Weekly Q&A: What does the term “Torah” mean?

The word “Torah” comes from the Hebrew root meaning “to shoot an arrow in a straight direction.” The noun torah as it appears within the Old Testament means “instruction.”

By the end of the Old Testament period, the Judeans began to collect writings they deemed authoritative and inspired. The first collection were five books, which tradition ascribed to Moses—the Five Books of Moses, also called the Pentateuch. Because these were seen as God’s instruction and authoritative, they received the name “Torah,” Instruction. Although not everything in the Five Books of Moses were instructional, for example there are narrative stories, ancient Judaism came to see everything as God’s instruction to His people.

The Jewish Scriptures were collected into three groups of writings by the first century—Moses, Prophets, and Psalms. This threefold division fits the organization of the Jewish Canon today—Torah, Prophets, and Writings. The “Torah” can refer either to the first five books, or it can refer to the entire collection of the Jewish Canon.

Many Christians have gained a negative sense of the Torah because in Greek the word is translated as nomos, law. The juxtaposition of “law and grace,” “faith and works” within Protestantism has left many Christians to think of the Torah negatively. Yet, within the New Testament—in the words of Jesus, Paul, and James—the Torah is connected to life, as it is within Judaism. In fact, it would be more accurate to gain a sense for what the New Testament writers, like Paul, meant if we translated nomos as “instruction” instead of “law.”

Because the Torah was written and transmitted through manuscripts, some Jewish groups felt it improper to write down their interpretation and commentary on the Torah. Thus, Pharisaic Judaism spoke of two “Torahs”—the Written Torah, which refers to the Old Testament, Jewish Canon, and the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah refers to the oral teachings, interpretation, and commentary which built up around the Torah but came from the Sages of Israel.

The Oral Torah was not seen as contrary to the Written Torah; rather, it was complementary. The Oral Torah sought to make the instruction of the Torah plain, relevant, and understandable within the contemporary situation of the Sage and his disciples. It is no different than what pastors do on any given Sunday when they seek to provide contemporary relevance and instruction from ancient texts to their congregation.

Marc Turnage is President/CEO of Biblical Expeditions. He is an authority on ancient Judaism and Christian origins. He has published widely for both academic and popular audiences. His most recent book, Windows into the Bible, was named by Outreach Magazine as one of its top 100 Christian living resources. Marc is a widely sought-after speaker and a gifted teacher. He has been guiding groups to the lands of the Bible—Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy—for over twenty years.

Facebook: @witbuniversity
Podcast: Windows into the Bible Podcast

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A New Year’s Resolution Suggestion for the UN: Book Archaeology Tours to Israel

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Before fireworks saturated the skies across the world, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) rang in 2023 on December 30 with another irrational resolution against Israel. This time, it requested that the International Court of Justice investigate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli “annexation,” and the “legal status of the occupation.” By December 1, 2022, the UNGA had already passed 15 resolutions defaming Israel and only 13 for the rest of the world combined. The Assembly barely noticed the nightmarish policies of Iran, North Korea, and Syria against their citizens. 

The UNGA’s misguided resolutions do not escape the watchful eyes of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus. Our Heavenly Father is the ultimate authority who deeded Israel to the Jews and chose them for His redemptive purposes to make the land bloom, transcribe His words into Scripture, and visit Earth as Immanuel—God with us. 

Israel’s abundant archaeological discoveries in 2022 surpass any UNGA resolutions and repeatedly authenticate the Bible. Noted as the most popular book in world history, the Bible has sold nearly 4 billion copies in the past 50 years. Biblical archaeology commenced in the 19th century and now adds up in a storehouse of celebration in its own kind of fireworks, with facts that connect modern Israel to Scripture’s ancient pages. 

The 2022 archaeological achievements have become too numerous to list, but I am highlighting some of my favorites heading into 2023. It promises to be another good year, with modern technology helping to reveal the authenticity of the facts on and under the ground. 

For example, by using a sophisticated geomagnetic dating method, an exciting new dating tool can reconstruct a magnetic field. In 2022, it verified the destruction of the First Temple and the city of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian army in 586 B.C. You may read about it in 2 Kings 25:2. The magnetic field instrument is enhancing scientific data about Egyptian, Aramean, Assyrian, and Babylonian military campaigns against Israel and Judah. To date, research has led Tel Aviv and Hebrew University professors—plus 20 researchers from other countries—to verify 21 layers of destruction in 17 excavation sites. Their report is published in the National Academy of Sciences (USA). 

One of my favorite discoveries is further evidence of King Hezekiah’s reign. Hezekiah is no stranger to biblical (and now scientific) history. His name is mentioned 128 times in Scripture. In 2022, Israeli archaeologists, after years of research, deciphered inscriptions on stone tablets previously found in Jerusalem with more evidence about eighth-century B.C. King Hezekiah. In November 2019, the day before I attended Israel’s Christian Media Summit, I waded through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, a 1,750-foot marvel of ancient construction. Splashing through it, mostly ankle deep, I was newly astonished by Hezekiah’s decision to bring water from one side of Jerusalem to the other in order to protect this vital resource. I touched a tunnel wall marker in wonder at the exact middle engineered by workers’ construction—which had begun at opposite ends! 

One mention is found in 2 Chronicles 32:30 (NIV): “It was Hezekiah who blocked the upper outlet of the Gihon spring and channeled the water down to the west side of the City of David.” Ze’ev Elkin, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage, observed, “Before our very eyes, these new finds become the biblical verses themselves and speak in their voice.” In their research, archeologists Gershon Galil and Eli Shukron concluded in 2022 that a piece of limestone dug up in 2007 has a partial inscription that Galil deciphers as “Hezekiah made pools in Jerusalem.” Further, he believes that this rock was part of a monument, which were virtually unknown in ancient Israel. Yet now there is evidence of them. 

