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Forbidden Peace: the Story Behind the Headlines

Forbidden Peace: the Story Behind the Headlines

Jews for Jesus


What would make a Palestinian man, who hated Jews with a passion, embrace a former Israeli soldier as his brother? Why would an Israeli woman, whose son was brutally attacked, look at his assailants with forgiveness in her eyes?

How is it possible that in one of the world's most volatile regions, a small group of Israeli and Palestinian children play together, unaware that they should be enemies? The first two of these questions were explored in this edition's lead article. Several similar inquiries are examined in Forbidden Peace: the Story Behind the Headlines, a brand new video and DVD.

Forbidden Peace offers a bold new perspective on the Middle East conflict, one that is sure to raise some eyebrows. The central claim to the documentary-style film is that lack of peace in the Middle East is not a political or social predicament, but a spiritual one. The Israelis and Palestinians profiled in Forbidden Peace all maintain that they have found peace with one another by finding peace with God through Jesus - faith traditionally forbidden to both groups of people.

The opening footage of violent images from the Middle East is effectively juxtaposed with faces and voices full of hope, as the viewer is introduced to Tass, a former PLO Fatah fighter; Rahel, an Israeli who hosts gatherings of Israelis and Palestinians in her home regularly; Shmuel, an Arab man who leads a messianic Jewish congregation,1 just to name a few. Most moving are the segments involving Lisa, whose son Asaf was savagely beaten while serving in the IDF and Abigail, a young believer in Y'shua who was killed by a suicide bomber. Both stories can be seen as tests of faith and one cannot help but be impressed at the way those featured hold fast to their beliefs in the midst of crisis.

From a technical perspective, Forbidden Peace is skillfully filmed and scripted. One can either argue that some of the content is repetitive or conversely, that the stories' similar themes serve to reinforce the position of the film. One thing is for sure: these words and faces will be difficult to dismiss.

There are those who will approach this film with skepticism, and given the numerous peace plans proposed, it's no wonder. However, a companion study guide called Forbidden Peace: an Invitation to Recall, Reflect and Respond allows viewers to delve deeper into the ideas presented in the film.

Broken into six chapters plus introduction and conclusion, the booklet raises such questions as, "What is the origin of conflict?"; "Why do our attempts at peace fail?"; "If Jesus is the Messiah then why isn't there peace on earth?"; and "Is peace through Y'shua worth risking relationships?" The study guide makes for challenging, thought-provoking reading.

The current Middle East situation demands that we consider any possible antidote to the violence that threatens the region. The solution presented in Forbidden Peace is not a quick fix; it's not a national resolution, but a personal conclusion that will take time and courage. But after all, are we not in times that call for courage?


  1. A congregation comprised of Jewish and non-Jewish people who believe Jesus is the Messiah.
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No Place on Earth — Movie Review

No Place On Earth
Movie Review
No Place on Earth (2012)
PG-13
-reviewed by Arielle Rothbard

Last Friday, on opening day for Janet Tobias' No Place on Earth, I had several presuppositions upon entering the theater. I imagined that the film would be solely narrative, being that the events were over seventy years old.  I expected the first showing to be well attended. I assumed No Place on Earth would follow the obligatory, self-explanatory path of Holocaust cinema. Despite a small turnout, the distinctive film delivered.

It put dynamite to my assumptions. No Place on Earth whisked the handful of us viewers out of our San Francisco seats onto a New York City subway train where Chris Nicola, a New York native, explained his love for spelunking (exploring caves) and his incredible discovery in Western Ukraine in 1993. He found a cave in which 38 Jews hid for a year and a half while one million of their lantzmen who were slaughtered. The film glides between Nicola's cave exploration, several surviving members of the Wexler and Stermer clans, and a cinematic rendition of their memories of cave life. "We didn't tell it to others because it was just too incredible," one of the daughters recalled. It's a life on the edge of reason.

