What on earth is going on in Israel this week? How is it affecting the Messianic Christians in Israel? What is being done to assist victims of the violence occuring there? There is new meaning today for the Psalmist's desire to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem." Join Scott as he discusses the war in Israel with Mitch Glaser, President of Chosen People Ministries.
Dr. Mitch Glaser is President of Chosen People Ministries and was instrumental in launching the Charles Feinberg Center for Messianic Jewish Studies, a Brooklyn, NY extension of Talbot. He holds an MDiv from Talbot and a Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Seminary, and is the author of several books on Jewish evangelism. His wife, Zhava, is a full time faculty member at the Feinberg Center.
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Scott Rae: What in the world is going on in Israel today and how is this affecting, in particular, the Messianic Jewish community in Israel? How is it affecting the Palestinian Christians in the area? We're here with our special guest, Dr Mitch Glazer, who is the president and CEO of Chosen People Ministries, also leads our Talbot extension in Messianic Jewish studies in Brooklyn. He's got people on the ground who are aware of what's going on, maybe more so than what we hear in the news today. So Mitch, thanks so much for being with us. We really appreciate you coming on with us.
Mitch Glaser: You're welcome, Scott. I'm happy to do this so that my Christian brothers and sisters can pray even more effectively. We really need it.
Scott Rae: I take it that this week, maybe more so than in a long time, the Psalmist admonition to pray for the peace of Jerusalem is maybe more relevant than it's been in a long time.
Mitch Glaser: It is and to pray for all the people of Jerusalem. We'll take Jerusalem as a stand-in for all of Israel and we really need people to pray.
Scott Rae: So how would you summarize what's happening in Israel this week?
Mitch Glaser: Sure, it was a massive terrorist attack. The IDF actually found 1,500 bodies of Hamas terrorists and, as of now, about 1,200 Israelis have died and of course, we have probably over 1,000 Palestinians and Gaza who have died, and I think there's something vitally wrong and evil about a strategy that doesn't care about human life. We are now learning that there are story after story of atrocities, and so we can get into it a little bit more but it's been a very, very difficult, revealing week as time went on because there are actually still some terrorists wandering within Israel that the IDF is trying to clean up, but it's probably — we probably have most of them, but it's been really difficult. And, of course, now we settle in for the time of retaliation. It is the Middle East and so there will be massive retaliation and it might be only limited to Gaza, but if Hamas or Hezbollah I believe Iranian proxies if they begin really disturbing things from the north there have been a few missiles and a few things but if they really go at it, Israel will have to respond. There's just too many people up there and from the ground perspective. Scott, I've been to almost all of these places and I've spent a lot of time in Shterot or Sederot, Shterot and Ashkelon, of course and we're involved with the Messianic congregation in Ashkelon and we've been ministering in Sederot for probably over 25 years, mostly among a reduced number of Russian Jewish elderly Holocaust survivors, and so these are real people to me, Scott, and so my heart's really been broken this week.
Scott Rae: So Mitch, what do you hear you have — I take it — I mean you have chosen people, staff in Israel. You have Messianic congregations that you've been involved with for a long time there. What do you hear from the people that you know, who are on the ground in Israel, that the average person outside the Middle East might not know about?