With so much concern today about the dangers of the Islamic Republic of Iran, it is inspiring to revisit their earliest history—in ancient Persia. Last year, scholars announced success in unlocking a linguistic mystery where they can now explore a Persian language called Linear Elamite from 4,000 years ago. The 40-cuneiform system—the earliest known writing system—was all found in Iran. Cyrus the Great conquered the Elamites, making that region part of his Persian empire. 

Queen Esther, beloved by both Christians and Jews, lived in Susa, the Elamite capital. In this historic reality, Queen Esther lobbied her king (by the way, setting an example for today’s Christians) and saved her people, as part of God’s plan to reinvigorate the Jewish ancestral homeland in 1948. Elam is mentioned in Genesis and Isaiah, and in Daniel 8:2, the prophet wrote: “In my vision I saw myself in the citadel of Susa in the province of Elam.” Acts 2:7-9 mentions Elamites on the day of Pentecost (Shavuot) when the Holy Spirit fell on the gathering in Jerusalem. “Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites…’” 

Another of my favorite discoveries is Shiloh in Israel’s biblical heartland (Judea and Samaria). The site includes a number of amazing finds led by archaeologist Scott Stripling. Among his extensive credentials, he is Director of Excavations for the Associates for Biblical Research at ancient Shiloh. A Christian, his staff is comprised of additional distinguished experts both Jewish and Christian. 

Dr. Stripling explained a discovery in May and June 2022 with volunteers from 11 nations and 12 different universities. He observed, “We believe we found piers that formed a door into a gate complex at the northern edge of the biblical city.” He went on to say that Eli the High Priest died at the gate mentioned in 1 Samuel 4:18. Associates for Biblical Research has spent four seasons of excavations unearthing evidence of the Tabernacle. Walking on the grounds of Shiloh where Eli lived and where Samuel’s mother dedicated him to service is an experience I will always treasure. The Tabernacle rested for 369 years in Shiloh with the Ark of the Covenant inside.

It is also exciting when reading about children discovering Israeli artifacts. A few days before Hanukkah 2022, Alon Cohen, Liam Atias, and Rotem Levnat found a rare oil lamp completely intact. The three fourth-grade boys were on a school field trip; they carefully pulled the lamp out of the ground and informed their parents, who contacted the Israel Antiquities Authority. They deservedly received Good Citizen Awards. The trio of Israeli boys could serve as outstanding examples to the United Nations to choose what is right and true regarding Israel.

With these samples and a vast store of on-the-ground facts, it is shameful that many countries in the United Nations—blindsided by hatred—cling to falsehoods rather than facts. The December 30, 2022, resolution reveals once again that facts are not celebrated, whether in years past or new. Reelected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu weighed in on this resolution that he accused of “distorting historical facts,” adding that the Jewish people cannot be “an occupier” in their own land.

As my title suggests, 2023 should find the United Nations participating on archaeological tours in Israel. Maybe Bibi should issue an invitation. 

May we remember Psalm 105:8-11 as God’s guidepost: “He has remembered His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations, the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac. Then He confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, saying, ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan, as the portion of your inheritance.’”

Please join CBN Israel this week in prayer for Israel and the Middle East:

  • Pray that United Nations will cast votes based on facts about Israel. 
  • Pray for added wisdom for PM Netanyahu and his new coalition.
  • Pray for Israeli leaders and a coalition of free nations to make decisions that keep Iran from nuclear capability.
  • Pray for Christians to increase prayers and public advocacy for Israel worldwide.

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel, a guest columnist at All Israel News, and has frequently traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on Facebook.

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Holocaust Survivor: Sofi’s Story

Sofi was born the day WWII started, and her father was a Red Army naval officer in Latvia. When he went to war, Sofi’s mother was instantly taken prisoner, and the Nazis took the children to Germany. Those that could pass as Germans were raised in German homes.

Tragically, Sofi recalls, “I had dark hair, so I was taken to an orphanage. The Nazis conducted experiments on us…” As the war ended, the Soviet army liberated the orphanage.

Sofi was reunited with her mother, but it took years to find her brother and sister, who had made it to Israel. She and her mother tried four times to join them, and finally immigrated to Israel in 1972. Sofi married, had kids, and enjoyed life. Yet as she got older, things changed.

Her husband became paralyzed, and she cared for him at home for three years—until she became too weak, and he needed to go to a special care facility. She gets lonely living by herself, and has trouble walking—so it is hard to leave her apartment. But who could help her?

Thankfully, friends like you offered a lifeline. Through CBN Israel, donors brought welcome visits and food baskets—plus, a new walker! She exclaimed, “You bring groceries, and you never forget to call me on my birthday… I’m so happy you still remember us. It’s great to know you care!”

And your support of CBN Israel can let other Holocaust survivors like Sofi know they are not forgotten—as well as immigrants, single moms, and lone soldiers in need. So many in the Holy Land are going through difficult times. You can provide groceries, shelter, and financial help to those who are hurting.

Please help us reach out and make a difference!


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Weekly Devotional: How’s Your Light?

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16 NIV).

We live in a world where people like to talk. Our lives are filled with the noise of communication. Our news, sports, and even weather are filled with talking heads that all have something to say. Social media provides a platform for everyone to talk and express themselves. As followers of the Lord, too often we assume that we display our light through what we say, the causes we defend, and even the arguments we have on God’s behalf. 