The vignettes of hardship and tragedy in their underground fortress were artfully presented. The family recreated their home in the worst of circumstances. Close ups of bedrooms and food preparation tools dimly lit by candle conveyed the warmth of strong familial love. Esther Stermer, the maternal rock, is not dissuaded even when carried off by German soldiers, craftily escaping their grasp and regrouping with her children. Somehow, despite their abysmal situation, this crew of survivors—ranging from two to 76 years old—reached freedom just as their last drops of water dissolved. They were part of the five percent or fewer who survived the Germans in their country.

This tenacious band endured German forces bent on carrying them off to death camps and neighbors who wouldn't assist them and even attacked their hiding place. Passively, the group endured derelict conditions. They were without adequate light, food, warmth, water, and filled with fear. Their psyches were beaten down. Chris Nicola noted that even the most decorated cavers with the most advanced technology and tools, would be hard-pressed to make it as long as these Ukrainian Jews. No one holds a similar record. Nor, it seems, would they want to.

After watching the re-enactment of each unique instance of miraculous intervention, I had one thought that neither the survivors nor the film addressed. How could a cave, a natural structure in which this band took shelter, have had the supernatural power to sustain them? Why is the cave anthropomorphized and praised for their survival? What did the one Yom Kippur service they held mean to them, if nothing but a day to willingly choose self-deprivation? God's intervention went unacknowledged, especially at the end of the film as the elderly survivors retraced their steps in the Priest's Grotto Cave—the second of their two inhabitances—with their American grandchildren. The 91-year-old survivors literally thank the cave for keeping them alive.

Arguably, the participants of this miracle experienced such immense adversity as to lose all hope in anything but their own inventiveness. However, as an outside viewer, much as in the story of the biblical Esther, I see something else. In this, another true story of Jewish survival despite all odds, God must have interfered with the forces at work to preserve his people. During this season of remembrance, I could not help but notice the parallel between Esther Stermer's resolute fervor for her charges and the fearlessly faithful love of God for his chosen people.

Les Misérables: The book or the movie?


I just saw the 2012 version of the movie Les Misérables. I am also a quarter of the way through the unabridged audiobook. I think the question “the book or the movie?” is more complex with Les Mis than it is with some other titles. (“The Hobbit,” for example, in which the film version gives added meaning to “an unexpected journey” if you “expect” the film to follow the book).

On the one hand, the amazing depth and many facets of Victor Hugo’s characters are barely hinted at in the movie. To be fair, character development usually is not a strong suit of movies, much less musicals. (I’m not hating. I’m a fan of many movies and musicals.)

On the other hand, do we need to guard against what my nephew calls “book bias”? He feels that movies, as art in their own right, should be judged on their own merits. My question is, does the entertainment or even artistic value outweigh the author’s intent?

But here’s something else to consider in the “book or movie” debate. Honestly, how many people would know the epic tale of Les Misérables had it not been brought to stage and screen? How many people today are willing to listen to 50+ hours of audiobook or read 900+ pages of text? For those folks who can’t or won’t get to the book, the movie is superbly better than nothing.

If I could only listen to the audiobook or only see the movie, I would take the book narrated by Frederick Davidson in a heartbeat. With the book, you get everything the author intended. It takes more than a movie screen or a stage to hold the enormity of Hugo’s words. It takes an open mind and heart -- and Hugo’s  book will change the minds and hearts of those who give it room. But then, maybe the abbreviated versions can change people too, because even at a fraction of the original, the story is so full of grace.

What do you think? How important is the author’s full intent versus our expectations/entertainment/catharsis? What if the author wanted more for us than we want for ourselves? Can we afford to be satisfied with less? And . . . did he have to use so many words?

Hugo’s story of despair and redemption is almost, but not quite, incomparable. But it’s not sheer volume that makes it so. A much shorter story not only compares to Les Misérables, but exceeds it (and every other story, I believe) as the source of all true redemption. Yes, I am thinking of the story of Y’shua, Jesus.

