Jacob Damkani’s Life Changing Testimony
“Is it really enough to wear a kippa and grow a beard? It seemed to me that God was more interested in my heart than in my clothes or in my appearance, but I didn’t know yet how I could give Him my heart. Already as a child I was longing for more to experience the love of God in its fullness. Out of fear of betraying the God of Israel, as well as my Jewish heritage and family, I like so many Israelis resented Christianity bitterly. A deep struggle began in my heart and mind. At the age of 25 my life was in chaos when God showed up. “Yahweh Yireh” means literally “God will show.” He changed my heart and helped me find the Messiah. A new life began…”
The autobiography of Jacob Damkani, Lama Davka Ani? has helped many Israelis come to faith in Yeshua, and also helped many Christians to understand the origin of their faith. “Why Me?” is available in Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Swedish.
Trumpeldor and Other Heroes
Kiryat Shmonah (the Town of the Eight), is a small village at the foot of the Golan Heights, not far from the Lebanese border. On that day of remembrance in 1964, we students stood at attention in long, straight rows with our eyes raised toward the banner of the Jewish state as the Israeli national flag was lowered to half-mast. Today, I cannot remember all the lofty eulogies uttered by the principal and the senior class pupils on that occasion. They all spoke with pompous, austere language about the atrocities committed by the villainous Nazis against the Jews in a remote country called Germany.
When exactly did World War II break out? Ten years ago? A thousand years ago? Who knew! After all, the history of the Jewish people is inundated with accounts of atrocities. Every national and religious feast revives the memories of our enemies, who, in every generation, rose up against us to destroy us. But the Holy One, blessed be He, delivered us from their hands. In the mind of a twelve-year-old boy, all these stories were mixed up together in a confused mass of persecutions, tribulations, evil decrees, and hatred of the Jews—be it the Syrians in Hanukkah, the Persians in Purim, the Egyptians in Passover, the Romans in Lag b’Omer, or the Arabs on Independence Day. What child could distinguish between these numerous enemies that punctuate our history throughout the generations, centuries, and millennia?
Strangely enough, one sentence that was spoken on this occasion remains in my memory until this very day. It was: “We shall never forget, neither shall we ever forgive!” I still recall the heavy, oppressive atmosphere of mourning and the heart-breaking shrieking of the siren, which to me resembled the wailing of a bereaved mother lamenting over her dead child. Finally, we sang the national anthem, “HaTikvah” (“The Hope”), to mark the end of our ceremony.
I earnestly tried to visualize what exactly did happen in Nazi Germany and hoped to feel even a tiny drop of the ocean of death at the extermination camps and in the gas chambers. Yet, in spite of my most sincere efforts, I could not revive in my spirit what had already died and been buried on foreign soil. There, among the rows of students, on the vast playground of the elementary school, I stood at attention. My eyes watched the flag, wildly rippling as it was beaten about by the Galilean morning winds. Upon hearing the familiar tune of the national anthem, my heart was flooded with a crisp sensation of pride for being a citizen of Israel. Love for my country and my willingness to run to her defense at all times overwhelmed my excited heart.
The years went by. One day a huge bulldozer appeared in the front yard of our home. We lived then on a street in the north of Kiryat Shmonah, the closest point to the Lebanese border. Goats, ducks, and chickens, which normally would roam freely in the spacious yard, fled in terror from the noisy vehicle. As I watched the bulldozer at work, digging a large hole in the ground, my mind wandered off to those accursed corpse-filled ditches in Europe—corpses of men and women, old and young alike, the remains of our people. “No one will ever dig ditches like those in our country!” I promised myself.
However, this hole, just as all the others dug in those days across the town, was designated for an entirely different purpose. Soon it was filled with wooden boards, iron bars, and a concrete casting. Eventually, this all became an air-raid shelter. The dark dirt that covered it was planted with blood-red anemones, which represented to me the blood of the Jews that were hit—and still are—by katyusha, missiles fired at us from across the border of Lebanon.
