FOI DNA Roundtable, Part 1
You probably know The Friends of Israel serves and blesses the Jewish people and teaches biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, but do you really know what The Friends of Israel is all about? Here to give you an up-close-and-personal look at our ministry are the men who know it best. Executive Director Jim Showers, North American Ministries Director Steve Herzig, and International Ministries Director Mike Stallard present our ministry’s storied timeline in part 1 of a 2-part look at The Friends of Israel (FOI).
We have historic roots dating back to the beginning of the Holocaust, before Israel was even reestablished as a nation! Working your way through the early decades of ministry, you’ll discover the people responsible for beginning and extending the ministry’s work and the inception of our beloved magazine, Israel My Glory. There’s a lot of FOI knowledge in the room for this week’s roundtable discussion, so settle in to hear the story of the work this ministry has done in the name of Jesus the Messiah for more than 80 years!
You can learn more about the history of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry on Our History page.
As mentioned in this program, Zvi Kalisher was an amazing witness for Christ and though he is now with the Lord, he continues to be a blessing to FOI. You can read his life story in Elwood McQuaid’s book, Zvi: The Miraculous Story Of Triumph Over the Holocaust. Order your copy today!
(Above photo: The founders of The Friends of Israel. Seated from left to right: Lydia Buksbazen, Dr. Victor Buksbazen, Judge Edward Griffiths, Rev. Theo Wray, Robert Grasberger, and Der. Walter Riemann. Standing, left to right: Victor Buksbazen Jr., Rev. Stewart Rankin, secretaries Miss M. Hutison and Miss E. Phillips, Robert Ekeland, Dr. Melvin Forney, Lester O’Flaherty, Mrs. Mary Smith, and Robert Wolf.)
Chris Katulka: Thursday, January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day set aside to honor the six million Jewish victims and millions of helpless others who became victims under Nazi rule. May we never allow the horrors of the Holocaust to fade into the mist of time. Will you join us this International Holocaust Remembrance Day and reaffirm your unwavering support for the Jewish people by doing your part to help counter antisemitism around the world? May God bless those whose lives today are still impacted by the horrors of the Holocaust.
Steve Conover: Welcome to the Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover. With me is our host and teacher, Chris Katulka. We want to invite you to join us for our online conference, Awaken, March 4th and 5th. It's not too late to register. Awaken will open your eyes to God's Word and equip you for the coming day of the Lord, the rapture of the church, and the restoration of God's kingdom. Visit foiconferences.org to register or to learn more. Again, that's foiconferences.org.
Chris Katulka: Today on our program, I'm very excited. We're going to have a round table discussion talking about the DNA of our organization, the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. With me, joining me today is going to be Dr. Jim Showers, he's the Executive Director of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Dr. Mike Stallard, who's the Director of our International Outreach, and Steve Herzig, who's the Director of our North American Outreach of the Friends of Israel. It's going to be a great time to talk about the history and the mission that makes up the Friends of Israel and what we're doing today to continue to advance the ministry that God has blessed us with.
Steve Conover: We're looking forward to having our guests with us. But first in the news, you may have heard that on January 16th, a Pakistani man held four Jewish people hostage for more than 10 hours at the Texas synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel. The terrorist could be heard demanding the release of a Pakistani neuroscientist convicted of trying to kill U.S. Army officers in Afghanistan. The FBI raised eyebrows when they reported the hostage-takers' demands were not “specifically related to the Jewish community,”
Chris Katulka: Steve, I was just down in Texas when this happened. I was there that weekend in Dallas, and it became a topic of conversation as I was speaking at the church that I was visiting. But the FBI, it just, it baffled me to read that the FBI said that “the hostage takers’ demands were not specifically related to the Jewish community.” It just shows that the FBI doesn't understand the realities of anti-semitism in the world today to simply brush this event off as a nothing to do with the Jewish community. The reality is that the Jewish people, they only make up 2% of the US population. Yet, they deal with 60% of hate crimes committed in America. The FBI just simply glanced over the crimes that were committed toward the Jewish community. Let's continue to lift up our Jewish friends in prayer.
Chris Katulka: Well, this is a joy to have Dr. Jim Showers, Dr. Mike Stallard, and Steve Herzig in the studio to talk about the history of Friends of Israel. A couple weeks ago, the production team got together. Me, Steve, and Tom, and we thought to ourselves, in seven years of doing radio now, we really haven't spent time talking about the history of our organization. And I think that's really important for our listeners to hear who we are, why we exist, how we came to be, and what we're doing today at the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry.