Mitch Glaser: Right? Well, first of all, I think a lot of Christians need to know that there's a thriving Messianic body of Israeli Christians in Israel, and sometimes, because a lot of believers go there and take tours and they never meet real live Israeli believers, like you and Sally did when we invited you over I think that they don't — my brothers and sisters don't really understand how vital and how dynamic the church is, and so the belief — and there is Israelis, you know, and so they're all brokenhearted and devastated. They feel vulnerable, they feel disappointed in the government, they feel like they can't trust anybody anymore and how could Israel have not known about this? And so it's really messed up their faith in their own country, and so that's something very difficult and very painful to deal with. We had a pretty big meeting just the other day of a lot of our Israel staff and leadership and some of our US leaders, and just listening to testimony after testimony of people that they knew and people that they love, and just to give you one story, terrible story, but every one of these stories is terrible One of our staff members — staff couples had — I don't know if you remember Mohti, but one of our big blackbeard, but one of our staff couples had a little boy last night. It's about the only good news I can tell you from this whole thing. So we've been ministering among elderly Holocaust survivors as well as young people and kids, through camps and retreats and all sorts of things. But the Holocaust survivors have really endeared themselves to me. They all remind me of my grandparents and they're not particularly bitter, they're kind of sweet and they've always been very happy to have left the FSU and ended up in a Jewish country where they did actually feel safe, although they've been having to deal with a lot of I call them unguided missiles, particularly right close to Gaza. But there's a little town near Bersheva called Ofakim and it's right near Akibut's Ba'eri, and both Ba'eri and Ofakim became targets, just like the concert that everybody's heard about, which was really a New Age festival filled with kids. But these two places became a real focus. And In Ofakim you have probably a third religious Jews, a third kind of secular Jews or actually quite a few Bedouin type people. And then you have a third are elderly Russian Jews, and we've been ministering to these elderly Russian Jewish Holocaust survivors for on and off for 20 years and so we've gotten to know and love so many of them, and there probably were at least probably two or three thousand of them. Now that is probably under, maybe under 500 because of the age. And so the Hamas terrorists who disguised themselves as IDF soldiers and they killed soldiers, took their uniforms, Israeli police, they killed the police, they stole the cars, and so some of them thought that they were friendly in there to help them, but of course it turned out the opposite. And so when the dust settled, really two days ago, so we found out pretty quickly, we found out that five of these elderly, wonderful, beautiful Russian, Jewish Holocaust survivors were disgracefully killed and I mean disgracefully, and I won't go into depth on that and I can't even speak it and so they were disgracefully killed, and we knew each and every one of them, loved them, ministered to them, and not really there might have been one or two believers among them, but we're not sure they were on their way a lot. And then there's a sixth man in his 90s who was there too, and we can't find him. So we don't know if the body is somewhere that has not been found yet, or he may have been taken as a prisoner by Hamas. So there's about 150 plus who have been taken as prisoners by Hamas and it broke everybody's heart. I mean, we don't know what to do with the grief except to lay it on Jesus, and so it's just very, very grievous. And so that's one story. There's another, just on the opposite end of it. There's a young man from a Russian Jewish congregation in Ashtod, and he has been a part of everything chosen people's done. When he was younger he went to our children's camps. When he got older he was part of our mentoring program. He might have been there when you were at Living Waters, Scott, I don't remember. But he's come to a lot of our different international programs where we bring together young Israeli Jewish believers and others from all over the globe. And his name is Daniel, and Daniel was really the first believer that we heard about who was killed in action. Then there's another young woman who was just killed in action yesterday among the believers. So the believers are a pretty tight group. In Israel there might be as many as 20,000, 30,000 believers, but there are different streams and both these kids were kind of in the more Russian-oriented stream, and so everybody knew them because they were very dedicated believers. And so this is the beginning. One of our missionaries who's lived in Israel came back and then went back to Israel, and now he's been back, and I think he's going back, but in the interim his youngest son of five kids went to Israel as what we call a lone soldier that's when your parents aren't there and he's a lone soldier and he's headed into Gaza, and so I mean, I could go on and on. There's just so many stories of grief and loss, and right now the whole country is at wit's end because you have all of these hostages, and we've already heard lots of stories about how the hostages have been treated. You have massive rapes, you have the headings, you have killing of children and this is not propaganda, I mean, it's true. We know the parents and we know the people, and so it's very difficult to process, it's very hard for believers to deal with, because the Israeli Air Force and soon the IDF have gone into Gaza. And to say that there's never collateral damage, you've got to be kidding. Of course there is, and Israel's primary targets, of course, are Hamas, known Hamas centers for making bombs and for leaders Two Hamas leaders were taken out the other day but there is collateral damage, of course. Collateral is such a cold word actually, but I mean these are people that Jesus died for, Jesus loves, and, who knows, they might even be a few Christians among them, and so it's very difficult for believers, as it's always been, to be on different sides of a brutal war, and so this is what's going on. So it's just a very difficult season, and we believe, for a variety of reasons, that we're just actually at the beginning of the conflict.
