Kehila Spotlight: Meet David and Martha Stern
David and Martha Stern
“When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming.” – Elie Wiesel
David and Martha Stern came home to Israel in 1979, in David’s words, as “part of the great ingathering promised by God for which Jews have prayed three times daily for 2,000 years.”
Even before they arrived, David had begun working on what he humbly refers to as his “Messianic Jewish writing projects.” The fruits of those projects, listed below, are now recognized as landmark works of Messianic Jewish faith and testify to the Sterns’ insight, courage and profound service to the worldwide Messianic Jewish community. David’s descriptions follow the titles within quotes:
- Messianic Jewish Manifesto, a systematic view of the “history, ideology, theology and program of Messianic Judaism.”
- Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel: A Message for Christians, “an abridgment [of the Manifesto] for Christians who have not seriously considered the Jewishness of their faith.”
- The Jewish New Testament, an original translation into English of the New Testament “in a way that expresses its Jewishness.”
- The Jewish New Testament Commentary, “which deals, verse-by-verse, with the Jewish issues raised in the New Testament.”
- Complete Jewish Bible, “which combines in a single volume the Jewish New Testament with [Stern’s] modernized version of an existing Jewish translation of the Tanakh.”
- Messianic Judaism: A Modern Movement With An Ancient Past
- How Jewish Is Christianity? (with others)
Of these, perhaps the most impactful and important is the Complete Jewish Bible.
“My first purpose,” Stern writes in the Bible’s introduction, “is to restore the unified Jewishness of the Bible, and, particularly, to show that the books of the New Covenant are Jewish through and through.”
By any reasonable measure, Stern has eloquently accomplished that purpose – it is impossible to measure his unique translation’s impact on the understanding and growth of Messianic Judaism. According to an article by Sarah Posner in The Atlantic, there were an estimated 350,000 Messianic Jewish believers worldwide in 2012, including “a tiny minority in Israel,” between 10 to 20,000, but that number continues to increase, “according to both its proponents and critics.”
Stern remains one of Messianic Judaism’s foremost representatives and spokesmen. From his article, “Coming to Messianic Jewish Faith” in Ben Hoekendijk’s book, Twelve Jews Discover Messiah, published in 1998, he addressed one of the major obstacles to understanding Messianic Judaism.
“The conventional wisdom in the Jewish community is that normal Jews do not come to faith in Yeshua the Messiah of Israel and that Jews who do were either forced or enticed, or are disturbed, deprived or depraved,” he wrote. “My story is proof to the contrary. Take my word for it or find people who can prove it because they knew me back when: I was intelligent, talented, successful, upright, happy and loved both before and after He found me and I came to Him.”
“David has spent his life with the Word of God,” Stern’s wife, Martha, relates in her testimony. Despite the seriousness of their work, its many challenges and recent health trials, they have maintained delightful outlooks and upbeat humor throughout.
“Three days after we met, David asked me to marry him,” Martha recalled. “Well, actually, his first words were, ‘I’m considering you to be my wife, what do you think about it?’ and I answered something like, ‘I was considering it too, but I’ll have to get to know you better.’”
Even before that conversation, Martha had imposed two important conditions on their continuing relationship, conditions that, in hindsight, may have changed countless lives.
“I shared with David that, since childhood, it had been my dream, more than a dream, my plan, to live in Israel. After he said yes to Israel and cleared the first hurdle, I asked if he wanted to have children.”
Again, David agreed. Without her knowing it, he arranged for Martha to get time off from her job in San Rafael, California to visit him in Los Angeles, almost 400 miles away.
“I was impressed,” Martha admitted.
They became engaged not long afterward and, “Within a year,” David wrote, “Martha Frankel…ended my 40 years of bachelorhood.”
The Stern’s now enjoy their two children and eight grandchildren who live nearby in the land. As David continued to pursue his many “writing projects” and Martha became an accomplished artist, they have become recognized as “pillars of the Messianic Jewish movement, having made an incalculable impact on the development of Messianic Judaism.”
David is a fourth-generation native of Los Angeles. In 1853, his great-grandfather, Elias Lavanthal, came by covered wagon to what was then a village of about 2,000 people.
“They must have been among the town’s first 20 Jews,” said Stern. “I praise God for my Jewish identity and upbringing. We…celebrated Passover and Chanukkah at home. [My mother] and I read the Torah aloud together when I was eight. I attended our synagogue’s Sunday school for ten years and was considered so promising that Rabbi Max Dubin wanted me to become a rabbi too.”
