyone is rejoicing with him on this milestone in his life. There is cake and other treats. With such a large gathering he gets excited, as he wonders what kind of great gifts he will receive.
However, to his astonishment, when the time comes for giving gifts, no one gives him anything! Even stranger, the guests begin to give gifts to each other and ignore him.
I think you get my point. I recently shared this story during a message in Germany and they all laughed at the absurdity of ignoring the birthday-boy and giving gifts to the guests.
NOT WHEN, BUT HOW (WE CELEBRATE)
To be clear, this is not an anti-Christmas message—in fact, it is the contrary. I know that many in the Church today do not celebrate it because of the pagan roots of the date that was chosen, December 25th. And most scholars agree that December 25th was an unlikely time, as it would have been strange for shepherds to be out at night in the cold and possibly wet winter of the Judean mountains. The truth is that the Bible is simply not clear on the date of his birth.
Nevertheless, December 25th (January 6th in the Eastern Church) is the date that most of the world recognizes as the time to celebrate the birth of Yeshua. Despite the pagan roots associated with that date, I don’t know of many believers who use Christmas for pagan worship. I have never walked in on a family during Christmas that was bowing down and praying to their Christmas tree!
I think the deeper problem in the way we celebrate Christmas is that we have made it all about us—not Him. How sad that a holiday that is meant to celebrate the greatest act of selflessness in history begins with Black Friday in the US. No sooner have families gobbled down their Thanksgiving Turkey than they are out the door at midnight—or before—to camp out at a Best Buy, Walmart or the Apple Store, in order to buy stuff.
When we read Luke’s beautiful and powerful narrative, it is hard to imagine that the primary focus of Christmas in the west is Bargains, Bottom Lines and Getting in the Black.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:8-14)
Sadly the “great joy for all” today rests in getting a new iPhone or PlayStation. It reminds of a joke I once heard.
A young Jewish boy named Caleb returns from winter break to school. The teacher asks everyone, all non-Jews but Caleb, what they did on their vacation. The students tell wonderful stories of getting presents, leaving milk and cookies for Santa and stockings stuffed with goodies. When it came time for Caleb to share he said, “Well, on Christmas Eve we closed the family store and then we all gathered around the cash register, held hands, and sang, ‘What a friend we have in Jesus.’”
Please don’t be offended at the joke. It is meant to underscore the commercialization of the birth of the Messiah. Let’s return to the parable of the 18-year-old. He is confused as people celebrate His birthday by giving gifts to others. It seems to me, that if indeed we are intent on celebrating the birthday of the Messiah—and the fact that He came into this world to subdue the enemy, conquer death and purchase our salvation by laying down His own life, then we should be giving Him a gift—not cousin Sally.
WHAT DO YOU GET THE MAN WHO HAS EVERYTHING?
Of course that brings up another major problem. What do you get the Messiah for His birthday?! You think you have trouble finding something unique for your spouse. Imagine searching for a gift for the One who creates things like the heavens and the earth with His words! A tall order indeed—but not impossible.
As a young believer in 1984, I stumbled upon Matthew 25. In it is the parable of the sheep and the goats. Yeshua separates the nations as sheep nations and goat nations. He then condemns the goat nations because they were hardhearted and callous when it came to the treatment of those in prison, poor, naked, hungry and thirsty. However He rewards the sheep nations for the opposite reason. In fact he doesn’t tell them that they did these acts of kindness for others—but for Him!
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Matt. 25:35-36)
Confused, they ask Him when they did those things for Him and He responds, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40).
With that, I took $200 that I had saved and went to Toys ‘R’ Us. I bought a bunch of gifts, things I would have wanted if I were a kid. And then, I grabbed a friend, Sandy, and we went to the projects of Henrico County. You cannot imagine how blessed this single mother was when she opened her door to find two young adults bearing gifts. Her two boys would have received little to nothing for Christmas that year. Instead Sandy and I unloaded a Hot Wheels Racecar Track and a bunch of other gifts. They were shocked and overjoyed.
And that is how I discovered the best way to celebrate the birth of Yeshua. Of course I am not saying that you can’t bless your family with gifts, but what a great lesson you could give your children or grandchildren by saying, “This year we are also going to bless Yeshua on His birthday by blessing those who are less fortunate than us.”
WAIT A MINUTE! WHO ARE HIS BROTHERS?
