Interview: Zach Sicherman
We welcome Zach Sicherman to the program this week. Zach is the producer of the Faithkeepers documentary, a documentary about Christian persecution happening in the Middle East. He has assisted in the production of dozens of films and educational courses and studied Middle Eastern History, Arabic, and Political Science at Bar-Ilan University. We’ll learn how Zach became involved in this important documentary about Christian persecution happening in the Middle East.
We also want you to be able to watch and share this powerful documentary. The persecution of our fellow believers in Jesus is real and happening all over the world today. Hebrews reminds us, “Remember those in prison as though you were in prison with them, and those ill-treated as though you too felt their torment.” In North America we do not usually hear about the persecution of saints. This documentary brings to light the realities of our fellow brothers and sisters.
Steve Conover: Hebrews 13, three reminds us to remember those in prison as though you were in prison with them. And those ill treated, as though you too felt their torment. The writer of Hebrews wants us to do more than just remember and pray for Christian persecution that's happening around the world, he wants us to empathize with them and put ourselves in their shoes. Have you ever taken the time to consider what it's like for a Christian pastor, at this very moment in prison with his family and congregation on the outside? This is The Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover.
Chris Katulka: And I'm Chris Katulka, and that's why today on the program we want to do more than just remember our brothers and sisters who are suffering persecution. We want to raise awareness of what's happening to them in the Middle East. Zach Sicherman, producer of the Faithkeepers documentary will join me today. Zach has assisted in the production of dozens of films and educational courses. He studied Middle Eastern history, Arabic and political science at Bar Ilan University, and has worked in several political think tanks like Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.
Zach will share about the Faithkeepers documentary. And then really talk about the rising Christian persecution that's happening in the Middle East.
Steve Conover: We look forward to your interview, Chris. In the news, over the years, several music artists have backed out of performing in Israel, succumbing to the pressures of the BDS movement. That stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. Recently music artist, Lana del Rey, canceled her show at Israel's Meteor Music Festival.
Chris Katulka: That's right, and after del Ray announced her cancellation, the BDS movement tweeted, "del Ray did the right thing." Well, here's my take. The BDS movement are just a bunch of progressive thugs who bully anyone for simply appearing in Israel. Lana del Rey or any artist who is pressured by the BDS movement should just take a few moments to read about how BDS is doing more to thwart peace than to advance it in Israel and the Middle East.
The University of Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, the Religious Freedom Institute, and Georgetown University's Religious Freedom Research Project released a study just a few years ago that Christians are the most widely targeted religious community suffering terrible persecution globally. You know, Christianity is the most persecuted faith around the world and that's why today I wanted to invite Zach Sicherman on the program to talk a bit about the work he's doing to raise awareness about Christian persecution in an area that's really near and dear to The Friends of Israel. It's the Middle East. Zach, welcome to the program.
Zach Sicherman: Thank you so much for having me, Chris.
Chris Katulka: Zach, you are a with us over the Internet. Where we're communicating with each other, but tell everyone, our listeners where you are right now.
Zach Sicherman: So, I'm actually in my home, right outside Jerusalem. I live in the Middle East. I actually was born in America. I'm Jewish and after high school I came to Israel. And I served in the IDF. And now I've made my home in Israel. And that's where I reside now, right outside Jerusalem with my wife and two kids.
Chris Katulka: Zach, you have spent a lot of time creating and building a documentary called Faithkeepers, which is a focus on Christian persecution that's happening in the Middle East. I want to ask you, number one, why this subject? And why was it important for you to raise awareness about Christian persecution in the Middle East?
Zach Sicherman: Sure. Yeah. So I'm basically, as you said, just a general overview, Faithkeepers is really about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. And what we try to do is really focus in on the persecution that has happened in recent years, but also show that this is sort of an historical thing. Something that's been happening over many centuries and especially starting with the 20th century. And we thought this was a very, very important subject to raise awareness on for a couple of different reasons. Number one, I think that, as I said, I'm Jewish and the people I work with here are also Jewish and we work with Christians as well.
