If the Temple Mount is the heart of Jerusalem, Yafo Street is the pulmonary vein, carrying warm-blooded people of faith on their pilgrimage through modern day Jerusalem into the Old City. Situated on this vital vein of Jerusalem’s daily life, at the City Hall train stop, right outside the gates into the old city sits The Bible Society in Israel.
Victor Kalisher, Director of The Bible Society, says, “Look, we are in the center of town. We have people here passing by from all walks of life.”
This is true. Throughout the afternoon of this interview, people from India, China, and Spanish-speaking countries came in to ask questions and explore.
The Bible Society began in the early 19th century when groups of Christians traveled to the holy land in order to share bibles with those who lived in the land. This act of gladly sharing limited supplies of bibles grew into a project of building depots stocked full of bibles for local believers to continue distributing in greater quantities.
It was in 1905 that the first of these depots was established in Jerusalem, outside of the Jaffa Gate, in the same area that the modern Bible Society in Israel is located. This program continued growing, from depots full of bibles to the actual printing of local bibles. In 1959 the first complete Hebrew Bible was printed in Israel.
That was an accomplishment that drew the attention of Prime Minister Ben Gurion who expressed pleasure that “we can now print the Bible in the Land of the Bible.”
Since then, The Bible Society has continued to grow and is now producing and distributing bibles in nearly every language as well as making resources for studying the scriptures readily available. “We have the calling of translating the bible into the heart language of people,” Kalisher shares. This includes expanding the avenues that people can access their resources.
Recently, The Bible Society has launched their new website, www.haktuvim.co.il, which means “Scriptures.” The website is the only all Hebrew online source for the free study of scriptures. This website is al-ready seeing traffic from thousands of users, both from Israel and around the world. The Bible Society has also recently released an exciting project, the first Hebrew cross-reference bible. “It’s a parallel bible that has 90,000 cross references that show how the Old and New testament is one word of God,” Kalisher explains.
As for how Victor Kalisher, a former Israeli Naval Officer, and son of a Holocaust survivor, came to work as Director of The Bible Society, he tells of the unassuming moment eight years ago when he was simply walking along Yafo Street, past The Bible Society, on an average Fri-day. “I thought to myself, I’ve lived here for 30 years and I’ve never been inside,” Kalisher says.
After entering the storefront and speaking with the woman behind the front desk, they came to find a common connection in their history. This woman had stayed with Kalisher’s parents for two weeks when she first moved to Israel. The divine connection was becoming apparent to Kalisher, who was currently in his 18th year working for Intel but had recently been stirred in his spirit to find a job in the field of ministry.
Kalisher recalls, “She said, “You know Victor, before you came, I was on my knees praying God would send us a new director.” For two years they had been looking for a new director. So, he took the application home and over the next few days, began receiving confirmation about applying for this job. After a period of time interviewing, praying and processing this big life transition, including his wife becoming pregnant, Kalisher was appointed the new Director of The Bible Society in Israel. “I knew that this was the perfect timing of God,” Kalisher says.
From the days of men coming on the backs of camels to pass out limited supplies of bibles to gifting Former President Shimon Peres with the first complete cross reference Hebrew Bible, The Bible Society in Israel has certainly come a very long way.
All of the work is for one simple reason, Kalisher explains, “Life without the Bible is like life in darkness. Imagine that your greatest blessing is hidden from you.”
To share the Bible with people from all around the world, from Jerusalem on outward, is to share life and hope. Speaking of the people that The Bible Society In Israel works with, refugees, Jews, Arabs, and internationals from many different backgrounds.
“I’ve seen their face when they see a bible in their own language. They are surprised, saying, ‘Wow, this is something I can understand. This is my heart language.’ Some of them are crying, it’s such a joy,” Kalisher says.