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The Famous Ben-Yehuda Street: A Walk Into Jerusalem’s History 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

In the last decade, Jews making Aliyah have immigrated to their ancestral homeland from 150 countries in the diaspora that reaches from Asia, to America, to Ethiopia, Europe, and beyond. Israel’s capital bustles with a mosaic of some 950,000 Jews living in Jerusalem, which is crisscrossed with 3,000 streets. 

One of the most famous of these—Ben-Yehuda Street—is a vibrant downtown area crowded with locals and tourists enjoying conversations, shops, street musicians, and restaurants. The street signs stand as more than silent markers, though; they symbolize a fascinating 3,000-year history with names like Street of the Prophets (Rehov HaNevi’im), the Via Dolorosa (Jesus’ route to His crucifixion), Herzl Street (after Theodore Herzl, leader of the Zionist movement), and two streets named to honor Prime Ministers David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir. 

Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda Street became a pedestrian mall in 1983. The street is known as “Midrechov” in the Hebrew language—a descriptive combination of two words—midracha (sidewalk) and rechov (street). This famous street was already named “Ben-Yehuda” in what was called Palestine under the British Mandate, long before the modern state of Israel was established in 1948. It carries the name of the man whom God used to revive the Hebrew language, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. His brilliant legacy is a story of miracles.  

Ben-Yehuda was born Eliezer Yitzak Perelman in the Lithuanian village of Luzhkya on January 7, 1858. He was raised in a religious home and he learned Hebrew as a child. In those days, Hebrew was not spoken widely; it was found mostly in religious articles, Scripture, and Jewish seminaries. An excellent student, Perelman attended a religious school and wanted to become a rabbi. Gradually his tastes changed—he abandoned his religious interest and opted for a secular education. He did not, however, abandon his passionate interest in Hebrew, and like many other secular Zionist Jews Perelman developed a great interest in a Jewish national homeland. He hoped to see spoken Hebrew once again woven into Jewish society. Other classical languages had experienced a revival; so why not Hebrew, he reasoned.

While Zionism provided the context for his focus, he once described hearing a voice as a teenager that confirmed his life’s work. “Suddenly—it was as if the heavens opened and a light shone forth—a pure and gleaming ray flashed before my eyes, and a mighty inner voice called in my ears.” At that moment, Perelman believed he was being instructed to revive Israel’s language in the land of the fathers! 

As his project developed, Perelman explained, “Just as the Jews cannot really become a living nation other than through their returning to their ancestral land, so too, they are not able to become a living nation other than through their returning to their ancestral language.”

I find it interesting to note the historical time period. Ben-Yehuda immigrated to Israel in 1881, prior to Theodore Herzl’s First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897. These two astonishing, determined men—the Father of Modern Hebrew and the Father of the Modern Jewish State—were born only two years apart: Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922) and Hungarian-born Herzl (1860-1904). Neither of these history-changing men lived to see their reborn homeland.

In preparation for his family’s new life, Perelman changed his name to the Hebrew name Ben-Yehuda. Devoting himself to building written Hebrew into a national language, he developed a strategy that was simple yet intensely demanding: Only Hebrew was to be spoken in his home, the first household of its kind. His son, Ben-Zion Ben-Yehuda, was the first modern Hebrew-speaking child. Plenty of opposition arose from Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox, who accused him of invading the holy Torah. They eventually excommunicated him. The Hebrew word for hardship—telaah—surely applies to Ben-Yehuda and his family.

Due to Ben-Yehuda’s endurance and determination, Hebrew—which hadn’t been used in everyday language since biblical times—was set for a revival, becoming Israel’s spoken tongue 2,000 years later. As years passed, the lexicographer often worked 18-hour days developing new words. He founded a periodical to list words and called it Hatzevi, which means “Gazelle.” Other families joined up and Zionist educators gladly used Hebrew as a practical solution for new immigrants. The focus on new immigrants learning Hebrew in Israel continues to this day in government-run and private facilities.

In 1890, a Hebrew Language Council was founded and set up by Ben-Yehuda, who drafted its purpose and methods. The group examined Hebrew literary vocabulary from thousands of years ago: Aramaic; Hebrew roots, to create innovative word forms; Arabic roots; and non-Semitic words already in common use. The early committee developed into the Academy of the Hebrew Language, pioneered by 23 scholars and writers in multiple related fields. The Academy actively operates at Hebrew University today.

Imagine for a moment Ben-Yehuda’s early days in the 1890s. First, he had already studied Hebrew, and when he and his wife Deborah disembarked their ship in Jaffa, he was elated to speak enough Hebrew to talk with a Jewish innkeeper and a wagon driver. After their son was born in 1882, everyday terms like ice cream, bicycle, spoons, trees, book, and many hundreds of words for children were added. Plus, the emergence of electricity, telephones, agriculture, manufacturing, and other modern developments required even more words. A language renaissance was unfolding under his roof in Jerusalem! 