But, I think that we have a sort of a shared history together and we were seeing what was happening in the Middle East. And a genocide that sort of happened in the last couple of years with Isis, and we really felt it was a sort of familiar story and something that we've experienced in the past that we experienced in Europe. And also, what people don't know, and not everybody knows, it's also what the Jews experienced in Arab lands throughout the 20th century. And many Jews were kicked out of their communities, were persecuted, and worse. And so we really saw this as a sort of a connection in a familiar story that we really wanted to help, and you know, this is something that happened to us and this is something that we want to present to other people around the world.
Chris Katulka: I was amazed at how you really connected the Jewish community and the Christian community together. When I was watching the documentary Faithkeepers, when I was watching it, I was really struck by how well you connect the two dots there. The idea that number one, the whole thing is really about the Christian persecution that's happening in the Middle East, but you remind the watcher, you remind the person that's watching the documentary, "Hey, this isn't just something unique to Christians. Jewish people have suffered as well in the Middle East throughout the centuries."
And actually a lot of Jewish people that live in Israel today, their heritage, comes from countries like Libya, Iran, Iraq. Can you share a little bit about that and how the documentary raises awareness of both Christian persecution and Jewish persecution?
Zach Sicherman: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think well like I said it was, we tried to paint some broader strokes here, and to show a bigger picture here, and show that this sort of, and I don't want to draw this to an even bigger picture here. Another reason we focused in on this is because we feel that the major threat, and shall we say the major issue facing these Christian communities is this radical ideology of radical Islam. And it's a ideology that sort of faces the Jewish people in Israel. And it also it faces Christians, and any other minority really. And we really wanted to paint like a bigger picture and show how this is a, sort of an entire ideology that is sort of overtaking the region and really has posed a threat to everyone in the region, whether they're Christian or they're Jewish or are there any other minority.
And I think that there's a saying that goes at first in the Middle East, "That first comes Saturday and then comes Sunday." And the meaning of that phrase is that, you know, first they focused on the Jews, and you know, if you look at the statistics, it's really, really insane how, you know, a century ago in Iraq there was over 100,000, Jews and now there's maybe five Jews there.
Chris Katulka: Yes.
Zach Sicherman: And there's in Egypt, there was 80,000 Jews and now there's 20 and most. Again, even trying to track down those Jews that are left is very difficult. And we wanted to show that this is sort of the trend and what's happening with the Christian community as well. And those numbers are staggering too. And we felt that it was so important to raise that awareness and to make the connection to other people's shared experiences to show that this is what's happening.
And the beginning of the century, Christians were 20% of the Middle East and now they're 5% and trending downwards. And the Pew Study also says that probably by 2050 there'll be less than 3%. And so those are scary statistics. And like I said, if you know, we as the Jewish people, have experienced that really terrible things, and really seeing how that whole communities can be destroyed. And how important it is to make a stand and make sure that your communities and your faith, and your tradition survive.
Chris Katulka: And Zach, I'm just thinking as you're talking, you know, the one thing that for the Jewish people that faced persecution in the Middle East is they actually had somewhere to go, they went to Israel.
Zach Sicherman: Yeah,
Chris Katulka: They established a life in Israel. Many of my Israeli friends, they come from many of the lands that we're talking about, like I said earlier, Iran, Iraq, Libya. They have this heritage there, but now they live in safety and security in the land of Israel and they have a family there and a wonderful life. But I'm thinking of the Christian population in the Middle East, they don't have a country to go to.
Zach Sicherman: Right, right.
Chris Katulka: They basically, the only opportunity is to immigrate, migrate into the West. Isn't that true?
Zach Sicherman: Right. Yeah. And that's such an excellent point. And I can tell you that I've had that conversation with so many people that we interviewed for this film. You know, we visited a Kurdistan, northern Iraq. We also visited some of the Diaspora communities, a very big immigrant community in Michigan where there's a whole school that is basically, I think, 80% immigrant. And it's these different, mainly Christian communities that come there. And some people will say, "Well, I guess like the only choice is for them for to leave."