Stern’s educational background includes a Master of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, a graduate course at the University of Judaism (now the American Jewish University), and a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University. He taught the first course in Judaism and Christianity at Fuller Theological Seminary and worked as a professor at UCLA. What he describes as his spiritual odyssey began at age 15 when he discovered that he had been unhappy with his life without knowing it.
“I tried to construct a meaningful life,” Stern wrote about that period. “Since I didn’t know what life meant, this wasn’t easy!”
As time passed, though Stern had “glamorous hobbies—mountain-climbing, water-skiing and surfing.” (In 1963 he coauthored the Surfing Guide to Southern California, reprinted in 1998 and still considered a classic by surfers.) “Family, friends and strangers saw my life as one of excitement and purpose. But my nagging inner question, ‘What does life mean?’ drew a blank.”
Consequently, Stern looked into “about two dozen religions, some Eastern, some Western, some—who knows?” It never occurred to him to investigate either Judaism or Christianity. But one night, Stern stayed in a motel where the owners had placed a magazine of Christian testimonies on the nightstand.
“I read how Jesus had brought peace, order and meaning to the lives of the men who wrote them and tears welled up in my eyes. But tears prove nothing—I cry over stories in Reader’s Digest too. Still, I now see that this was God’s first move in the events leading to my salvation.”
Later, while continuing to examine Christianity, Stern discovered Romans 10:9:
“If you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
“To this day I can’t explain how, but I realized I had come to believe that Jesus is Lord—he alone and not all of us—and that God raised him from the dead—him alone and not all of us. So I confessed aloud to God and according to that verse I was, at that moment, saved.”
Stern is a Jew who came to know Jesus, Yeshua the Messiah, as a complete Jew, not a convert to Christianity, who then had the courage, energy and tenacity to follow the prophet Micah’s exhortation:
“Arise, plead your case before the mountains and let the hills hear your voice.” Micah 6:1
David Stern has pleaded his case eloquently and the world is better for it.
“Through saving me and giving me this work,” Stern wrote, “God has given meaning and purpose to my life. He has also given me a wonderful wife and children and a place to live in the land of Israel, the home of the Jewish people.”
Cliff Keller lives in Jerusalem, Israel with his wife, Marcia after making Aliyah in the spring of 2011 from the United States. His most recent novel is a work of historical biblical fiction entitled The Lion or The Lamb: Samson Ruth and Salvation. Cliff also blogs at Standing by the Gate and has a writing website, goodStories.
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I have established watchmen on the walls
In Israel, every Jewish, young man and woman must serve in the IDF (Israel Defence Force) for a minimum of two to three years. As they join, each new soldier places their right hand on the Tanach, otherwise known as the Old Testament, and their left hand raised before God as they pledge their allegiance. Just a few weeks ago, my son, a Jew who believes that Yeshua is the Messiah, joined Israel’s elite forces and followed suite in being sworn in. But unlike the others, he placed his right hand on the Brit Chadasha, otherwise known as, the New Testament. It was his personal conviction and testament that his faith is not only in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but in Israel’s Messiah, Yeshua.
Sixty-nine years ago, the nation of Israel was born again. A nation that once existed and then was destroyed and it’s people scattered because of sin. But God, in His great mercy and faithfulness, has resurrected us from the grave, gave us back our land and is restoring the people. Today, not only is God bringing His people back from all lands where they were scattered, (my wife and I included), but God is pouring out His Spirit and bringing our hearts to life again. My son is a living testimony of this. As the Lord has promised, so He is doing:
“For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. “You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.”- Ezekiel 36:24-28
As more and more Israelis are recognizing Yeshua as their Messiah, the number of believing youth is also growing. They grow up in faith and when they come of age, they join the Israeli army and become, quite literally, “watchmen on the walls”.
“On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; All day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the LORD, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth.” – Isaiah 62:6
You who intercede before the Lord are also His watchmen. You who have prayed for the salvation of Israel, rejoice! For God is answering prayer! Now I ask that you join CBN Israel in praying for these soldiers who defend this country. Pray for wisdom and protection. Pray that God would pour out His Spirit upon all the soldiers, that they might know Him! And pray that God would give them hearts like David, full of courage and faith.
God bless you, faithful ones, who have and are taking part, through prayer, in what He is doing.