When I got to Christ for the Nations Bible Institute the next year in order to train for ministry, my New Testament Professor, Steve Homcy, shed even more light on this passage—something that as a Messianic Jew, I should have seen.
Homcy maintained that Yeshua was speaking about the Jewish people. First, He says, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine.” Who are the natural siblings of the Messiah? The Jewish people, of course. And then, He goes on to describe a people destitute, in prison… hungry and naked. Now if you simply look at the microcosm of present Jewish life in America, you will say, that’s ridiculous, but if we take a larger look at world history, there is no other people that fit the description better.
- Slaves in Egypt
- Male babies murdered in Egypt
- Divided Kingdom
- Northern Tribes conquered by Assyria
- Exiled to Babylon and then Persia
- Nearly slaughtered in Persia (Esther)
- Under Greek, then Roman rule.
- Herod gives orders to kill all Jewish boys under two during the first century.
- Jerusalem demolished, 1,000,000 Jews killed, Temple destroyed (70 CE) in the Great Revolt Against Rome.
- Judea conquered again, inhabitants exiled and name changed by Romans from Judea to Philistia. (135).
- The Church begins to teach its followers that God hates Israel (John Chrysostom), the Jews are under judgment, and the Church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people (Replacement Theology).
- Tens of thousands of Jews are murdered in cold blood during the Crusades.
- Jews of Spain are given the choice in the 15th century of baptism or expulsion. Jewish converts who are accused of returning to the witchcraft of Judaism are burned alive—30,000 between 1493 and the 1800s.
- Up to 500,000 Jews are killed by Ukrainian nationalist Bohdan Chmelnitsky in the 1600s. These Jews had been invited to settle there when Spain forced them out.
- And of course, the Holocaust, where Hitler proclaimed he was finishing the job of the Church, claimed the lives of 6,000,000 Jews.
And this list doesn’t include the fact that just before Yeshua has this sheep and goat meeting in Jerusalem after His return, that according to Zech. 14, He has just defeated the nations who have attacked Israel.
Then the Lord will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights on a day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem… The Lord will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one Lord, and his name the only name. (Zech. 14:3-4a, 9)
Yes, the persecuted, destitute brothers of Yeshua that He referred to in Matthew 25 are the Jewish people.
YOUR OPPORTUNITY TO BLESS YESHUA
In 2002 Maoz Israel, seeing the great need amongst the Messianic Jews of Israel birthed istandwithisrael.com. Somehow we had to touch the wounded souls of the Messianic Jewish community of Israel—terror victims, widows, orphans, and those who were hurting.
Over time, we felt to use these funds also to improve the lives of believers in the Land—with language skills, job training, university education, medical needs, and sometimes just help to get them back on their feet again with food and shelter. Over the past ten years, we have distributed $4,000,000 (£2,500,000 €3,100,000) throughout the body of believers in Israel.
In the next articles of this month’s newsletter you will be able to read testimonies of those lives YOU have changed. I will share my own testimony of arriving in Israel as a Hebrew-less preacher and how istandwithisrael.com enabled me to get the training I needed in order to function here in Tel Aviv.
What a great way to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY, YESHUA. We know that the Messiah doesn’t need a new tie or a watch—the way to bless Him is to bless the hurting and needy, widows and orphans, and yes, the persecuted Messianic Jews of the Holy Land—His brothers and sisters after the flesh.
Thank you for partnering with us. Together, we will put a smile on the Messiah’s face this year. Happy Birthday Yeshua!
Left: The Cantor family arrives in Israel in June 2003, leaving a comfortable life in the U.S., in order to serve Yeshua in the Holy Land. (From left: Elana, Yael, Sharon, Danielle, Ron). Right: Sharon and Danielle pose with Yael at her swearing-in ceremony in 2010. Yael has just finished her two years of service in the IDF, and Danielle prepares to begin her service soon.
I am a communicator. A $500 a pop personality test that I had to take when I worked in Jerusalem confirmed it. I need to communicate. But what happens when the people with whom you feel called to communicate, speak a different language?
That was my predicament almost ten years ago when my family and I made aliyah (moved to Israel). When it came time to choose a congregation, we decided on Tiferet Yeshua. Despite the fact that I could neither speak nor understand Hebrew, I loved the vision of a congregation that spoke Hebrew only. The vision was birthed out of an understanding that it is hard to bring the gospel to Israelis if most of the congregation can’t even speak the language. In fact, I turned down paid positions in other parts of the country in order to take a two-year break from ministry so I could study Hebrew.
