Torah Reading Commentary: Repentance

By Mark Gerson

It is often said that we live in a “secular age,” a term popularized by the title of Charles Taylor’s famous book. For several decades in the lead-up to the turn of the millennium, membership in traditional religious institutions among Americans was always around 70%. Today, it is less than 50%—even as many of the forms of traditional commitments have become less rigorous and demanding. The commensurate decline in traditional observance has been matched by the sharp rise in non-traditional commitments.

For instance, in 1990 there were fewer than 10,000 people in the United States who identified as “Wiccans” (witches). Now, there are well over one million who do. And Wiccans are far from the only form of new religion that has taken the place of traditional commitment. There are many other faiths that have filled that void, from those that involve explicit worship-like activities to those that are primarily political but have all the characteristics of a normative religion.

These faiths either reject or ignore the Torah and the faiths that are based on it. Therefore, the culture (or perhaps the subculture) that they promote offers a pretty good insight into the following question: What is American society without Torah values?

Broad generalizations are rarely helpful. So let’s take one example, which by no means exists in a vacuum. Last month a young journalist, Alexi McCammond, was named the editor in chief of Teen Vogue. She is talented and successful, having (at age 27) contributed to Axios, MSNBC and NBC—and having been named the emerging journalist of the year by the National Association of Black Journalists.

But there was a problem. In 2011, when she was 17 years old, she tweeted some hateful things about Asians and homosexuals. She had subsequently apologized for and deleted these tweets, and by all accounts she is a changed person who would never say (or presumably even think) such things again.

This sequence of repentance was apparently sufficient for the authorities at Condé Nast, which owns Teen Vogue. But then her hiring was announced. The young staff was incensed, and their sentiments were quickly joined by advertisers. The message was clear: Alexi McCammond had to go. Ms. McCammond, with the support of her bosses, continued to apologize in public and in private for her decade-old tweets. No subsequent offenses emerged, and seemingly no one alleged that she even remotely still harbored the same beliefs or had the same impulses that caused her to issue those hateful words 10 years ago. No matter. The longer the apology tour continued, the worse things got—until her editors, perhaps in conjunction with her, decided that she could not work at Teen Vogue.

What would Alexi McCammond have to do to earn forgiveness, to deserve a second chance, to get to begin again? Seemingly no one who wanted her gone had any suggestions, recommendations, or even demands. What is the path to respectability and opportunity for anyone who says or does something regrettable in their teen years? Again, no one who wanted her (or many other people in broadly similar and analogous situations) gone has ever promulgated any theory, process, or program of return. Does this mean that, according to the lights of the cancelers, we should all be defined by a bad day and doomed by a regrettable moment—regardless of when it happened or what has transpired since? Apparently, yes.

About nine months prior to the Alexi McCammond situation, the comedian Nick Cannon welcomed “Professor Griff” onto his podcast. Professor Griff is a notorious Jew-hater, who was (at least partially and/or temporarily; it is unclear) kicked out of the music group Public Enemy in 1989 for his hateful attitude towards Jews—manifested in statements such as, “Jews are responsible for the majority of wickedness in the world.”

In the episode featuring Nick Cannon’s podcast, he and Professor Griff engaged in and promoted some of the most vile Jew-hating lies and pseudo-scientific theories—so despicable and untrue that they do not even bear repeating. This was all the more concerning because Cannon was a doctoral student in divinity at Howard University and presumably had known lots of Jews in his decades in Hollywood.

Cannon was immediately fired by CBS. What did he do? He did not say that he was only talking about “Zionists,” or anything like that. Instead, he apologized. And his apology did not take the form of, “If I offended anyone, I am sorry” or “We must unite against all hate.” It was unique, focused, personal—and genuine. He began to meet Jewish thinkers and leaders. He followed Jewish organizations on social media. And he began to read (and do reviews of) Jewish books, including Bari Weiss’s book on anti-Semitism. Cannon’s journey was conducted in private and in public, as he showed himself to be broken, vulnerable and growing.

Within six weeks, Rabbi Noam Marans of the American Jewish Committee wrote the following about him: “In our private conversations, I learned that Cannon is sincere, credible and curious—a lifelong learner. … He is not interested in an overnight conversion, but rather a spiritual and intellectual journey. He does not go along to get along. He needs to understand and draw his own conclusions. Although he has strong beliefs, Cannon is willing to admit when he has been wrong. These qualities bode well for a process that is leading us to a better place.”

Rabbi Marans further stated that he was disappointed that Cannon rejected only Louis Farrakhan’s (abundant and defining) Jew-hatred speech and not the man himself. However, Rabbi Marans concluded, “atonement is a process.”

By February, CBS brought back Nick Cannon. I would surmise that every Jewish thinker and leader who has considered the Cannon situation would agree with Rabbi Marans and the authorities at CBS who brought him back. I am sure that he would be welcomed on any forthcoming trip to Israel. 

