Shalom in the great name of Jesus our Messiah.
Can I tell you a very personal Jewish Christmas story?
I was raised in a traditional Jewish home in New York City. I was born in what I like to call the true Holy Land—Brooklyn, New York! Both of my parents were Jewish and fairly typical of their post-Holocaust generation. Although my mom was more religious than my dad, they were both very committed to their Jewishness and, as a family, we celebrated all of the Jewish holidays.
Hanukkah was, without a doubt, my favorite holiday. This eight-day festival of lights celebrates the great victory of the Jewish people over the Greco-Syrian “madman” Antiochus Epiphanes. We celebrated the holiday by lighting candles for eight days and by giving gifts to one another on each night. And there were the holiday foods—potato pancakes dipped in applesauce or sour cream and delicious jelly donuts, called sufganiyot—mmm!
Sound great? Family, friends, gifts, and very unhealthy food. There is nothing like it!
In New York City, Hanukkah menorahs or beautifully decorated Christmas trees grace the windows of homes and apartment buildings. It always gets dark early in New York around this time of year, so it is easy to see which holiday the families are celebrating.
I was raised as a Hanukkah loyalist, which I equated with allegiance to my Jewish people. When I began considering the gospel, I thought I would have to choose between Christmas and Hanukkah. At that time, I thought if I accepted Jesus and agreed to celebrate Christmas then I would be a traitor to my heritage and might be committing a version of ethnic suicide by believing in Jesus and observing His birthday.
Yet, God was working in my heart, and I was drawn to Him through the transformed lives of my two closest friends who had become believers in Jesus. It was still very hard to make the leap because I thought this decision would mean I was no longer Jewish. How would I ever explain this to my family?
I began reading the New Testament seriously and soon discovered that even Jesus celebrated Hanukkah, or the Feast of Dedication, as recorded in John chapter 10. At the heart of the holiday is the celebration of God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from those who oppress and persecute us. I also found out that the Old Testament, my Jewish Bible, predicted that the Messiah would actually be God in the flesh. Therefore, the whole idea of the incarnation was not foreign to Judaism but was there all the time in my Jewish Bible.
So, I embraced Jesus as my Messiah and discovered that it was possible to be Jewish and believe in Jesus.
You might ask, “What holiday do you celebrate now?” Both, of course! Why give away eight presents for one when you could have nine? Seriously, what greater present could even come close to the gift of eternal life resulting from a personal relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through Jesus the Messiah? Over the years, I discovered that it is easy to be Jewish and believe in Jesus. It is like the proverbial “hand and glove,” as Jesus is the fulfillment of all my people’s hopes and dreams. He is the Deliverer and Redeemer we are waiting for.
He is Messiah, Savior, and Lord. The son of Abraham and David, and the Son of God. As the great prophet Isaiah predicted, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
The prophet continued,
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this (Isaiah 9:6–7).
JEWISH EVANGELISM IN THE 21ST CENTURY
And now I have the joy of serving as the seventh president of our 125-year-old mission to the Jewish people, and we are about to begin our 126th year of faithful service among the Jewish people. Thousands of Jewish people have come to faith through the energetic, visionary, and faithful staff of Chosen People Ministries.
And we could not have done this without your faithful prayers and support.
THE ROMANS 1:16 TO THE JEW FIRST CAMPAIGN
During the next 12 months, we want to continue focusing on three special areas of ministry. Let me briefly tell you what they are now, and I will explain further in the months ahead.
We are pouring financial and human resources into ministry among Israelis. Our twenty-five full-time workers in Israel are reaching Israelis day in and day out. We are also reaching Israelis as they travel after their army duty. We have been touching lives everywhere from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to countries such as New Zealand and India. Soon we will be starting a new ministry among Israelis traveling through Brazil. These young people are incredibly open, especially when they are away from home. Also, we are able, with a good-sized staff in Israel, to follow up with those who show interest in the gospel when they return home from overseas.
We are also investing heavily in the modern “Mars Hill” of digital evangelism through websites, video creation, and social media. God is leading us to thousands of Jewish people each year who we meet through the web and who are interested in the gospel. It is not cheap, but it is absolutely worth it. We have spoken now to tens of thousands of people through these ministries!
THE NEXT GENERATION
We are looking toward the future and providing training for the next generation of missionaries to the Jewish people. With a track record of 125 years of faithful service for the Lord, we fully understand the importance of passing the torch to the next generation. In light of this, we are continuing to train young people through our Charles L. Feinberg Center for Messianic Jewish Studies seminary program in Brooklyn. We are investing in the next generation of Israeli leaders through our Living Waters mentoring program in Israel and around the world via our global young adult conference, Muchan (Hebrew for “ready”), usually held in Europe. We are also providing a variety of internships and extending our outreach among Jewish students. We call this next generation effort The Joshua Initiative because we want to raise up a new generation of leaders like Joshua who will serve the Lord faithfully with courage and power (Joshua 1:5–6).
We can do this because of Him and your partnership and prayers.
May Jesus, the joy and reason for the season, fill your home with warmth, happiness, and grace during the holidays. I want to thank you for supporting Chosen People Ministries. You are an important part of our ministry family.
We are now serving in nineteen countries around the world and in twenty-five cities throughout North America. As we wrap up our 125th year of celebration and begin 2020, I cannot help but reflect upon His faithfulness, the amazing things He has done, and how much we have expanded the ministry, even this year. We want to be ready for tomorrow. And, by God’s grace, I believe if we embrace the opportunities of the New Year together, arm in arm, following in the Savior’s footsteps, we will.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!
Because God became flesh,