Monthly Archives: December 2019

Hanukkah: The Messiah is the Light of the World

Shalom dear friend in the Messiah,

‘Tis the Hanukkah–Christmas season! It is a time of good cheer when, generally speaking, Jewish people are celebrating Hanukkah and Christians are celebrating Christmas. Though I must admit, even in New York, there are quite a few “Hanukkah bushes” (a Christmas tree decorated for Hanukkah) displayed in homes throughout the area.

It goes without saying that there are many differences between the holidays, but through the years I have discovered many parallels as well.

One of the most obvious similarities is that both Hanukkah and Christmas are observed the same time of year. The precise date of the Messiah’s birth is a bit controversial in some circles, but what is absolutely clear from the New Testament is that the God of Israel became man, dwelled among us, died for our sins, and was raised to life in fulfillment of the plan of God’s redemption detailed in the Bible.

This year, Hanukkah, which is an eight-day celebration, and Christmas overlap once again. This creates a natural tension between the two festivals, especially in Jewish communities. I grew up believing that one of the ways you could tell a Jew from a Christian was by the holidays he or she celebrated. For that reason, celebrating Hanukkah was viewed as a symbol of loyalty to the Jewish people. My family and other Jewish people who know that I believe in Jesus as my Messiah often ask me which holidays I celebrate. The underlying question being so subtly asked is whether or not I still view myself as Jewish now that I believe in Jesus!

In case you are unfamiliar with Hanukkah, let me give you a brief overview of the celebration. Hanukkah celebrates the great victory of the Maccabees, a family of Levitical priests, over the armies of Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian Greek general whom the Jewish people nicknamed “Antiochus the madman”! He tried to destroy the Jewish people by turning them into Greeks, but failed.

Hanukkah is also called the “Festival of Lights.” According to Jewish tradition, when the Temple was recaptured from Antiochus, there was only enough oil to keep the menorah in the Temple lit for one day. However, a miracle happened, and the eternal light of the Temple menorah lasted for eight days, the time it took for the ceremonial olive oil to cure and keep the lights perpetually burning. Jewish people see this as a great dual miracle—that God gave the Jewish people a humanly impossible military victory and marked the event by ensuring the lights lasted the full eight days. That is why we light a candle each night as part of the eight-day festival.

The lights provide an obvious bridge between Hanukkah and Christmas. When my kids were small, I used to take them through parts of Brooklyn during the Christmas season just to see the homes decorated with lights in the most magnificent ways. Some neighborhoods looked like they belonged in Rockefeller Center or Times Square at New Year’s!

The tradition of giving presents is also important for both holidays. Jewish people give one gift to their kids each night of Hanukkah, and the tradition of giving presents on Christmas, in the tradition of the magi at Jesus’ birth, continues until this very day. Of course, both holidays are often over-commercialized, but in my opinion, there is never a bad time to give presents, as long as you are focused on the real reason for this season. Jewish people are thankful to God for preserving the nation and express this thanksgiving by giving presents to one another. This is similar to Christmas, as we show our gratitude to God for sending His only Son to die for our sins by giving presents.

This is a great time of the year to show your gratitude to God and to the Jewish people by giving an end-of-year gift to Chosen People Ministries that will be used to reach Jewish people for Jesus!

And then there are the wonderful and delicious traditional holiday foods! Jewish people eat potato pancakes (latkes) and jelly donuts (sufganiyot). These are all cooked in oil and eaten to remind us that God enabled a day’s worth of oil to miraculously last for eight days. Christmas, depending on where you come from, is replete with wonderful and different types of food as well. From Christmas cookies to Norwegian pinnekjøtt (lamb or mutton rib) to delicious Italian panettone, the holiday foods are an essential part of our celebration.

What I like best about both Hanukkah and Christmas, though, is the focus on family. It is one of the reasons why this holiday season can be so sad for those who have lost loved ones or do not have a family, either physical or spiritual. Enjoying the holiday with family, whether relatives or “congregational family,” is truly beautiful. I pray that, if you have lost a loved one recently, God will give you a full measure of His grace and joy during this season of the year.

A Messianic Jewish Perspective

As a Messianic Jew, I am always looking for deeper links between the festivals and believe there is an absolutely amazing parallel that I want to share with you.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 10, we see that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah, also called the Feast of Dedication. (The Hebrew word Hanukkah literally means “dedication.”) The festival also served as a platform for Jesus to make one of His most profound statements about His person and ministry recorded in the New Testament.

It is this one statement that I believe brings Hanukkah and Christmas together in the most dramatic and profound way.

At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:22–30).

When asked if He was the Messiah, Jesus did not give a simple yes or no. Rather, He revealed His true nature to the Jewish leaders and declared that He and His Father were one. This declaration affirms the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah who predicted that, one day, God would take on human flesh, dwell among us, and reveal the character of our heavenly Father in the most tangible of ways.

Isaiah wrote, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

It is only fitting that Jesus made this declaration on the Feast of Dedication, which reminds us of the great miracle of the Incarnation and revelation of God’s glory and light. This parallels the symbolism found in the menorah in the Temple as God Himself is the true light that illuminates our hearts and souls. As Jesus said earlier in John’s Gospel, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John 8:12).

The real link between Hanukkah and Christmas is Jesus Himself. He is God in the flesh; the light of the world who dispels our personal darkness and transfers us to the kingdom of His Son. As Isaiah predicted and Jesus fulfilled,

“But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them” (Isaiah 9:1–2).

And Paul adds,

“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son…” (Colossians 1:13).

I hope you have great joy in this marvelous deliverance! I also pray you have a wonderful season of joy and that the light of your personal testimony of God’s grace and victory will shine brightly among Jews and Gentiles during this special season of the year!