Jesus is described as “The Word become flesh” in the Gospel of John. The God who spoke the world into existence enfleshed himself to be seen, heard, touched, loved, hated, crucified . . . risen. If he sang or danced we don’t have it captured on film. But his life, death and resurrection was a real life drama that was faithfully penned in a very unintimidating style and a very manageable length. And though the gospel is not a long story, it is changing hearts, minds and destinies as it creates new life and new stories every day.
Many movies have been based upon it.
Have you read the book?
Have you seen the movies?
Did you get all that the Author intended?
Can you afford to be satisfied with less?

New Jesus Ideas Are Dead in the Tomb

In case The DaVinci Code wasn't enough for you, the Discovery Channel's Lost Tomb of Jesus aired March 4. (A related web site is here.)

Produced by James Cameron of Titanic movie fame and Israeli filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, it concerns a discovery of a tomb containing ossuaries (ancient boxes that contained bones of deceased people) with personal names inscribed upon the boxes. The sensationalistic publicity would have you believe that there is a good chance that the bones of Jesus and his family were found. As somebody is supposed to have once remarked, if Jesus' family were alive today, they'd be turning over in their graves.

Actually, the tomb containing the ossuaries was discovered way back in 1980, so it's hardly a new discovery. And there is precious little evidence that the folks whose bones these belonged to were related in any way to Jesus of Nazareth. For a good response from someone who's worked with Jacobovici, visit Ben Witherington's blog. Concludes Witherington's : "So my response to this is clear - James Cameron, the producer of the movie Titanic, has now jumped on board another sinking ship full of holes, presumably in order to make a lot of money before the theory sinks into an early watery grave. Man the lifeboats and get out now."

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Iron Man: The Stark Truth


Read Full Article on the Jews for Jesus Blog
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Ushpizin

Ushpizin” is the Aramaic word for “guest.” It is also the title of a 2004 Israeli film, directed by Gidi Dar and written by Shuli Rand. Rand, who also starred in the film, won the Best Actor award from the Israeli Film Academy for the role of Moshe. On a side note, Shuli Rand is a Hassid in “real life” and Michal Bat Sheva Rand, the woman who plays his wife in the film is—his wife! This viewer would never have guessed that “Ushpizin” was her first film. Bat Sheva Rand’s debut is owing to the fact that as a Hassidic Jew, Shuli Rand is not permitted to touch any other woman.

The movie is set during the festival of Sukkot. Moshe, a Breslover Hassidic Jew, has been reformed from his past life as a “bad guy.” He lives and studies at a Yeshiva near the market in central Jerusalem. With barely enough money to provide for his wife and himself, he wonders how he can fulfill the obligations of Sukkot: building a sukkah, obtaining arbat haminim (the four species), and entertaining ushpizin. The money for the items comes to him miraculously. Then, two guests arrive: convicts (one a friend from Moshe’s past) who take advantage of the holiday to seek asylum. This situation creates tension between Moshe and his wife. As the tension rises, Moshe has to deal with feelings of anger and stress during a time when Jews are commanded to be joyful. Throughout, we see Moshe praying and bringing his struggles before God.

Part of the film’s appeal to me is very personal. For a time, I was a Hassidic Jew living in the very area where the story takes place. My wife and I lived in a tiny apartment and struggled to pay our rent at the end of each month, much like Moshe and Michal. I loved seeing the place and people with which I was once so familiar.

Viewers who are unfamiliar with the Hassidic community will find that the film opens a porthole into a fascinating world. Some Jewish believers may be surprised by some of the concepts and attitudes the film reveals as typical of the Hassidic community. Despite the radical differences in lifestyle, I think most viewers will be able to identify with the film’s characters on a very human level.

We see the gritty realities of a man and a woman who rely on their belief in God for survival. We get a glimpse of how the ultra- Orthodox deal with stress, anger and trust in God, just as we all do.