I know a lot of people know the Friends of Israel either through the radio program, or even through Israel My Glory Magazine. Sometimes I go to a church and they say, "Hey, Chris. Yeah, you're with Israel My Glory." Goes, "No, I'm with Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry." And so this is a great time for us to share with our listeners about who we are, the ethos of who we are, why God gave us this mission, what was going on around the time that Friends of Israel came into existence. So I'm very excited to have you gentlemen with us. And Jim, I'm actually going to start with you, because Friends of Israel was started in 1938, 83 years ago. And before we get to the story of the founding of Friends of Israel, let's first talk about the historical context surrounding the birth of our organization here. And I'm talking about the Holocaust. So maybe you'd fill in some of the gaps there.
Dr. Jim Showers: Sure, Chris, thanks for allowing me to come today and talk about this because I love talking about the history of our organization. But without the Holocaust, there would be no Friends of Israel Today. And so we start with the Holocaust because it is the event that led to the founding of this organization. And if people remember their history, the world history from the 1930s, it was a dark period of time in world history, dominated by what was going on in Nazi Germany, particularly in Europe. As the Nazis came to power in the early 30s, we see the beginning of the Holocaust. A lot of people say the Holocaust begins with World War II. And for years, that's what I thought too.
But when you really begin to study it, you see that the Holocaust began with the rise of Nazis in 1933. When they take power, they immediately pass laws against the Jewish people. It was one of the first things they did, one of their first initiatives was to pass laws against the Jewish people, limiting their ability to move, to own property. And they begin losing their freedoms and it just escalates. It just continues to grow greater and greater, the persecution against the Jewish people.
So there are some people that still hold to World War II as the Holocaust, but you talk to a Jewish person, I read this once. And it just thought this was really well said. You talk to a Jewish person who lived in Germany in the 1930s, and they will tell you the Holocaust began in 1933, because that's when their life changed for the worst. The greatest tragedy of the Holocaust certainly was during World War II and the genocide that occurred there, the mass murder of the Jewish people, but the persecution, the suffering began in 1933 and just escalated up from there. Every year, it just got worse.
The precipitating an event that led to the founding of this organization was Kristallnacht, November 9th, the night of November 9th and 10th, was the riots that were organized by the Nazis. The event they used to form and move people to rise up against the Jewish people was the murder of a German official in Paris by a young Jewish man. He was frustrated. And so he goes into the German offices there and murders a German government official. And so the Nazis used that to stir up the people in Germany. And there were these riots, the pogroms they called them, riots, against the Jewish people that night. Jewish people were murdered. Many were beaten. Women were raped. Synagogues were burnt.
The books were pulled out of the synagogues and burnt in the streets. And the synagogues were burnt to the ground. Jewish businesses were raided, things stolen, things throwing out into the street. And Jewish homes, they were throwing personal goods out into the street. It was just a terrible night, 15,000 Jewish people were put on a train and sent to a work camp as a result of these riots. So we see major organizations. The beginning of the deportation of the Jewish people probably began there. And it was just three weeks later on December 1st, 1939, that the Friends of Israel came into existence.
Chris Katulka: We're talking about what was going on during that time and the events, and you summed it up perfectly. Kristallnacht was really that driving force that drove our organization to be created. But what was going on over here in the Philadelphia area? I mean, because this wasn't a Jewish organization.
Dr. Jim Showers: Yes.
Chris Katulka: Jim, these were Christians that actually stood up during this time.
Dr. Jim Showers: Right. And while that was a precipitating event that led to the formation of this organization, it wasn't that event that just suddenly caused some Christians to say, "We have to start an organization." There was a group in the city of Philadelphia that was watching what was going on in Germany. They had a real burden. And if you understand the times, it was a unique time. We were in the midst of the depression. And so in the US, the laws at that time for immigration required that you either proved that you had adequate finances to support yourself, or you had to have somebody in the US sponsor you. So for the vast number of Jewish people who were trying to escape what was going on in Germany, they couldn't get to the US because Germany passed laws that restricted how much wealth you could take if you left the country. It was just a few hundred dollars and one suitcase. And that was it. You had to leave everything else behind.
