Israel and Middle East

Winston Churchill wrote “Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has appeared in the world.“

Jewish soldiers get first glimpse of the Western Wall

He is absolutely right! I have often said they are remarkable people –gifted in a special way and blessed by God. They had no homeland for 2,000 years yet held together and thrived no matter how scattered they were or how terribly persecuted. Like cream, they always rise to the top.

Where are the Hittites, the Jebusites, the Amorites? They disappeared; yet even though scattered over the face of the earth (called the Diaspora) the Jews have survived, remained intact, and have thrived. God made promises to Abraham that his seed would be unable to be counted — as the sand on the shore and the stars in the heavens.

Remarking on the Jews, of which he was one, St. Paul wrote: “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” ( Rom 11:29). These gifts and calling are readily apparent even now, 4,000 years later. I have always thought the existence of the Jews and their incredible impact on civilization — even though their numbers are relatively small — is a convincing proof of the existence of God and to his faithfulness. Imagine, there are only 13 million Jews in the whole world, yet look at the huge and disproportionate impact they exert on our society.

I was recently in a bookstore buying a pile of books on Jewish culture and history — the better to understand the Bible and the roots of Christianity. The woman at the counter was surprised and asked if I was a Jew. I said, “Not by ethnicity, but certainly by affinity since I am a Catholic. I love the Jewish people and spend a lot of time in Israel.” She looked around, hesitating, and then said quietly, “I’m Jewish.”

I smiled and reached out my hand to shake hers. I said, “Congratulations. You are one of the great proofs of God’s existence. I envy you.” She was shocked — “No one has ever congratulated me for being Jewish before,” she said.

Our late Pope referred to the Jewish people as our elder brothers — and so they are. It might be just a story, though it may also be true, that once when the Pope and the head Rabbi of Rome were going into St. Peters, the Rabbi motioned for the Pope to step in first. But the Pope stopped and gestured for the Rabbi to precede him saying, “The Old Testament first!”

There was great wisdom here. The Bible is Jewish. Only one biblical writer was a gentile and the Old Testament is 90% of what we carry in the book called the Bible. The New Testament only makes up 1/10th of the book. The Church may be the branches and the fruit, but the roots and truck of our tree are certainly Jewish.

And considering those who hate the Jews, I love the little ditty that goes like this: “How odd of God to choose the Jews, but odder still are those who choose the Jewish God and hate the Jew.”

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Today I was asked a question which I have been asked a good number of times. So, I thought I would give a simple answer here. A young man wrote and asked: “Can you please tell me whether the descendants of Ismael are Muslims?”

Because I have been asked this question a good number of times I thought I would answer it simply here.

downloadNo. The descendants of Ishmael are the Arabs but not all Arabs are Muslims. In the Middle East from 200-650 AD, most Arabs were Christians, not Muslims. Islam did not get started until the mid-7th century. Mohammad conquered Mecca in 629 and subsequently, the Muslims swept through Arabia, the Middle East and North Africa with their armies and conquered these once Christian lands.

So Arabs are descendants of Ismael (Gen 25:12-18). Mohammed was an Arab. He started a new religion called Islam but not all Arabs followed him. Not all Arabs are Muslims. The largest Muslim nation is Indonesia and they are not Arabs. In fact, the three largest Muslim countries are not Arab.

According to Wikipedia, “Around 62% of the world’s Muslims live in the Asia-Pacific region (from Turkey to Indonesia), with over 1 billion adherents. The largest Muslim population in a country is in Indonesia, a nation home to 12.7% of the world’s Muslims, followed by Pakistan (11.0%), and India (10.9%).

Arab is ethnic, Muslim is a religion. Ishmael is not the father of the Muslims, only of the Arabs.

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You may not realize how often plants and trees play a part in Scripture! To understand the land and culture of the Bible is to open your eyes to the whole story of salvation.

Recently I did a fun show on Relevant Radio about the Trees & Plants in the Bible. Hope you enjoy it. Starts at 1:00 minute into the show.