But the people don't want to leave and they want to hold onto that bastion of hope, and that we didn't want to hold onto their traditions, and their family, and their faith that, Christianity has a tremendous history in the Middle East. As I'm sure you and your listeners know and people don't want to leave. And I think that it beholds us to really do everything that we can to make sure that these communities stay and are established and can go back in safety.
Chris Katulka: You know, I was watching a bit of the documentary and I saw that one person that was talking, a man who converted from the Muslim faith to become a Christian. And he just looked right at the camera and he said, "If having devotion for Christ and loving Jesus is the problem, then I'm willing to risk my life for it." And I remember once hearing a Coptic Christian say, "We, in the Coptic church in Egypt, we just assume that we're going to be martyred for our faith." It's almost an assumption.
Zach Sicherman: Right.
Chris Katulka: That's the things that they talk about in their Sunday schools, if you will. And so listen, we're going to take a quick break here for a moment. Be sure to stick around.
Steve Conover: This year marks the 70th anniversary of Israel's rebirth as a nation. To mark this historic year, and for a limited time, we're offering the beautiful commemorative book, Israel Rising, The Land of Israel Reawakens.
Chris Katulka: Israel Rising is a stunning combination of the historic and contemporary. It transports us back in time more than 2000 years to uncover an ancient mystery and to celebrate Israel's miraculous journey from prophecy to the rebirth of a nation.
Steve Conover: Filled with compelling images of Israel, then and now, you will see for yourself the physical transformation of the- land within the last century. The result is a dramatic visual chronicle, and the perfect piece to commemorate this historical anniversary. To learn how you can purchase Israel Rising for a limited time, go to FOIRadio.org or call our listener line at (888)343-6940. Once again, that's FOIRadio.org, or call (888)343-6940.
Chris Katulka: Welcome back everybody. We have been talking with Zach Sicherman, who's the producer of a documentary called Faithkeepers, that raises awareness, really in the West about Christian persecution that's happening in the Middle East. And it's been a joy to be able to speak with him earlier. Zach, I noticed, I was just on your website and I noticed that you had 25 endorsements, 25 endorsements from Muslims on this issue. And I want to quote what Dr. Zuhdi Jasser says, he says, "Faithkeepers, the documentary Faithkeepers, is a timely film that raises public awareness of the plight of minorities under the oppressive forces of the Islamic movement and their regimes. It's patently absurd to claim that such an awareness is somehow anti Muslim. No. In fact, there is nothing more pro Muslim and pro Islam than shining a light on the tyrannical forces of the Islamic theocrats who suffocate free speech, religious freedom, and all minority voices including anti Muslim dissidence and reformers."
That's an amazing quote from Dr. Zuhdi Jasser.
Zach Sicherman: Yeah.
Chris Katulka: And, and could you talk a little bit about the Muslim side of this, because there are people that are complete ... Really what we're talking about here, this Christian persecution comes from radical Islamic forces. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Zach Sicherman: Yeah, sure. So as I mentioned earlier, I really think that what we try to do with the documentary, is sort of point to the fact that there is this radical ideology that is overtaking the region and really destroying everything. And that includes Muslim communities as well. There's the peaceful Muslims that don't want any part of this, and they're attacked for being the wrong kind of Muslim. Just as you know, Jews are attacked for their being the wrong kind of Jew and so forth with Christians, as well. And it's an ideology, it's a dangerous intolerant ideology that the entire Middle East faces. And I think that it's Zuhdi there said it so perfectly, and that this is something that Muslims themselves need to raise their voice about.