Why? Is it because Jews are soft or lenient about Jew hatred? Of course not. It is because of an invention in the Torah. This invention is of the idea of forgiveness, which was conceived when Joseph forgave his brothers. This idea was amplified in the Book of Leviticus through a holiday—Yom Kippur. Every Jew is familiar with Yom Kippur, which is devoted to repenting and being forgiven for our sins. It is the holiest day of the Jewish year and, as the Talmud asserts, the most joyous as well.

Why is this holiday, which is distinguished by the fact that we must fast, considered a time of such joy? Because Yom Kippur gives us an opportunity to acknowledge our sins, be cleansed of them—and to begin again as a new person! Moreover, this opportunity is amplified by another characteristic of repentance. The Talmud says, “In a place where the baal teshuva [repentant/returned sinner] stands, complete tzaddikim [righteous people] cannot stand.” Why is it better to have sinned and repented than to have never sinned at all? Because a sinner who has repented and returned is going to be far more effective at convincing an ongoing sinner to change than one who has never suffered and struggled that way.

The great 12th-century Rabbi Moses Maimomides defined the stages of genuine repentance. One must regret his sin, confess out loud the sin, attempt to reconcile with the wronged party, and resolve never to repeat the offense. Nick Cannon clearly achieved each of these steps, even if incompletely (as he has not repudiated Farrakhan). And even Jews who are not familiar with Maimonides on repentance are familiar with Yom Kippur and, by extension, the importance that the Bible and Jewish faith places on the importance of accepting repentance. Consequently, perhaps all Jews welcome his complete reentry into society.

I would bet that the process for someone who defamed Christians or Christianity would be similar to that of Cannon, as we all share the same Torah source. What, I imagine, would the very secular people who canceled McCammond say about the Cannon rehabilitation? We have to imagine, because seemingly no one who thought that the McCammond case (or the many broadly like it) was concluded rightly has suggested anything that one could do as an alternative to being forever defined by something they said as a teenager. Indeed, there is seemingly no secular or postmodern philosophy, theory, or process of repentance, return, renewal, and reentry.

Those who reject or ignore the Torah are living in a moral world that did not come after the Bible but before it—when there was no concept of repentance. The result: One is defined and characterized, presumably for life, by the worst thing one said as a teenager. Is this what such people find desirable or just?

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare (AMH) and the author of a book on the Haggadah: The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life.  

Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

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Iran and Israel: Once Friends, Now Foes

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

During the Persian Empire and beyond, rulers, religions, and the well-being of the Jewish community shifted like the Middle Eastern desert sands. 

When it comes to news about Iran, reports today are dominated by deadly threats to Israel from Iran’s Imams, whose goals are set on establishing a modern caliphate with nuclear capability. The Bible also records news about Iran, the Persia of yesteryear, in the ancient books of Daniel, Esther, Ezra, Isaiah, and Nehemiah—and in mostly favorable interactions. The Jews lived in exile in Persia in the sixth century B.C., when Persia was the largest empire ever known. It stretched across three continents—Europe, Africa, and Asia—and was home to nearly half of the world’s population. Possibly 20% of its population was Jewish. 

King Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire, ruled from 559-530 B.C. Sometimes called the “world’s first Zionist,” he blessed the Jewish community described in Ezra 1:1-3: “The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel.”

Cyrus committed to his proclamation and thus promoted the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. He also gave Jews permission to return to Israel if they wished, yet many remained in Persia. After Cyrus was killed in 529 B.C., his son stopped the construction. Then, under King Darius, the work began again. Queen Esther’s story dramatically takes a turn when Darius’ son Xerxes (Ahasuerus) chose her as his queen. 

Both Jews and Christians regard Queen Esther as one of the most famous and important women in history. Yet when Haman rose as an official in Xerxes’ court, his nefarious plan to kill all the Jews was a deadly contrast to Jewish/Persian relationships under Cyrus and some of his successors. Queen Esther’s decision to walk bravely and prayerfully in a strategic consultation with God stopped Haman’s evil plot. Esther’s plea to her king resulted in the survival of God’s chosen people, the birth of our Jewish Savior, and the rebirth of the modern Jewish nation in 1948. 

History reveals many more events in the relationship between ancient and modern Iran and Israel. When Arabs defeated the Persians in the seventh century, they instituted Islam as the main religion. Despite the invasion, the Persians managed to maintain their language and customs. Yet, from the founding of Islam to the rise of the Ottoman Empire in 1299, Jewish persecution steadily grew worse in the Middle East and lasted for centuries.

Houman Sarshar, a scholar with the Center for Iranian Jewish Oral History at the University of California, Los Angeles, observes, “From what we know, the Jews were well trusted and tolerated.” He points out that Ezra held a respected job—that of a scribe in the royal court—and adds, “The Jews weren’t seen as a threat to anyone else’s way of life.” Centuries later, Islam would change the world of Persian Jews for the worse. Much worse. 