Scott Rae: So Mitch, I know some of the things that chosen people have been involved with in Israel has been efforts to bring Messianic Jewish believers together and Palestinian Christians together. I know you've been involved in those. Chosen people have been involved in those. To what degree are there Palestinian Christians who are being affected by this in Gaza? I know there's some in the West Bank, but in Gaza in particular, and what is this like, having followers of Jesus on opposite sides of this conflict?
Mitch Glaser: Well, everybody hates it. I mean, if you remember a number of years ago, Scott, the United Bible Society had a bookstore in Gaza and there's actually has been, and I don't even know what the status is a first Baptist church of Gaza. You can believe it, but the pastor of that church I heard this story from him, I heard it in the media, but I heard it from him exactly but Hamas came into the bookstore, dragged out the bookstore manager and brutally killed him, and this was about seven or eight years ago at least. And so the real problem is Hamas. When you talk about Hamas, you're really talking about ISIS. You're talking about the same mentality, the same worldview, and they just don't have a regard for human life. If you want to see the difference between Christianity and probably some version of folk Islam, you just have to see what's really happening there, and there's just a disregard for human life. And so a lot of the Christians have left Gaza, just like they've left Bethlehem, and so you cannot easily have a fellowship meeting could not over the last few years between Palestinian Christians in Gaza and Christians outside of Israeli Christians, because when they came back into Gaza, basically they had Hamas spies and guards watching who was going out and what they were doing, and if they knew that you were going out to meet with other believers, they'd kill you with Christians, with Israeli Christians, and so it was a very brutal atmosphere. So, in terms of having fellowship, obviously in Judea and Samaria it's a little easier, and even East Jerusalem it's a little easier, but with Gaza there was almost a complete cutting off of fellowship for the sake of the safety of the believers in Gaza.
Scott Rae: So is there a decent size Christian community in Gaza still?
Mitch Glaser: No, I'm not an expert on it, but I would say certainly not anymore. And I mean even the pastor of that church left for the United States, and so it's a brutalized group of suffering Christians and it's really important that people do not say this is a Palestinian, Israeli conflict.
Scott Rae: I appreciate that Spell that out for us a bit.
Mitch Glaser: Because it's not. I mean years and years and years ago, when everything was a little bit more normalized, it was no big deal to have a fellowship meeting. I used to bring young people over and we would have prayer meetings and do Israeli dancing with Palestinian Christians. It wasn't in the same vein, but when and even when the Palestinian authority was running Gaza, it was not great but it was still okay. Once Gaza was taken over by Hamas, I mean, you may as well have Iranian Shiite people, Iranian Shiite radicals, and so it was terrible, and it's been terrible ever since. I believe and I'm sure I'm correct for the most part, although they can't do anything about it that the Palestinian Christians especially are victims of persecution, hatred and sometimes barbaric treatment by Hamas. And so what are you going to do? You have to do your best through the whole situation, but it's been very, very bad for Christians, and I think the reduction in Bethlehem went from about 70% Christian to probably 15% Christian. So I don't know what the reduction was in Gaza, but I'm sure it was similar.
Scott Rae: Something similar. So I think that's helpful, because I think a lot of our listeners may not be aware that to say it's Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not quite accurate. This is Israel, and Hamas in particularly in Gaza, and Hamas is a different beast than other groups operating representing the Palestinians. Is that be fair to say?
Mitch Glaser: Yeah, I mean there are a few that are worse, but most of them aren't. But you know Mahmoud Abbas, who leads the Palestinian Authority, I mean he has not come out and condemned the barbarism of Hamas. I think he's probably concerned about his own life. Yeah, and when you deal with Lebanon, the North, you actually have Hamas, some Hamas in Lebanon, and then you also have Hezbollah, and they're all backed by Iran. And we know that now Gaza is far less Gaza's just far less well-equipped and because it's a little tighter to get everything in there and the Israelis, the best way to get it in there probably would be through shipping it on the Mediterranean, and you know the Israelis keep a pretty sharp eye on boats coming in off the Mediterranean, Gaza's right on the Mediterranean. And so if war breaks out in the North, it's going to be far more serious, because they have more missiles, more deadly missiles, more accurate missiles and more armaments because obviously it's pretty easy to ship Iranian arms into Lebanon, and so we're hoping and praying that this won't happen.