This article originally appeared on CBN Israel, November 9, 2017, and reposted with permission.
Since its establishment in March 2012 CBN Israel has helped thousands of people through its various operations. As the foundation of Project Light Shine, CBN Israel gives help to the community through three avenues; Humanitarian aid, education and economic development. CBN Israel serves with a spirit of humility and love. Their mission is to prepare the Land and the people of Israel for the coming of Messiah Yeshua and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. The vision of their work is to see the hungry fed, the needs of the needy met, businesses established and to improve the spiritual, physical and financial situation of the local body.
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The Mayor of Nazareth just canceled Christmas in the city
UPDATE: The mayor of Nazareth has retracted his announcement canceling public Christmas festivities in the city.
In true grinch fashion, a few hours ago, the mayor of Nazareth officially canceled the annual public Christmas festivities and street celebrations in the city of Nazareth.
Considering the large number of tourists who typically visit the city of Nazareth during Christmas, the decision will have significant economic impact on many of the Arab Christians who live in the city.
The mayor explained to The Times of Israel that his decision is in response to President Donald Trump’s recent announcement that the United States officially recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and will move the American embassy to Jerusalem. The mayor told the paper, “The decision [by Donald Trump regarding Jerusalem] has taken away the joy of the holiday, and we will thus cancel the festivities this year.”
The Hidden Side of the Story
So far, you have read what most news channels, newspapers and magazines around the world are broadcasting.
But here is what most (deliberately?) fail to mention…
- The Mayor of Nazareth, Ali Sallam, is a Sunnite Muslim.
- Demographically, 70% of Nazareth are Muslims.
You see, there is a clear Muslim political agenda hidden behind his unprecedented announcement. The Muslim mayor of Nazareth is playing on the emotions of Christians around the world at the expense of Christians in his city. And he is taking advantage of the significance of the city of Nazareth in the eyes of Christians worldwide in an attempt to entice them against the State of Israel. How ironic that in Jesus’ hometown, the celebration of His birth was canceled this year in order to advance Muslim propaganda. However, just as no one could suppress the Good News of Jesus’ birth over two thousand years ago, no political agenda today will prevent the Gospel from going forth in Nazareth and in Israel!
This article originally appeared on One for Israel and is reposted with permission.
Eitan is ONE FOR ISRAEL’s Media & Evangelism Director.
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Organization encourages Israeli Christians to enlist in IDF
A group of Christian Israeli youth planing to enlist in the IDF
A new nonprofit organization founded thanks to the initiative of a Christian believer is hoping to encourage more indigenous Israeli Christians to enlist in the Israeli army or the national service.
The organization, Brotherly Covenant: Christians Proudly Integrating, aims to encourage Christian youth, mostly Arab and Aramean, growing up in Israel to serve in the IDF, border police and national service and to fully integrate into all aspects of Israeli society.
The NGO was established by Carmelin Ashkar, a Christian believer and mother of an Israeli soldier and a son who graduated from the national service program. Among the other founders and leaders are Christians and Jews and, for the first time, a Christian volunteer who will operate in East Jerusalem where interest in military service is on the rise among the youth.
Military service in Israel is mandatory for men and women after graduating high school. Some may, in place of the military, do “national service” comprised of volunteer work in a nationally recognized charity. However, many non-Jews opt out of army and national service altogether.
In recent years another organization, Israeli Christians Recruitment Forum, led by priest Gabriel Naddaf, encouraged military service among Arab youth. But this NGO ceased its activities in June.
“In the last few years I’ve worked among Christian youth to encourage them to enlist in the IDF and national service,” Ashkar said. “I did this, as well with other volunteers, in the past months as volunteer work and we noticed that it is profitable to formally establish a nonprofit, registered organization.”
They received guidance from other Israeli organizations on how to open a non-profit.
“There are those who opened the door and started this historic journey of recruitment and integration of Christian youth five years ago and I am happy that Christians are walking in this path,” she said.
“We are in the midst of a historical change in the approach of the Christian community, but there is still a long course to run.” Ashkar said. “The non-profit organization will contribute a lot for building bridges between Jews and Arabs in Israel and around the world to demonstrate the true and beautiful face of the State of Israel.”
In very apropos timing, the organization received its official certification as an Israeli nonprofit on Nov. 30 — just a few weeks before Christmas and the New Year.
“We will be working diligently for the sake of Israel and the Christian community,” Ashkar said.