Increased persecutions in the 19th century led to stirrings for a Jewish homeland,  and immigration to Israel began increasing. The Ottoman Empire suffered defeat in World War I and was dismantled in 1922. Then in 1925 the Pahlavi dynasty took hold in Iran, establishing a secular society that wanted to westernize. The changes boded well for the Jews with increased freedoms. In 1935, “Iran” replaced Persia as the country’s name. And during World War II, the Iranian government protected Jews from the Holocaust by keeping them from Nazi deportation.

The years between 1953 and 1979 were friendly, even though Iran did not vote in favor of the modern Jewish state in 1948 at the United Nations. Israel even helped develop Iran’s armed forces from 1958-67, while Iran supplied Israel with crude oil. Frequent interactions took place with diplomatic visits, chess and wrestling matches, and Iranians welcoming Israeli singers to their nightclubs along with other cross-cultural ties.  

That easy-going relationship changed dramatically in 1979, when the pro-Western Shah of Iran—the country’s second and last monarch—was overthrown by the Islamic theocracy, which severed relations with Israel. At the time, some 80,000 Jews lived in Iran. Fearing religious persecution, tens of thousands of mostly well-to-do Jews fled the country, leaving behind their homes, properties, and riches. Most made Aliyah to Israel. 

Despite so many departures, Iran today is home to the second largest population of Jews in the Middle East aside from Israel. Iran’s total population is around 85 million, with an estimated 8,500 Jews. It may be surprising to learn that Iran’s constitution recognizes religious minorities including Zoroastrians, Christians, and Jews. It gives permission “within the limits of the law” for religious societies and rites. 

Although Jews cannot be judges or hold high office, Iran’s legislature—the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis)—allows for one Jewish member, currently a surgeon named Siamak Moreh Sedgh. The members of Majlis are expected to comply with Iran’s Shia Muslim policies. Writing about this topic in a 2018 USA Today article, staff writer Kim Hjelmgaard paraphrased Dr. Sedgh’s belief: “One of the reasons Jews in Iran are able to live peacefully is that they consider themselves Iranians first—and Jews second.” That outlook sometimes echoes in their condemnation of Israel’s “war crimes in Gaza.” 

Here’s another example of them considering themselves “Jews second.” In May 2006 on the Jewish Central Committee of Iran website (, Iranian Jews “congratulated the achievement of nuclear fuel to the supreme leader, the Islamic Republic officials and all Iranians.” Marshall Breger, a law professor at Catholic University, visited Iran in 2003 and returned with the belief that Iranis have affection for the Israeli people but they are not political Zionists. “They are creating what I would call Judaism without Israel,” he said. Iran’s 35 synagogues are active, they have a Council of the Jewish Community, and most Jews live in Tehran, Shiraz, and Isfahan. 

Nevertheless, life for the Iranian Jews is not perfect. Arrests and imprisonments occur. Some have been accused of spying for Israel and executed. Observant Jews choose not to wear their kippahs on the streets so as not to stir tensions. Sometimes the government’s anti-Zionist hatred boomerangs onto its Jewish population. Jews are closely monitored. Regarding passports, they must apply on a specialized form and whole families cannot travel together outside Iran. Going to Israel could result in death or imprisonment. 

While Jewish Iranians talk diplomatically, as if they subscribe to the ayatollahs, that may be one of their survival tactics in the dangerous waters of the dictatorship. They find themselves in a complicated conundrum full of changing tides of history, requiring ways to navigate deep seas of potential threats. 

Rani Amrani is an Iranian-born broadcaster who now lives in Israel and operates “RadioRan” in Iran’s Farsi language. He says that Iran’s Jewish community is “in grave peril.” Amrani may very well be right. 

Tensions are rising exponentially between Iran and Israel. Iran’s race to increased uranium enrichment, higher tensions on the sea lanes, and the Biden administration’s proposed reentry into the 2015 Iran deal will point the Middle East onto a road paved with more conflict. Iran will keep doing as it pleases and is clearly already emboldened by China’s recent 25-billion-dollar investment. It signals an alliance that is danger on steroids. 

Based on the long history of persecution against the Jewish people everywhere, it is naïve to think that the apocalyptic Imams will never switch gears into persecution overdrive against its Jewish population. 

Amrani goes on to discuss just how vulnerable this population is. He warns, “If there is a war between Iran and Israel, or Iran and the U.S., they’ll be the first to be taken hostage and they’ll lose everything they have. That is what happened after the Islamic Revolution—they hanged and killed all the wealthy Jews in order to seize their property, and that could happen now, too.” 

Join CBN Israel this week to emphasize Psalm 121:4 in our prayers: “Indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

  • Pray for the safety of the Jewish community in Iran.
  • Pray asking God to give wisdom to Iranian Jews in words and conduct. 
  • Pray thanking God that He is always awake and aware. 
  • Pray that the alliance between China and Iran will not result in disaster.
  • Pray for Israel’s leadership to make strategic defense plans.