So you didn't have a way of supporting yourself when you came to the US. And the Christians in Philadelphia really were influenced by a prophecy conference movement that began at the beginning of the 20th century here in Philadelphia. It grew so large that it expanded in all four directions of the city. They were turning people away because they were packing the place out. Now, that prophecy conference movement had great influence. It led to the formation of a school here in Philadelphia to train men who would be dispensational in their view of Scripture. And it led to other movements.
So in Philadelphia, there was a group coming together who was meeting to pray for what was going on. But if you understand anything about Genesis 12:3, the verse that you and I are familiar with, where God in his covenant promised Abraham that he would "bless those who bless you and curse him who curses you," the understanding there is that the word for blessing is an active word. You can't just think about something. You have to do something. And God's standard is pretty high. You have to do something significant to bless the Jewish people if you want God to significantly bless you. On the other hand, the cursing is a very low threshold. If you simply disparage, if you speak against somebody, you've cursed them. But the second curse in that verse is a very high curse. So God says, "If you do something as simple as speak against the Jewish people, I will curse you. I will come down with a curse."
The gentleman and believers who founded the Friends of Israel understood all that. And they understood that to bless the Jewish people, it wasn't just enough to pray. The easy thing is to say, "I really am concerned for you. I'm going to pray for you." But you don't lift a finger to help somebody. That's not blessing. Blessing is when you get involved and do something. And so in the situation with which they live, they understood getting Jewish people out of Germany. And those that were getting out were becoming refugees.
The greatest need was to help with the refugees. So they formed the Friends of Israel Refugee Relief Committee. It says everything about what was the priority for them then. It also says everything about their theology. Because of having studied prophecy, understanding the Scriptures teach that there is a future for the Jewish people, that God would bring the Jewish people back to the land and raise them up to be a nation. In 1938, when we began, there was no Israel. It was just a dream. And yet, they believed that that was going to happen according to the Word of God, because the prophet said so. And if the prophet said so, they were speaking God's words. And God said he would do this. So in faith, they named our organization the Friends of Israel from its founding. And I find that incredible. It tells me everything about what they believed about the Word of God and what God's future plans were for the Jewish people.
Chris Katulka: Yeah. I love what you said, Jim. The original name of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry was actually the Friends of Israel Refugee Relief Committee. And when we come back from our break, we're going to open up the discussion here to Steve and Mike. I really wanted Jim to have time to talk about the history of who we are, but I wanted to open up to Steve and Mike too to talk about what were we doing during this time to help the Jewish people, as we were called the Friends of Israel Refugee Relief Committee? We've got a fantastic time coming up. So you're going to want to be sure to stick around. We'll see you on the other side.
Steve Conover: We learn in verse Timothy 4:13 to take heed to doctrine. Doctrine is vitally important to the Christian life. And yet today, even Christians take unbiblical stances merely because they're popular. Yet, God's Word is true and unchanging. We are thankful to the Lord that the leaders of the Friends of Israel have never wavered on doctrine. That's since our founding in 1938.
Chris Katulka: That's right, Steve, the Friends of Israel has held true to our doctrine. And we actually even produced a booklet called Here We Stand, which captures 19 key Christian beliefs that we value here at our ministry. As you read through it, you're going to see that we hold true to the gospel of Jesus Christ is paramount and essential to teaching. You'll also see that Jesus's first coming was an important part of God's greater and glorious plan to redeem all of creation at a second coming. And we hold true to the fact that God has a plan and future for Israel and the Jewish people.
Steve Conover: You can purchase your copy of Here We Stand: 19 Key Christian Beliefs by going to foiradio.org. Again, that's foiradio.org.
Chris Katulka: Welcome back everybody. We are talking about the origins of the Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. And in the previous segment, Dr. Jim Showers just gave a fantastic overview of the surrounding events happening in Germany that ultimately led to the birth of the Friends of Israel. And the events, the biblical reason why we exist as an organization, a Christian organization, that has been around since 1938, 83 years, ministering to Jewish people. And where that heart comes from, Genesis 12:3, "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you." But Mike, at or around the conclusion of the Holocaust, we actually changed our name from the Friends of Israel Refugee Relief Committee to the Friends of Israel Missionary and Relief Society. Victor Buksbazen, who actually became our very first Executive Director, knew that our work wasn't over after World War II, after the Holocaust ended. In fact, his heart was in Poland. Can you share a little bit about that?