Ashkar and her husband Faraj Ashkar are long-time members of River of God, a Lebanese congregation in Nahariya.
The Kehila News Staff is a team of Israeli believers in Yeshua.
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How believers in Israel celebrate Hanukkah
Photo: KNI Staff
Also known as the Feast of Dedication or the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday through which believers can, and do, express their love and worship of Yeshua the Messiah even though the holiday itself is not a biblical feast.
Starting on the 25th of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, this year the holiday begins the evening of Dec. 12.
The eight-day holiday commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabean victory over the Seleucid Empire. The traditional lighting each night of one new candle on a nine-branched menorah (hanukkiah) recalls the story that at the rededication, while there was only enough pure oil to light the Temple’s menorah for one day, the oil miraculously lasted eight days – the time needed to acquire a further supply.
Believers in Israel will have seen hundreds of different styles of hanukkiot with accompanying brightly colored candles appearing in shops in the weeks leading up to the feast. They may also have been dazzled by the glittering array of festive sufganiot (doughnuts) that are among the traditional “oily” foods eaten during the holiday. Many believers join in with the festivities, but with an emphasis on Yeshua.
“Our family will light all of the candles every night,” Howard Bass, leader of the Nachalat Yeshua congregation, told KNI. “The full light has come — Yeshua — and he has lit us to be light in the world. The light will be eternal, symbolically represented by the eight days.”
“As a congregation we will also light all of the candles during our Hanukkah service,” Bass added. “We will have sufganiot and a teaching connected with the holiday in the light of its significance in God’s plan of redemption and the spiritual and carnal battles connected with that.”
American-Israeli attorney, Jamie Cowen, said that his family also lights candles during the holiday. Again, the emphasis is on Yeshua.
“As our children were growing up we prayed the traditional blessings and lit the candles in the hanukkiah in the prescribed order,” Cowen told KNI. “The one major difference from the traditional Jewish community is that we associated the shamash (the servant candle) that sits atop or to the side of the hanukkiah with Yeshua.”
Moreover, Cowen adds: “I would always point out that Yeshua is the light of the world, and he lights our lights (the rest of the hanukkiah) so we too can be lights to the world.”
Hanukkah is also a time of gift giving, a tradition that the Cowen family keeps.
“For each night of Hanukkah, we would give our children one small gift each. On the final night, we would give everyone their major gifts,” he said. “In Israel we’ve continued most of the traditions with our grandchildren.”
For believers like Ava, whose family immigrated to Israel from the U.S. over a decade ago, Hanukkah is a time to recall the faithfulness of God.
“Our family lights the candles in the traditional way to remember the real miracle of Hanukkah is that God Almighty, by His Sovereign arm and dedication to keep His covenants with His chosen people, saved them against all the odds,” Ava shared with KNI.
“The reciprocal side of this miracle is that a small group of dedicated faithful servants to the Rock of Ages joined together to fight their enemy. In so doing they won the battle, purified the desecrated Temple and dedicated it back to the Lord,” Ava says.
Indeed, for believers the holiday may be a time for rededication to the Lord of their own lives as temples of His Holy Spirit.
Tikva from the Negev told KNI that when she was growing up she didn’t really appreciate Hanukkah.
“I just thought it was something we Jewish kids had instead of Santa. I got a gift from my parents, which I appreciated, but I still felt left out,” she shared. “But now, as a Messianic Jew, I appreciate that Hanukkah is a time of rededication to my relationship with Yeshua.”
For Emma in Jerusalem, this year’s holiday holds particular meaning.
“I had not celebrated Hanukkah personally for a number of years,” Emma told KNI. “I had become confused by whether the Hanukkah story is true, and whether we should be lighting candles or not. So I just let it pass me by.”
“This year is different, though,” Emma continued. “I am facing a major transition that had the potential to shake my faith and cause me to wonder what my life has been about this last decade in Israel.
“Amazingly, I am noticing that God is using this move to draw me closer to him – to renew the wonder I had in him when I first came to faith. He is causing me to realize deeply that my identity and acceptance is in him, and not in what I do or how much money I earn or who I associate with.
“It is a beautiful thing to sense his love during this Feast of Dedication. I realize I am effectively, very quietly, dedicating my life – his temple – back to him.”
“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem.
It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area
walking in Solomon’s Colonnade.”
Karen Faulkner is a British Israeli citizen. She has a Master's degree in Human Rights & Transitional Justice from Hebrew University, Jerusalem.