At the entrance to Sapir Hospital in Iran’s capital city, there is a sign in Hebrew and Persian that says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We pray for the day when Israel and Iran can yet again find a common ground, as they once did only decades ago. 

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 now an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel 25 times. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited by Artist Pat Mercer Hutchens and sits 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 her website at

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Business Development: Nathanial’s Story

Nathanial had a rough start in life that could have held him back. He grew up in a poor Israeli neighborhood, with only his mother to offer him encouragement. Yet, this brilliant young man loved computers, and had a vision to make his mark in the field of computer cybernetics.

As a 20-year-old soldier in the IDF, he developed a software program that protected and secured information inside military bases. He faced many obstacles in developing this into a business and making a living. But Nathanial had just started the process of selling his software to the military—and then, COVID-19 hit, putting the process on hold.

Meanwhile, his expenses to maintain, develop, and run his fledgling company remained the same. During the lockdown, tens of thousands of Israel’s businesses went bankrupt, or closed due to massive debt. Where could he turn for help? Thankfully, friends like you were there.

Through CBN Israel’s business development department, he learned step-by-step how to formulate a business plan. During his military service, he took our annual business course, and learned how to thrive in a COVID-19 world. CBN Israel has also offered zero-interest grants and loans to struggling businesses like his—helping them survive and avoid bankruptcy. Nathanial says, “I owe so much to CBN Israel for their help and support during these hard times!”

And CBN Israel is doing much more to bring aid during this pandemic. We are there for Holocaust survivors, single mothers, and refugees. As cries for help in the Holy Land continue, your support is crucial. You can deliver groceries, housing, and other essentials to desperate families. 

Please join us in reaching out to those who need our help!


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Biblical Israel: Arbel

By Marc Turnage

Arbel sits high upon the sheer limestone cliffs along the northwest corner of the lake of Galilee, northwest of Tiberias, overlooking the fertile plain of Gennesar. The Arbel Cliffs form the southern boundary of the plain of Gennesar and provide a striking visual landmark along the northwest shores of the lake. From here, visitors can see the geography on the northern shores of the lake of Galilee where 95% of Jesus’ ministry recorded in the Gospels took place.

Arbel could be identified with Beth-Arbel mentioned in the prophecy of Hosea (10:14). The current site of Arbel, however, began at the end of the second century B.C. The settlement most likely started as part of Hasmonean settlement of the Galilee when Jewish immigrants from Judea moved into the region. Rabbinic tradition identifies a Sage, Nittai, who lived in the second half of the second century B.C., as from Arbel (m. Avot 1:6-7). He served as the head of the Sanhedrin (m. Hagigah 2:2). His prominent position within Jewish society indicates a significant Jewish religious presence in Galilee at the end of the second century B.C.  

After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in A.D. 70, the priestly division of Yeshua, the ninth priestly division, settled at Arbel. Arbel was principally known for the growing of flax from which the inhabitants produced linen (Genesis Rabbah 19:1). The Arbel Valley was also known for its agricultural fertility, especially the production of grain (y. Peah 7, 4, 20a). Excavations uncovered wine and olive presses, as well as large pools, probably used for the processing of flax.

Arbel was the location of a clash between the Hasmonean forces of Antigonus and Herod (c. 39-38 B.C.). After Herod gained control of Sepphoris, he sent his force “to the village of Arbela,” and after 40 days, Herod’s forces fought the supporters of Antigonus (Josephus, War 1:305-313). Herod’s forces won the battle, and Antigonus’ supporters fled some taking refuge in caves “very near the village” of Arbel (Antiquities 14:415). There are three groups of caves in the cliffs of Mount Arbel, and most likely the rebels sought refuge in the western group of caves, which are the closest to the village of Arbel (approximately 400 meters). 

Herod eventually dealt with the rebels held-up in the caves. His forces could not make a direct assault on the caves due to the sheerness of the cliffs. His engineers constructed baskets to lower soldiers down the cliff face by machines anchored to the summit of the hill. The soldiers, armed with grappling hooks, fished the brigands out of the caves hurling them to the rocks below. Soldiers hurled fire into the caves to force the rebels out of them. Some of the rebels threw themselves along with their families down the cliffs while Herod watched from a fortified position on an opposite hill.

During the First Jewish revolt against Rome, Josephus fortified the “cave of Arbel” (Life 188; see Life 311; and War 2:573). Josephus likely fortified the eastern group of caves on the Arbel Cliffs where there are remains of actual fortifications. He also quite possibly utilized the western group of caves previously used by the supporters of Antigonus against Herod.

Today visitors can hike to the overlook from the cliffs of the Gennesar Valley and the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. They can also see the remains of a limestone synagogue built in the fourth century A.D., which continued in use until the eighth century A.D. Renovations were made in the late sixth or early seventh century A.D. 