Over the years, on Hebrew University’s campus, the Academy of the Hebrew Language has confronted the need for thousands of new words due to Israel’s near-daily discoveries in health, science, technology, and politics. This year, the Academy added 500 new words to the Hebrew dictionary that reflect changes in modern society. For example, half of the 500 words are related to politics—words such as embargo, activism, capitalism, and disinformation. The addition of “symptomatic” and other health terms is due to COVID-19.

A brief official history shows that in 1922, under the British Mandate that governed Palestine, Hebrew was declared the official language for the Jews just a month after Ben-Yehuda’s death. Then in 1948, the modern Jewish state deemed Hebrew and Arabic as official languages. In July 2018, Israel enacted a law that made Hebrew its only official language and gave Arabic a “special status.” 

In 2010, Israel’s Knesset officially declared 21 Tevet, Ben-Yehuda’s birthday, as National Hebrew Day. Tevet, a 29-day month, is the fourth month on the Jewish calendar and occurs on the Gregorian calendar in December/January. Evangelicals may want to celebrate Eliezer Ben-Yehuda’s birthday too, due to our emerging interest in Hebrew roots since Judaism is the birthplace of Christianity. We are keen to learn what we view as deeper meanings in Hebrew words and translations. 

The Hebrew word, Shalom, is a case in point. Often “peace” is preferred when translating this term into English. Yet as a root verb, the word is replete with rich meanings that include wholeness, health, well-being, safety, tranquility, and rest. 

The fact that our Jewish Savior spoke and read Hebrew makes it deeply meaningful. Hebrew is the language the Lord spoke when transmitting the Torah to Moses and which the prophets used. Acts 26:14 describes Jesus speaking Hebrew to Saul on the Damascus Road, and the redeemed Paul spoke to Jerusalem’s Jewish believers in Hebrew. It is the foundation of the New Testament, which includes 283 direct quotes from the Old Testament. The Gospel writers and disciples spoke the language and only read Old Testament scrolls since the New Testament had not yet been written. The Old and New Testaments are one book, foretelling our one Jewish Savior, in one magnificent book of unconditional love!

On the CBN Israel Facebook page, look for the “Hebrew Word of the Day” and its meaning. You may be like me. I do not speak Hebrew, but I started making a list of the various words being posted throughout the week. In Matthew 24:35 Jesus declares, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away.” It is so valuable for us to learn the words of the Hebrew Scriptures and the central language that Jesus Himself would have spoken. 

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

  • Pray with awe that God inspired 40 different writers spanning 1,500 years to write the 66 books of the Bible with His same themes of love and redemption. 
  • Pray for the Academy of the Hebrew Language in their decisions to add new words.
  • Pray for immigrants to Israel who find it challenging to master the Hebrew language.
  • Pray that Christians will pursue the deeper Hebrew meanings to enrich their 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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Family in Crisis: Amelia’s Story

Years ago in Russia, Amelia married young and had a daughter. The difficult labor left Amelia temporarily paralyzed, but she recovered. Then, sadly, her husband left her. Devastated, Amelia moved ahead, immigrating with her daughter to Israel, near Tel Aviv. Eventually, she remarried and gave birth to twin boys.

Again, the births took a toll on her and triggered temporary paralysis. Doctors then determined that Amelia had multiple sclerosis (MS). Added to that, her second husband abandoned her—leaving her to care for their twins alone.

She is now 48 and takes numerous medications just to keep the MS under control. Her daughter is 27, and Amelia works hard to take care of her 9-year-old twin sons. Surprisingly, she and her second husband reconciled during the pandemic. He has a full-time job and helps with expenses and Amelia’s care. Yet, living in a fourth-floor apartment, she can’t manage the stairs alone and has to rely on her husband or friends if she needs to go out. She misses her independence.

But friends like you were there. Through CBN Israel, donors gave her food vouchers to provide healthy meals. And we’re helping the family find an affordable apartment with an elevator—so Amelia can go out without assistance. She says, “Thank you! I have felt isolated for so long.”

Your gift to CBN Israel can offer compassionate aid to many families in need—as well as terror victims, aging Holocaust survivors, lone soldiers, and more. 

We’re seeing so many lives in crisis across the Holy Land. Your support can deliver food, shelter, medical care, and hope to those struggling to survive—while also reporting news and stories from Israel. 

Please be a part of this special effort that’s blessing so many!

GIVE TODAY

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Weekly Devotional: What the Lord Requires of You

As you read the Bible, have you ever felt overwhelmed with everything that’s in it? Do you ever wonder, how can I possibly live this way? If you have, don’t feel bad; you’re not alone. 

The biblical authors themselves recognized the need to boil things down into their essence. There may be 613 commandments in the Law of Moses, but what does God really want from me?

The prophet Micah sought to summarize what God desires from us: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 NKJV).