Your brother in the Light of the World,


P.S. We are now beginning our 126th year as a ministry among the Jewish people. Thank you for your faithful prayers and support. We are excited about 2020. Stick with us!

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Filed under Holidays & Festivals, Jewish Holidays, Jews and Christians, Uncategorized

Jesus is the Reason for the Season

Shalom in the great name of Jesus our Messiah.

Can I tell you a very personal Jewish Christmas story?

I was raised in a traditional Jewish home in New York City. I was born in what I like to call the true Holy Land—Brooklyn, New York! Both of my parents were Jewish and fairly typical of their post-Holocaust generation. Although my mom was more religious than my dad, they were both very committed to their Jewishness and, as a family, we celebrated all of the Jewish holidays.

Hanukkah was, without a doubt, my favorite holiday. This eight-day festival of lights celebrates the great victory of the Jewish people over the Greco-Syrian “madman” Antiochus Epiphanes. We celebrated the holiday by lighting candles for eight days and by giving gifts to one another on each night. And there were the holiday foods—potato pancakes dipped in applesauce or sour cream and delicious jelly donuts, called sufganiyot—mmm!

Sound great? Family, friends, gifts, and very unhealthy food. There is nothing like it!

In New York City, Hanukkah menorahs or beautifully decorated Christmas trees grace the windows of homes and apartment buildings. It always gets dark early in New York around this time of year, so it is easy to see which holiday the families are celebrating.

I was raised as a Hanukkah loyalist, which I equated with allegiance to my Jewish people. When I began considering the gospel, I thought I would have to choose between Christmas and Hanukkah. At that time, I thought if I accepted Jesus and agreed to celebrate Christmas then I would be a traitor to my heritage and might be committing a version of ethnic suicide by believing in Jesus and observing His birthday.

Yet, God was working in my heart, and I was drawn to Him through the transformed lives of my two closest friends who had become believers in Jesus. It was still very hard to make the leap because I thought this decision would mean I was no longer Jewish. How would I ever explain this to my family?

I began reading the New Testament seriously and soon discovered that even Jesus celebrated Hanukkah, or the Feast of Dedication, as recorded in John chapter 10. At the heart of the holiday is the celebration of God’s deliverance of the Jewish people from those who oppress and persecute us. I also found out that the Old Testament, my Jewish Bible, predicted that the Messiah would actually be God in the flesh. Therefore, the whole idea of the incarnation was not foreign to Judaism but was there all the time in my Jewish Bible.

So, I embraced Jesus as my Messiah and discovered that it was possible to be Jewish and believe in Jesus.

You might ask, “What holiday do you celebrate now?” Both, of course! Why give away eight presents for one when you could have nine? Seriously, what greater present could even come close to the gift of eternal life resulting from a personal relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through Jesus the Messiah? Over the years, I discovered that it is easy to be Jewish and believe in Jesus. It is like the proverbial “hand and glove,” as Jesus is the fulfillment of all my people’s hopes and dreams. He is the Deliverer and Redeemer we are waiting for.

He is Messiah, Savior, and Lord. The son of Abraham and David, and the Son of God. As the great prophet Isaiah predicted, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

The prophet continued,

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this (Isaiah 9:6–7).


And now I have the joy of serving as the seventh president of our 125-year-old mission to the Jewish people, and we are about to begin our 126th year of faithful service among the Jewish people. Thousands of Jewish people have come to faith through the energetic, visionary, and faithful staff of Chosen People Ministries.

And we could not have done this without your faithful prayers and support.


During the next 12 months, we want to continue focusing on three special areas of ministry. Let me briefly tell you what they are now, and I will explain further in the months ahead.


We are pouring financial and human resources into ministry among Israelis. Our twenty-five full-time workers in Israel are reaching Israelis day in and day out. We are also reaching Israelis as they travel after their army duty. We have been touching lives everywhere from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to countries such as New Zealand and India. Soon we will be starting a new ministry among Israelis traveling through Brazil. These young people are incredibly open, especially when they are away from home. Also, we are able, with a good-sized staff in Israel, to follow up with those who show interest in the gospel when they return home from overseas.


We are also investing heavily in the modern “Mars Hill” of digital evangelism through websites, video creation, and social media. God is leading us to thousands of Jewish people each year who we meet through the web and who are interested in the gospel. It is not cheap, but it is absolutely worth it. We have spoken now to tens of thousands of people through these ministries!


We are looking toward the future and providing training for the next generation of missionaries to the Jewish people. With a track record of 125 years of faithful service for the Lord, we fully understand the importance of passing the torch to the next generation. In light of this, we are continuing to train young people through our Charles L. Feinberg Center for Messianic Jewish Studies seminary program in Brooklyn. We are investing in the next generation of Israeli leaders through our Living Waters mentoring program in Israel and around the world via our global young adult conference, Muchan (Hebrew for “ready”), usually held in Europe. We are also providing a variety of internships and extending our outreach among Jewish students. We call this next generation effort The Joshua Initiative because we want to raise up a new generation of leaders like Joshua who will serve the Lord faithfully with courage and power (Joshua 1:5–6).

We can do this because of Him and your partnership and prayers.


May Jesus, the joy and reason for the season, fill your home with warmth, happiness, and grace during the holidays. I want to thank you for supporting Chosen People Ministries. You are an important part of our ministry family.

We are now serving in nineteen countries around the world and in twenty-five cities throughout North America. As we wrap up our 125th year of celebration and begin 2020, I cannot help but reflect upon His faithfulness, the amazing things He has done, and how much we have expanded the ministry, even this year. We want to be ready for tomorrow. And, by God’s grace, I believe if we embrace the opportunities of the New Year together, arm in arm, following in the Savior’s footsteps, we will.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Because God became flesh,

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Filed under evangelism, Holidays & Festivals, Israel, Jewish Holidays, Uncategorized