Scott Rae: So Mitch, in your judgment, what is the likelihood of the war spreading to other parts of the country?
Mitch Glaser: Yeah, I don't think it's going to spread more in Israel. I think Israel is now on such alert that I mean there might be a and there always has been a sporadic terrorist or two or a small cell that gets in through one of the tunnels that Israel just can't monitor, every single last tunnel. But they came in on hang gliders, they came in on rafts, they came in, they broke the wall. Remember, 1500 murderers were roaming Israel, yeah, and so their intent was to kill and terrorize, and so they say they were not focused on military targets? If they found one, they took care of it. But no, they wouldn't want to, they were killing it discriminately. Yeah, they went to a what was sort of a new age rave and killed 275 young adults, killed them, just shot them through grenades into tents where they were staying. They were trying to run away and they just followed them in their vans and their pickup trucks and just killed them. So I don't think that that will happen again right now I can't even imagine that would happen. So I don't think the war will spread into Israel as it did. I would say there might be sporadic attempts. I think the war is going to be focused within Gaza and I think, and remember, they have a, they have 150, and they might have more Israeli human shields because they captured so many people. And then, but if the war happens in Lebanon, there will be a. There'll be some fierce, mostly missiles coming into the northern part of Israel. I know, because we have staff there and friends there. I know that they've been asked to stay in their homes. I know that they've been asked to be prepared. Some have been evacuated. You know I don't think in public I should say anything about some of the stuff I know, but without a doubt, it looks like either Israel is going to go in first or they're going to. You know, the game is usually they do something that is a provocation, then Israel has to go in, and but who knows what Israel is going to do? But I know that there are massive numbers of troops lining up in Gaza and at the Lebanese border, and remember there were 360,000 reserve troops brought in, so it's pretty big army.
Scott Rae: Now, Mitch, you said earlier that this is the Middle East and you expect retaliation to take to take place. What do you, how do you respond to the people who say that you know disproportionate retaliation just leads to a cycle that's never ending.
Mitch Glaser: I'd say that that person who said it doesn't understand the Middle East and they're naive, and that Westerners shouldn't tell Middle Eastern people how to do their life, and that sometimes we make members. Scott, my degrees are my degrees in cultural anthropology, and so what? You have to understand it from other people's perspectives and I think my brothers and sisters need to understand it. And it's all help, pray, retaliation and I for an eye and tooth for a tooth. You know, that is part of the culture, that is your, it's, it's inbred. You know, these are not Judeo Christian Westerners who have a series of values and ethics that have in any way shaped or formed, been, are shaped by the Bible, it's shaped by the Koran and for the most part, and so there's, there's, if you, and if you don't retaliate, they'll come right back at you and kill you because the only thing and this is true, the only thing that these folks understand is strength, brute force. And so if Israel doesn't respond, which Israel sometimes hasn't because you have a lot of Westerners in leadership in Israel, men who grew up in Philadelphia, you know, and so graduated high school there at least, and so you have a lot of people with Western mentalities and they just, they just can't bring themselves to go all the way with this. But right now, if Israel does not wipe out Hamas again, Israel doesn't want to wipe out the average Palestinian. That's the last thing they want to do. If Israel doesn't wipe out Gaza, who will use innocent Palestinians? And certainly will use Israelis as human shields? But if they're not wiped out, then it will. It will just come back and you can see how ISIS has taken different forms and even ISIS is a different form. So you have the Muslim Brotherhood, you have ISIS, you have you have Hamas, you have Hezbollah, and people say, well, they're different groups. Well, actually, they have a lot of the same values, you know, and if you don't beat them, then they'll come right back at you and they will not play nice. They will not abide by Judeo-Christian values. It's a you know, it's a time when a nation like Israel needs to fight for its life. It's you know, Israel wasn't able to do that with the Nazis. I mean, think about the Germans. Nobody holds all Germans responsible for the Holocaust, but the Germans who somehow had to line up with Hitler, whether by force or by ideology, you know they had, they had to be destroyed because if not, then they would come back in other forms and they'd continue to kill Jews, you know. And so we're grateful for that, and I think it's a matter of self, it's just a matter of self protection, it's a matter of survival, and so I think Israel is in a horrible bind. Horrible bind because they have to finish the job. In order to do that, innocent people will be killed, and probably not just innocent Palestinians, but innocent Israelis. Could you imagine having to make leadership decisions with that, with that on your head? You know? No thanks.