Micah’s summary did not offer propositions for us to believe, or durations of spiritual activities (i.e., pray for a half-hour, read your Bible for an hour). His instructions focus primarily on how we treat others and then our submission to God. In other words, he focuses more on how we actually live; not just what we believe or confess. 

Biblical faith takes the form of active obedience. It is not a series of logical propositions we agree with, or ritual activity that appeases God. It’s obedience to Him, which is usually manifested in how we care for and treat those around us. That is the essence of biblical faith and spirituality. That is what God desires of us.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, He responded citing Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength,” and added the second is like it, “Love your neighbor who is like yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-28). 

Jesus’ summary of what God wants from us, like Micah, centers chiefly on how we live in relationship to God and those around us.  

We can often make things too complicated. We try to achieve some special spiritual revelation (often attributing that to our heightened spirituality). While the Bible contains a lot of instruction, it expresses the earnest desire to help us clearly understand what God desires. 

We see this in the words of Micah and Jesus: love God and love each other. Do you want to please God? Then, simply, do this!

PRAYER

Father, in everything I say and do, may I be consumed with love for you and those around me. Amen.

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Liberating Art From BDS and Lies About Israel

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Entertainment industry insider Lana Melman is a formidable trailblazer. After two decades in executive positions at CBS, Columbia Pictures Television, Warner Brothers, and Paramount, and as a scriptwriter and executive producer, Melman turned her attention to combating a manifestation of anti-Semitism: anti-Zionism. 

In 2015, she transformed her extensive contacts in Hollywood and New York City into a robust network of resistance to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. She founded the organization Liberate Art to equip others to understand—and then expose—the BDS movement for its cunningly obscured goal of destroying Israel by using entertainers as pawns while claiming to help Palestinians. Recently, I enjoyed an informative, delightful breakfast with Lana where I learned about her impressive background, her insights into the true motives of BDS, and what we can do to educate others about the pervasive threat it poses.   

Her book, Artists Under Fire: The BDS War Against Celebrities, Jews, and Israel, belongs on the bookshelf of everyone who cares about Israel. Published in April 2022, the book takes readers behind the scenes in a fascinating yet sobering journey. Chock-full of valuable information and written in an engaging style, Artists Under Fire is well researched, as evidenced by its 27-page bibliography. However, Lana is a remarkable source in her own right, opening doors for her readers into a world of glamour and celebrity, with her personal stories about a bold and necessary movement she is leading. 

Melman authored her book as an educational tool to explore the goals and tactics of BDS, and then rally others to oppose a specialized brand of anti-Semitism called the cultural boycott campaign. BDS is best known for its economic warfare: targeting companies that do business in Israel and attempting to pressure them financially into withdrawing. Fortunately, 37 states in the U.S. have already passed legislation to counteract economic warfare against Israel. However, the lesser-known cultural boycott campaign can be especially damaging, as it generates a vast social media presence based on its efforts to prevent global celebrities from giving concerts in Israel. Indeed, BDS activists also aim their protests and lies against Israeli musicians performing in international venues. 

The Palestinian-led BDS and its militants seem to relish trying to cancel performances of any genre of music and the arts. Their motives are not based on peaceful protest and dialogue. They prefer threatening and intimidating celebrities who have millions of followers. In fact, adding up the follower base of 11 famous entertainers, it totals about a billion fans on one social media platform alone.

Here’s how it works: The BDS culture boycotters go into action when they learn that a concert is scheduled for Israel. The artists are “media magnets” and become victims of slander and sometimes-credible threats from BDSers who go on the hunt for entertainers. As Melman points out in her book, the threat of BDS lies in “attacking artists of all kinds and hijacking their names and likenesses to spread anti-Israel and anti-Jewish propaganda to billions of people.”

The BDS contingent uses lies wrapped in emotion and shame. Some of their favorite taglines toward celebrities are, “You will not be safe in Israel.” “If you cared about children, you would not go to Israel.” “Israel is committing Palestinian genocide.” “We will destroy your fan base.” 

Rising stars often suffer the same intimidation. For example, Israel hosted the 2019 Eurovision event that drew contestants from 41 countries with a viewing audience in the hundreds of millions. BDS was busy with fearmongering, saying, “We know where you live”—trying to force contestants to withdraw. Fortunately, the artists stood firm, and no one canceled! 

The BDS movement has unfortunately done a good job of harnessing the immense and far-reaching power of social media. Lies often travel faster than facts. Nevertheless, out of hundreds of bands, superstars, and comics who perform in Israel every year, only a few artists cancel their appearances there. Most choose to forge ahead—despite the BDS-devised slurs that defame them through petitions, op-eds, open letters, bots, threats, memes, and hostile protests at concerts.

One of the favorite strategies of BDS agitators is to photoshop war photos (it seems any war will do) and repurpose an artist’s popular song to accuse them of supporting Israel—which BDS falsely calls an apartheid, colonialist country that persecutes Palestinians. Using such duplicitous tactics, BDS activists are even known to pressure charities whom entertainers support in order to force concert cancellations. 

