A few months ago, our Jews for Jesus U.S. board of directors visited the city of Prague in the Czech Republic. From there we traveled to nearby Theresienstadt, a concentration camp that was the major deportation site for Hitler’s most infamous camps—Auschwitz, Buchenwald and many others.
Theresienstadt holds the only remaining crematoria, a vestige of the Nazis attempt to carry out their awful “final solution.” Because of their monstrously painstaking record keeping, we know who was cremated on what day and where their ashes were buried. Jewish families today can visit with certainty the spot where their loved ones’ remains were interred. This was especially meaningful for us because one of our European board members had told us that his aunt, his mother’s sister, was buried there.
When he learned I would be visiting Theresienstadt, my friend gave me the location of his aunt’s gravestone. Then he told me a remarkable story. His aunt was murdered in Theresienstadt on May 15, 1945. His mother, her sister, had died this year, also on May 15, exactly 70 years later to the day. To me this was no mere coincidence, but a powerful symbol of the irony of Jewish history: death and yet life, slaughter and yet survival.
Several of us stood by the aunt’s grave and recited together the ancient Jewish prayer known as kaddish. “Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba …Magnified and Sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world…”
To sanctify God’s name or perform “kiddush ha Shem,” is considered to be the highest honor for a religious Jew. To set God apart from all others, to declare to the world that He is holy—this is the very reason God called the Jewish people into existence. Our continued existence despite constant efforts throughout history to wipe us out bears witness to a holy God who keeps His promises. We are a people of destiny created by a holy God to bear witness to both the tragedy and the triumph of the Lord Himself and of His special people.
The following day we visited the Jewish quarter of old Prague. Very few Jews are left there, and we had a deep sense of the connection between that once bustling Jewish community and the place of buried ashes we’d seen just the day before. First we visited the Ashkenazi synagogue, an old and simple yet well-maintained Jewish house of worship. Nearby were plaques with the names of all the Jews of Prague who had been deported to concentration camps, most likely through Theresienstadt.
We felt compelled in that place at that moment to stand together and sing the Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” Recited every day in the synagogue, Jews throughout the ages have also recited this ancient Jewish declaration of faith from Deuteronomy 6:4 upon approaching their own death. These words sanctify God’s name and they have been on the lips of Jewish martyrs in every generation.
After that we visited the Spanish Synagogue, a beautifully ornate synagogue with high ceilings that capture a powerful sense of awe and holiness. During World War II, Adolph Hitler chose to keep that synagogue “untouched” for the purpose of having a place to store confiscated artifacts and furniture once belonging to the Jews of Prague. He intended to call it, “Museum of an Extinct Race.”
While the Spanish Synagogue is used for religious purposes on occasion, weekly synagogue services do not take place there. Instead, it has been repurposed for tours and evening music concerts. We went back that evening for an amazing concert of classical music, as well as some contemporary Czech melodies. Among the most moving for me to hear was HaTikvah (The Hope), the Israeli national anthem.
How ironic that the lyrics to this music, so well known to Jews worldwide, were written in 1886 by Naphtali Herz Imber, a Jewish poet originally from Bohemia, and that the melody was originally a Bohemian folk song. There in that synagogue, as the music soared to the heavens, the sense of destiny was inescapable. Hitler had lost. Satan was thwarted. We are not extinct. Out of the ashes of the Holocaust came a hope and a future for the Jewish people and Hitler’s “dream” of a world with no Jews was forever buried.
I look at history and I read my Bible—and I see God’s hand of providence in both the survival of the Jewish people and the reality that, once again, the nation of Israel is back in the land God promised to Abraham and his descendants. These bear witness not only to the existence of a sovereign God, but also to His faithfulness to keep all of His promises.
Whether in faith or in doubt and disobedience, the Jewish people are indeed a people of destiny and evidence of God’s promise-keeping power.
This month in Israel and all around the world, Jewish people will observe the “High Holiday” Feasts of the Lord: the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement. I believe such observances continue to point out that the God of the Bible exists. Christians can take great encouragement to know that “Am Yisrael Chai,” the people of Israel live. Whether in faith or in doubt and disobedience, the Jewish people are indeed a people of destiny and evidence of God’s promise-keeping power.
In the same way, all of us who follow Jesus, whether Jew or Gentile are also a people of destiny. The apostle Peter tells us: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Jewish people prove we are a people of destiny by our very existence. Christ-followers prove it by proclaiming His praises. Our lives and our words ought to sanctify His great name throughout all the earth.
The name of Jesus on the lips of those martyred in Libya or North Korea was a powerful story to the truth of our Lord. Think of the Christlike forgiveness that family members of the victims of the Charleston massacre extended for the love of Jesus; this too testifies to His great name throughout the earth.
How will each one of us fulfill our destiny? By declaring His praise among the peoples. That is what we’ve been doing in every Jews for Jesus outreach around the world, and I invite you to share with us in this destiny for His saints.
Let me give you a special way to do that this month for the Jewish people. Go to a well stocked greeting card store and buy a card for the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) to send to someone you know who is Jewish. Write in it something like this: “Because I love God, I am thankful to Him for the Jewish people. Your life continually reminds me of His faithfulness to keep His promises. Happy New Year! Your Friend ___.” Then watch and see what God will do with your declaration of faith.
David Brickner is also an author, public speaker and avid hiker. Find out more about David, his writings, speaking schedule and possible availability to speak at your church.