The characters in the film challenge our misconceptions if we think that believers in Jesus hold a monopoly on trusting God. Many people of different religions have some understanding of God’s providence and various other aspects of His character. They experience legitimate feelings of joy and thanksgiving as they contemplate Him. Unfortunately, they do not know the truth of the Kingdom of God and cannot enter into it without Y’shua.

We also see something of how trust in God is commonly mixed with superstition in the Hassidic community. It seems paradoxical that a man who believes in God with all his heart would also believe that the near perfect etrog (the citrus fruit of the four species) that he purchases for 1,000 shekels, the equivalent of about $250, will help his wife give birth to the son they have been trying to conceive. How are we to understand the way in which a wonderful belief in God’s provision can be paired with this unbiblical, perhaps even pagan trust in fruit charms?

In Romans, Paul writes that our Jewish people “are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” Moshe Bellanga is one of these people; a man who loves God and tries hard to observe the Torah as he understands it. Sadly, while he may honor God with his lips, his heart is far from Him because he has received the precepts for loving and obeying God from the commandments of men (Isaiah 29:13).

We might ask ourselves if we have the reverse problem that Paul described: knowledge of God without zeal. Believing viewers may see Moshe’s zeal for holiness, and be led to strive for such zeal in their devotion towards Messiah.

I recommend the film not only because I found it entertaining and interesting (especially as Sukkot approaches) but because I think this film can inspire some of us to see the Hassidic community in a different light. It shows much that is good in this community that we may ordinarily see simply as those who are closed to the gospel or even those who would persecute us for our faith in Y’shua. As we look through their eyes and hear the heart of their prayers through the character of Moshe, may we be led to take the risk to prayerfully and faithfully tell them about Jesus. We may not be able to discuss matters of Talmud and we may feel at a loss in our knowledge of certain traditions—but we know Messiah and the words of the prophets; we know God personally. May we be zealous to pray and do what we can that others might know Him, too.

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The Book Eli Just Couldn’t Put Down


From the Movie: The Book of Eli

As Eli (Denzel Washington) listens to “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” by Al Green on his I-Pod-like relic in post-apocalyptic America, the real question is, how do you mend a broken world? This film captures tikkun olam on a major scale.

Picture this: Gangs roaming what’s left of the United States, looting and raping and searching out the rarest commodity—water. We get a glimpse of what life was like before from Eli: “People had more than they needed. We had no idea what was precious, what wasn’t. We threw away things we’d kill for now.”

But Eli believes he is carrying the most precious commodity, the answer to rebuilding the planet—the only remaining copy of the Bible. He says that God led him to find the Book and then told him to bring it out west to preserve it. He goes by foot and is known as The Walker.

It’s been a long journey—30 years—almost as long as Moses spent in the wilderness. As with Moses, God has promised to protect Eli on his mission. There are those out there who want what he has, especially Carnegie (Gary Oldman), and he will kill for it. Carnegie recognizes the power of the words in that Book, and since only the survivors of the nuclear war, like Eli and Carnegie, can read, he wants to be the dispenser of his own twisted version of its message.

It calls to mind the words of the prophet Amos in the Hebrew Scriptures:

“The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea, and wander from north to east, searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12)

When Carnegie tries to pressure Eli into giving him the Book, he thinks he has left Eli no choice but to comply. But Eli responds, “There’s always a choice.”

Yes, the Bible can be misused to promote evil, but it can also be used as God intended it, to mend a broken world, restore fractured relationships and even heal our individual souls. And, as long as we still have it around, there will always be a choice for us as well. We can choose to ignore it, twist if for our own purposes, or live by it.

Today’s choices shape our tomorrows. What will you choose?