Founded by Palestinian organizations in 2005, BDS has continued to expand its lies and smear campaigns, yet their efforts are mostly a failure. Thankfully, other Palestinian influencers have a wiser perspective. Khaled Abu Toameh, a highly respected award-winning Arab journalist, authored an article just last week with a title that speaks to immense despair: “Palestinians Commit Suicide as Their Leaders Live in Hotels and Villas.” 

Bassem Eid, another respected Palestinian media commentator, claims nations that have signed on to the BDS agenda have become “part of the conflict rather than part of the solution.” He adds that “BDS has nothing to offer”—that it can’t find people jobs so they can earn a decent living. BDS fanatics are pushing for a world without a Jewish state—not widespread humanitarian help for Palestinians who know that corruption and hypocrisy are rampant among their leaders and who long for change. 

My focus here is not on the kinds of music we prefer or reverence as evangelicals. Instead, it is a hard look into the dangerous BDS narrative against entertainers, the nation of Israel, and Israeli artists. Some of the stars I mention may not be to our liking. However, the key is to counter BDS lies with the help of the advice found in Melman’s book. 

Some of the biggest stars in the world—such as the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Bono, and Paul McCartney—enjoy their enthusiastic Israeli audiences. Prior to McCartney’s 2008 concert in Tel Aviv, a radical Islamist cleric threatened the superstar: “If he values his life, Mr. McCartney must not come to Israel. He will not be safe.” Let’s applaud McCartney and others who refuse to cancel their appearances! In 2019 Jennifer Lopez tweeted, “The motherland Israel!!! First time here. I’m in love!” 

Soon, Spain’s Placido Domingo and Canada’s Justin Bieber will be going to Israel, and Bieber returns in 2023 for his third trip. Others on the Israeli music circuit are Celine Dion, going in 2023, and Lionel Richie, who gave a concert in March. “My friends have been trying to convince me to come for 40 years,” Richie said. “Now I know why.” For Paul Anka, Israel is a regular stop. His most recent Las Vegas revue was in July.

Actors and influencers like Helen Mirren, Kathie Lee Gifford, Michael Douglas, and Will Smith visit the Holy Land and comment in glowing terms. After one of her trips to Israel, supermodel (now business mogul) Kathy Ireland spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at their annual Policy Conference. To the thousands gathered there, she declared that  Americans and the world owe Israel “an unpayable debt.” While on AIPAC staff that year, I enjoyed meeting Kathy in person after her appearance. As a devoted Christian, she represented the Christian community so well. 

For those of us in the evangelical community, we are uplifted that some of our favorite Christian artists are touring and giving concerts in Israel. Chris Tomlin led a tour and series of worship concerts in 2019 and later commented on Twitter, “Israel, you have my heart.” In 2020, Hillsong staged three concerts that Trinity Broadcast Network aired for millions of viewers. A slate of international worship artists, including Joshua Aaron, will appear during the Feast of Tabernacles in October held annually by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem in Israel. In June 2023, Gallelujah is planning a festival of concerts in the Galilee for three days, featuring top Christian stars Brandon Lake, For King and Country, and Rebecca St. James. 

It is indeed encouraging to note the numerous ongoing celebrity visits and performances. Nevertheless, social media defamation about Israel takes on a life of its own, adding layers of worldwide lies against the Jewish state. As long as such lies continue, we must meet them with truth. 

Artists Under Fire is a great read, a guidebook providing practical ways our involvement can produce results by telling the truth about BDS. Everyone can help to “liberate art.” As Lana Melman suggests, keep it simple, yet take the offense to tell the truth about BDS. Don’t get bogged down in verbal wars. For your favorite artists, give a thumbs up to those who are performing in Israel. In social media, share posts that expose BDS for what it is. 

Melman observes that “the cultural boycott campaign politicizes art” and degrades artists as peace ambassadors and change agents. She urges everyone to embrace the fact that “It only takes a few good men and women to make a difference. Be one of them.” In our evangelical community, we know God always trains up a remnant. Let’s redeem social media by using tools of truth, support our favorite artists, and thank the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and our Lord Jesus Christ for creating music, songs, instruments, and voices to fill our hearts with hope and praise for His unconditional love!  

Join CBN Israel in prayer this week for the nation and people of Israel:

  • Pray that books like Artists Under Fire will be best sellers and be used to oppose hatred against the Holy Land.
  • Pray that Christians and the Jewish community would work together to ignite more activism in support for Israel. 
  • Pray for entertainers to follow the big crowd of performers who keep their concert dates in Israel, which defeats the BDS cultural boycott campaign. 
  • Pray for endurance and safety for artists under threat.

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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Serving Holocaust Survivors and the Elderly

For Holocaust survivors and the elderly in Israel, growing old can be lonely—especially for those who are widowed or have no family. Often beset by health and financial challenges, many live in low-income housing on a meager stipend. Their struggles with depression and isolation can be debilitating. And as more old friends pass away, they may lose a sense of belonging. 