As I gazed at the newly built air-raid shelter, I thought to myself, “Our enemies have never concealed their hatred toward us. If and when another war breaks out, we in Kiryat Shmonah will be the first to endure their blows. The screams of the sirens will chase us like frightened rabbits into the shelters. Will I also run and hide then? Will I flee as well?”
I promised myself solemnly, “Never! I will fight back! I will never let those heathen Gentiles do us any harm again! O God, why on earth did You create those Gentiles in the first place? Wasn’t it possible for You to make all of them Jews? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what this world would have looked like if all its inhabitants were Jews?”
Sabbath days and holy days were special in my family. Following the usual morning worship in the synagogue, we liked to sit together around the long festive table set by my mother and sisters. We had kiddush, a traditional prayer of sanctification, over the ya’in and challah, wine and Sabbath bread. In that blessed atmosphere of holiness, we ate the traditional brunch of baked potatoes, red beets, and hard-boiled eggs that had simmered all night long until they became dark and tanned. We also had slices of fried eggplant and squash and, on occasion, red spiced fish. None of us could forget the strong, sweet tea that was an inseparable part of the meal.
Afterward, while Father went to bed for his Sabbath nap and Mother fretted about everything and everybody, I would go out for my regular Sabbath afternoon stroll in the surrounding hills. There I liked to pick flowers, watch butterflies, and enjoy the wild raspberries, figs, and pomegranates that grew unattended in the valley. I refreshed myself with the cold river water and crisp air of the Upper Galilee.
Up in Tel-Hai (Living Hill) were the grave sites of some of the national heroes who had been laid to rest in that cemetery. All the sights and odors I absorbed on my way there in those early days of spring are still fresh in my memory, as if experienced only yesterday. I recall the huge eucalyptus trees that overshadowed the steeply meandering asphalt road, the children of the nearby kibbutz (a communal farm or settlement in Israel) driving their cart that was pulled by a long-eared, black mule down the road, and the weight of those baskets full of bitter olives that I would bring home for Mother to pickle.
As I ascended that “blood-stained” mound, a myriad of thoughts and emotions arose in me. Tel-Hai was where I visited my friend, Trumpeldor. With my head bowed down in deep reverence, I entered into the military graveyard. The dead, whose screams seemed to be swallowed up by the dark soil, were to me a model of patriotism, an example of love for the motherland. I could not help but think of Yosef Trumpeldor and his legendary last words, “It is good to die for our country!” He uttered those words, not with the same roar as the lion statue that overlooks his grave, but rather in a whispered, agonizing sigh from his deathbed. That whisper had begun to ring in his heart while he was still guiding the plow with his single hand in the fields of Tel-Hai, and it rings and echoes in the deep recesses of the soul of every Jew even today.
Eight heroes fell in those fields, and Kiryat Shmonah was named “Town of the Eight” in their honor. Am I alive today by the merit of their shed blood? If those eight heroes of Tel-Hai had not sacrificed themselves on the altar of the national resurrection, would I have been born and raised on foreign soil?
With every visit to that site came the arousal of profound thoughts and unanswerable questions: How is it to live as a Jew among anti-Semitic Gentiles? Why were the Jewish people so severely persecuted during all their exiles? Why did my forefathers forsake their homeland originally? Why were they exiled from their land for so many years, only to be returned now?
Our rabbis taught that the first seventy-year exile from our land was because of our “idolatry, incest, and bloodshed.” Similarly, they told us that because of our “hatred without cause,” we were driven away from our country for the last two thousand years. Was this true? How many days, weeks, and months are there in two thousand years? To whom was this “hatred without cause” directed?
