Friends, it is the season of light, the season of miracles. Jews around the world are getting ready to celebrate Hanukkah, and Christians are preparing to celebrate Christmas. And as 2019 draws to a close, we are all thinking of what we've accomplished in the past year — and all that we still have to do.
This year saw another steep rise in worldwide anti-Semitism, which has reached levels not seen since World War II. The Fellowship has responded by bringing more than 5,000 Jews from 30 different countries home to safety in Israel on our Freedom Flights. In addition, almost one million Jews are safer thanks to The Fellowship's initiative to fortify synagogues, schools, and Jewish centers in 11 countries around the world.
In Israel, this past year saw several flare ups with terrorists in Gaza, including a bout in November which saw more than 450 rockets fired into Israel. Tens of thousands of Israelis were able to find refuge in the 5,500 bomb shelters provided by The Fellowship on behalf of Christians around the world, as well as the fortified medical facilities and command centers you made possible. In addition, our staff on the ground made sure that Israel's most vulnerable citizens continued to receive food, medical assistance, and companionship as they endured these difficult situations.
While poverty continues to be a large problem in Israel and for Jews around the world, The Fellowship was able to bring hope and assistance to many in need. In 2019, we provided 700,000 meals through soup kitchens around the world and we provided more than half a million people — from elderly Holocaust survivors to young orphaned children – with food, medicine, and clothing.
In this season of light and miracles — even as we acknowledge that we live in a troubled world — we are determined to share God's light of love, hope, and healing. Every year when I light a single candle on the first night of Hanukkah, I am reminded that just as one tiny flame can illuminate a darkened room, one person can bring so much light to the world. And on the last night of Hanukkah, when we light all eight candles, I am reminded that just as a group of tiny flames clustered together can create one great light, a group of people working together for God's purposes can have a huge impact on His Kingdom.
I am so grateful for our "cluster" of light — it is because of you that we have been able to bring God's light to so many who struggle in the darkness. And with your help, we will continue to do even greater things in 2020.
This year is also notable because Christmas and Hanukkah coincide. With this in mind, and since this will be my last Holy Land Reflection for 2019, today I want to wish our Christian friends a peaceful and joyous Christmas, and, to our Jewish friends, a Hanukkah filled with light. May the coming year bring you peace and prosperity, and may we all soon have the privilege of glimpsing the new, redeemed era, in which, as the prophet says, "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands" (Isaiah 55:12).
Yael Eckstein is the president of the International Fellowship of Christian and Jews. As President, Eckstein oversees all ministry programs and serves as the organization’s international spokesperson. She can be heard on The Fellowship’s daily radio program airing on 1,500 stations worldwide. Before her present duties, Yael served as global executive vice president, senior vice president, and director of program development and ministry outreach. Based in Jerusalem, Yael is a published writer, leading international advocate for persecuted religious minorities, and a respected social services professional. As President of The Fellowship, she also holds the rare distinction of being a woman leading one of America’s largest religious not-for-profit organizations.