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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Weekly Devotional: Sons That Do His Will

“A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go. Which of the two obeyed his father?” (Matthew 21:28-31 NLT).

Jesus told this parable in order to firmly illustrate the importance of doing God’s will; not simply saying “yes” to God.

Biblically, obedience does not refer to the intent of one’s heart or good desires. Obedience, which is doing God’s will, is all about action.

Our modern Christianity can sometimes spiritualize the Bible unnecessarily, even to our detriment. Moreover, we tend to relegate behaviors to emotions and feelings.

The biblical world viewed obedience as action: Love is an action, faith is an action, hope is an action. Emotions do not capture them. Feelings do not express them. Doing does.

The first son had no intention of helping his father, but “he changed his mind.” The second son had the right intention but did not act. Which of the two sons did the will of the father? The first son. Why? Because he acted.

Living according to God’s will means acting according to God’s will. It means doing the will of the Father.

Jesus places our obedient response and action as the key to entering the kingdom of Heaven—His movement—here and now. Our purpose as followers of Jesus is to pursue obedience to the will of the Father in all we do.

Therefore, we need to make sure that we call people to action. Repentance is an action in the Bible, not a feeling. Our behavior displays our repentance.

The first son showed his repentance when “he changed his mind and went anyway.” Of the two sons, he is the one who chose to obey his father’s will. May we do the same.

Let our actions mark us as doers of God’s will, and may we be children who pursue doing the will of our Father.


Father, we confess our desire to do Your will in everything that we say and do today. May our obedience glorify You. Amen.

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Israel’s Memorial and Independence Days: Sorrow and Joy, Back to Back

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

During Israel’s 2020 Memorial Day observance, Dvora Waysman, an Israeli author and syndicated journalist, observed, “Israel is a country where so many parents have been called upon to bury their children, and the earth is saturated with tears. In the whole land, there is barely a family that has not been affected in the past 72 years, which has not lost a husband, a father or a brother, or a cousin or sweetheart.”

Memorial Day, called Yom Hazikaron, is Israel’s official remembrance of the nearly 24,000 soldiers who were killed during the struggle leading to the establishment of the modern Jewish state or who have since been killed on active duty. In recent years, civilian casualties due to terrorism have been added in the totals. The Defense Ministry’s list reports that since last year’s remembrance, 43 soldiers have died—as did an additional 69 veterans from injuries sustained while serving their country.

Thus, sirens sounded once more in Israel this past Tuesday evening and then again on Wednesday morning. Nationwide, Israelis stood still or stopped their cars to honor family and friends who died defending their small nation in wars and relentless terror attacks.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF)—ground, naval, and air—are composed of citizens from all walks of life, be they Jews, Arabs, Christians, or Druze. Families and friends visit thousands of memorials and graves in the small nation. Gravestones show ages of the fallen—both men and women—at 18 and up, since military service is mandatory right out of high school for both men and women. Men serve for three years and women for two.

Israelis also mark Yom Hazikaron with lowered flags, religious and civil ceremonies, prayers at the Western Wall, and candle-lighting. Our own American military and law enforcement families and friends also grieve loved ones who sacrificed for freedoms. But Israelis have an added reality. The wars and terror are experienced in some form by every citizen, up close and personal. Their country—the Middle East’s only democracy—is in a perilous neighborhood. The hatred for the Jewish nation results in attacks on Israel’s homeland from terror enemies located on their borders with Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as Iranian forces now actively operating in Syria.

It may be puzzling for many to grasp why Israelis have placed their Memorial Day the day before their Independence Day. It strikes me as a picture of the way life really is. The Jewish Scriptures describe this in Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Israel’s national anthem, HaTikvah (“The Hope”), helps enlighten our understanding, too. In 1878, Jewish poet Naphtali Herz Imber from Galicia (now Ukraine) wrote the lyrics. The melody was composed in 1888 by Samuel Cohen, who based it on a Romanian and Moldovan folk tune. Just as the U.S. national anthem is embedded deeply into our culture and consciousness, HaTikvah is deeply embedded in Israel’s.

Holocaust survivors sang it in Bergen-Belsen on their first Sabbath after the concentration camp was liberated. Last year, when Israel was in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Defense Ministry’s Department of Family Commemoration and Legacy invited Israelis to, “Go out to your balconies, stand by your windows, and we’ll all sing the national anthem together as one.”

The lyrics are stirring and full of promise:

“As long as within our hearts

The Jewish soul sings,

As long as forward to the East

To Zion, looks the eye –

Our hope is not yet lost,

It is two thousand years old,

To be a free people in our land

The land of Zion and Jerusalem.”

During the Diaspora (scattering) throughout the world, the Jewish community prayed for Jerusalem, even in the worst circumstances, holding on to the hope of living there someday. Two thousand years of prayers and hopes were fulfilled on May 14, 1948, when the modern Jewish state was born. Hopes, tribulations, and persecutions turned into joy.