Mike Stallard: Well, it was very natural that his heart was in Poland since he was Polish. He was a good man. And I like what Jim noted about some Jewish people who think the Holocaust started in 1933, the rise of the Nazis and their takeover of Germany and all that they did. But the end of World War II was not the end of all of their sufferings. There's a nasty aftermath to the Holocaust. And after World War II, relief and aid is still needed by the Jewish people. Chris, just put yourself in the shoes of a Jewish person who maybe has survived one of the concentration camps. And afterwards, there's the organization issue of the armies coming in and all that, and what are they trying to do? And many of them are going to try, obviously, to go back home.
And when they get there, what are they going to find? They're going to be looking for relatives. They may or may not find them. They're going to find their businesses are gone. They're going to find that their land's taken and their homes are not available, many of them. And so they had to start over at zero. No wealth, definitely people who needed some help just to make it to the next day, to the next week. And even today, we see that Eastern European Jewish people are poor. They're not rich. Where the Holocaust just ripped the heart out of Jewery. They're poor and they need help even today. And so Victor Buksbazen's assessment was correct. FOI had to keep on doing what it was doing during World War II, after the war, had to keep doing it in order to love the Jewish people and to be faithful to Genesis 12:3.
Chris Katulka: Yeah. And that became really important for us, and especially in our name change as well. From Friends of Israel Refugee and Relief Committee to the Friends of Israel Missionary and Relief Society, we continue to reach out to the Polish people, the Jewish people living in Poland at that time. And I like what you said too. That's where he was from. That's where he came to know the Lord as his Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And so I know that his heart was directed toward Poland. Steve, I can't help but think that during this time, during the Holocaust, Israel's independence in 1948, Israel continued to minister to Jewish people. But it was during this time that a Holocaust survivor that we all know and love here, and for a lot of our listeners, they know and love as well. Zvi Kalisher came to faith in the Lord Jesus while he was in Israel. This is interesting. How did Zvi make his way from a Jewish young man who comes to faith in the Lord Jesus, to the Friends of Israel? That's quite a leap there.
Steve Herzig: It is quite a leap. And Zvi Kalisher had a testimony. And part of that testimony was in the middle of the war of independence. There was a break. I find that fascinating. There's a break like the halftime of a football game. And he's sitting on a park bench and a woman hands him a little Bible, and he begins to read that. And he doesn't really understand it. And he begins his search. And that's significant because as he is back fighting the war and the war's over, he's walking along the street and he hears music. And this music isn't like anything he ever heard before.
It's actually the meeting of believers in the new state of Israel. There's believers there. He wonders about that, talks to the person, comes outside, talks with him. Well, Chris, ultimately, he came to faith. And our listeners, I hope they buy the book Zvi so they could read that story written by Elwood McQuaid. But the point is he becomes a believer. And I got news for you, Chris. There weren't that many people in Israel believing in Jesus.
Chris Katulka: That's right.
Steve Herzig: And word gets round. It gets around from the people who are unbelievers, but it gets around from the few who are believers. In the meantime, Victor Buksbazen is very interested in what's going on. He's involved in foreign work, as Mike just said. And he finds out about this young Polish believer and gets in contact with him. They become really good friends. He ends up coming on with Friends of Israel. And Chris, what's interesting, Zvi ends up with a grand…actually, son, Victor. He names him after Victor Buksbazen. It's an amazing story.
Chris Katulka: It's an amazing story. And if I can just say too, if I remember correctly, Zvi at that time himself would be considered a refugee. So it was Victor's desire to help him at that time financially. And that's how part of the relief component of the Friends of Israel brought Zvi to our organization in that way, if I remember correctly.
Steve Herzig: Absolutely. And he was a refugee, and I got to tell you, it was hard enough for a Jewish person trying to make it in the new state of Israel, let alone for a Jewish person who is a believer in the Lord Jesus. Frequently, when he got a job, he would lose the job. When he found a place to live, he'd get kicked out of that place to live. And Victor became very aware of that. And ultimately, I could tell you stories, we don't have enough time here, but I can tell you stories of Zvi Kalisher and the number of instances that he impacted even here in this country, because Friends of Israel ultimately bring him, in the '70s, brought him to the United States where he interfaced with all kinds of people. It's an amazing story.