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DOUBT: the film

reviewed by Remy Remigio

The scene is St. Nicholas parish, the Bronx, 1964. Father Flynn, a progressive young priest, has been accused by the long-standing principal, Sister Aloysius, of foul play with the school's first African-American student. Sister Aloysius has been suspicious of Flynn from the start. When the young and innocent Sister James confides in her about a guilt-induced suspicion that something inappropriate is happening, Sister Aloysius is determined to prove her hostile intuition correct. Without a shred of proof other than her moral certainty, she seeks to expunge Flynn from the school and conquer her doubt.

As an actor, writer and movie-goer, I was engaged from the opening credits. Simple, tactful and understated, the film begins by leading the viewer through the life of an altar boy as he wakes from sleep and begins his day before being sent off to his local parish school, setting up the feel of a Catholic community in 1964. The performances by all four actors—Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis—are truly noteworthy, particularly Davis' brief but haunting scene as the defeated mother of the possibly abused child. Minimalism is the film's saving foundation that gives power to the characters' words and interactions and enables the heartbeat of the story itself to linger in the viewers' minds long after they've left the theater.

Doubt is about moral uncertainty—the conflict between faith and doubt, conviction and hesitation—and the hazards of being carried away by either. Most importantly, the story shows the danger of needing to take a stand to such an extent that we lose ourself in assuming a position of defense. Though conflict is usually necessary in order to reach a place of resolution and healing, the condition of a successful resolution is for both parties to humble themselves and together discover the truth in the situation.

Unfortunately, we often seek, as does Sister Aloysius, to come out on top." This is not her only motivation, of course, for characters (as mirrors of real people) are capable of being driven by multiple motives. Convinced of her pure intentions, Sister Aloysius becomes so hardened in her pursuit of the truth that her desire to attain command of the situation drives her to justify a lie. She becomes transformed into a poor representative of her cause, forgoing her moral contract in order to be right in her own mind. In the end, she is left with the unshakable presence of doubt—not doubt about what she is seeking to prove, but doubt about her dogmatic tactics in pressuring the truth. Her doubt concerns the very foundation of her morality.

What the film shows is that doubt is often a necessary companion to a life of faith. It is essential to the humility that enables us to believe in something bigger than ourselves. We cannot "know" for certain the complete truth of a faith-based reality; "faith" without humility is simply hubris. For the true believer, humble uncertainty does not destroy the certainty of belief but reminds us that we are incapable of knowing everything. Doubt is a gift to those who desire to live a life in which Y'shua is the ultimate authority, because we can admit the doubt, test it, lift it up to God and miraculously be transformed into creatures of faith by it.

Remy Remigio is a Jewish believer from San Diego. He has been involved in the theater as an actor and producer and hopes to enter an acting conservatory following his upcoming participation in Jews for Jesus' Massah program. (massah.jewsforjesus.org).

 Editor's pick: For an insightful book on the relationship of doubt to faith see: Os Guinness, God in the Dark: The Assurance of Faith Beyond a Shadow of Doubt. Crossway Books, 1996.

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Train of Life

The word whimsical" seems out of place when describing a story set against the backdrop of the Holocaust, yet the 1999 Paramount Classics film, "Train of Life" indeed is a whimsical treatment of a serious topic. In fact, there are many humorous scenes. The humor is not about Nazis or the Holocaust—but about life and especially about the absurdities that survival requires. In French with English subtitles, the movie has a surreal quality owing to its implausible plot and some "Fiddler on the Roof"-style musical interludes.

The film opens with a brief narration from Shlomo the Fool, played by Lionel Abelanski. The story then unfolds as Shlomo races to his Eastern European shtetl with news that the Nazis will soon be upon them.

To survive, the fool and the village wise men come up with a scheme whereby the would-be victims enact their own deportation in order to avoid the real thing. Rather than waiting for the Nazis to put them on a death train bound for the camps, they put themselves on a "train of life" bound for Eretz Yisrael. They purchase their escape vehicle, wagon by wagon, and manage to camouflage the mezuzot under the trappings of Nazi paraphernalia.