Yet compassionate friends like you are showing seniors across Israel they are not forgotten—including those in Nof HaGalil near Nazareth. Here, CBN Israel has partnered with the Alma Center for the Elderly, which assists both seniors who are independent and those requiring complex nursing care. The Center offers them a place to connect with others and enjoy nutritious meals. 

Sadly, the COVID-19 lockdowns limited the ability of the Alma Center to serve the area’s elderly. But now, through CBN Israel, caring supporters are helping to rebuild the center’s sense of community. 

Donors purchased needed kitchen equipment, increasing their capacity to feed more clients coming there—people who often can no longer prepare food for themselves. And they provided exercise and weight training equipment, which fights the physical effects of aging and increases mobility. Plus, they installed a security gate and camera—to ensure safety by monitoring visitors, as well as preventing patrons with dementia or Alzheimer’s from wandering outside the grounds.

Your gift to CBN Israel can help partner with other groups who share our vision, as well as offering direct aid, such as food and housing, to those who are struggling. So many in Israel need our help. Your support is crucial in reaching out to single moms, refugees, terror victims, and more with compassionate relief. 

Together, we can bring hope to this special land!

GIVE TODAY

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Weekly Devotional: Give Life

“The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence” (Proverbs 10:11 HCSB). Do the things you say, the things you communicate, act as a source of life to people? If not, then we may need to check our hearts. 

The Bible makes clear that what comes out of our mouth proceeds from the heart. Jesus said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34 NKJV).

The psalmist makes the request, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14 NKJV).

He recognized the connection between what he meditated upon in his heart and the words that proceeded from his mouth. He desired that both would find favor in the eyes of God. 

In modern English we metaphorically use the word “heart” to refer to our emotions and feelings; within the world of the Bible, the “heart” represents the “mind” and our cognitive reason. So, for both Jesus and the psalmist, our words reflect what we think about, and from those thoughts come words either acceptable or dishonoring to God. 

In each of these instances—Proverbs, Matthew, and Psalms—the words referred to pertain to what we say to others and how we speak to people. Our words to others betray the condition of our heart, what we meditate on, and whether or not we truly please God.

Our age of social media has made it possible for nearly everyone to express themselves digitally. Many people now have a platform to comment about the events of the day and to “give people a piece of their mind.” What do your words say about your heart?

Too often people justify words that actually dishonor God by appealing to their attempts to defend God. Do our words identify us as righteous? Do our words offer a source of life to those around us? 

We live at a time when words have been weaponized, even by those claiming to follow God. However, the Bible is clear: Your words tell the tale of your heart. Those who are righteous, their words give life. Give life with your words today.

PRAYER

Father, let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable before You, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen. 

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Celebration and Triumph: The Jewish Olympics in Israel

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

What a triumph! It made headlines around the globe. Ten thousand Jewish athletes from 62 countries traveled to Israel for the Maccabiah Games, which took place from July 21-26. Appropriately dubbed the “Jewish Olympics,” the event featured athletes competing in 42 different sports in three cities: Jerusalem, Netanya, and Tel Aviv. Jewish athletes formed international friendships, toured their ancestral homeland, and celebrated the 21st year of games—held every four years.

Featuring age groups with juniors, college, and masters, the games allowed spectators to enjoy, for example, 14-year-olds running on a track and field team, an 80-year-old table tennis player, or 107 chess players—famous or rookies—competing for medals in Jerusalem. The multi-sport event included basketball, golf, surfing, fencing, water polo, wheelchair basketball, swimming, and equestrian events. In 2022, the games hold the distinction of being one of the three largest sporting events in the world, along with the Olympics and the FIFA Soccer World Cup. Many Olympic gold medalists, world champions, and world record holders have competed in the Maccabiah Games over the years.

It’s been a long time since Jewish athletes were mostly prohibited from competing in sports events. Today’s games are the result of a Zionist teenager’s dream and persistence. Yosef Yekutieli (1897-1982), whose family emigrated from Belarus to British Mandate Palestine in 1906, had been inspired to reverse the exclusion of Jewish athletes after attending the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. He lobbied for years to see his dream of having a Jewish Olympics come true. That dream eventually grew into a reality that rectified Europe’s 19th-century ban blocking Jewish athletes from international sports. 

The first Maccabiah Games were held in 1932—well before the modern Jewish state joined the family of nations in 1948. During this debut, crowds in the streets of Tel Aviv welcomed 390 athletes from 16 countries. That sporting event carried an interesting nickname, the “White Horse Olympics.” Famously, Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff, rode his white horse to lead the parade of athletes. 

Just a few years ago, a fascinating historical film came to light. It had been made by Harry Hay from Newark, New Jersey, when he toured Israel decades ago. It includes the parade of athletes at the first Maccabiah Games. The Holy Land was still under the British Mandate and called Palestine. His film was titled A Holiday in Israel in 1932. The filmmaker’s handwritten title noted, “Israel’s sons and daughters come far—from the ends of the earth.” Indeed, Mr. Hay’s description could be considered prophetic now that thousands of Jewish athletes recently competed and walked the streets of modern Israel!

