Last year at this time, I posted a blog with twelve key events of 2015 that were focal points for prayer in the Messianic Jewish community. I didn’t try to cover everything, but to focus on issues of special relevance to our community. There were plenty of such events in 2016, but I will again limit the list to twelve, so that we can give each item adequate prayer attention during 2017.
- A thriving Messianic Jewish community in Israel faces growing pressure against Aliyah
The Messianic Jewish community in Israel continues to grow, and to reach significant numbers of younger, native-born Israelis. At the same time, government resistance against Aliyah (immigration) by Messianic Jews also continues to increase. This is partly a result of Netanyahu’s re-election last year and the formation of more right-leaning governing coalition, which includes with religious parties. In response Israeli Messianics have launched the MAC (Messianic Aliyah Coordinator) project to provide up-to-date information and needed support, including: confidential free counsel; practical help and advice; relevant contacts and in some cases limited hosting. You can contact me for more information.
- March – Fourth Christ at the Checkpoint
The Christ at the Checkpoint (CATC) conference, sponsored by Bethlehem Bible College and held biannually since 2010, has been a source of controversy within the Messianic Jewish community in Israel and abroad. Conference promoters and supporters see it as a vehicle for Arab-Jewish understanding and reconciliation, but critics oppose it because of alleged anti-Israel rhetoric and political positions. Past conferences have included Messianic Jewish speakers and participants, especially from Israel, but that participation seemed to decrease in 2016. Shortly after CATC, and just a few miles away, Christ Church Jerusalem hosted its “At the Crossroads” conference, which brought together Christian workers from throughout the Middle East as well as some Messianic Jews from Israel (and abroad, including me). At the Crossroads was not promoted as an alternative to CATC, but is often seen that way, with a more positive vision of Israel and a less political orientation. You can read my brief reports here and here.
- March-April – Twelfth annual Israel Apartheid Week
This anti-Zionist effort mostly centered on college campuses “seeks to raise awareness of Israel’s settler-colonial project and apartheid system over the Palestinian people and to build support for the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.” Israel Apartheid Week is a relatively small movement, but I’m including it for a couple of reasons:
- It’s part of the growth of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism on college campuses, many of which are actively hostile not only to Israel and Israelis, but to their own Jewish students. See the website of Jewish advocacy group, AMCHA.
- At the same time, the BDS movement that it supports suffered significant setbacks in 2016, with anti-Israel boycotts being banned in several states and foreign countries, for example Ohio on December 19. Ironically, however, the BDS effort may have received a “Christmas present” with the passage of UN Resolution 2334 (12 below).
- June – Brexit: British voters opt out of the European Union
Brexit is a huge story in its own right, the first time a member state chose to part company with the powerful 28-member European Union. It will take at least two more years to accomplish, and the results of Britain’s exit remain to be seen, but it seems to be part of a trend toward nationalism and populism worldwide, which later in the year also fueled Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election. The Jewish connection is that nationalism and populism have never been good for the Jews, and these trends should be prayerfully observed. Toward the end of the year another Jewish connection emerged, with a rush of Sephardic Jews in Great Britain seeking Portuguese passports to remain within a European Union state. Portuguese (and also Spanish) citizenship was made possible by legislation last year to facilitate the return of the descendants of Jews forced from the countries at the end of the 15th century.
- Continuing Islamist terror attacks around the world
2016 concluded with a terror attack in Istanbul that killed at least 39. The assailant is still at large and unidentified, but throughout 2016 attacks specifically linked to Islamist groups took place in Germany, Belgium and Orlando, Florida; Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast in Africa; Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq in the Middle East; and repeatedly in Turkey.
- July – Changing of the guard at the UMJC
UMJC delegates confirmed the appointment of Monique Brumbach, a young lay leader, to the position of Executive Director, which I previously filled. At the same meeting, Rabbi Kirk Gliebe wrapped up two effective and fruitful terms as UMJC president, and the delegates elected one of our younger congregational leaders, Jesse Hutcher, as incoming President, creating a multi-generational leadership team for an organization which has been focusing on leadership transition in recent years. The same transition toward younger leadership is at work throughout the wider Messianic Jewish community.