Light shines. It provides illumination in the darkness. It just does; that’s its nature. It doesn’t have to announce itself or let everyone know what it’s going to do. It shines and is visible to all.

Many of us who grew up in church were told that the way our light would shine was by sharing with our words, but that’s not what Jesus says. He equates letting our light shine with our good works. Thus, it’s not what we say; it’s what we do. Our actions, deeds, and works cause those around us to give glory to our Father in heaven.

As the saying goes, talk is cheap. We live in a world filled with cheap talk, quite often even by those who are followers of the Lord. We complain about the rise of anti-religious attitudes and secularism in our society, and we think that we need to speak out all the louder to stem this growing tide.

Perhaps, if we take Jesus more seriously, we should let our light shine by doing good works. People can argue with our words; they cannot argue with our actions aligned with the teachings of Jesus. 

Do our good works cause people around us to give glory to God every day? Do we realize that perhaps the reason our world doesn’t glorify God is because we lack good works, or our light isn’t shining brightly enough? Maybe we should focus more on what our works communicate than our words. So, how’s your light; how’s our light?


Father, may we live our lives today obediently submitted to Your will and commands, so that those around us may see our good works and give glory to You. Amen.

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From Prison in Iran to Freedom in America, She Still Speaks Truth

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

I have followed and written about Iran’s 1979 Islamic takeover until the present-day “Women, Life, Freedom” movement protesting this ruthless regime. Given my long interest in communicating about the dangerous Islamic Republic leadership, God blessed me as only He can. He orchestrated my meeting Iranian Christian Marziyeh (Marzi) Amirizadeh in a doctor’s office waiting room! I then welcomed the privilege of interviewing her.

She breathed life into facts far beyond any broadcasts or commentary could do. Risking their lives in Iran’s oppressive regime, Marziyeh and her close friend Maryam Rostampour covertly shared the Gospel. With undercover deliveries from believers outside Iran, Marzi and Maryam gave away 20,000 Bibles and founded several secret house churches. After four years, they came to the attention of officials who arrested them in 2009.

When the guard booked them, he hung a sign around their necks with their names and charges that read, “Accused of promoting Christianity in Iran.” He then took their pictures, whereupon smiles spread across Marzi and Maryam’s faces. They viewed the accusations as an honor.

They were jailed in Iran’s Evin prison, notorious for its harsh treatment of political prisoners. Its unfettered brutality is feared among Iranians who live in the world’s biggest terror-sponsoring regime. From their beloved homeland, taken over by ayatollahs who want to rule the world by any means, the Islamic Republic regime has conducted terrorist attacks and assassinations in more than 20 nations since 1979.

Marziyeh and Maryam remained imprisoned for 259 days. During their captivity, the Holy Spirit shone through them with officials and prisoners alike into the unimaginable darkness within Evin’s walls before their miraculous release. Marzi’s best-selling books, Captive in Iran and A Love Journey with God, detail the severe hardships—and the miracles—as a significant reminder of wide-ranging persecutions among some 360 million Christians worldwide living under tyranny.

Since immigrating to the United States, Marzi has received her master’s degree in International Affairs from Georgia Tech and ran this year for Georgia’s legislature. Although she did not win the seat, it was a way for her to highlight the privilege of religious freedom in the context of Iran’s threats to the United States. She plans to persist in advocating for Iran’s 85 million people, 70 percent of whom are under 30 years old. During her imprisonment in 2009, she recalls, “I was witness to how many people got arrested and tortured right in front of my eyes. It broke my heart.” With radical clerics running the government, Iranians are understandably afraid. However, “Women, Life, Freedom” protests in the last three months are clearly showing the people’s bravery and their yearning for freedom.

Marzi’s continuing purpose in life is to draw attention to the oppression of Iran’s people. She is troubled about media bias and their refusal to give a platform to Christians like her who have lived under persecution and want to offer facts to correct/embellish the narrative of suffering. 

She “strongly believes” that this protest will go on. It began in September 2022 following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini. Under arrest for improperly wearing her head covering (hijab), Amini was beaten to death while in “morality” police custody. Marzi observes, “It’s not just about a piece of cloth. The protesters are not in the streets facing guns and bullets just for that. Our people wonder if the Western nations are going to stand with them for regime change rather than betraying them by making deals.” She suggests that nations recall their ambassadors from Iran and stop negotiations and any financial support that would release billions of dollars “used to suppress and kill more people.” The Biden administration’s temporary decision to keep the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on the Foreign Terrorist Organizations List was welcomed by Iranians.

The “Women, Life, Freedom” movement embodies decades of simmering frustrations especially among the younger population, which has given up on reforms. Marzi articulates that Iranians consider themselves and their country separate from what they view as a criminal regime and believe that they and Iran have been taken hostage by the Islamic Republic. She explained, “Sharia law has ruined their lives, but it’s not that they are turning their back to God. As soon as you are born, there is no option for you. Papers are filled out right away and you became a Muslim.” She added that only the Koran is available in bookstores, and that millions of people never practice Islam.

The Islamic dictatorship’s injustices, tight social and political control, economic hardships, and discrimination against ethnic minorities prevail. Marzi explains, “For many years the regime has deceived people about reforms, saying it just to calm people down.” What’s different now? “This time, people are saying ‘enough is enough’ and say they will fight until the regime collapses.” Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reports that, since September, more than 500 people have been killed thus far, among them 63 children. The prison population is bloated, with an estimated 18,000 detained and 39 who may face a death sentence. One protester, Majid-Reza Rahnavard, 23, was executed publicly. He was convicted of “waging war against God,” a capital offense. His body hung from a crane in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

During my interview, Marzi reflected on her life growing up, which answers important questions about today’s protests. “Every morning at school, they forced us to stand in line and say, ‘Death to America and death to Israel,’ that Israeli people are our enemies, and they should be eliminated from the face of the world. That is cruel to brainwash little children.” She explained that the radical clerics’ ideology teaches students that the Twelfth Imam will come to conquer the world through an Islamic caliphate and that “you will go to heaven by destroying Israelis and Americans.”