That Jewish sorrow/joy continuum is evident even in wedding celebrations. Couples marry under a wedding canopy (huppah). At the end of the ceremony, the groom steps on a glass to shatter it. The custom signifies joy and sorrow in a national anguish for the beautiful building—then destruction—of the Second Temple. The Jewish people clearly understand the paradox and the realities of mourning, then celebrating. Drawing life out of death.

After the official day of mourning, Israel’s Independence Day—Yom Ha’Atzmaut—takes off into a stratosphere of joy. The celebration marks the end of the British Mandate for Palestine. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, once stated: “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.”

When Ben-Gurion read the Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv, he announced the name of the modern Jewish nation, calling it “Israel”—no longer “Palestine.” Hours later, at midnight, five Arab armies thrust war upon the fledgling Jewish nation., “the leading Jewish content website,” recently ran an article by Rabbi Ephraim Shore that includes these brief statistics about the war’s beginning, as related in A.J. Barker’s Arab-Israeli Wars:

“In less than two weeks the government created the Israel Defense Forces, merging the Haganah (the main Jewish military organization since 1920), Irgun, and Lehi. Israel had 32,000 soldiers but only one third of them had light arms, and no heavy weapons existed. Half had zero military training. Invading Arab armies boasted 270 tanks, 150 field guns, and 300 aircraft.”

Despite overwhelming military might and numbers, the war ended on January 7, 1949, with an Israeli victory. Miracles unfolded in waves that only the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could have engineered.

The last 73 years of the modern Jewish state have proven the truth of Ben-Gurion’s statement. After the staggering shock of losing one-third of the global Jewish community under the Nazis, almost 7 million Jewish citizens now live in the only Jewish nation on earth. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics breaks it down: In Israel, the total population is 9.3 million; 73.9 percent are Jewish, 21.1 percent are Arab, and 5 percent are defined as “other,” which includes Christians and Druze.

Israelis will celebrate Yom Ha’Atzmaut much as Americans do, with family, friends, barbecues, dancing, music, and concerts. I have been in Israel on those two days when deep sorrows spilled over into the atmosphere but were then overtaken with celebrations full of fantastic Israeli food and the glittering light of fireworks. The intensity of both was evident. 

Praying for the peace of Jerusalem conveyed in Psalm 122:6-8 is a daily prayer for many Christians: “Pray for peace in Jerusalem. May all who love this city prosper. O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls and prosperity in your palaces. For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, ‘May you have peace.’” Family and friends are mentioned in verse 8. Let us focus on praying for Jewish families who live with grief daily. Let us also pray for the remarkable Israelis, their vast accomplishments, their will to live, their culture of life, and their continual longing for peace.

Join CBN Israel this week in prayer as the people of Israel observe their national Memorial and Independence Days:

  • Pray with thanksgiving that the Lord has miraculously protected and preserved Israel against all odds over these past 73 years. 
  • Pray that Israelis will come to know that millions of Christians stand with them, both in their deep sorrow over their losses and their joyous celebration of Israel’s independence.
  • Pray for each branch of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), that they will have the strength and resilience necessary to protect their country.
  • Pray for a strong and stable coalition to form in Israeli politics so that the nation does not face a fifth election.
  • Pray that God would continue to use the people and nation of Israel to be a light to all nations of the earth. 

Our collective prayers for Israel in a sense reenact traditional Jewish prayers held in minyans. Ten adults compose a minyan, the minimum number needed for public prayer or to hold services at a synagogue. But ours is a worldwide minyan with intercession across every time zone. It is reasonable to assume that someone or some group is praying somewhere in the world for Israel and the Jewish people 24/7. Our prayers can take place in a group, at church, at home, or even while looking up at the stars reflecting on the promises God made to Abraham:

“And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 26:4).

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 now an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel 25 times. She co-edited The Auschwitz Album Revisited by Artist Pat Mercer Hutchens and sits 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 her website at

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New Immigrant Center

Every year, thousands of immigrants travel to Israel—families with children, single men and women, seniors and young people… They come to fulfill a dream: To live in the land of their forefathers and establish roots. But despite their zeal, they face great challenges. 

Many come from very different cultural backgrounds, and most do not speak the Hebrew language. It makes it very difficult for them to do even basic things, such as finding a place to live, performing banking transactions, and navigating all their paperwork.

But thanks to friends like you, CBN Israel has partnered with the New Immigrant Center in Karmiel, which offers a safe, loving, and welcoming place for these new arrivals. They get a little apartment to live in, until they find a place of their own. Students receive help getting their certificates approved. And everyone gets free Hebrew classes, and assistance filling out forms and finding work. Plus, when the global pandemic suddenly hit, we brought even more help. 

During COVID-19, when all immigrants had to be quarantined for 2 weeks, the Center made sure they had what they needed—by grocery shopping for them, and helping them stay current with filling out government forms. And we donated refrigerators for their apartments, replacing very old, unreliable appliances. These new immigrants are finding hope and a brighter future. 