Why didn’t we return earlier to conquer the desert, make the wilderness blossom like a rose, and make the barren land rejoice? Why didn’t we come sooner to drain the malaria-infested swamps of the Huleh Valley? The land, which was given to us by God, had become the habitation of jackals, and we were dispersed and cast abroad among all the heathen. (See Isaiah 35.) Why did God decide to bring us back home right now? Is the redemption of Israel beginning to materialize right here and now, in front of our very eyes? Are we really the last generation to live in servitude and first generation to experience salvation? Are we any better or holier than our forefathers? What did we do to merit this privilege to be “the beginning of salvation,” as the rabbis told us? How did I come to be part of this generation?
Why me? Of all people, why me? How is it that we were finally permitted to live in the country that, until now, was considered “a land that consumes her inhabitants”? Was it God or was it the land that abhorred us and spewed us out? Is there any other race of people on the face of this earth that has been exiled from its homeland twice, but has returned both times to revive its comatose spirit and dormant language? Who is to be thanked and praised for the return? Theodore Herzl? Lord Balfour? Chaim Weizmann? David Ben-Gurion? Or, must we rather give thanks to the Almighty God of Israel, who exiled us from our country because of our sins, and who, faithful to His ancient promises, has mercifully brought us back home?
All of these existential questions struck me with a strange power. Why, and for whom, does the stone lion at Tel-Hai roar its silent cry? Does it challenge the hatred and cruelty of our foes who look down from the Golan Heights at our young settlements, our newborn state? Does it raise its head in defiance—God forbid—against the Lord who allowed those Gentiles to drag us to their gallows like lambs led to the slaughter? Actually, what was this terrible sin of ours that caused the whole world to hate us with such passion? Who will rise up next to persecute our offspring?
I gazed at the snowcapped Mt. Hermon, dominating the distant horizon, and the green landscape around me. The contrast between the beauty of nature and the ugliness of history disturbed me. On Memorial Day, with the flag hanging low, I had stood at attention, contemplating the atrocities of the Christians and wondering where God was when the Nazis butchered us mercilessly. Here at Tel-Hai, I sat quietly, meditating on the burning hatred of the Muslim Arabs toward us. I prayed whenever I was at the synagogue, asking myself what it means to be a Jew and why on earth God ever chose us from among all the nations of the earth.
I never doubted the existence of God, but I could not understand why and how He permitted the Gentiles to persecute us with such cruelty. Why did He allow them to slaughter us? Were we chosen for this reason? What exactly does God want, and why is it so difficult to please Him?
At the center of the cemetery, on a wall of hewn stones, a large inscription is written in huge, black, iron letters:
By Blood And Fire Judah Fell:
By Blood And Fire Judah Shall Rise Again!
I once looked at that inscription and thought, “We have always had to pass through rivers of blood and fire. Even today we must fight and shed our blood in order to protect this precious country of ours. Otherwise, our land will fall into enemy hands again!” Then, a defiant, heretical thought suddenly entered my mind: “If this is what we have been chosen for, wouldn’t it be better if we were uncircumcised, like all the nations around us? Isn’t the goy (Gentile) better off than the circumcised Jew, who is always pursued to the death by the devastating sword?”
“God forbid! Put away these sacrilegious thoughts at once!” I scolded myself. “Am I not a Jew? I was born a Jew and must never defile myself with such depravity! I would rather be burned alive than follow those uncircumcised heathen, wallowing in all kinds of immorality and filth!”
From early childhood, our teachers had implanted in us the attitude of utter disgust toward the despicable “hellenizers” and “converts” throughout history—those traitors who chose lives of ease and comfort among the Gentiles, rather than to be satisfied with the sheer spirituality of Jewish life. Our teachers taught us to despise those who fearfully tried to escape the persecutions of the goyim (Gentiles, plural) and flee the cruel fate awaiting the hated Jews.
I reasoned that we Jews are living testimonies to the very existence of God. If we, too, were to behave as the Gentiles do, there would be no one left in this world to bear witness to the one true God! The heathen people, who wish to be rid of the Jews, in reality, are seeking to dispose of God Himself, and ultimately to become their own masters. Is this what the heathen are really trying to do—trying to remove God from His throne of glory and to usurp His authority? But, aren’t we, the Jews, trying to do the very same thing?