Marzi considers herself fortunate, since one of her father’s relatives married an American woman. When they traveled to Iran, as a child Marzi loved hearing about America. She views it as a miracle and dreamed about one day coming to America. “Finally, God brought me here and I’m so blessed and honored to live in this great country.”

She verified that Iran has the fastest-growing church in the world “coming to Christ. Persecution is helping people to see the truth. “When we were evangelizing in Iran,” Marzi recalls, “we didn’t have even one bad experience. Everyone was so thirsty to find the truth and I could see that God had prepared their hearts even before we talked to them.” She adds that she “strongly believes” that millions of people will come to Christ very soon. She referred to Jeremiah 49:38: “‘I will set my throne in Elam and destroy her king and officials,’ declares the LORD.” Genesis 10:22 shows that the region was named for Elam, son of Shem, son of Noah. The civilization existed for thousands of years, from 3200–539 B.C.

Amid the insults, torture, intimidation, and threats of a death sentence, Marzi experienced timely answers and Bible verses where God brought illumination into her mind and emotions. “It was very difficult, but the Holy Spirit reminded me that I should practice how to love my enemy since Jesus told us to ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’” Once, when an interrogator asked her to give him the name of her pastor, she responded, “Jesus Christ is my pastor.” On another occasion—among frequent abuses—when a prison employee asked why she was incarcerated, Marzi answered, “I’m here just because of my faith. I’m not a criminal.” The response: “You should be executed!” She survived the brutality amid the beauty of having a relationship with Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. “Without the Holy Spirit, it is nothing but a religion.”

When I asked Marzi to articulate her message to Americans, she referred to 1 Corinthians 12:25-26: “God has so composed the body … that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.” She added, “The church in Iran is suffering for justice and we have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with Iranians who are fighting against the enemy of the church and the world. Our duty is not just reading our Bibles at home, enjoying our freedom, and going to church. For me, faith without action is dead. Everywhere Christians must stand up for freedoms before it’s too late. The Islamic Republic regime is a threat to the whole world. They are spreading agendas into your soul. Do not invite this evil to your home and to your country. Wake up!” 

Getting to know Marzi—and experiencing the authenticity of her courageous faith and her calling—inspired me to appreciate my religious freedom more deeply. I pray you will also be inspired to uphold Iran and other nations that persecute and kill Christians by praying, advocating, and donating to ministries aimed at blessing and rescuing the persecuted.

May we ponder this verse in Joshua 1:9—Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Please join with CBN Israel in prayer this week for Christians in the Middle East:

  • Pray that the worldwide Christian communities who live in freedom will seek ways to advocate for persecuted Christians.
  • Pray for tyrannized Christians to sense comfort and wisdom through the Holy Spirit.
  • Pray for Marziyeh (Marzi) Amirizadeh—for more open doors where she can raise awareness and motivate audiences as advocates for those who are suffering.
  • Pray for millions more Iranians to meet their Savior Jesus.

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel, a guest columnist at All Israel News, and has frequently traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on Facebook.

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Christmas Songs, Broadway, Philanthropy, and Politics: A Surprising Combination of American Jewish Contributions

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

The song “White Christmas” is deeply embedded in American culture, whether your state is snowy or sunny this time of year. Irving Berlin (1888-1989) wrote “White Christmas” in 1947. He expressed his love and appreciation for America after his Jewish family fled the pogroms (persecutions) in Russia in 1893 and settled in the Lower East Side of New York City. Berlin is considered one of the most prolific songwriters of the 20th century, having amassed some 3,000 songs to his credit.

Jews have immigrated to America since before the American Revolution. Around two-and-a-half-million Jews came here from Central Europe and Russia between 1881 and 1924. My husband Paul’s family was among those escaping persecutions and political upheaval and immigrated by way of Ellis Island.

I have seen firsthand the history and gratitude among Jewish immigrants through my husband’s eyes. Paul is a proud first-generation American, born in 1944. Retired from business ownership and humanitarian aid positions, he is now a published poet and author. As Paul’s parents did when they were children, many Jewish families embarked on risky voyages, arriving in the New World with little more than a suitcase. They stood at ship railings with tears in their eyes when they saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time.

America beckoned them in an era before Israel’s 1948 rebirth as a modern Jewish state. “Shelter me in the shadow of your wings” from Psalm 17:8 was an inspiring phrase among many refugees who described America as the “Golden Land.”

In America, where Irving Berlin deeply valued his opportunities and freedom, the composer’s “White Christmas” is an all-time favorite. Another is his beloved patriotic song “God Bless America,” with its eloquent lyrics asking God to “stand beside her and guide her through the night with the light from above.” And, among his numerous accomplishments on the business side of the music industry, Berlin helped pioneer the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), which protected the rights and royalties of songwriters.

Later, Berlin wrote a Broadway production based on his song, “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning.” After opening on Broadway on July 4, 1942, then filmed in Hollywood, the show toured across America, as well as army bases near battle lines in Europe and the South Pacific. Due to his patriotism and expert planning, Berlin raised over $6 million for the Army Emergency Relief Fund. President Harry S. Truman awarded Irving Berlin the Army’s Medal of Merit in 1945 for “Extraordinary service as creator and producer of the musical revue, This Is the Army.”