While others had told me I could function in English in Israel, Ari Sorko-Ram (congregational leader) and Asher Intrater (elder) told me, “If you come here, your whole focus will be Hebrew for a while.” It was clear that they were more concerned about me, than what I could do for them.
In the beginning it was very intimidating. Ari Sorko-Ram shared with me an analogy that I have not forgotten. He said that learning Hebrew is like climbing a mountain. When you are at the bottom, you cannot even see the top. Even half way up, the top is still not visible—but neither is the bottom. And then one day, the mountaintop emerges.
One Shabbat morning at our congregation Asher was preaching. Asher is maybe the finest immigrant preacher in the country. Shira Sorko-Ram walked up to me and said, “That’ll be you in a few years.” I can’t tell how much that encouraged me—especially at a time when Asher may as well have been reading the phone book!
But Ari and Shira encouraged me with more than words. Through istandwithisrael.com, I was able to go through all six levels of Hebrew at the University. Most immigrants only take five months at the city ulpan (language school). These intensive University courses were more than I could afford. Four and a half hours a day, plus another three to five hours of studying was grueling, but worth it! Plus, through istandwithisrael.com I am able to meet with a private tutor when I need to.
Learning a second language at nearly forty is no easy task, but there is no question that one of the main reasons I was able to do it was because of your support to istandwithisrael.com.
It was seven years before I stood before the congregation and preached in Hebrew. I was terrified. I have preached before thousands in other countries in English and it never entered my mind to be nervous… but giving a message in Hebrew brought out every insecurity that I thought I didn’t have! When an Israeli unbeliever came up to me at the end to say how much she enjoyed the message, I was so relieved.
The preparation is much more intense. When I taught a course in Hebrew on the popular marriage book The Five Languages of Love, each class took a week of preparation. My “Sabra” wife (native born Israeli) and kids who grew up here were forced to listen to my sermons over and over again while I prepared. They gently corrected my mistakes and encouraged me not to give up. When an Israeli came up to me several months later to say that the course revitalized her marriage, I don’t know if I was happier about her marriage or that she understood me!
Nearly ten years after moving to Israel, I preach regularly in Hebrew and am even invited to minister in other Hebrew-speaking congregations. As an immigrant you never arrive. You are always learning new words and mistakes are commonplace. But if you can get to a place where people understand you and your mistakes don’t hinder their hearing, you can be effective as a teacher in Israel. I still study and don’t imagine that I ever will stop, but there is no doubt that I would not have gotten to this place without the persistent encouragement of Ari and Shira and the funds that you provided through istandwithisrael.com.
Toda! (Thank you)
My name is Oriel. I am 21 years old and live in Israel after making Aliyah (immigrating to Israel) at the age of 9 with my parents. To say that living in Israel can be difficult is an understatement, but God is faithful! When we moved from America to Israel, my life started spiraling downwards, and I experienced many difficult years due to my struggle with fears and traumatic situations. Things got worse with time; my phobias increased tremendously resulting in my life dramatically changing.
When I was 15 years old I could no longer function in society. I totally withdrew from life and locked myself in my room for one and a half years. I had no hope of ever getting better and having a normal life again. Life for me became very dark.
Then God provided a Messianic Jewish counselor to help me find the courage to leave my room. God also provided the finances to do this through you, the faithful donors of ISTANDWITHISRAEL, without whose help I would not be writing to you as a whole young lady serving Yeshua as I am today.
Today I am a much healthier person and work for a Messianic ministry as a secretary. I cannot express my gratitude towards you. I thank you, the ISWI partners for your generosity of heart and that you have given freely just as Yeshua has given us.
Dear I STAND WITH ISRAEL,
I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your significant help in my life. If it were not for your donation, I would not have been able to go to university and complete my B.A. degree. My ambition is to continue postgraduate studies and work in the field of photography, video or painting, provided that it is the will of God.
My name, Muriel, means ‘God is my Teacher,’ which has always been the foundation in my life.
Thank you very much for your huge blessing! There are not enough words to express the blessing that you’ve given me!
May God bless you as you continue to help brothers and sisters in the body of Messiah here in Israel!
To: I STAND WITH ISRAEL
I was blessed to receive your generous donation as I needed serious dental work that I could not afford. The help and the support moved me from the bottom of my heart, because without it I would not have had the possibility to reconstruct my teeth.
