What Shall We Eat?
When the ancient Israelites arrived in the Promised Land, it was “flowing with milk and honey.” But when the Jewish pioneers arrived in the 19th and 20th centuries, it was as barren as a stone. This article, written in 1953 when the State of Israel was just 5 years old, provides a glimpse of the nation’s arduous journey from a struggling, startup country to the prosperity it enjoys today.
Nothing aggravates people so much as lack of food. Israel’s Minister of Trade, Dr. Dov Joseph, is in charge of the country’s food supply. A tremendous responsibility. Like a housewife with a pitiful allowance, he is trying to provide a very large family not only with sufficient food, but with food that is palatable.
Dr. Joseph might plead like Moses, “Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people?” (Num. 11:13, KJV). He is the target of bitter complaints and the butt of barbed jokes.
Recently thousands of inhabitants at four [Jewish] refugee camps held demonstrations to protest against the delay in the provision of permanent winter accommodations. Some 35,000 families still live in makeshift huts and tents. The government is trying hard to move them to more sheltered homes before the onset of the rainy season, with its cold and miseries.
This small country was not prepared to receive such an overflow of immigrants. Consequently, many live under primitive conditions—in tents, huts, and semipermanent small houses.
In the suburbs of the big cities, like Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Jerusalem, there is an almost feverish tempo of building. Blocks of modern apartment houses are going up. Israel is being rapidly urbanized.
But close to the big cities are those wretched and depressive camps, giving insufficient shelter to the unfortunate families who are exposed to miseries of cold, rain, quagmires, undernourishment, and disease.
It is almost uncanny how prophecy in a thousand details is being fulfilled in Israel today. In Zephaniah 2:7 (KJV) we read,
And the coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah; they shall feed thereupon: in the houses of Ashkelon shall they lie down in the evening: for the LORD their God shall visit them, and turn away their captivity.
Ancient Ashkelon has disappeared. But out of the dust and ashes of an ancient, ruined Ashkelon is blossoming forth a new, beautiful, modern Israeli city. And the children of Israel in these last days do “lie down” in the houses of modern Ashkelon.
Many of the immigrants arrived in poor physical condition caused by years of stark horror and untold misery. The government is making a valiant effort to give medical care to all the inhabitants free of charge or at a nominal fee. But there is a lack of doctors, nurses, hospitals, medicine, and drugs—especially in rural areas.
The region owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Christian missions, which have brought hygiene and medical care to the Holy Land. The first hospital in Jerusalem was founded by The Church Missions to Jews early in the 19th century. There, for more than 100 years, thousands of Jews and Arabs found practical compassion and help in times of sickness and trouble. Many Jews also found Christ as their own Messiah. Today this mission hospital has been taken over by the Israeli government and forms part of the Hadassah Hospital.
Early and Late Immigrants
For centuries, every pious Jew dreamed of ending his days in the land of his fathers and to be buried in its sacred soil. The believing Jew hoped that when the trumpet of the Messiah should resound, he might be among the first to rise from the dead and greet the Redeemer-Messiah.
The Zionist movement was born toward the end of the 19th century out of the ageless yearning of the Jewish people to return to their homeland and as a result of the grim persecution in Russia and other parts of Europe.
There is a basic difference between the earlier Zionist settlers and recent immigrants. The former were mostly young people who abandoned their old way of life and promising careers to come to Israel and give themselves to the country. However, a good many of the recent arrivals came because there was nowhere else to go. These unfortunate people arrived not only penniless, but often physically and morally incapable of shouldering the responsibilities of a pioneer life. Many have lived so long in camps, being pushed around, regimented, and told what to do and what not to do, that some have lost their independence and the willingness to take care of themselves. Remember the generation that left Egypt? It took many years before they could rid themselves of the scars slavery inflicted.
Israel’s army plays a dual role. Besides defending the land from hostile neighbors, it also has a constructive, educational role in the physical and moral reclamation of Israel’s citizens and land.
Military service in Israel is compulsory and lasts two years. Both men and women are subject to it. The first year of service is spent learning Hebrew and becoming physically acquainted with the length and breadth of the land, its history, and its traditions. They are also taught how to cultivate the land.
E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One)
The diversity of the people who arrive in Israel presents a serious situation fraught with many dangers. They are all Jews; yet they differ in speech, in education, in their way of thinking and way of life, and even in their physical character. Morally, spiritually, culturally, and politically, they are often worlds apart.
Israel’s populace is a veritable cloak of many colors, producing continuous ferment with currents and crosscurrents. Israel is a land and a people in the hand of God, a nation in the throes of birth.
Today, in the face of mounting economic difficulties in Israel, the tidal wave of immigration has subsided to a mere trickle. Yet the basic aspiration of the new state, the ingathering of the exiles, has been largely accomplished. The immigration camps of Germany, where hundreds of thousands of the pitiful survivors of Hitler’s massacres or of Stalin’s labor camps in Siberia lived huddled together, are now mostly empty of Jews.
There remains in the world now only two great reservoirs for possible immigration to Israel: Russia, with 2.5 million Jews, where Zionism is considered a crime punishable by death, and America, with more than 5 million Jews. The Russian Jews cannot emigrate. Few American Jews wish to.
Will Israel Succeed?
Most Jewish people and their friends say yes. Their foes say no. We believe Israel will succeed. A new generation is growing up in Israel, a generation born into freedom. These Jewish people are different from their fathers, who were heirs of the ghettos and survivors of the cruelest oppression in human history.
Yet, if we may say it with all reverence, the greatest of Israel’s assets is her God. “Behold, He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:4, KJV).
After all, Israel is God’s greatest experiment with any nation. “You only have I known of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2, KJV). “Ye are my witnesses” (Isa. 43:10, KJV). God has a plan and a purpose for His people. Can He be frustrated or defeated? In the long run, He is bound to perform His blessed will toward Israel and mankind, that Israel may be a people to the glory of God.
The present turn of events in Israel is God’s latest move on the prophetic checkerboard. Prophetic events have a disconcerting way of materializing in an imperceptible, unexpected, and yet most natural way, so people say, “Well that was natural. That was bound to come.” Then they proceed to rationalize and put forth political, economic, or other explanations of these events. Good ones too. Yet behind them all is God’s hand, shaping and forming the destiny of His people.
Israel is a bridgehead land joining three vast continents: Asia, Europe, and Africa. It is the world’s heartland. Thus the stage is set for a future thrust toward Israel. We do not know when it will be. But we can see already how such an invasion of the Holy Land and the Battle of Armageddon becomes possible, even probable.
But before that day comes—the Day of Armageddon, the Day of the Lord’s appearance to shield and protect His people, the day when Israel will repent and turn to the Lord nationally—other events must take place. Israel must first succeed economically and politically.
It will become a country well organized, with a sense of security, a country of unwalled cities, luscious fields, and fruit-laden orchards—the envy of her neighbors. These things are bound to come in their proper time. The Lord has ordained it. Who can say, “Nay, it shall not be”?