On Good Friday this year, in a small town in Eastern Poland called Pruchnik, a horrifying and disgusting old tradition became alive again.
The local population gathered to perform a ritual of beating a Judas effigy which looked like a caricature of an Orthodox Jewish man. The crowd consisting of adults and children started to kick the image and hit it with sticks. The ceremony ended with cutting the head, burying the body filled with hay, and throwing the remains to the local river. In the past, this was a pagan tradition that functioned to cast out evil demons from villages but is now in a syncretic way adapted to fit the “Christian” narrative.
In 2016 I went to a park in the middle of Ukraine’s capital Kiev. It was a beautiful and sunny day. People were walking in the park; children played on some hills, and the youth had a barbeque grilling sausages. I, on the other hand, felt great distress because I knew that in this exact place on the 29th and 30th of September 1941, during the Yom Kippur high holy day, the Nazis and local Ukrainian collaborators shot dead more than 33,000 Jewish people. The dead bodies were then pitched into a ravine. After the war, the Soviets transformed this mass grave into a park where people can have a lovely Sunday walk. And if you look for history in this place, you will probably find a massive monument to Soviet citizens and soldiers that died during World War II. The memory of the Jewish tragedy was to be forgotten, and I must admit they have done an excellent job of it.
I shared those two stories with you to illustrate a very ancient desire that the world has. The hope that the Jewish people will someday cease to exist. Anti-Semitism, through its timelessness and universality prove this to be true. One of the most ancient non-biblical mentions of Israel comes from the inscription written on a stele by the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh, Merneptah. The Pharaoh states his victories over other nations, and when he mentions Israel, he says: “Israel is no more.” Throughout history, we see how this evil desire repeats itself and often transforms in attempts to accomplish this craving. Pharaoh in Ancient Egypt, Haman in Persia, Antiochus IV Epiphanes of Greece, Tiberius of Rome, inquisitions and crusades in the Christendom, pogroms in the Russian Empire, Hitler in Nazi Germany, Stalin in the Soviet Union, Ali Khamenei of Iran, United Nations and UNESCO, and finally, the whole world as the Bible tells.
The Jewish people have been an object of hatred in pagan, religious, and secular societies. Fascists have accused them of being Communists, and Communists have called them Capitalists. Poor Jews were bullied, and wealthy Jews were despised. Jews who assimilate have been called a “fifth column” while those who stay together spark hatred for remaining separate. Conspiracy theories about Jewish people arise in all societies.
In our modern world, things are not better. According to the Israeli government, the number of Jewish people murdered in anti-Semitic attacks around the world in 2018 reached its highest level in decades after a mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.
So what are the reasons for this timeless and universal phenomenon of anti-Semitism? There are indeed three factors that can generate this hate from the world.
First – Monotheistic faith.
God introduced the world to monotheism faith in one God—through the Jewish people. In the pagan world, the claim that a small nation like Israel worshiped one and only true God was nonsense. Pagan world powers worshiped many deities and accepted the legitimacy of foreign gods. At the Pantheon in Rome they collected all the known gods of the world. They even had a place where you could worship the unknown god, just in case they missed one. The Jewish people rejected polytheistic faith, and from their father, Abraham, believed that there is only one God, and it is the God of Israel. The unbelieving world understands this is true and the Jewish people are a constant reminder that if you do not believe in a true God, you are fooling yourself.
Second – The Word of God.
To the immoral world, the Word of God is problematic because it shows sin. This confrontation of the Torah with the world is best illustrated in the teaching of 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche blamed the Jewish moral system for making humanity weak and preventing people from becoming superhuman. He blamed the Jewish moral system which, according to him, was later adopted by Christianity. Nietzsche calls for a rejection of this ethical system.
Adolf Hitler took that philosophy but extended it to the elimination of not only the moral law but also the people who introduced it. He believed that Jewish people are polluting the German people. He reversed the teaching of the Torah and set Germans as the chosen nation of the world.
Third – Being the Chosen Nation.
The Bible is very clear that Israel is a nation chosen by God. In Deuteronomy 14:2 we read: “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.“ (NKJV).
Being chosen is a very controversial thing for Jewish people. A lot of Jewish people will joke that they wish they were not chosen and they would happily give that chosenness away if it would spare them all the persecution.
The Jewish claim that they are the chosen nation is not acceptable in the world. Every nation, every people group—everyone wants to be unique. This claim creates envy and eventually aggression. Of course, the study of what it means to be chosen can quickly dismiss all the problems. Just because Jewish people are chosen by God to be a holy nation and reveal God’s glory does not minimize in any sense the high value of a believer. There is nothing more valuable to be a believer in Christ and have eternal life.
People have tried to understand the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, but only a biblical perspective can reveal the truth.