Hay’s son John, who settled in Scotland, inherited the box of film. The film remained unknown for 75 years until John decided to convert it to a DVD. It is now archived in Jerusalem, where it is officially recognized as a record of social and historical interest. You may also view it on YouTube. The first World Maccabiah (Jewish Olympics) begins in Section 10 at the 8-minute, 54-second time frame. It includes the parade of athletes, yet unfortunately not Mayor Dizengoff riding his white horse.

During Tel Aviv’s 100th anniversary in 2009, the city unveiled a statue of Dizengoff on his horse. It is located across the street from 16 Rothschild Boulevard, Dizengoff’s long-ago residence that he donated as a museum. Later, it became an art gallery—the very one where Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, read Israel’s Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948. Now called Independence Hall, the building is under renovation until 2023 and well worth an inspiring visit.

Looking into more of the first game’s history, the planners connected it to the 1800th anniversary of the ancient Bar Kokhba Revolt against the Roman Empire. The first games took place from March 28 until April 6, 1932. Resurrection Sunday was celebrated on March 27, and Passover began on April 20.

When viewing the historic film, I found it interesting that Jewish athletic delegations from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Poland, and Germany participated in that sporting event. Who could have predicted the coming horrors of the 1930s, 1940s, and beyond? Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, and Dachau was built the same year. Nazi policies snatched freedoms month after month from Jews and other Nazi-reviled populations. Following Israel’s 1947-49 War of Independence, Arab nations expelled 800,000 Jews. Israel resettled the Jewish refugees who chose to come to their homeland.

Following closely after several Maccabiah games, Hitler held the 1936 Summer Olympics. Some countries called for a boycott, and heated discussions were held in the U.S., but the boycott failed. Ultimately, 49 countries participated—including the U.S. delegation of 312 athletes, the second largest behind Germany’s 348 members. 

Estimates are that 100,000 spectators filled the stadium on opening night with a dazzling array of swastika flags, strains of Wagnerian music, and the lighting of the Olympic torch from the relay that began in Greece and involved 3,000 runners. The chant, “Heil Hitler,” often broke out, proclaiming Hitler’s supremacy.

In a book entitled, Holocaust and Human Behavior, a lesson plan of Holocaust education for students, it is mentioned that German law required every child to say, “Heil Hitler!” in every greeting whenever they encountered anyone—multiple times a day! The study also describes “heil” as meaning “salvation.”

Hitler’s propaganda extravaganza during his 1936 Nazi Olympics—the first sporting event to be televised—dazzled tens of thousands and lulled too many people into apathy and denial from August 1–16 of that year. For those 16 days, the Nazis hid the evil already expanding in Germany. Once the Olympics were over, they boldly put up the anti-Jewish signs again and terrorized the Jews with arrests and murder.

How wonderfully different Israel’s 21st Maccabiah Games were! They resounded with the joy of the worldwide Jewish community of athletes, their families, and coaches. Their skills were displayed, and celebrations took place on the land that God deeded to them 3,000 years ago. Israel, the world’s only Jewish nation, not only welcomes them for visits but also Aliyah (i.e., immigration to Israel). Although surrounded by enemies, Israel is the primary country that provides safety when the Jewish community across the world feels threatened. The Maccabiah Games are a victory over hate, welcoming all Israeli athletes to take part—whether they’re Arab or Ethiopian, or if they’re disabled in some way. 

At the games this year, Israelis and the Maccabi World Union helped 40 Ukrainian athletes attend the games and also funded their uniforms. This is the true nature of Israel, an imperfect people like the rest of us, yet showing compassion as best they can. 

As Bible-believing evangelicals who are fully aware of the slander and lies against the Jewish people and the Jewish state, we have a responsibility to befriend Israel, a nation valuable to us and to the world. Prayers are foundational. Sharing truths and facts about Israel are necessities. Let us make sure we are part of helpful solutions not dazzled by lies.

Join with CBN Israel this week in praying for the nation and people of Israel:

  • Pray that the Lord will help us know the role He wants us to play in being a blessing to the Jewish nation and people. 
  • Pray that Christian advocacy for Israel will increase, grow to record levels, and expand its influence worldwide. 
  • Pray for the 10,000 athletes returning to their countries, that they will stand with Israel and have a much deeper connection to their ancestral homeland.
  • Pray for Israelis that they will gain encouragement from the 21st Maccabiah Games.  

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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Elderly Immigrant: Janna’s Story

Janna’s life is hard and lonely. Immigrating to Israel from Ukraine years ago, this elderly woman lives alone in a small apartment in Sderot—which is often bombarded with rocket attacks from Hamas-ruled Gaza. And she survives on a small pension that barely covers the basics. 

