In response to the devastating tornado system that ripped through Moore, Oklahoma, yesterday killing at least 51 people and destroying countless neighborhoods, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu sent a letter to President Obama, offering support and condolences:
“On behalf of the government and people of Israel, I offer our heartfelt condolences to you and to the people of the United States on the massive tornado that struck Oklahoma and exacted such a horrific toll in human life. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this tragedy and their families at this difficult time.”
We at 4Zion offer our prayers as well for all those who have lost loved ones and for those who are working hard to rescue, recover, and restore their communities.
“For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones” (Isaiah 49:13).]]>
Fortunately, my father lives in Jerusalem, so my family packed into his tiny apartment to celebrate the giving of the Torah, which Jews remember on Pentecost. I joined my father in the synagogue with my two older kids while my wife and our baby stayed home, where she celebrated on her own, lighting lots of holiday candles and filling the apartment with the light of the Pentecost. After dinner and a short study group with my father, his wife, and my wife, I headed to Jerusalem’s Old City.
There is an ancient Jewish custom to stay up the whole night of Pentecost studying the Torah. Since the Torah was given first thing in the morning, we show our longing and anticipation for God’s gift by staying up and studying Torah until the morning hours, when we pray and give praise for this ultimate gift.
In the Old City, I joined thousands of others by the Western Wall, where I read through different sections of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I then touched on different themes in the prophets and read the book of Ruth. It was an incredibly inspiring night, and the joy of the Torah was resonating throughout the crowd at the Western Wall.
By four in the morning I could barely keep my eyes open, and I knew I would need to indulge in some coffee or jump in an ice-cold spring of water if I was going to make it through the morning prayers. Since coffee was not available, I headed out of the Old City walls through the Dung Gate, and made my descent down the Kidron Valley to dunk in the ancient water spring known as the Pool of Shiloam.
This fresh spring was the main source of water in ancient Jerusalem. Undoubtedly, many priests and kings bathed in the spring to purify themselves before entering the Holy Temple. I was not alone; many others had come to purify themselves or to wake themselves up with the cold water before the morning prayers.
Instead of praying at the Western Wall I made my way to King David’s tomb, which rests on Mount Zion. The Pentecost is also the day of King David’s passing, and so we read the book of Ruth. What better place to read it than the site of King David’s burial? The prayers were so heartfelt and lively that it was hard to believe that no one had slept the entire night.
After this time of prayer, I dragged my weary feet through the streets of Jerusalem to meet my wife and children for an early brunch. All the stores were closed, public transportation was shut down, and the streets were filled with people walking back from the all-nighter at the Old City. Some people sang as they walked, some formed dance circles. I just kept my head down, trying not to trip over myself. It was a blessed night, and yet I needed some sleep to regain my strength. I have since recovered from the fatigue – but, thankfully, the inspiration and joy of that holy night has not subsided from my heart.296c ]]>
Yemima, a 35-year-old single mother in the central Israel town of Pardes Chana, is raising her three children on a meager salary of $900 a month. Yemima does not receive any money from the government and is committed to working hard for her income, yet too often she is forced to decide between buying food for Shabbat (Sabbath) or paying the electric bill.
Since she began receiving weekly food packages from 4Zion partner Ohr HaPardes, Yemima’s children have had food to eat every Shabbat without fearing that their electricity will be shut off. “There are not enough words to say thank you,” Yemima says. “To have food and electricity is not a given, and my children and I are blessed with both because of 4Zion.”
Yemima’s parents were from Yemen and raised her on the traditions of their Jewish forefathers. “We never had an abundance of physical belongings,” Yemima explains while holding her Star of David necklace in her hands, “yet our spiritual life was as rich as could be.” Yemima remembers celebrating the Shabbat as a little girl with homemade challahs (special Shabbat bread) that her mother made from wheat that she picked from the field. “My parents never let me forget what a miracle it is that the Jews are home in Israel. They instilled in me from a young age that as long as we are home in the Holy Land, God will protect us and provide for us.”
Although Yemima shared her tiny room with five brothers and sisters and wore second-hand clothing, she never felt a lack of physical belongings. “My mother always wore a smile on her face and made us feel safe,” Yemima remembers, her eyes glowing with joy. “My mother was feeding us soup with old vegetables for dinner, yet she thanked God for what we did have. She never focused on the lack.”
Holding her 10-year-old daughter’s hand, Yemima begins to cry. “My mother’s memory is my strength as I go through the difficult reality of raising three children on my own in hard economic times. Every morning, I hear her whispering in my ear from heaven that if I turn to God there is no despair. That is the mantra I use to get through each day.”
Being raised with strong family values, Yemima left her parents’ house at the age of 19 and got married soon after that. Within five years she gave birth to three children, and soon after her youngest daughter was born her world crumbled to pieces. Her beloved mother died and her husband left the family, moved to another country, and hasn’t been in contact with them since.
“I was alone,” Yemima cries. “I had three beautiful children that I felt grateful for, yet I was alone. There was suddenly no one around for me to rely on for support or help. I saw my future as a big black hole. I fell into despair.”
For the first year after tragedy struck, Yemima stayed in bed, cried, and prayed. And then she realized that if she wanted to give her children a bright future, she was the only one able to create that reality. “God laid it on my heart that I had to get up and work, put on a smile, and do what had to be done.”