The villagers end up believing their own fabrication which, to some degree, makes them victims. For example, some (including the bogus commander) are forced to masquerade as Nazis in order to deal with German soldiers along the way. The "commander" is treated as an outcast by his own people while he lays his life on the line for them in confrontations with real Nazis. Meanwhile, the jilted would-be lover of the village beauty, Esther, meets a communist in passing and he forms his own communist coalition on the train. He knows about as much about communism as the "engineer" knows about driving a train. (The latter got the job because he worked for the department of transportation and filched a manual, which he is frantically studying through most of the journey.)

The movie demonstrates, through the use of absurd pretenses, what can happen when people start believing their own illusions.

Shlomo is the transcendent figure in the film. Thus, he is never shown riding in the train, but always on it. To him, the plan is never anything but the who-knows-it-just-might-work idea of the village fool. He is free from whatever goes on inside the train. He is alone, yet he holds the group together. He is the optimist, peacemaker and comforter who offers the community a plan of escape from the Nazis and, when necessary, from the internal differences which occasionally threaten to divide the community. Shlomo isn't fooled by pretend Nazis or pretend communists. He is a philosopher and a humanist and somehow when he speaks, he makes sense to people. He is an almost magical figure and somehow because of him, one unlikely and, yes, very humorous thing after another continues to happen on the train of life.

It may sound as though the film makes light of a terribly grave situation. Yet the film deals honestly with the tragedy of the Holocaust in a powerful (yet totally non-violent) way. Explaining how would detract from the overall experience of this very creative and provocative film.

(Note: if you plan to rent this video, be aware that there are some brief sexual situations that include partial nudity.)
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Seeing and Believing: A Review of Survivor Stories

60 minutes running time. Produced by Jews for Jesus. Available for purchase.

Video brings images to life in a way that few other forms of media can. And hardly any other theme provides as much vitality as the subject of Survivor Stories. The 60-minute documentary-style production tells in vivid detail the true accounts of several people who have at least three things in common: they are Jewish, Holocaust survivors, and have become believers in Jesus.

Many people ask the question, "How can anyone believe in God, let alone Jesus, after the Holocaust?" Survivor Stories simply allows men and women who actually endured the Holocaust to answer this question for themselves. The viewer is granted the enormous privilege of being invited, in a sense, into their living rooms. From the first close-up of Eliezer Urbach's face as he describes his life in Poland when Hitler came to power, to Dr. Vera Schlamm's and Rose Price's recollections of their subhuman existence in multiple concentration camps, one cannot help but be gripped by these poignant chronicles. Especially heart-wrenching are Bob Kertesz's account of how he escaped the Jewish ghetto of Budapest only to be sent back, and Marion Parkhurst's encounter with the infamous Nazi butcher Dr. Josef Mengele, who visited her bedside after she delivered a baby in Bergen-Belsen.

The interviews with these remarkable people are interwoven with historical photographs and film footage. The juxtaposition of black-and-white clips with vibrant faces shining with hope as they recount their journeys before, during and after the Holocaust, does quite a bit to enhance the viewer's sense that this is a project about faith, not despair. The well-designed graphic treatments and sensitive musical touches lend continuity to the film so that it plays more like one narrative than a series of disjointed accounts. In truth, one hour seems insufficient to do these stories justice.

While some documentaries suffer from a detached air, such is not the case with Survivor Stories. It is apparent that there was a rapport between the off-screen interviewer and the subjects. The film feels as lovingly prepared as a priceless home movie, but is professionally produced. Certainly, the people featured in Survivor Stories deserve this kind of quality as much as they merit an audience.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the value of this video is multiplied exponentially. Those of us who did not experience the Holocaust firsthand can never truly comprehend it, nor can we really understand how faith triumphs over such terror, but this reviewer is grateful for this unparalleled chance to journey deeply into the lives of these heroes. This treasure of a video will surely survive the test of time.

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