Tragically, Janna was recently diagnosed with cancer, and is undergoing chemotherapy. She tries to stay positive for visitors, even after a difficult chemo session. But lately, the war in Ukraine has weighed heavily on her heart—especially hearing reports of violent attacks in Donetsk, where she was born and raised. The headlines are personal to her and add to her stress. 

Plus, she lives with increasing financial worries. With her meager income, she has to make tough decisions about spending, and struggles to afford rent, electricity, groceries, and medicine—let alone unexpected expenses. And living in rundown, low-income housing, with a landlord that neglects upkeep, the cracks in her ceiling have led to water leaks and unsafe mold. 

But thanks to friends like you, help arrived through CBN Israel, who saw her living conditions. Caring donors covered repair costs, including mold removal, patching cracks, and a fresh coat of paint. They also provided vouchers for nutritious food, medicine, and essentials. Janna was thrilled and no longer felt alone, saying, “Thank you so much for your love and kindness!” 

And your gift to CBN Israel can help many in need across Israel know they are not alone, by offering them food, housing, financial aid, and more. With so many crisis situations in the Holy Land, your support can give hope and help to Holocaust survivors, refugees, and single moms. Please join us in blessing others today!

GIVE TODAY

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Weekly Devotional: Longing for God

In Psalm 42, the psalmist describes his yearning for God: “As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God” (Psalm 42:1 HCSB). 

He imagines a deer thirsty from the heat seeking out the refreshing water of the stream, and he says that he thirsts after God in the same manner. What brought about this yearning in his heart?

We realize upon reading the psalm that the psalmist is not in a great place in his life; in fact, he is being led off into captivity. He comments that his tears have been his sustenance night and day. Those around him look at his circumstances and question, “Where is your God?”

In the midst of his present circumstances, he recalls those times of great joy and celebration as he joined the festive crowds traveling to Jerusalem and the Temple. His memory of these festive times stands in stark contrast to his current situation, where he finds himself in an uproar and downcast. 

Yet even in the midst of his present circumstances, the psalmist encourages himself to hope and trust in God, convinced that he will see the Lord’s salvation.

He then proceeds to describe how he feels washed over by his circumstances. He feels forgotten by God and oppressed by his enemies. Toward the end of the psalm, those around him still mockingly question him, “Where is your God?” His circumstances have not changed. 

The striking feature of the psalmist in this psalm is that regardless of his situation he never loses sight of who God is—the One who commands His covenant loyalty—and because he knows who God is, he never despairs that God will eventually right his circumstances.

In other words, his situation never dictates his reality or perception of God. He recognizes that God answers those who cry out to Him. He responds to those who long for him as the thirsty deer does the streams of water.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by your circumstances? Have you ever felt forgotten by God? Do  those around you scream, “Where is your God?” Don’t allow your situation to dictate what you know about God.

The God of the Bible is the true, living God. His ear is not deaf to our cries, nor is His arm short to save us in our time of trouble. Do we have the confidence to say like the psalmist, “Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God”? 

PRAYER

Father, my soul thirsts for You as a thirsty deer longs for streams of water. Regardless of my circumstances, You are my rock and my salvation. Amen.

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Iran: Civilian Population at Risk and Christian Persecution on the Rise 

By Arlene Bridges Samuels 

Israel and the broader Middle East are not the only targets of Iran’s brutal theocratic government. Intent on controlling their 88 million citizens with tools of fear and intimidation, Iran’s Islamic leaders are grievously neglecting their citizens.

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s internal abuse is widespread, and the country’s economy is shrinking. These failures are due in part to outside sanctions against Iran—sanctions that exist with good reason. As the world’s biggest exporter of terror, combined with its ever-growing pursuit of nuclear weapons, Iran is viewed with distrust by many nations.

As a side note to the Biden administration, might they pay attention to the way Iran’s leaders treat their own citizens instead of seeking to restart the failed 2015 Iran deal? A quote from Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989) and winner of the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize could be instructive: “A country which does not respect the rights of its own citizens will not respect the rights of its neighbors.”

Iran’s Center for Human Rights (CHRI) Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi recently sent out a plea to the international community pointing out internal abuse. “The Iranian government has a documented pattern of using lethal force to crush protests while cutting off internet access to prevent the world from seeing the state’s violence.” 

The CHRI also notes that suicides rates began rising—even before the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the economy and public health—against a backdrop of public protests from teachers and other workers struggling to support their families on inadequate salaries. One former steelworker told the CHRI: “In today’s economic conditions, when a worker loses his job, he might not be able to survive a week. Workers have no savings or benefits that would keep them afloat for a month or two until they find another job.”

In the Bloody November protests of 2019, hundreds were killed via live fire and the dissent quickly went nationwide. They protested rampant unemployment and inadequate water supplies, all due to the government’s oppressive domestic policies. Workers are known to hang themselves from construction cranes or set fire to themselves. Iran’s national medical examiners say that there has been a 4.2 percent increase in suicides over the previous year. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime states that Iran has the highest rates of heroin and opium addiction. With Afghanistan right next door as the world’s biggest opium producer, access is too easy. 