And through CBN Israel, you can help others who are struggling—including single mothers, Holocaust survivors, and terrorism victims. Your support is crucial to those trying to survive in Israel. You can provide groceries, shelter, medicine, job training, and more. 

Please join us in making an important difference in the Holy Land for those in need!


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Yom HaAtzma’ut: Israel’s Independence Day

By Julie Stahl

Yom HaAtzma’ut is Israel’s national Independence Day, and this year marks the 76th anniversary of the modern Jewish State!

“Who has ever heard of such things? Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children” (Isaiah 66:8 NIV).

On May 14, 1948, just before the Sabbath, some 350 guests crammed into an un-air-conditioned, Tel Aviv art gallery for a 32-minute ceremony that would change the world forever.

We, members of the people’s council, representatives of the Jewish community of Eretz-Israel and of the Zionist movement, are here assembled on the day of the termination of the British Mandate over Eretz-Israel and, by virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel,” declared David Ben-Gurion, Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, and soon to be the first prime minister of the fledgling state.

On that historic day, Ben-Gurion spoke for 11 million Jewish men, women, and children around the world who had no voice, no address, and nowhere to go. For the first time in nearly 2,000 years, they finally had their own nation in their ancestral homeland.

“It was promised to us by God. We are the only people in the history of the world that live on the same land, speaking the same language, and believing in the same God more than 3,000 years,” says Isaac Dror, who heads the education efforts for Independence Hall, the place where the declaration was made.

Among the crowd of witnesses was Yael Sharett, whose father Moshe Sharett was on stage with Ben-Gurion and was the country’s first foreign minister and second prime minister. At age 17, Yael wrote as her father dictated one of the drafts of the declaration. She shared a chair with her aunt at the ceremony.

“It’s really epic. It’s poetry actually. The only time I was really moved I must say was when the Rabbi Levine made the old age Jewish blessing: shehecheyanu, v’kiyimanu, v’higiyanu la’z’man ha’zeh,” Yael told CBN News.

That ancient Jewish prayer, which is recited on momentous occasions, offers thanks to God “who has given us life, sustained us, and allowed us to reach this day.”

Then they sang HaTikvah (“The Hope”), which is Israel’s national anthem.

The next day, which was the Sabbath, U.S. President Harry Truman became the first world leader to recognize Israel.

“He understood something that most of his top advisors and ministers failed to see. This is truly prophecy being realized,” Dror said.

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations had passed resolution 181 calling for the creation of a Jewish State and an Arab State in British-controlled Mandatory Palestine. The plan set aside land in the Galilee, along the Mediterranean and the Negev Desert for the Jewish people, while the Arabs were to receive all of biblical Judea and Samaria, later known as the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and other small portions. Perhaps the most controversial part of the plan was that an international body would control Jerusalem.

Still the Jewish people accepted the plan, but the Arabs rejected it. Less than six months later the Jewish people declared independence. The following day, the armies of five Arab nations attacked Israel.

Many countries have fought wars for their independence, but Israel’s war was not common. They had been granted independence by the sovereign, Britain; the decision was confirmed by the United Nations; and the Jewish people were returning to the historic land of their ancestors. But it was their neighbors who didn’t want them to exist.

A year later, the Jewish state was still standing and had increased its size by nearly 50 percent. Against overwhelming odds, this fledgling State of Israel not only survived but grew beyond expectation.

In honor of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations Partition Plan, Israel’s mission to the U.N. celebrated by returning to the hall in Flushing Meadows, New York, where the U.N. vote took place.

Former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said: “In this very hall 70 years ago when the United Nations declared to the modern world an ancient truth that the Jewish people have a natural, irrevocable right to an independent state in their ancestral and eternal homeland.”

Israelis celebrate Independence Day on the 5th of the Hebrew month of Iyar. During a televised ceremony that includes Israeli leaders, Israelis make the transition from mourning on their memorial day to celebrating their independence. Later that night, in cities and towns around the country, young and old take to the streets to listen to live music and dance Israeli folk dances.

Orthodox Jews recite the Psalms (but ultra-Orthodox Jews don’t yet recognize the State).

On Independence Day, the Israeli Air Force flies over cities and along beaches to celebrate as their fellow citizens picnic and barbecue (what they call mahngal). At the close of the day, the country awards the Israel Prize to Israelis who have made a unique contribution to the country’s culture, science, arts, and humanities.

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel full-time for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN—first as a graduate student in Journalism at Regent University; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. She is also an integral part of CBN News’ award-winning show, Jerusalem Dateline, a weekly news program providing a biblical and prophetic perspective to what is happening in Israel and the Middle East.

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Yom HaZikaron: Israel’s Memorial Day

By Julie Stahl

“The LORD cares deeply when his loved ones die” (Psalm 116:15).