People have tried to understand the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, but only a biblical perspective can reveal the truth. What God loves and has a special plan for, Satan and his world will hate. They have tried many times and are still trying to destroy Israel, but they will always fail because God is faithful to His promises.
In Eastern Europe, The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry has a vital ministry to educate people about the dangers of anti-Semitism. We also reach out to the Jewish people who were affected by this hatred. Please help us in our endeavors to stand against anti-Semitism in this part of the world.
Educational Program on the Holocaust:
Poland had the most prominent Jewish community in Europe before World War II. For centuries Poland was an asylum for Jewish people who escaped persecution in Western Europe. It is hard to imagine today, but Poland used to be called Polania. Polania can be broken down into 3 Hebrew words:
Po – meaning “here.”
Lan – meaning “dwells”
ya (yah) – meaning “God” or “Lord”
Putting it together you have “God dwells here”: Polania. Poland used to be vital for Jewish people. And when I say “Poland,” I mean a much bigger territory than today’s borders of Poland. I refer to former Soviet countries such as Belarus, Lithuania, and Western Ukraine, which at some point in history used to be united under one nation.
Today, however, when you say Poland to a Jewish person, his first reflection is what? The Holocaust. It is definitely not Polania as it used to be.
Poland, Belarus, the Baltic States, and Ukraine are the places where the Holocaust happened. It was Nazi Germany that created this system of mass murders, but it was mostly done in Eastern Europe. In Poland, through concentration camps; and in former Soviet Union countries, through mass shootings.
The historical context of the Jewish experience needs to be understood. When sharing about ministry to the Jewish people, we need to remember the tragedy that happened here.
In Isaiah 40:1 we read: “‘Comfort, O comfort My people,’ says your God.”
Often, the Jewish people we minister to are in need of great comfort. Many of the Jewish people we meet survived the Holocaust. They experienced dark times when Satan wanted to destroy the Jewish people. Of course, Satan failed, but he has caused much harm.
But even in those dark times, God could bring light.
In Psalm 18:28 we read: “For it is you who light my lamp; the Lord, my God, lightens my darkness.”
The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry has firm historical roots in Poland. It was in Poland that in 1922, a young Jewish man, Victor Buksbazen, was saved by God and became the founder and first executive director of The Friends of Israel. It is extraordinary to remind ourselves that Friends of Israel came into existence in 1938, just before World War II.
Indeed, The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry became a light that God used in very dark times. Through people like Victor Buksbazen and later people like sister Halina Ostic, who became an FOI worker behind the Iron Curtain, God brought comfort to His people.
This work that was started by God before World War II, the call that united Christians to proclaim the biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah and to stand in solidarity with the Jewish people, continues till today.
The task of bringing comfort to the Jewish people did not stop. We still need to do it today. And time is very precious. You could say that every day counts! Some of the people we visit are getting to the end of their lives in this world. Some of them experienced the horrors of World War II; some of them had to function in the Communist regime; some of them experienced anti-Semitism. And unfortunately, many of them suffered those horrible things from people who called themselves Christians. Many of them today have significant physical and spiritual needs.
It is essential to understand this context as I talk about the ministry to the Jewish people in Eastern Europe because it is in Poland that most of the Jewish people were murdered during World War II.
Now, try to imagine what a Jewish person feels when a young Christian from Poland, the land where the Holocaust happened and so much pain was inflicted on the Jewish people, travels to Belarus or Ukraine to visit Jewish homes, brings a Hebrew Bible, and says that his life was changed by a Jewish man, who saved his life. Imagine what this Jewish person thinks when this young Christian tells him that he loves the Jewish people because God loves the Jewish people, that he is thankful for the Jewish people because through them God brought us the Holy Scriptures, and he will pray for the Jewish people because they are God’s Chosen People that will not be forgotten.
Those words shock and contradict everything most of those Jewish people experienced throughout their lives. All they knew was anti-Semitism, pain, and rejection. And again I must emphasize this: Those negative experiences often came from people who called themselves Christians.
It must be said that just by saying those kind and shocking words, we still have a long way to go. And usually, the first reaction of those Jewish people when we say that we love them is unbelief and confusion. But even saying those words can remove huge obstacles. Through God’s power, the hearts of many Jewish people can be opened at this very moment or at a later time when we visit again.
In Isaiah 62:11 we read: “Go through, go through the gates, clear the way for the people; build up, build up the highway, remove the stones, lift a standard over the peoples.”
Certain stones need to be removed before Jewish hearts are opened. It is a real blessing to see how God is removing those stones and saving people who thought that everyone forgot them.
Only God can remove those stones. They are massive and heavy stones. We cannot lift them. No man can remove them. Only God has the power to do it!
We would be honored if you would like to partner with us in Poland and throughout Eastern Europe. You can give a one time gift or begin monthly giving HERE.