However, the famous creator was not the only Jewish composer to pen Christmas songs. Some of the most-played favorites were written decades ago by 11 Jewish lyricists and composers. Among them was Johnny Marks, who in 1939 wrote “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which is much loved by children. You may not have eaten chestnuts, yet the musical notes of “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” by Mel Torme in 1945 “helped to make the season bright.” 

“Winter Wonderland” was composed by non-Jew Richard B. Smith and his Jewish friend Felix Bernard. Smith wrote it as a poem in 1934 while in a sanitorium for tuberculosis, then showed it to his friend Felix, who wrote the music and promoted it into fame. It was first recorded the same year by Richard Himber and his Ritz-Carlton Orchestra.

Song, dance, fine arts, theater, and musical instruments are woven into the ancient and present-day fabric of the Jewish community. King David, beloved by both Jews and Christians, not only filled the psalms with songs, but he danced, too! The Book of Psalms provides sacred evidence of the musical importance and contributions of both ancient and contemporary Jews.

In today’s American Jewish community, some of my favorites are Bob Dylan, Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, and Carole King, along with other entertainers like Jerry Seinfeld and Harrison Ford, one of my favorite actors. Jewish worship music is my top listening choice, as performed by Paul Wilbur, Marty Goetz, Lamb’s Joel Chernoff, and Aaron Shust. Their musical renditions radiate with joy and inspiration.

Turning from Jewish musical giftings to philanthropy, fame, and organizations, Jewish contributions have benefited the United States in outsized ways despite their small population, which today numbers slightly over 7 million. Albert Einstein, Elie Wiesel, Stephen Spielberg, and Elizabeth Taylor are recognized, iconic names.

In the philanthropy genre, wealthy Jewish donors are known for their generosity. Yet another sector is also generous as pointed out by Bar Nassim, a postdoctoral fellow in modern Jewish studies at Brandeis University. Sixty percent of Jewish households earning less than $50,000 a year donate, compared with 46 percent of non-Jewish households in that income bracket,” he notes on The Conversation website. He also points out that, via both private and public donations, Jews represent more than 7,000 foundations. We Christians would do well to follow their examples to increase our giving.

Jewish generosity, whether secular or religious, is underpinned by Scripture. Our call is the same: to give to our churches and charities with compassion toward those less fortunate. These Scriptures enshrine tithes and offerings:

“Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice” (Psalm 112:5).

“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16).

“Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).

Beyond Christmas songs written from Jewish hearts and Jewish philanthropy that has strengthened our country, another entity originated in the United States. It grows more significant amid Jew hatred here at home, toward Israel, and worldwide. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was founded in 1953 by the Jewish Zionist Isaiah Leo (Si) Kenen. AIPAC is the foremost organization designed to encourage and persuade the U.S. government to enact specific policies that create a strong, enduring, and mutually beneficial relationship with our ally Israel.

From its beginning, AIPAC has found that aiming to educate both Democrats and Republicans in Congress—and by bringing together every race, religion, and background as activists—results in strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship. AIPAC is historically a Jewish organization; however, they have welcomed pro-Israel Christian, Black, and Hispanic members who are effective advocates with their members of Congress to vote on Israel’s security aid and related legislation, a two-way street of benefits.

AIPAC has led the way to advocate in a bipartisan manner with Congress on security aid to Israel, where around 75 percent of it is spent here in the U.S. at factories whose employees are manufacturing military hardware as tools for Israel to oppose aggressive terror. The flawed 2015 Iran deal, the U.S. administration’s current effort to revive that misguided deal, and Israel’s security aid remain AIPAC’s most consequential issues to oppose terror by promoting facts and common sense in Congress.

As we lift our voices in the sacred music of the season and the popular Christmas songs penned by talented Jewish songwriters, let us make sure to give thanks and increase our friendships with Jewish Americans.

Join CBN Israel this week in prayer for both the Jewish and Christian communities:

  • Pray for the safety of the Jewish community in Israel as they observe Hanukkah as well as Arab Christians in the Holy Land as they celebrate Christmas.
  • Pray also for the American Jewish community in their Hanukkah celebrations.
  • Pray for vast populations in our world who are suffering and for extra compassion from both Jews and Christians to ease their circumstances.
  • Pray that the reality of Jesus’ birth in Israel will convey God’s unconditional love toward us and with increased awareness of a world that needs His Light in the darkness.

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel, a guest columnist at All Israel News, and has frequently traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on Facebook.

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Jesus Celebrated Hanukkah’s Momentous Victory at the Festival of Lights 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

The festival of Hanukkah (“dedication” in Hebrew) celebrates far more than delicious latkes, candles, gifts, and jelly doughnuts. As an observant Jew, Jesus celebrated the enduring major festivals—Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. He annually walked the recently rediscovered Pilgrim Road up to the Temple in Jerusalem. 

Yet the only mention of Hanukkah in Scripture appears in John 10:22-23: “Then the Festival of Dedication[a] took place in Jerusalem, and it was winter. 23 Jesus was walking in the temple complex in Solomon’s Colonnade” (HCSB). Hanukkah thus marks the joyous victory of a small band of dedicated fighters who had prevailed against the formidable army of Syrian King Antiochus IV some 400 years before Jesus’ birth.

Most Christians have heard of the Maccabees who organized themselves to oppose Antiochus IV. In 168 B.C., Antiochus’ hatred of the Jews resulted in his campaign of destruction and lawlessness to force the Jews to abandon their Judaism, substitute pagan practices for it, and assimilate into Greek culture. His soldiers vandalized and desecrated the Temple. 