What is it, really, that distinguishes man from beast? What makes me, the Jew, different from the rest of creation, from the trees, from the rocks and the oceans? Can the Gentile see anything special and likeable in me? Does the sign of circumcision, sealed in my flesh, encourage the Gentile to seek to know my God and to love Him above all other things? But, how can a Gentile find out that I am circumcised? After all, it isn’t one of those things that one demonstrates! And, if a Gentile were to know, would it make any difference? Perhaps, the kippah or yarmulke (head covering like a beanie or a skullcap), the tzitzith (fringes or tassels worn on traditional garments as reminders of the commandments), and peyot (dreadlocks or sidecurls)—which are no longer worn by most Jews—distinguish us from the rest of humanity and indicate that we are God’s chosen people. But, if this were so, would the meaning of our appearance provoke the Gentiles to jealousy and make them wish to be like us?
In spite of my national pride, I was not able to see myself as a person to be envied by anyone seeking after the God of Israel. I had to admit that I was certainly not an example of a man of God, chosen by Him to be a light to the heathen.
Perhaps, if my people would only try to be morally better than all others, the Gentiles would see the existence of God in us. But, are we any better? Even if we did manage to be the nicest and most pleasant people on earth, wouldn’t the Gentiles abuse our goodness, taking advantage of our cheerful disposition? Is it better to exploit or to be exploited? And who, for heaven’s sake, holds the answers to all these contradictory and confusing questions?
The hushed stillness at the cemetery reminded me of the solemn quietness of the schoolyard during the ceremony for Holocaust and Heroism Memorial Day. The long rows of graves resembled the long, straight rows of pupils standing at attention. I could not avoid the sobering thought that only young people, mere children, were buried here in the dark ground of Tel-Hai, so close to Kiryat Shmonah. But, I knew the children of Kiryat Shmonah were in no way like these stony tombs. They were vibrating with life, their hearts beating toward a better tomorrow, anticipating life in a world that knows no fear—the fear of the sudden noise of a low-flying jet or the whistle of yet another missile coming in from Lebanon.
How long will we continue to walk down this valley of the shadow of death that takes such a high, bloody toll? It is true, of course, that this precious piece of land was the possession of our fathers, and that God Himself gave it to us as an inheritance through His promises. But, does this possession justify this much sacrifice?
As for me, I would surely defend this land of mine to the bitter end. I would protect it with my own body and allow no enemy to rob me of it. When the time would come, I was certainly planning to join the army as a pilot, or at least a paratrooper. I would definitely fight for this beloved country at all cost!
The silent roaring of Trumpeldor’s lion became the reverberation in my anguished heart. The stony monument had sealed its impression on my childlike heart. Then, leaving the dead behind me lying peacefully in the ground, I returned southward on the road that led back home.
The tall fir trees kissed the light blue skies, and the birds sang happily among the branches. The wind was not blowing at that hour, and it seemed to me that even the air stood still, honoring the holy Sabbath. Wildflowers decorated the roadside with splashes of color: red anemones and orange poppies, golden chrysanthemums and yellow carpets of wild mustard, all with their enchanting fragrances. The range of the Naphtali Mountains towered on my right, and the distant Golan Heights were tinted with pale blue shades in the east, poised above the sparkling sapphire fishponds of the fertile Huleh Valley. I filled my lungs with the clean air, trying to treasure these sensations in me forever: the wonder of creation, as well as the miracle of the survival of the Jewish people—my own people—during the millennia of our existence.
Suddenly, I was jerked out of my reverie back to reality with all its daily cares and worries. Despite my relative shock, I knew beyond any shadow of doubt that it was good—even if it were not easy—to be Jewish.
When I arrived at home, Father was already preparing himself to go back to the synagogue. The time for the afternoon prayers had come.
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