Since that day eight years ago, Yemima has been working as a receptionist at different offices and is rarely seen without a smile on her face. Her children are all at the top of their class academically, are enthusiastic about playing music, and use their spare time to volunteer. “Each Shabbat we receive food from 4Zion, and I use it to teach my children that they receive but they also need to give,” explains Yemima. “On Thursdays, we volunteer to help pack the 4Zion food boxes and deliver them to elderly in the neighborhood. I want my children to learn the value of working, volunteering, and appreciation while they’re young.”
Despite the difficult reality of raising three children on her own and struggling financially, Yemima says that she is able to do everything with a smile because of the weekly food help that she receives from 4Zion. “Not being able to provide a Shabbat meal for my children would be the ultimate hardship. I’m trying to raise them with faith, thanksgiving, and traditions, and having a Shabbat meal is the foundation of all of those values. Now, because of 4Zion, not only do my children have food on the table, but they also know that it was donated by Christians abroad. This instills in their heart from a young age that they are not alone, and indeed they are loved by someone besides their mother. Thank you!”]]>
There is a story shared about a 92-year-old woman as she entered the nursing home where she would spend the rest of her life. After waiting patiently in the lobby, she was told that her room was ready. An attendant escorted the lady to her room, and as she slowly edged her walker toward the elevator, he described the room to her. “I love it!” she exclaimed with the enthusiasm of a child who had just received the most wonderful birthday gift. “But Mrs. Jones, you haven’t even seen it yet!” the man replied. “That has nothing to do with it,” she said.
The elderly woman continued: “Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged . . . it’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open, I’ll focus on the new day.”
For some people, this kind of attitude may take a lifetime to master. Others will pass through this world without ever knowing the kind of joy that this perspective can bring. But we can choose to move into this frame of mind today – no matter how old or young we may be, no matter how rich or poor, no matter what our circumstances.
In Psalm 118, the psalmist provides us with one of the most powerful verses that we can incorporate into our lives: “The LORD has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.” Translated literally from the original Hebrew, the verse reads: “This is the day the LORD has made, let us rejoice and be glad on it.”
While this psalm is part of a group of psalms traditionally recited on holidays, the Sages teach that this verse applies to every single day of our lives. Every day when we wake up, we have to look at “this very day” as The Day. Every day is the day that “the LORD has made.” He has created everything in this day exactly as it should be. We must “rejoice and be glad on it” because it is created by and lovingly given to us by the Master of the Universe. Today is His gift to us – that’s why we call it the present!
Every day of our lives can be filled with joy. Remember – it’s not about how the things in our lives are arranged; it’s about how we arrange our lives in our minds. Let’s decide to live every day as if it is the very best day of our lives!
Originally posted in Holyland Moments. Visit now to sign up for a daily devotional.
Photo: Be-Younger.com via photopin cc225c ]]>
Fortunately, Israel has been blessed with many natural springs, some of which are only a short drive from my house. At any time of year, you can find freezing cold spring, hot springs, and springs that will match the temperature of the season, as if they have a built-in heater for the winter and a cooler for the summer.
While swimming in a spring is great fun and pleasant for the mind and body, it also has benefits for the spirit. Natural water has always been employed for the purification of priests prior to Temple service. And anyone who wants to purify their heart, thoughts, and soul also benefits from dunking in a natural spring.
Getting to know the natural springs around my neighborhood and the surrounding towns and villages has been an ongoing adventure. Every time I venture to a new spring, someone comes along to tell me of yet another one waiting to be discovered. And so, earlier this week as temperatures reached the low 90s, I set out for a spring not far from my house, in the backwoods of Yoqne’am.
Yoqne’am is a city that boasts its own high-tech industrial park, and over the years the once quiet and slow moving town has turned into a bustling little city. But the city is surrounded by a mountain range that offers lush green trails, serene picnic areas, and flowing streams with fish too small to catch but pleasant to look at.
Once inside the woods you no longer hear the city below, and the only sounds that break the silence are the winds rustling the branches and leaves, the gushing water flowing in the streams, the chattering of birds overhead, and the occasional sound of fellow hikers conversing along their path.
When I walk through the forest alone, I realize that I am seldom truly alone. In the forest where no laptop can be plugged in, where my phone is on silent, and where checking the news or sports channels is not an option, I often find myself in a conversation with God. I wonder: Who walked this forest before me, and which prophet sat on these stones? This is, after all, Israel, so I’m walking on holy ground.
On this walk, I eventually made it to my destination outside Yoqne’am, and found the spring was a bit smaller than what I had anticipated. Still, the water was refreshing and the surrounding mountains added to the ambience of this precious and peaceful spot where I, and many before me, have come for a short swim, with the intention of cooling off our bodies while purifying our souls.
The families in the crowded apartment live in a state of constant conflict, creating a hazardous and unhealthy environment for Evelina and Milana. There are often quarrels – even calls to the police – and all five of the children are not allowed to play together.
Evelina and Milana’s father stays home with the girls while their mother works shifts as a waitress. He doesn’t have permanent employment but occasionally works in construction when he can find a job.
On their meager income, the family is unable to provide the basic necessities for their children. They are in danger of being evicted from the grandmother’s house by the other relatives as they cannot always pay their share of the utilities.
In the midst of this bleak situation, the family finds a needed ray of hope from The Fellowship. We provide them with food cards so the growing girls continue to get proper nutrition they need, as well as diapers and clothing for Evelina and Milana. Perhaps most importantly, the family receives the reassurance that they are not alone in their struggle.]]>