- August – Continuing racial tension in America
I’m highlighting August, because that’s when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem in protest of alleged police brutality against African-Americans. Some elements of the Black Lives Matter have aligned themselves with a radical anti-Zionist position and advocacy for the Palestinian cause. August was also the month that Calev Myers of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice released Crucial Alliance: African-Americans, Jews, and the Middle East Conundrum, calling for a renewal of the historic twentieth century Black-Jewish alliance that the book chronicles.
- September – Death of Shimon Peres
When Shimon Peres died at the age of 93, he was the last surviving leader of Israel’s founding generation, a Nobel laureate who had served in a number of key cabinet posts, including two terms as prime minister. In his term as president of Israel, 2007-2014, Peres had become a symbol of hope for peace and a dynamic, innovative Israel. Peres’ hilarious retirement video captures that symbolism brilliantly.
- November – Bob Dylan is awarded Nobel Prize
Dylan is Jewish, of course, and also, at least for a time, a Messianic Jew, who openly embraced Yeshua as Lord and Messiah in the late 70s. Several sources claim that Dylan never abandoned his faith in Yeshua, but simply refused to fit in with anyone’s expectations. 2016 also marked the death of another iconic Jewish singer-songwriter, Leonard Cohen, whose work also reflected a deep engagement with Yeshua.
- November – Election of Donald Trump
I don’t need to add to the vast discussion of the 2016 election, but will just highlight some specifically Jewish interest points. First, the surprising run of Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination. Sanders is a Jew whose platform reflected policies and values traditionally held by many Jewish voters in America. He also showed a rare authenticity and consistency that could be admired even by voters he disagreed with his policies. Second, Trump’s mixed signal to Jewish voters. On the one hand he revealed himself, especially after the election, as a strong supporter of Israel. His daughter, with whom he appears to be very close, converted to Judaism to marry Jared Kushner. On the other hand, Trump supporters, and even some Trump campaign materials, included anti-Semitic elements that Trump seemed slow to repudiate. Trump’s policy positions general diverge from the values of most Jewish voters. The wider Jewish community remains deeply concerned about Trump as his inauguration approaches.
- Siege of Aleppo
Civilians in Aleppo were trapped for most of 2016, caught in a brutal struggle between rebels and Assad government forces supported by Russian and Iran, with thousands of casualties and multiple thousands of refugees. By the end of the year, Aleppo was retaken by government forces, but the humanitarian crisis caused by the civil war continued. Russian involvement, and minimal US involvement, reflect a shifting dynamic in the Middle East, to which Israel is seeking to adjust. At the same time, Israelis responded strongly to volunteer humanitarian efforts on behalf of the Syrians.
- December – UN Security Council passes Resolution 2334
This is just the latest in a long string of anti-Israel resolutions in the UN, but for the first time the US abstained instead of vetoing this measure. It was followed up on 12/28 by a speech by John Kerry, which put the onus on Israel, and Israel’s settlement policy in particular, for the failure of the peace process. The resolution states that it,
Reaffirms that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.
The Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall are both within what this resolution calls “occupied territory,” and Jewish residents of this historic Jewish neighborhood are here described as “settlers.” In October, UNESCO had passed a resolution on Jerusalem and the Temple Mount area, which “makes no reference to Jewish ties to a key holy site in Jerusalem”—the Temple Mount and Western Wall. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37697108. The December resolution seems to follow in the same path of denying the historic Jewish connection to “east Jerusalem” and the west Bank. Israel’s supporters are now concerned that a conference on the Middle East to be hosted by France on January 15 will build on this UN momentum in ways that are harmful to Israel’s security.
All in all, a lot to remember for prayer in 2017!