Scott Rae: Now, Mitch, I know chosen people has lots of missionaries in Israel and there are other others you're hearing from too, but how specifically are your staff being of service and serving the Lord during these times in Israel?
Mitch Glaser: Right, we've, of course, been doing need assessment over and, over and over again, and it changes each day. There's a lot of ministry that needs to be done with families. You don't have to rebuild it. We don't have to rebuild a lot of homes or institutions. You know, the Iron Dome does a pretty good job. I mean certainly have to do some of that, but chosen people probably won't do a lot of that. But there are people that are displaced. I just, you know, one of the things we're working on is providing housing in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for people who are leaving the north and leaving the southern part of Israel and leaving the coastal towns and gravitating towards Tel Aviv and towards Jerusalem, and they don't have any places to stay and their jobs are where they live, and so there's going to be a lot, a lot of human need and we're already doing that. We have a center in Jerusalem, as you know, and it's already filled with families that have moved from, actually, cedar Rote to. You know, we're just housing them and we're caring for them. Some are believers, some are not believers. We have a children's camp going at our center in Jerusalem with about 14 or 15 kids. They're from Jerusalem and you know they can't, they just can't take care of all their children, and so we are running children's camps. Today, a bunch of our staff packed up boxes of to be honest with you underwear and socks and food because the outside of the house is full of people and so we're and socks and food because the IDF will catch up with itself. But once you have to assimilate a couple hundred thousand soldiers or more 360 actually you just don't have enough to take care of them, and so I got a picture of two of our staff wearing bulletproof vests In the getting into a car with boxes headed up to near the Lebanese border to provide stuff. One of our congregations in Naharia, which is sort of a suburb of Beirut it's in Israel but it's so close to Lebanon they are going to use their facility as a place to help Israelis, mostly soldiers. We can't get into Sederot easily and we're dying to get in there so that we can just hold the hand of some of the elderly Holocaust survivors that have lost their, lost some of their friends and loved ones. One of the needs that people would never really figure out is the 360,000 who have been called up, plus probably 100,000 others, mostly men because these are battle units and because they're mostly men, their wives are home with their kids, which means you have hundreds of thousands of Israeli women, many with children, who do not have a man around the house, and a lot of them can't even go shopping because they have to take care of their kids and they can't leave the home easily because Israel's school system is shut down. Everything's back on COVID, zoom programs, and so right now the economy is also going to stall. The men are in the Army, they can't do their jobs. The women have to watch their kids going to school, they can't go to their jobs. And so we're just going house to house all over the country bringing groceries, bringing water, bringing food and praying with people, believers and nonbelievers, and we can't even with dozens of staff members. We just can't do enough of it. And the local congregations there are about 160, 170 of them those local congregations are also doing the same thing. I was talking to one of my friends this morning who's a pastor, and he was on his way with a car filled with water and food and just visiting the people in his congregation because so many of the men were called up and he's trying to take care of them. So that's primarily the kinds of thing that we're doing now. We also have a ministry to soldiers with PTSD, Scott, and we have one of our missionaries who moved up to the Golan Heights and rents a facility and already before the battles have really begun I mean inside the Gaza or Lebanon we've already had a rush of men and women to that place that we can just give them some rest and some pastoral care and mostly believers but some who are not believers and pray with them and feed them and keep them for four or five days or a week just to try to minister to them. But that area of ministry is going to become really big and so we're preparing for that as well. Chosen people of course we do direct evangelism. We plant congregations. As you know, we do a lot of online ministry. But Chosen people ever since we started in 1894, has always been sensitive to the social condition of the Jewish people. We began with poor Jewish immigrants coming from Eastern Europe to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. That was 1894. And so we ministered through the Holocaust, through displaced persons camps, through the Russian immigration, which was massive, to Israel and the United States, and so we're always eager to show the love of Jesus in very, very practical ways, and I mean that almost always leads to some kind of testimony, and so that's. You know, chosen, people is good in a crisis, Scott. We just don't have enough staff and obviously we need some funding but we need people more than money, that's for sure.