Chris Katulka: And even though he is with the Lord now, he is still impacting people's lives. Gentlemen, we've been talking about the outreach of the Friends of Israel, how we've been reaching out to help the Jewish people in a physical, tangible way to help them to help deliver them from the Nazis, from Hitler's tyranny, giving them food, clothing, during their darkest moments, going into Poland, going into Israel. But Jim, at the heart of this, we've maintained the importance of teaching biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah. And that comes through our publication that we've had around since 1942, Israel My Glory. Can you talk about the story of that a little bit?
Dr. Jim Showers: Sure. Israel My Glory begins four years, to the day, from when this ministry was founded. It also marks the beginning of Victor's ministry with us. Victor was not one of the founders of this ministry. It was founded by a group of Christians in the city of Philadelphia. But four years into it, they realized they needed an executive director. Victor, he and his wife with their small child had booked passage from London on a Polish freighter to Manhattan. And Victor, if you read some of his story, he talks about how for 11 nights, he and his wife spent the night on their knees praying that God would protect them from the U boats and allow them to make it. And he makes it to Brooklyn. And he's here just a few months when Friends of Israel reaches out to him and says, "We need someone to come full time and direct the ministry."
And that's how God brought him to us. At the same time, we began Israel My Glory. Israel My Glory is one of the ways that we proclaim biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah. And we've been doing that now for 80 years. This is our 80th year for the magazine. But back in the first issue, Chris, you'll appreciate this. They were talking about, "Why are they going to publish a magazine? Why are they going to publish this periodical called Israel My Glory?" And they put this statement in there and I love reading it to people. So let me read it to you. It says, "We are naming this periodical Israel My Glory to call it tension to the fact that God is not through with the Jewish people. He has promised that one day, he will endow Israel with spiritual power and zeal, and use this nation as powerful preachers when Christ comes to earth to establish His kingdom."
For 1900 years, the Jews have, as a nation, rejected Christ as their Messiah. But one day they will accept Him. It is difficult, therefore, for us remembering their past history to believe that God should ever call them ‘his glory.’ But this he has done. And in naming our quarterly Israel My Glory, we desire to remind ourselves of God's irrevocable promises to Israel and of his benevolent purpose in choosing them to be the human channel through which Christ should come and the channel also of future blessing." It all comes through…Christ came through Israel, all of our blessings come through Israel. And so our magazine, the title of it, the name of it is a reminder of that.
Chris Katulka: And Jim, I love when you read that. I feel like it's something that we could pluck out of an article that was written in our most recent issue of Israel My Glory. There's a continuity, a stream that we remain true to our moorings, to who we are as an organization, why God called us. Hey, and look. That's why y'all are going to be back next week. And we're going to be talking about not only what Friends of Israel has done in the past, but we're going to talk about what we're doing today. So I'm looking forward to being with you all.
Steve Conover: Thank you for joining us today for part one of our round table. We looked at FOI's history today. Chris, where are we headed next week?
Chris Katulka: Yeah, we've got everybody back next week. I'm very excited about that. And we're actually going to be looking at not only the history, but also what we're doing today. Friends of Israel didn't end after the Holocaust was over. In fact, our ministry continues on, we continue to minister, and we want to talk about all the amazing things our workers are doing all around the world.
Steve Conover: Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong. And I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of Whe Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry, proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
Here We Stand: 19 Key Christian Beliefs
“As long as I know Jesus as my Savior, why does it matter what else I believe?”
If you’ve ever felt this way, don’t give up! Learn why you believe what you believe so you can share your faith effectively with this booklet featuring 19 key Christian beliefs. Here We Stand will guide you to a clear understanding of Jesus, creation, salvation, Scripture, the church, Israel, the end times, and more.
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The Friends of Israel Today theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.
Thursday, January 27, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day set aside to honor the 6 million Jewish victims and millions of helpless others who became victims under Nazi rule. May we never allow the horrors of the Holocaust fade into the mists of time.
Will you join us this International Holocaust Remembrance Day and re-affirm your unwavering support for the Jewish people by doing your part to help counter anti-Semitism around the world?
May God bless those whose lives today are still impacted by the horrors of the Holocaust.
Your gifts help us reach people all around the globe with our message of truth to bless the Jewish people.