In a series of miracles, the Maccabees won against all odds, cleansed, and restored the Temple, and found a small earthenware flask of Temple oil that burned not for a single night but for an astonishing eight days—until a big batch of specialized oil could be made. The eight days of oil in the Temple Menorah served as a symbol of the Maccabees’ victory, one of God’s many promises guaranteeing the survival of His people.

Today, Israelis and Jews worldwide now light their own menorahs for eight days each year. The festival is celebrated annually on Judaism’s lunar calendar on the 25th of Kislev, and generally falls in December and sometimes November on our Gregorian calendar. This year, Hanukkah candles are lit each night from sundown December 18 to sundown December 26. The dates intersect with our celebrations of Jesus as the Light of the world and the Hebrews’ Maccabean victory. 

That long-ago conflict over Jerusalem was far from unusual, given its religious and geographic strategic importance. Over the centuries Israel’s capital has been attacked 52 times, captured (then recaptured) 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice. Aggressive wars against Israel can be viewed as modern miracles—a small nation like a small band of Maccabees, defeating bigger enemies that are bent on destroying them. Among these conflicts were the 1948 War of Independence, 1967 Six-Day War, and 1973 Yom Kippur War. 

Like replicas of Antiochus IV, modern dictators issue threats against Israel—from Iran’s ayatollahs and their surrogates in Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza to Putin’s Russia. Furthermore, false claims accusing Israel of apartheid persist in the United Nations. UN Watch reports that on December 1, 2022, the United Nations carried out an astonishing 15 resolutions against Israel—yet just 13 against the rest of the world combined. Take a moment to absorb these outrageous facts. 

Even though Israel provides humanitarian aid to other nations, even though its innovations offer worldwide benefits to humankind, Israel is the UN’s only scapegoat. Not Iran, whose security police have already killed more than 400 protesters and are holding thousands more. Not Syria’s President Assad, who’s guilty of promoting a civil war that has killed half a million Syrian citizens. Not Russia, senselessly murdering Ukrainians. Not Boko Haram, the terrorist Shiite Muslims who murder, kidnap, rape, and burn churches in northern Nigeria. Just Israel.

In another look at the Hanukkah calendar, Hanukkah began nearly 600 years before the first official Christmas date was decided. Still a controversial discussion among Christians today, December 25 was chosen as our Lord’s birthday by Pope Julius—350 years after Jesus’ birth—and made official in 529 A.D. by Roman Emperor Justinian, who made it a civic holiday. The pope and emperor connected Christmas to the Winter Solstice, a pagan festival, while claiming to dismiss the pagan practices. 

It is more than unfortunate that these decisions helped cement a version of Christianity that disavowed its Jewish roots, thus making way for Replacement Theology, which wrongly declares that the church has replaced Israel in God’s plan. Non-Jews who believe in our Jewish Lord Jesus are adopted into the ancient root of Judaism, but we do not replace the Jews. God’s covenants with the Jews are permanent. Through adoption, God has invited us into His family. 

Reinforcing His pledges to this very day, God has enacted the ancient Maccabee triumph of 2,200 years ago with every victory before and since, based on His covenants with the Jews. The word “covenant” is repeated 313 times in Scripture, emphasizing God’s unbreakable promises and His bond with His chosen people. From Abraham, Moses, and the prophets to Jesus, His disciples, and the Apostle Paul, God chose and prepared them as vessels in world history—to transcribe His words into our Old and New Testaments. In an astonishing act of unconditional love, He came to earth as Immanuel—God with us—through His birth into the Jewish culture. 

Imperfect vessels—just like us Christians and every human born—the Jews have since the time of Abraham transported in their culture the keys to redemption planned by God the Father from the very beginning of His creation and His decision to offer free will to all. 

Despite Antiochus IV and every hateful dictator who has attempted and is now trying to eradicate all Jews from the face of the earth, God has unconditionally maintained His covenant whether Jews followed or rejected Him at different moments in history.   

In a timely happening for the Hanukkah season, The Jerusalem Post reported on November 23, 2022, that the Israel Antiquities Authority discovered a theft that turned up a rare coin from 169-164 B.C. The ancient coin features none other than Antiochus IV. In the article, Dr. Danny Shion observed, “Antiochus, king of the Seleucid kingdom, was officially named ‘Epiphanes’—the face of God, but behind his back his subjects called him ‘Epimanes’—the crazy Antiochus.” Antiochus is among blasphemous leaders who equate themselves with God. Israel haters and those who scorn the Bible indeed reenact the evil Antiochus IV, who held Jews in contempt and sought to destroy them.

Bible scholars have varying opinions about what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the Light of the World.” But I agree with those who believe that Jesus declared Himself as the light at the Festival of Lights, the Festival of Rededication. Solomon’s Colonnade was a public location that many of us have visited in Jerusalem. The only mention of Hanukkah in John 10:22 goes on to say in verse 24, “The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’” It is easy to assume that He declared Himself as the true Light of the World among the candle-lit menorahs at the Festival of Lights.

Jesus, Immanuel, is our Light to the door of eternal life, the Victor over death and hate, who comes in the Holy Spirit to light our lives now and forever! 

The Christian community celebrates Jesus’ birth where, 2,000 years ago, serenaded by a heavenly host, Levitical shepherds rushed to Bethlehem Ephrathah (“fruitful”), its ancient name. Our Messiah, the Shepherd of our souls, was born into the ancient Jewish culture, enacted Jewish customs, read from Old Testament scrolls, and chose to sacrifice Himself as the Perfect Lamb of God. 