And there is a section within the movie also that we do point to my minority Muslims or people that are from minority Muslim communities in the Middle East that are screaming about this and saying this is insane and this is a total perversion of everything that we have been taught. And as for I know, there's always this feeling that every time you raise awareness about some of these types of things that you'll be called anti Islam, or that you have something against Muslims. And, I just think that what you're doing is you're putting a real incidents out there, you can't throw this, you can't hide this stuff. You can't say that you can't talk about it
And you what you're going to say to the kid, the 10 year old kid in the film that's talking about how they came and they said, "You're a Christian and we want to kill you, and we're going to destroy your family and your community." That, that 10 year old is a anti Muslim, he's reporting what's happening in front of his face, and he's reporting what's happening in the region and in this community. And I don't think that we should cower and not speak about these things.
Chris Katulka: You're right. And that was a great quote from Dr Juhdi Jasser. Zach, your story intrigued me because here's the thing, you're not a Christian, you're Jewish. And you live in Israel. And typically Christians would make a documentary on Christian persecution, and I would really expect a Jewish person to do a documentary on antisemitism. I was just listening to Ben Shapiro and he was joking around of course, about people converting to Judaism and then he was saying jokingly, we try to make converting to Judaism as hard as possible because we can joke around and say, "Are you sure you want to join the Jewish faith? There's a lot of persecution out there. It's not the easiest faith to join." But I would expect a Jewish person to highlight antisemitism that's happening globally now, even in Europe. But Zach, you focused on Christians. Tell us why.
Zach Sicherman: Well, I think, again, I think there's really two reasons and I think that, as I said, with the Jewish people have unfortunately, as you said, a long history of persecution. And we know what it's like to have your communities and your history destroyed. And have massacres happened to you. And really feel like there's no hope and I think that, that behooves us to see one that is happening to another community to shout the warning signs and say, raise awareness about this and say, "We got to stop this." We can't let this happen/. And we can't let whatever ideology is that's perpetrating it, we can't let them win. We can't let them destroy, get their way and destroyed these communities.
The other reason, again, I think is that I think that there's a common denominator here as you've said, is that the radical Islam really is an ideology that really is a danger to everyone, and to all different communities. And really there are no boundaries, unfortunately in that way. And what faces the Jews, so you today is the same thing that faces the Christians. As I said, the quote before, the "First comes Saturday and then comes Sunday." And we need to join together in this fight, and this raising awareness about it.
Chris Katulka: And it's important for us to be raising awareness friends because I'm going to be honest with you, the American Evangelical Church, even the Church in the West, we kind of live in a bubble here, and we can even be disconnected from the things that are happening in the Middle East and around the world. Even in China, the Christian persecution that's happening. And that's why I want to encourage you to watch Faithkeepers. It's an amazing documentary to raise awareness about the Christian persecution that's happening in the Middle East. The Jewish persecution that happened in the Middle East, highlighting even the blessing that Israel is in the entire world, that really they are the only Middle Eastern country where Christianity is thriving, where Judaism is thriving and where the Muslim faith is thriving.
So for our listeners, I encourage you to get this documentary into your church if possible. It's a fantastic film, Faithkeepersmovie.com. That's where you can watch a trailer of the Faithkeepers documentary, and you can find out more information on how you can screen the Faithkeepers documentary for your high school, your college campus, or even your community, or your church. Faithkeepersmovie.com. Zach, I want to thank you. I know you're busy. Thank you for taking the time to spend with us on the program today.
Zach Sicherman: Thank you so much for having me, Chris. Appreciate it.
Steve Conover: Now, apples of gold, a dramatic reading from the life and Ministry of Holocaust survivor Zvi Kalisher.
Mike Kellogg: I am in uniform again in the mountains where the winds blow fiercely in Israel. Vendettas can go for years. Both sides attack each other night and day and seem happy when they have out harmed the other. What will be the end of it. Only the Lord knows. Some lay awake at night thinking about these things, but I've gotten over it. They can shoot all the guns they have, but I have peace because I have a good protector, one whom few others have. The other night, someone awoke me. He was jealous that I could sleep during all the uproar. He asked, "How can you sleep at a time like this? With shells bursting all around us. Have you no fear?"