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Facts and Figures about Islam in Israel – Different than you might think

May 8, 2019

Behind the Headlines: Facts and Figures – Islam in Israel “The State of Israel…will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.” –Israel’s Declaration of […]

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Israel Independence Day May 9 – Interesting Facts & Population Figures

May 8, 2019

We just arrived in Jerusalem last evening (Wednesday, May 8) and we pick up our sold-out group of excited pilgrims at the airport in Tel Aviv tomorrow which is Israel’s Independence Day. Celebrations have already begun. These are a tough bunch of people and I consider their existence and regaining of their land (Genesis 17) […]

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Interesting Facts About Israel which Will Amaze You

January 3, 2019

We are in Israel today and thought you might like to see this impressive list. I found this list several years ago but it still applies today. Geography: 1. Israel is only 1/6 of 1% of the landmass of the Middle East. 2. Israel is roughly half the size of Lake Michigan. 3. The Sea […]

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Pilgrimage with Steve Ray 100 Years Ago – Imagine with Real Photos

December 28, 2018

Step into a Time Machine and imagine what it would be like going back in time on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with Steve and Janet Ray 100 years ago! I have used actual pictures from over a century ago to re-create what it may have been like. I hope you enjoy! And, I […]

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“Rabbi, I can see the coastline!”

December 27, 2018

I cannot describe the sensation I feel every time we look out the window and see the coastline of Israel from the window of the plane. Yeah, we are exhausted — 8 hours from Detroit to Amsterdam, 3 hours layover, and 4.5 hours from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv. Some who travel with us come from […]

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We Leave for Israel Today – Joining a Record Number of Tourists

December 26, 2018

ANOTHER RECORD FOR ISRAEL AS TOURISTS FILL HOTELS In October, approximately 1.36 million tourist stays were recorded, an increase of 12% compared with last year. Economic Research Department of the Israel Hotel Association published data for October 2018 for tourist stays in hotels compared to the same period in the past two years. (Pictures: Our Ron […]

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Update on the Opening of the Holy Sepulchre but Warning it is Not Over

February 28, 2018

Statement on Municipal threats and the discriminatory “Church Lands Bill” The heads of Churches in charge of the Holy Sepulcher and the Status Quo governing the various Christian Holy Sites in Jerusalem, are following with great concern the systematic campaign against the Churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land, in flagrant violation of […]

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Holy Sepulchre Church Closed over Taxation Dispute with Israel

February 27, 2018

As many of you already know, last week the major Christian groups within the Holy Sepulchre and the Patriarch of Jerusalem decided to close the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as a protest against the punitive taxes and confiscatory collection process being imposed by Israel through the municipality of Jerusalem. Closing the Church is a great burden […]

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History of Middle East in 90 Seconds

February 11, 2018

Fascinating moving map. Click the image below to see biblical and modern history of the volatile and ever-changing Middle East.

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How Do We Know the Holy Sites are Authentic (Protestant Skeptic)?

February 7, 2018

Since today we are at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, I thought I share an e-mail I received from a man whose Protestant friend just returned from the Holy Land a bit disillusioned and skeptical. Here is the e-mail I received: Hi Steve, Here’s the question in brief (read more if you have time). How […]

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3,000 Years in 90 Seconds

February 3, 2018

Very cool map animation. Watch the history of the Middle East (and beyond) unfold with an interactive map showing the various civilizations that have ruled the region from ancient Egypt to modern times.

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Security in Israel: Safe to Travel with Steve & Janet?

December 26, 2017

UPDATE 12/11/17:  Watching the mainstream media today and making a few observations. 1) The images they keep showing are not current events but are pulled from stock video footage from the past. I doubt that any of the images of rock throwing and tear gas is current video. 2) They are making this violence, which is very small at […]

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Was Jesus Really Born at THAT Place in Bethlehem?

December 18, 2017

In a few days we are leaving for Bethlehem. We will have Mass next week at a lot of holy sites with our group of Catholic families. To the left is a picture of Gethsemane on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. How do we know this is really Gethsemane? In a few days […]

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