Israel – my first love

Happy Independence Day! We celebrated this 72nd Independence Day of Israel with sushi, made by my amazing daughter.

Israel has always been on my heart. It has been unexplainable and supernatural. God took me here, and he kept me. I have always had an inner certainty that I belong in Israel. This is where my calling is. I am sure others have different callings, and I don’t want to be too judgmental – but how is it possible to be Jewish, believe in the Bible and not move to Israel? The Bible is so clear about where we belong.

I was born in 1982 in Sweden. I grew up hearing about my grandfather who lived over there, far away in Israel. I visited Israel for the first time and met my grandfather when I was 6 years old. I still remember how I admired the Israeli flags fluttering in the wind and I bought myself a small Israeli flag which I put up on the wall. It was there my entire childhood.

During my childhood, the love of Israel and my family’s calling to move home became more clear. We were part of a pro-Israel charismatic mega church. But somehow, I felt that God had put a love for Israel in me that exceeded what I saw among other congregants. The other believers also loved Israel, and they believed in God’s prophecies concerning Israel and that Israel was the chosen people. Still, for some strange reason they still cheered for Sweden against Israel in soccer…

As our Jewish identity became more and more important for my family, we started to keep Jewish feasts, and Sabbath, and my parents formed plans to move to Israel. I was ten years old, so I was not involved, but the enthusiasm and joy of moving back to our actual home was genuine.

The thought that one day we will move to Israel took root and became the central to me. At some point I heard a prayer that said “show your strength and bring us home from foreign lands to Jerusalem.” That’s when I realized that Sweden is a foreign country to me in the eyes of God. I was maybe 11 years old, I had lived in Sweden my entire life, I had almost no experience of Israel, and didn’t know any Hebrew. But I knew that from God’s point of view, Sweden is and remains a “foreign country” for me. Jerusalem is my home.

Did I build an imaginary picture of Israel in my head? It happens easily, especially for children. To think Israel is a paradise of God, to build a romantic, delusional image of how perfect everything is in Israel. But no, God must have protected me from that mistake. It was clear for me that Israel is not a paradise… yet!

In 1995, when I was 13, we immigrated. The aircraft landed. I was home. I stepped out and felt the cold night air and walked down the airplane stairs. My first words were “A small step for mankind but a giant leap for a man.” I knew that now – now I was finally home. After 2000 years of exile, I was finally home again.

Many people who build up such an intense love for Israel that I did, often build a false picture of what Israel is. It’s like being in love. You become intoxicated by love for your beloved, and you think she is perfect in every way. But once you have married and live together, you see that it is time to learn to live with each other’s faults and shortcomings. Many who move to Israel are often disappointed when they discover that Israel is not a land of angels dressed in white, riding camels and waving palm leaves all day. But thank God, I was never disappointed with Israel. I realized that Israel was not all that it will be, according to the Bible, and I didn’t think it would be. But I also knew that I was not alone in dreaming about the future of Israel. Isaiah dreamed it. And not just dreaming, he prophesied. If your dreams are consistent with prophecies, they will come true!

“This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord , to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” – Isaiah 2:1‭-‬5 NIV

We see here that Israel should be a blessing for all peoples and all nations. But how will it happen? We see that in Isaiah 4:

“In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire.” – Isaiah 4:2‭-‬4 NIV

So it is only when they have received the Lord’s branch – the Messiah – and their sins are washed away, that this prophecy can come true. And just because the country has not lived up to those dreams, to be a paradise on earth, it remains the basic dream. So it’s wrong to give up and leave when you are disappointed because of the unfulfilled dreams. Quite the contrary! The more problems and errors I found in the Israeli society, the social gaps, the economic conditions, the inequality, the more I felt compelled to stay to do everything in my power to help Israel achieve that dream. For as we read – Israel can not become what God wants Israel to be without the Messiah!

I can not change all of Israel by myself, but I can make myself and my family to be a part of the fulfillment of the scripture, I can be a light and an example, I can teach others and explain to them the Messiah. I can do everything in my power to fulfill God’s plan of salvation and prophecies to Israel. I need to strive for that day on which my Jewish brethren “look up to him that they have pierced” (Zech. 14)

In year 2000, when I turned 18, Two things that changed my life completely happened. The first was that I met my wife. The other thing was that my parents and siblings moved back to Sweden. I stayed in Israel. I really had no choice. God kept me here, I knew it. When I think back now, I realize that it must have been one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made. But it was not a tough decision to make, because I never decided myself. God decided for me.

The family moved, I went into the army. Got married. My oldest son was born two months before I finished the army. We lived in Ma’ale Adumim, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. We had a daughter in 2005.

In 2006 I was 24 and went through a crisis. I had a family to support; I was stuck at a dead-end job with poor wages, rising expenses and no possibility to afford higher studies. I considered moving back to Sweden, the land of free universities, at least for a few years. I now realize that it was like Elimelech’s situation in the book of Ruth. Elimelech’s decision to emigrate to Moab was wrong and only led to more problems. You have to put your trust in God! Trust that God will take on his people! It’s easy to say so in theory, but putting it into practice, when one’s own survival and future of one’s children is at stake, is far more difficult. It is very easy to allow the human mind to take over. I was mad and frustrated at the rich managers of my job who were wealthy themselves, but kept me at a close-to-minimum wage. When my wife and I were thinking about this, we happened to read Psalm 37. It was like God spoke directly to me.

“Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord , and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord ; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.” – Psalms 37:1‭-‬9 NIV

Inherit the land!

Everything came back to me! My childish love for Israel, which had always been there. God’s call to remain in the country when the family moved. Israel was my home. My only home. Sweden remains “a foreign country” in that respect. I could live nowhere else. Sure, there were many faults and shortcomings. The problems one faces as a worker with no college degree and a family to support I had experienced myself. But earthly difficulties are not a reason to move. God calls Israel to become a praise on the earth, and as we saw with Elimelech, we’ll only make it worse if we leave Israel. If there’s there a problem, if something is wrong, then it’s my duty to stay, to do everything I can to improve the country. The land can never fulfill God’s plan until everyone turn to the Messiah of Israel.

“For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord , give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” – Isaiah 62:1‭, ‬6‭-‬7 NIV

So there we were. No difference in the earthly circumstances, but what an inner change, or perhaps a re-awakening! My congregation helped me find scholarships, and I started studying Economics at the Open University, combining it with work and family. My third and fourth child were born, I was hired as the accountant in a ministry, and we moved to Jerusalem. I finally graduated and got my BA in Economics in 2016. That’s when I started to write my book – because I always have a new vision.

The way God has led me in this way and brought me into this wonderful work has been fantastic!

God brought me to Israel and God has kept me here ever since. Israel is my eternal homeland, my ancestors’ homeland. This is where I intend to stay whatever happens, and this is where my children are growing up.

Independence Day 2019 – when we could be outside without masks

This article originally appeared on Tuvia’s blog, April 28, 2020, and reposted with permission.