Russian President Vladimir Putin has used the common Orthodox character of Russia and Ukraine in his arguments for closer alignment between the countries. On one side is the Russian Orthodox Church and its Ukrainian denomination, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate. On the other is the Orthodox Church of Ukraine-Kyiv Patriarchate. Putin’s efforts to restore Russian prestige have included elevating the Russian Orthodox Church to the center of Russian identity and leveraging the potential religious soft power of the Moscow-aligned Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate. If Russia’s military campaign is successful, Moscow would likely not countenance an independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, possibly forcing it back into the family of the Russian Orthodox Church. Russia’s regressive treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims and proselytizing groups would likely be forced on the entire country. — Religion News Service, 2/24/2022
German Catholic bishops and lay leaders called on Pope Francis to loosen the church’s rules on priestly celibacy, two years after he decided not to do so. The step is the latest in the Germans’ progressive drive, which has prompted calls for caution from the pope and warnings from conservatives that it could split the world-wide church. The German church leaders were expected to call for the ordination of women as deacons, another controversial measure that the pope has resisted. — Wall Street Journal, 2/4/2022
The leading dictionary of standard German has changed its definition of Jew, or “Jude” in German, after a recent update caused an uproar in the country’s Jewish community. The Duden dictionary had recently added an explanation to its online edition saying that “occasionally, the term Jew is perceived as discriminatory because of the memory of the National Socialist use of language. In these cases, formulations such as Jewish people, Jewish fellow citizens or people of the Jewish faith are usually chosen.” This led to an outcry from leading Jewish groups and individuals who stressed that identifying themselves or being called Jews is not discriminatory. — AP, 2/18/2022
More than a million birds in Israel have been killed in 20 avian flu-infected hot spots around the country so far due to outbreaks of the avian flu caused by the H5N1 virus strain. Around half a billion birds stop off in Israel on their migratory trip south to Africa for the winter. But one out of five has been infected with avian flu this season, officials say. In view of the risk to human and animal health, more than a million birds have been killed in 20 bird-infected hot spots across the country. The World Organization for Animal Health urges countries to raise awareness about bird flu. At least 39 other countries report outbreaks. Scientists also say the avian flu is getting more aggressive. — Jewish Press, 1/7/2022
From South America’s avocado, corn and coffee farms to Southeast Asia’s plantations of coconuts and oil palms, high fertilizer prices are weighing on farmers across the developing world, making it much costlier to cultivate and forcing many to cut back on production. Farmers in the U.S. are also feeling the pinch, with some shifting their planting plans. But the impact is expected to be worse in developing countries where smallholders have limited access to bank loans and can’t pay up front for expensive fertilizer. The price-increases stem partly from global energy costs. The average natural gas price in Europe for October-December 10 times as much as for the year of 2020, according to World Bank data. — Wall Street Journal, 1/21/2022
Deep in the South Pacific, scientists have explored a reef of rare pristine corals shaped like roses off Tahiti’s coast, one of the largest at such depths. It seems untouched by climate change or human activities. Globally, coral reefs have been depleted from overfishing and pollution. Between 2009 and 2018, 14% of the world’s corals were killed, according to a 2020 report by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Project. — AP, 1/19/2022
Ministers from European Union nations under pressure from unauthorized border crossings asked for more action to protect the bloc’s external borders, and rules to return migrants to their homelands. The ministers described the influx of thousands of migrants as dramatic, and urged swift actions to reinforcing the EU borders and crack down on people smugglers to protect both EU citizens and migrants from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, taking hazardous journeys to reach Europe. — AP, 1/21/2022
Kazakhstan’s president ordered troops to “shoot to kill without warning” to quash raging anti-government protests. Chaotic and violent scenes persisted in the resource-rich Central Asian country of 19 million, as “peacekeeping” troops from a Russia-led military alliance arrived following a request for foreign intervention to deal with widespread protests over a decrepit political system and dramatic energy price hikes. — Washington Post, 1/7/2022