This Christmas let us ask Jesus to renew His light within us, to stand stronger against Israel’s oppressive enemies in their enmity toward Jesus’ earthly Jewish tribe.

Please join CBN Israel in prayer this week for the Jewish nation and people:

  • Pray for Jewish families worldwide for safety as they celebrate Hanukkah.
  • Pray that the true reasons for Hanukkah and Christmas emerge amid the commercial trappings. 
  • Pray for the restoration of Judeo-Christian values in our nation and the world.
  • Pray for believers to reach out to those who are homeless or alone. 

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel, a guest columnist at All Israel News, and has frequently traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on Facebook.

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Combatting Poverty and Food Insecurity in Israel

After the pandemic, many families have fallen into economic hardship; from illness or unemployment to any number of constraints the pandemic put on families around the world. More than two years later, many of these families are still in serious need of help.

Additionally, this year has seen many unexpected hardships, including the Ukrainian refugee crisis and rising inflation, making for a dire economic situation. Thanks to compassionate friends like you, CBN Israel has been able to pivot to address the influx of needs throughout the country, with many additional families becoming reliant on monthly assistance. Rising prices, political instability, and the cost of living changed the landscape of the community and required swift action to address the incoming need.

Because of caring donors, CBN Israel has been there for hundreds of destitute seniors and families across the nation—providing regular deliveries of food packages, food vouchers, and other essential aid. In fact, you have made it possible to distribute record amounts of groceries and basic relief to Israel’s most vulnerable people.

Daniel Carlson, the national director of CBN Israel, exclaimed, “Thank you for sharing God’s love and hope with those who are poor and deprived throughout the Holy Land! My team and I see the dire needs on a daily basis, and so I’m especially grateful to you for unwavering support. Your commitment to blessing Israel and her people in need is making a substantial difference.”

Your prayers and provisions can let so many in Israel know they are not forgotten—including lonely refugees, aging Holocaust survivors, single moms, and terror victims. Together, we can be a tremendous blessing to this special land—thank you!

The cries continue daily in the Holy Land from those who are hurting. Your generous support can provide them with groceries, housing, and financial aid—while also reporting true stories and news from Jerusalem.


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Bethlehem’s Christmas Amid the Palestinian Authority’s Upside-Down History

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

On Saturday December 3, lights were set ablaze on the tall Christmas tree in Bethlehem’s Manger Square. Its lighting marked the beginning of the Christmas season where Christian pilgrims by the thousands will travel to Israel for festivities—the first time since the two-year COVID-19 lockdown left Bethlehem’s streets empty. Expectations run high for the “Christmas rejoicing” in this city of 100,000. Paramount in the minds of Christians is singing beloved carols and standing in the land where Jesus was born.

I am grateful that Christians celebrating Jesus’ birth in Israel are familiar with biblical truths. However, the light of truth has dimmed amid the Muslim Palestinian leaders’ versions of Christmas, which are sacrilegious in the extreme. Here’s when that sacrilege began:

In 1995, an extraordinary announcement was made on the roof of the Church of the Nativity, when now-deceased Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat declared, “Welcome to Bethlehem, birthplace of the first Palestinian Christian—Jesus Christ.” We know that Jesus was neither a Christian nor a Palestinian. Yet current Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has kept up the Arafat lies, falsely asserting that Jesus was “a Palestinian messenger who would become a guiding light for millions around the world.”

Unfortunately, many have swallowed the “Palestinian messengers”  propaganda—among them Palestinians, world media, far too many United Nations member nations, and yes, Christians who do not follow scriptural truths.

It gets worse. The Palestinian Authority Daily published an imam’s 2020 comment about Jesus, calling Him “the first Palestinian fida’i (self-sacrificing fighter).” That term reveals the true nature of the PLO and PA’s Fatah leaders who in essence seek to coopt Jesus and portray Him as the first Palestinian terrorist. Palestinian Media Watch reports that in political cartoons, they depict Palestinians on a crucifix. It seems that the Palestinian leadership and media are willing to stoop so low as to substitute the words “Jesus” and “Israel” for “Palestinian” and “Palestine” without any hesitation or remorse.

Tragically, the hopes for peace never materialized from the 1993 Oslo Accords signing that granted governance through Yasser Arafat’s PLO to the Palestinian Authority. Instead, Bethlehem’s Arab Christians have suffered intimidation for decades—ever since the Muslim Palestinian rule began.

For readers who have traveled to Bethlehem in earlier years and better times, you blessed the Arab Christian businesspeople in their shops filled with beautiful mementos. Since the Muslim Palestinian Arabs have taken over, however, the Arab Christian population has dwindled as persecution escalated. For example, before the Oslo Accords, Christian Arabs lived as the majority in Bethlehem. As the Muslim population has increased for the last 50 years, the Arab Christian majority has fallen from 80 percent to 15 percent. Unlike in Israel—a country that protects religious freedom—no such Palestinian law exists. Although Palestinian leaders insist they protect every religion, the reality is far different. Christians are now treated as second-class citizens. They can no longer travel freely, or shop wherever they want. Small wonder that Christians choose to leave Bethlehem.

Nevertheless, another reality shines far brighter: dispelling darkness in Bible-believing hearts. What I am sharing about Bethlehem isn’t the usual Christmas story outlined in our beloved Christmas carol’s reference to the sleepy, humble “little town.” Rather, we go back further in history to Genesis 35:19-21, which describes the location of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem (Ephrath) as being situated on the road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. 