Open Doors, a Christian organization that reports on the countries committing the greatest numbers of Christian persecution, in 2021 listed Iran as among the top 10 most dangerous countries for Christians. Iran designates house churches as enemies—of being part of a “Zionist Christian Cult” seeking to undermine national security. Church properties are seized, and Iran has also increased its prison terms—up to five years—for Christians who engage in what is now considered “deviant” propaganda against “the holy religion of Islam.”  

One reason for Iran’s rising Christian persecution is the 2021 election of Ebrahim Raisi as its new president, a man whom the New York Post calls a “monster.” Voter turnout was low, since the election was viewed as rigged from the beginning. Raisi, a former Islamic judge, is known for ordering thousands of dissidents to be killed in mass executions in 1988. In 2009 and 2010, Iranians rose up in peaceful protests against the repressive government. As the protests spread throughout Iran, governmental response was terror against its own people. Not surprisingly, Raisi’s first congratulations came from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Now, under President Raisi, public executions may be staged again. In fact, the first public hanging to occur in two years took place on July 24 in the city of Shiraz. 

Despite the oppressive Islamic theocracy, it is good to know that there’s a tool of love—rather than intimidation—to combat the sorrows of Iran’s citizens: a Good News satellite beams hope 24/7 into the beleaguered nation. Dr. Hormoz Shariat, founder of Iran Alive Ministries, broadcasts the Gospel from Dallas, Texas, to Iran and the Middle East. Some have nicknamed Shariat the “Billy Graham of Iran.” 

Dr. Shariat encountered Jesus while earning his Ph.D. in computer engineering at the University of Southern California. (His Muslim family had fled Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.) Then in 1987, he planted a church in San Jose—now one of the largest Muslim Background Believer churches in the United States. In 2001, he founded Iran Alive Ministries. 

Approximately 99.4 percent of Iranians are Muslims, with minorities of Christians, Baha’is (who follow a religion founded in Persia during the 19th century), Zoroastrians (an ancient Persian religion), and those that claim no religion at all. Reliable numbers are hard to come by, but a survey conducted by a Netherlands group and published by Christianity Today estimates that possibly 1 million Iranians have become Christians. These believers from Muslim backgrounds face the highest risk from Iran’s Islamic government. 

The following hopeful statistics represent the lives of Iranians who are blessed and influenced by Iran Alive Ministries. Since the ministry’s founding, 200,000 Bibles have been distributed and 75,000 documented decisions for Jesus recorded. Their daily satellite broadcast reaches 6 million viewers and is used for their 4:12 Training School to educate 710 Iranian ministry leaders. 

Dr. Shariat comments that in Iran, when one family member professes Christ the others tend to follow their example. The ministry website quotes the Operation World Manual, which claims Iran has the fastest-growing evangelical population in the world, increasing from hundreds of believers to hundreds of thousands. The growth does not seem to be slowing down, with an estimate that the Evangelical population is doubling every four years. An interesting verse to ponder is God’s declaration in Jeremiah 49:39: “Yet I will restore the fortunes of Elam in days to come.” Some Bible scholars deem Elam to be ancient Persia, the site of modern Iran. 

The missionary satellite reaches 6 million Iranians daily, and the ministry is quick to credit dedicated prayer for its broad reach. Iran Alive Ministries is continually asking for Christians to join them to pray for this closed country that is overcome with what they call a dark spirit of Islam. It is not easy to own a satellite in Iran. In March, the government swept through Iran and destroyed 100,000 satellite dishes. Iranian law bans satellite dishes and fines the owners. Nevertheless, most Iranians keep (and hide) their illegal satellites whenever possible, while officials continue to raid balconies and rooftops. Satellite dishes are made in underground workshops with an unofficial estimate of satellite owners at around 8 million.

Iran Alive Ministries is busy on the ground, too. Next month, they are hosting an international summit in Venlo, Holland, designed for leaders, TV partners, and supporters from all over the world between August 4–7. 

We welcome you to join CBN Israel this week for prayers that satellites will remain plentiful among Iranians for the good news transmissions:

  • Pray for Iranians trained as leaders via satellite so they may effectively reach the lost and disciple new believers.
  • Pray for increased hope among Iran’s believers living under a cloud of hatred.
  • Pray for more donors and prayer groups for Iranian ministries. 
  • Pray for the missionary satellite to increase engaging programming and win the attention of non-believing Iranians.  
  • Pray for Iran to fail completely in its quest for nuclear weapons to use against Israel and other enemies. 
  • Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the entire Middle East region. 

President Donald Trump said it well: “The future of Iran belongs to its people. They are the rightful heirs to a rich culture and an ancient land. And they deserve a nation that does justice to their dreams, honor to their history, and glory to God.”

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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