I am a single mother of four, working part time for minimum pay and I’m 100% handicapped. I am not able to work in a full time position.
My current monthly expenses are heavy and I was totally unable to cover the cost of my dental care.
I bless you in the name of our Lord. May He continue to bless needy believers through you!
Dear “I STAND WITH ISRAEL” Staff,
A special and great big Thank You for blessing us as a couple, and for helping to provide for our Hebrew language online lessons.
This pricey, yet valuable, course allows me to improve my vocabulary and skills in the Hebrew language at hours when I am free from my job.
I work with a Holocaust charity for Holocaust survivors. For many of us living and working here in Israel, the daily expenses and rent are very high—Tel Aviv being one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Thank you for caring and for investing into another believing family. Through your donation you are also blessing members of our congregation, as I, along with my wife, am an active part of the leadership and worship.
To: I STAND WITH ISRAEL
I want to thank you for the generous financial help that was given to me by ISWI, which has greatly helped me in the process of opening the business.
In April I opened a carpentry workshop at moshav Yad HaShmona, for which I was in need of a considerable investment of money, to purchase the needed equipment.
With God’s help I managed to recruit most of the needed funds by taking loans, and by savings, and now that I received a donation from ISWI—it will help me significantly to purchase all needed machines and equipment for the carpentry workshop! Thank you very much!
With God’s help the business will grow and we’ll be able to hire workers next year. Many thanks, may God bless you!
THE GELTMAN FAMILY
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Yeshua the Messiah,
We thank you for your help and what you’ve done for us.
With the donation you granted us, we’ve been able to pay our debts and bills that had piled up. I could not work due to a serious liver disease, and therefore was qualified to receive disability. However, the national insurance was delayed, and put my family in a serious financial situation.
You came in at the most difficult stage in our lives! Our prayers were answered through you!
We pray that God would bless you and recompense you manifold for your work.
Shalom to ISTANDWITHISRAEL!
I thank you very much for the donation that helped me when I was in financial straits! You and the ISWI donors also helped me to cover my tuition fees so that I could attend university. I am studying Industry & Management, and look forward to finding work as an Assistant Manager in some company or factory.
Thank you very much!
Shalom to Brothers and Sisters at Maoz,
My name is Natali and I am 17 years old. I study at a school in an intensified course that combines advanced scientific studies; 5 units of chemistry, physics, mathematics and English. Together with that I also participate in various scientific programs that are even the very first in their field.
The school fee is higher because of the special academic program and the various projects, but thanks to you I was able to cover my last tuition fee in this school. Together with my studies I am also taking a pre-university course, for which I was able to pay, only because of your generosity.
After my studies I will serve in the IDF, like all Israelis, and contribute to my country for all that she has done for me. My dream is to study at the Technion, which is the highest academic institution in Israel for scientific and technical studies, something that is possible only because of my high academic achievements and grades at the pre-university course. ISTANDWITHISRAEL made it possible for me to achieve this level.
We pray and praise the Lord every day for using you as vessels in helping us and making things easier for us. Your help reached us like a miracle during a difficult time, when we didn’t know what to do. God reached out His helping hand through you.
To I STAND WITH ISRAEL,
I am writing to thank you for your generous 20,000 NIS ($5,000 US) financial support. I was very happy when I received the good news.
The financial assistance you provided will be of great help to us in paying our congregational expenses, and it will allow us to concentrate more of our time on serving our flock.
I would like to thank you once again for your support, and hope that you would keep supporting us in the future as well, because your financial support is vital in order for us to fulfill our roles in God’s Kingdom.
A GALILEAN MINISTER
Dear Friends, when I started to write an important paper about Islam for my Ph.D., many were happy and eager to see it done. There has been much enthusiasm over my theme as I am an Arab believer writing a dissertation in Hebrew that will help Arab and Jewish believers to understand the truth about Islam and to know better how to reach Muslims with the Gospel.
Yet, you dear saints were the only organization which helped financially with a generous gift of 25,000 NIS which allowed me to reduce my working hours and give myself more fully to finishing the paper. I pray that the Lord will support and expand your ministries in every way as you are supporting others in need.
Thank you so much for the generous scholarship. These funds will allow me to continue pursuing my studies towards a degree in Political Science, International Relations, and History.
Your work among the Body of Messiah in Israel is a true blessing. I am deeply grateful for your ongoing investment in my higher education.