In Genesis 35:19-21, Jacob cast his tent at Migdal where he buried Rachel, the love of his life. “So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb. Israel moved on again and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder.” Micah 4:8—a prophecy written around 700 years before Jesus’ birth—expands the details: “As for you, watchtower of the flock, stronghold of Daughter Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem.”

The Hebrew words migdal (tower) and eder (flock) help Christians make superb strides toward rediscovering the Jewish roots of our faith and Jesus’ Jewish ancestry. Jewish sages, writings, and prophetic Bible passages are essential for that purpose.

For centuries, shepherds were familiar with the Tower of the Flock, which could be considered an ancient animal hospital. The tower and the Bethlehem fields were their workplace. The stone structure was two stories, allowing the chief shepherd to look out over the flock for predators. Shepherds also led the ewes from the fields into the tower to give birth.

The religious leaders of that day appointed the Bethlehem shepherds—since they were experts in animal husbandry—as shepherd or Levitical priests. The thousands of lambs they tended on the birthing floor of Migdal Eder each year were special, too. At birth, the shepherds wrapped them in swaddling cloths and put them in mangers so the lambs would not harm their limbs. Otherwise, they would be disqualified as a Temple sacrifice, for perfection was the rule. When the lambs reached a year old, the shepherds herded thousands of them into Jerusalem on what the ancient Jews called the Day of Lambs to present them to the Temple priests. They were the Chosen Passover sacrificial lambs without spot or blemish—a description of our Savior also sacrificed at His last Passover for us.

The Tower of the Flock no longer stands, but various writings reinforce the shepherds retelling their stories for hundreds of years—until a Byzantine monastery was built over the site of Migdal Eder in the fourth century.

King David, who was born in Bethlehem, would have known about Migdal Eder from Jewish scrolls and from shepherding. Joseph, Mary, and everyone else in the Roman world were required to go to their ancestral town by Caesar Augustus’ imperial decree for a census. Surely it was no coincidence that the young Jewish couple would go to Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown. Rather, it was all part of God’s plan that Mary would give birth to Jesus in Bethlehem—in or close proximity to the Tower of the Flock. 

These glistening threads of history are wondrous. When angels appeared to the shepherds in the Bethlehem fields with their glorious birth announcement, the shepherds appeared to know where to go based on the directions provided in Luke 2:11-12: “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” The connection between the birthplace of Jesus and the location of the Tower of the Flock, where the Temple lambs were born, is fascinating.

The late Dr. Jimmy DeYoung Sr., in his Day of Discovery program, described his research on the shepherds’ skill: “They would reach into the mother’s womb and pull out this newborn lamb. Then they would reach for some swaddling and snugly wrap the lamb and lay it in a manger until it calmed down. Then they would unwrap the swaddling and let it run off to its mother for some food.”

Allow this realization to sink deeply into your heart: Jesus’ birthplace was intricately linked with the ancient Levitical shepherds and the Temple-destined Passover lambs. While Roman soldiers nailed the Perfect Lamb of God to the cross—His blood shed outside the walls of Jerusalem—the Temple priests were slaughtering the perfect Passover lambs born in the Tower of the Flock.

Throughout the Christmas season, our decorated trees and homes glow… a wonderful source of joy, tradition, and family memories. May we reflect upon that first Christmas when Jesus, the Perfect Lamb of God, entered time and space as Immanuel, “God with us.” Let us not miss the humble yet splendid context of ancient Migdal Eder in or near where the perfect Lamb of God was born.

Please join CBN Israel this week in praying for Jewish and Arab believers in the region as they celebrate the birth of the Savior:

  • Pray for the safety of Arab Christians still living in Bethlehem.
  • Pray that Christian pilgrims visiting Bethlehem will increase profits of Christian Arab businesses with their purchases.
  • Pray for all believers living in Israel that violence will not mar Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations. 
  • Pray for Christians to delve into the rich Jewish roots of our faith.

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel, a guest columnist at All Israel News, and has frequently traveled to Israel since 1990. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited and is a volunteer on the board of Violins of Hope South Carolina. Arlene has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit three times and hosts her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on Facebook.

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New Immigrants: Anna and Oleg’s Story

Anna and Oleg enjoyed their life in Ukraine. Then suddenly, the Russians invaded their country, and everything changed. The young couple had a five-year-old little girl, and they feared for her future. Seeing the growing danger, they quickly fled to Israel. 

Immigrating to Israel was a leap of faith. Yet as they settled in Haifa, they saw doors open. They expected the citizenship process to be more complicated—especially with the exodus of Ukrainians from the war. To their surprise, the Jewish Agency expedited their applications. 

Still, they face challenges. Anna is taking an intensive Hebrew course, while her daughter is in kindergarten. Oleg, who was a mechanic in Ukraine, now works installing kitchens. And though they have already endured a wave of terror attacks, Oleg says they feel much safer than in Ukraine. Anna adds, “Here we feel like there’s life, and not just survival.” However, they worry about loved ones left behind, enduring terrible losses, and send what little money they can spare.

But they had their own financial stress of starting over in a new country and needing the basics. Thankfully, friends like you were there, through CBN Israel. Caring donors provided them with a refrigerator and blender—plus vouchers to buy nutritious food, medicine, and essentials. Anna exclaimed, “Thank you… It means so much to our family during this challenging transition!” 

As more immigrants arrive, your gift to CBN Israel can offer critical aid to them—as well as to Holocaust survivors, single moms, and terror victims. With the needs in the Holy Land increasing, your support can bring groceries, housing, financial aid, and more to those in crisis. 

Please consider a gift to help others today!


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