Scott Rae: Now, Talbot had a partnership with you all for some time, offering an Miv and a certificate in both an MDiv and a certificate in Messianic Jewish Studies. You have a whole host of students both online and in residence in Brooklyn. How has that affected your students?
Mitch Glaser: Well, we have a couple. We have a couple from Israel who are residential at our Feinberg Center in Brooklyn and they are devastated. You know it's a wife and husband and two kids, and I mean just they need a lot of care. And so you know there are, and there are one of the Israelis, Scott, who's been in our online program in Israel, was called up. He's going to end up in Gaza somewhere, you know, so he probably won't be doing his homework, you know.
Scott Rae: And at least not for a while.
Mitch Glaser: Not for a while, and so it really deeply affects everything. And then so many it's, you know, six degrees of separation, maybe five degrees among evangelicals. Sometimes is probably three degrees or two degrees among Jewish people. And so, you know, everybody has relatives and friends and family. So I mean, you know, we've all had a lot of sleepless nights, including a lot of our students, because we care so deeply. But it's not, you know, it's not about us, it's about them, and our hearts are broken.
Scott Rae: So one final question for you, Mitch how are you praying for what's going on in Israel? Cause I think that could be a good model for how the rest of us ought to be praying too.
Mitch Glaser: Well, of course, we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, which I interpret as praying for the country, for the nation, for Jewish people globally. And, of course, if you're praying for Jerusalem, well there is East Jerusalem there is. So we're praying for Jewish people, for Jewish Israelis, and of course we're praying for Palestinians. I always pray first for believers, and then I pray for not yet believers, and I do understand that when Jesus returns, our prayers will be answered. There'll be no more tears, there'll be no more death, no more disease, there'll be no more disunity but we will all rally around the throne of King Jesus. And so I pray even so, come Lord Jesus, because a lot of us are really sick and tired of this existence, and every time you think things are fine, then it pops up again. Why? Why? Because the nature of man is sinful, and when sin is undeterred, it becomes more and more evil. And so I pray that God would deliver us from evil, and I believe Hamas is evil, and so I pray that. I pray, on the one hand, that God would have mercy on their souls, and on the other hand, I do pray that God will give them appropriate judgment. And I know nobody wants to hear that. But David did pray in precatory prayers. They're in the Bible, and so I pray for peace, I pray for their salvation, but I pray for justice.
Scott Rae: Give us some, give us some. Tell us your meaning. You know who you are and our Christian community handling that through almost. Thank you so much for hanging out with me for a few minutes and giving us more of a boots on the ground perspective than we might get from watching CNN or other parts of the news. We are just Jewish and the Palestinian side, but particularly, I think, how it's impacting the Messianic Jewish community who they from everything you've told me in the past. They have a difficult enough existence just when life is relatively normal.
Mitch Glaser: Exactly In Israel.
Scott Rae: And this, this simply magnifies it. So we're so thankful for what chosen people ministries is doing in Israel and how you are. You are centered on seeing how the people or Jesus can be glorified, and you know providing the kind of help and assistance that is so urgent and so necessary. So, Mitch, we are so grateful for what you all are doing. Thanks so much for the perspective you've given us. It's incredibly helpful and I urge our listeners to continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Mitch Glaser: Thank you, Scott. We're so grateful for the incredible partnership we've had with Talbot for all these years. We feel that Talbot and Biola are just a wonderfully supportive family and we thank God for you, Scott, and for all those who are serving at the school.
Scott Rae: Appreciate that. Mitch, this has been a special episode of the podcast Think Biblically Conversations on faith and culture. To submit comments, to ask questions or make suggestions on issues you'd like us to cover or guess you'd like us to consider, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. That's email@example.com. Enjoy today's conversation, give us a rating on your podcast app and share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening and remember to think biblically about everything.