The killing of Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi is likely to open another chapter for an extremist group that has demonstrated an ability to remake itself. Their recent resurgence comes after the U.S. killed its previous leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2019. U.S. officials have expressed concern that Islamic State still has $25 to $50 million — down from hundreds of millions of dollars in 2020, but still enough to finance global operations. — Wall Street Journal, 2/4/2022
The arrest of former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez was a stunning reversal. For years he seemed impervious to allegations of corruption. While president from 2014 to 2022, he had the support of U.S. officials waging the war on drugs. Some diplomats did not see a better option. But less than three weeks out of office, the U.S. moved for his extradition in a region wracked by corruption. Hondurans fled by the thousands, literally walking out of the country with but a change of clothes in their knapsacks. There weren’t enough jobs, street gangs-controlled towns and neighborhoods, drought and hurricanes hit the country in a devastating one-two punch and Hernandez began to symbolize all their troubles. — AP, 2/16/2022
During the first two rounds of stimulus payments during the pandemic, Americans built up $2.7 trillion in extra savings, according to the Census Bureau and Moody’s Analytics. The personal savings rate — how much people have left over after spending and taxes — hit a record 33.8% in April 2020, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The rate averaged just under 8% for the two years prior. JP Morgan found that although its poorest customers had 70% more in their accounts at the end of September 2021 than they did two years earlier, their median balance was just $961. — Wall Street Journal, 1/10/2022
Used-car prices were rising before the pandemic hit, but in the past two years, they have consistently hit more records as supply-chain disruptions have slammed the auto industry, leading to a shortage of cars. The average listing price for a pre-owned model hit $28,500 in January, a 31% jump the prior year, according to Cox Automotive. New vehicle prices rose 12% during the same period. The number of 16 to 25 year olds (primary purchasers of used automobiles) purchasing a used vehicle dropped 35% between 2019 and the end of 2021, more than any other age group, according to J.D. Power. — Wall Street Journal, 2/14/2022
Home values on average jumped almost 20% in the past year, the most ever, according to a new report from Zillow. A typical house is now worth $320,662 — an increase of more than $50,000 from December 2020. — Bloomberg Wealth, 1/21/2022
The Abrahamic Promise: Through the Eyes of a Zionist American-Israeli Jew
I first heard about the Pastoral Bible Institute (PBI) in March 2020 during the pandemic. I was working for Orr Shalom, Israel’s largest and most recognized non-governmental organization caring for foster children and their parents. Todd Alexander, Secretary of the PBI, was introduced to Orr Shalom as a Christian Zionist by his neighbor and Chairman of Orr Shalom’s International Society, Gordon Hecker. While I knew some Christian Zionists, Todd and the PBI were different. Todd shared his faith, and his view of salvation, in a way that I had never heard before. I was attracted to his deep knowledge of the Tanach (Hebrew Bible), coupled with his insistence that the eventual salvation of the entire world of mankind was anchored in Hashem’s promise to Abraham. In the months since, I have been blessed to get to know Todd, and the PBI community, better and have learned more about the importance of Hashem’s promise to our people through our father Abraham. I am honored that Todd invited me to reflect on my experience and share my story with you.
“For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation” (Psalms 132:13 NAS).
Growing up as an observant Jew in Philadelphia, the Land of Israel, and returning to “Zion,” was a hope and a dream that was spoken of and prayed about daily in my religious studies. I felt a strong connection to the Holy Land and her people, which I visited with my family throughout my childhood years. I loved the land, the people, and the nation of Israel, and while Israel was the subject of my fondest hopes and dreams, I did not seriously consider leaving my home in the United States to live in the State of Israel.
Then, something changed. It was during the Second Lebanon war in 2006 when I felt that I needed to recalibrate my life to focus on my core values. I received word that one of my high school friends, Mike Levin, who immigrated to Israel from Philadelphia, was killed in action by Hezbollah fighters while fighting as a soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The news of Mike’s death shook me up quite a bit and I began to look at my life and its trajectory in a new light.
During my introspection, I realized that if I truly cared about doing my part for Israel as the promised Jewish Homeland, if I really wanted Israel to remain a safe and secure place for Jews, I needed to do more than merely speak about Israel. I needed to take a proactive role and “step out” in my faith in the Abrahamic Promise. If Hashem was going to bring His/my people back to the land of Israel, I would surely have to do my part to ensure that His/my People would feel safe in Israel and continue to settle it and flourish in it.
“Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth! For to you will I give it!” (Genesis 13:17 NAS).
So, I decided, during the Second Lebanon War, to leave my friends and family in the United States, and to immigrate to Israel to join the IDF. I was ultimately accepted into the special forces of the Paratroopers as a combat soldier where I had the opportunity to learn a range of skills and disciplines, including parachuting, urban warfare, and explosives.
I spent much of my training alone at night, with over half of my body weight in a backpack on my back, navigating through the hills and valleys of the Land of Israel. I was privileged to see Eretz Israel’s (the Land of Israel’s) beauty, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordanian border, and from the southernmost border in Eilat to the northernmost bases near the mountains of Hermon. I was not only given the opportunity to explore “the land through its length and breadth,” but I had the great honor, and responsibility, of also protecting the Land of Israel and defending its inhabitants from any threat of attack. My new life in Israel was an immersive experience in the faith of my fathers and in the footsteps of Abraham.
“Hashem has driven out great and powerful nations from before you, and not a man stood against you, to this day” (Joshua 23:9 ASV).
I took this scripture to heart and used it as a driving influence of unshakable faith in my daily mission. As a 24-year-old soldier, I had a different perspective than the other soldiers in my team who were mostly 18 and 19-year-olds. While certainly still young, I had seen enough of life to understand the meaning of death. And there were times, both late at night in bed, and under fire in the Gaza Strip, that I feared dying. I feared for both my own life, as well as for the safety and security of my beloved Israel. But I was comforted by the powerful words of Joshua which echoed in my daily thoughts and animated my hopes and dreams. I kept reminding myself that out of the long list of adversaries who tried to exterminate my people throughout history, not a single one of those enemies succeeded. Hashem would surely be with me too.
Fear still wells up in me at times even today, and I still have questions. But as I witness the beginnings of the Abrahamic Promise continue to unfold in my life, I become stronger in my faith and in my conviction that Hashem’s plan and promise — while perhaps impossible to fully understand — is both real and beautiful. It is worthy of my most ardent trust and of my best efforts.
“All of the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you” (Genesis 12:3).
The medieval Jewish commentator, Ramban, says that this verse means that people will take your good fortune as the measure when they invoke a blessing on themselves. That is, when (other nations) bless themselves, they are blessing themselves with good fortune, in a measure set by the good fortune of the Jewish People.
I believe the Torah is saying that the most powerful blessings exist in the context of relationships. In Genesis 12:3, both the blessing and the curse is between peoples and nations, not individuals. I believe that this extension of the Abrahamic Promise indicates that the greater Israel’s blessings become, the greater the blessings will be to the nations, as they are drawn to Israel and become our “partners.” When other nations want to connect with God’s Chosen People, they can be blessed to a degree equal to the blessings of the Jewish People.
Unfortunately, there has been great antagonism between Jews and non-Jews for millennia. But, when relationships between the Jewish people and the gentile nations are strengthened, the blessings will flow from Hashem to them through this relationship.
Lastly, as keepers of the Abrahamic Promise, it is important to remember that Israel has the responsibility of being a blessing. For me personally, that meant that following my active-duty military service, I sought employment with the top organizations in Israel caring for the country’s most vulnerable citizens in need: its children.
I believe that the blessing of the Abrahamic Promise will be governed by the relationship that Israel has with the other nations of mankind. To be most deeply blessed, we in Israel need to become living examples of Hashem’s covenant with Abraham. Today, with the advent of the Abraham Accords, we see the unprecedented interest of the nations of the world in making peace with Israel. When our relationships with these nations reach a point at which all bless one another, and all feel blessed, we begin to see the foregleams of the unconditional promise Hashem made to Abraham, our father. For me, with one eye on my faith and the other on my duty, the promise I learned about in my religious studies becomes realized and palpable.
It is this inspirational feeling of being blessed that I have received from the Pastoral Bible Institute. Through my relationship with the PBI, I am now receiving a measure of the mutual blessings that are at the core of Hashem’s promise. And this gives me the optimism to look forward to a time of peace, mutual respect, and many more blessings yet to come to all.
December 2021 / Tevet 5782