A week after Yom HaShoah (“Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day”), Israelis mark Yom HaZikaron (“Israel’s Memorial Day”) to honor and remember those who died fighting for their country and for those murdered in terror attacks.

A televised state ceremony is held at the Western Wall and neighborhoods throughout the country hold their own ceremonies in public places, with the participation of the youth. 

Israelis stand in the streets for an hour or more as the people who died from those neighborhoods are honored.

Since Israel is frequently under attack—whether by rockets or terror attacks or infiltrations—the day is very real and relevant for most Israelis. Many visit cemeteries and attend other ceremonies on the day. Schools are in session but have special programs to honor the fallen.

Twice, on the evening before Israel’s Memorial Day and the following morning itself, Israelis collectively stand in silence as a siren sounds calling to mind the sacrifices that were made by family and friends for Israel’s freedom and security. 

“I was thinking about all the soldiers from the beginning of the modern State of Israel up until today who had to fight on the frontlines and on the home front,” said Shai Yosipov, a former IDF combat medic.

“It’s so important that everyone understands the price and the responsibility we have for living in this country. We not only remember our fallen loved ones, but we also acknowledge that there has always been a sacrifice that needed to be made so that we could be here today,” says Yosipov.

“During the siren, I was praying for families who’ve lost so many, and I prayed that God would give them comfort from the pain,” says Sarah Rivka Yekutiel, who moved to Israel from Boston many years ago.

“It’s an emotional time for everyone, whether you’ve lost family or not. This day is very heavy and intense,” said Orital Saban, who recently moved to Israel from Canada.

More than 23,000 Israeli and Jewish soldiers and more than 3,100 terror victims have fallen since 1860. 

At sundown on Israel’s Memorial Day, Israelis make an incredible leap from mourning those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom, to celebrating Yom HaAtzma’ut (“Israel’s Independence Day”).

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel full-time for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN—first as a graduate student in Journalism at Regent University; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. She is also an integral part of CBN News’ award-winning show, Jerusalem Dateline, a weekly news program providing a biblical and prophetic perspective to what is happening in Israel and the Middle East.

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Biblical Israel: Masada

By Marc Turnage

Masada, a palace-fortress built by Herod the Great (Matthew 2), sits on the south-western shore of the Dead Sea, fifteen and a half miles south of Ein Gedi. The fortress sits atop an isolated rock plateau that overlooks the Dead Sea Valley below. This naturally fortified rock was first built on by the Hasmonean king Alexander Jannaeus (ruled from 103-76 B.C.). Herod the Great made it into a palace fortress that could provide protection if he needed to flee Jerusalem, as well as protecting the balsam industry at Ein Gedi, which provided the cash crop for Herod’s kingdom. 

Herod built two palace complexes on top of Masada, one on the western side (the oldest), and one on the north, which boasted three levels cascading down the northern slope of the rock scarp. Both had functioning Roman style baths, living quarters, storerooms, and decorations fitting for a king. Herod also had a pool on top of Masada, as well as gardens. 

Masada receives on average only an inch to an inch and a half of rainfall annually. The need for water of Herod’s luxuries on Masada required an ingenious water catchment system using gutters, the natural slope of the plateau; he also captured the rainwater that fell to the west of Masada diverting it into channels, which flowed into cisterns along the slopes of Masada. The cisterns on Masada held millions of cubic liters of water ensuring that the residents of Masada could survive along the arid shores of the Dead Sea, as well as enjoying the luxuries of the pool and bathhouses. 

Masada’s popularity derives from the story told by Josephus about the defenders of Masada during the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-73). According to Josephus, a group of Jewish rebels, Sicarii, led by Elezar ben Yair held up in Masada through most of the revolt. A couple of years prior to the fall of Masada, which took place on Passover of A.D. 73, this group of rebels slaughtered the Jewish community at Ein Gedi. 

Josephus tells a tale how the Tenth Roman Legion laid siege to Masada, built a ramp up its western slope (the remains of which visitors can still see), yet when they stormed the mountain, they found that the defenders had killed their families and then themselves instead of facing slavery at the hands of the Romans. Josephus provides our only account of this story, and while it offers a daring and captivating tale, it most likely did not happen in exactly that manner. Nevertheless, visitors to Masada see evidence of the lives of the Jewish rebels. 

Not needing the luxury of Herod’s royal palace-fortress, the rebels converted portions of the palaces into more serviceable and functional purposes. The room that served as the stables for the donkeys used to bring water from the cisterns below, the rebels converted into a synagogue. Archaeologists found ancient scrolls fragments from the remains of the Jewish rebels. Some fragments preserved portions of biblical books, like Ezekiel; other fragments contained portions of other ancient Jewish literature, like Ben Sira. 

Masada offers a fascinating window into the changing political landscape of the land of Israel in the first century. In this way, it enables us to understand themes and trends that we find within the New Testament.

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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