Quoting Psalm 56:3-4, I said, "When I am afraid, I will trust in God, I will not fear what can flesh do to me." I then told him, "One who has no faith must always be in fear. You must trust God to watch over you. We must be like sheep. They sleep securely when protected by a good shepherd, but quiver in fear when they are alone. My Lord said, 'I am the good shepherd, and I know my sheep, and I'm known by my own.'"
The man replied, "What does the parable mean? What are you trying to tell me?" I told him how Messiah, Jesus slept in the bottom of a boat on the Sea of Galilee while his disciples were terrified because of the fierce storm, and huge waves were raging around them. And when they woke him, he rebuked them saying, "Why are you fearful. O ye of little faith?" Matthew 8:26. I explained that I can sleep soundly because my shepherd watches over me. "Trust in the Lord," I told him, "and go to sleep." In the morning we will talk further. He then put his head down on the rocks, which we called the Hilton Hotel, and immediately went to sleep.
He slept soundly for two hours while the shooting continued. In the morning, we met again at the field kitchen. He said, "I slept like a child. What type of psychology did you use on me? I do not understand what this is all about, but if it is going to do for me what it has done for you, then I am ready to believe as you do."
I then asked him, "What do you think is better, to walk against the wind, or with the wind?"
"With the wind, of course," he answered.
"It is the same when you walk with the Lord," I explained. "You are never alone. He's always with you, and gives you strength. We're going through dangerous times now. Any moment might be our last. It would be terrible at such a time as this to deny the truth. How could a person reject the Lord who has given us new life, new thoughts and a wonderful future? The Lord told us, 'Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you a rest.' Is it not better to trust him than to walk in fear and worry?"
The soldier took the soup from the kitchen and sat down beside me and he said quietly, "I thank God that he gave me comfort. I now for you as if I were home even the shooting does not bother me anymore. There must be some great power from above. I can see what it has done for me." We became fast friends. Wherever I go, my new friend tags along. He seems to be a different person. He has no fear, and laughs, and talks to me all the time.
Steve Conover: Thank you for joining us today. We want to thank Zach Sicherman for being our guest. We'll put a link to the Faithkeepers website in our show notes. Faithkeepersmovie.com. That's Faithkeepersmovie.com. The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry has been sharing the love of the Messiah, and supporting Israel and the Jewish people since 1938. You can financially support The Friends of Israel Today Radio Ministry, visit FOIRadio.org. That's FOIRadio.org. Call our listener line at (888)343-6940. Again, that's (888)343-6940. Write to us at FOI radio, PO Box 914 Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099. Again, that's FOI Radio, PO Box 914 Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099.
Please let us know where you're listening when you call or write. Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, co written by Sarah Fern. Mike Kellogg read Apples of Gold. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong. I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide Christian ministry, communicating biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah while fostering solidarity with the Jewish people.
By Doug Hershey
This year marks the 70th anniversary of Israel’s rebirth as a nation. To mark this historic year and for a limited time, we are offering the beautiful commemorative book, Israel Rising: The Land of Israel Reawakens
Israel Rising is a stunning combination of the historic and contemporary. Filled with compelling images of Israel “then and now” you will see for yourself the physical transformation of the land within the last century. The result is a dramatic visual chronicle and the perfect piece to commemorate this historical anniversary.
Apples of Gold: The Peace of God
While Zvi was serving again in the Israeli Defense Force, he reflected on the peace of God. A soldier beside him one night was astounded that Zvi could actually sleep while bombs were bursting all around them. Zvi shared with him Psalm 56:3-4. We must not fear because God is protecting them. Then Zvi was able to talk more about the peace only the Messiah gives.
Zvi’s story is available in Elwood McQuaid’s book, “Zvi: The Miraculous Story of Triumph over the Holocaust,” available at our online store.
More stories from Zvi are also available in his book, “The Best of Zvi,” available at our online store.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.