|Nitzan playing guitar in the congregation's worship team
I was born in a kibbutz in the northwest corner of Galilee. This farming community, spread across a hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, is a veritable Garden of Eden. We belonged to the kibbutz Shomer HaTsair movement, which meant that I received a very liberal, leftist-oriented education - against religion, against God. At our kibbutz we would eat pork on purpose on Yom Kippur, our most holy day when Jews around the world fast and pray.
My mother had come to Israel from Yugoslavia at the age of five and my father came from generations of Jews born in the Holy Land. My father worked in agriculture and Mother nursed the older citizens of the kibbutz. It was an idyllic existence, and I loved my life on the kibbutz. But I never thought about God at all.
Looking back, I realize how unhealthy it really was. On our kibbutz the children didn't live with their parents; we lived in children's homes, similiar to a boarding school. My parents divorced when I was in the seventh grade, but since I hadn't lived at home with them, I did not take it very hard. From the tenth grade on, we all drank and smoked pot freely. I was completely undisciplined and didn't take my studies seriously, but I did love music. I learned guitar and played all the time. I began to write songs, and started taking voice lessons. Music was my life.
After high school, I completed my three years of army service and then returned to my kibbutz. I decided to study computers and took a two-year course of computer networking in Haifa. But music was my love, so I started a band with three other guys and traveled on weekends to Tel Aviv where we played in discos.
I began to see that I had a talent for writing songs. In honor of Israel's 50th birthday, an Independence Day song contest was held. A song I wrote called, "One Day," won over 50 other entries and I sang it at the official Independence Day celebrations.
Before finishing my computer studies, I had already received a good job offer and went to work in Haifa as a computer course instructor and network technician. It wasn’t long before I found a better job as a data systems administrator in Haifa.
POST-ARMY PILGRIMAGE TO THE U.S.
However, I had not yet traveled abroad, which is a tradition among Israeli youth after they finish army service. I figured that if I did not go at this point, I would never go, so I left my job and went to the U.S. in April, 2001.
Upon landing in New York, I took a bus to Bridgeport, Connecticut where I had a contact with some Israelis who had a street-cleaning business. They hired me to clean the parking lots of malls which I did for a month. Then I decided to work for another Israeli connection selling toys in malls. (It is common among Israeli youth to work their way around the U.S. or other countries.)
Soon I found myself on the way to Chicago by bus. Upon arrival, I was able to make contact with Israelis who immediately sent me to Madison, Wisconsin to sell toys. I loved the college-town atmosphere, with students playing their guitars and singing everywhere.
It was there that I had my first indication that there might be a God interested in me. While selling my wares, an older couple approached me, bought a toy, and asked me where I was from. When I told them, "Israel," they got very excited and invited me to their home. They said, "We will pray for you, son."
I never went to their house and I didn't understand what prayer was, but they stirred up a warm, emotional response within me. I thought, "Why would they pray for me? A man selling toys? Why would they pray for me?"
After two months it was time to move on and so I left the toy company. I returned to Chicago and to the "Israeli House," where Israelis hung out - smoking grass and checking out the different job opportunities around the U.S. I decided to sell pictures door to door which I felt would give me more money.
I was given work along with another Israeli girl in Kansas City where I became very successful selling these pictures. Even with my limited English, I was still able to make up to $1000 a day. I paid $70 per picture and sold them for $150 apiece. Once in a while the police would stop us on the streets and give us a ticket for solicitation, but they never really bothered us.
From Kansas we traveled to Oklahoma City, and we worked there for a couple of weeks. During the day we worked hard, and at night in the motels where we stayed, we mixed with the local scene, found the drug dealers and partied hard. I was not at all disappointed with life.
Then September 11th changed everything. We were shocked. I gave blood for the terrorist victims. We continued to try to sell our pictures, but fewer people were buying so we decided to move on to St. Louis. Actually, the day before we left, I had already come to the conclusion that I didn't want to sell pictures anymore. The police seemed to be watching us more carefully and I thought, "It's time for me to move on, maybe to San Francisco.” But my boss convinced me to stay on, telling me what a good salesman I was.
THE POLICE CAME TO CHECK US OUT
One the 23rd of September, we had only worked for 15 minutes in a new neighborhood when I saw the police cruise by and then stop. They walked up to me and handcuffed my hands and legs. I said, "What did I do?"
"The neighbors complained. Don't worry, we're just checking you out."
They took me to the police station, and there I saw six other Israeli kids with whom I had been working - including three girls who were all crying. That night we slept on the floor and for whatever reason, they had turned up the air conditioning so high that we lay freezing all night long.
The next day the captain came in and said, "We are just investigating and then we will let you go." We were so happy. At this point, the door opened and in came a group of men with the word "Immigration" on their hats. When I saw that, I thought, "Oh no! My time in the U.S. is over, and I so want to stay!" They had long chains with which they hooked us up one to another as a chain gang. They crowded us into a barred van with a lot of illegals from Mexico and slammed the door shut. We were taken to the immigration building and put in a room with 50 men and a toilet in the middle. The room had an unbelievable stench. Sitting on the floor, I thought about my laptop and several thousand dollars that I had left in my motel room.
Again the four of us Israeli guys found ourselves in a barred van filled to capacity which took us on a two-hour journey to the county jail. There they filmed us, gave us uniforms - much too big - which to me looked like the uniforms I had seen in movies of people who were on death row.
The water was either absolutely scalding or freezing, and so we didn't shower. We were there a total of one and a half months, and during that time we were given only a single change of clothes.
They also gave us a blanket with an incredible number of holes in it, and we slept on the floor. I was put in a cell with a Vietnamese, tattooed from head to toe, who was in jail for drug dealing. At first I was terrified of him, but he was quiet and gentle and I saw him reading a Bible. After a few days, I noticed a black American who was teaching the Bible to other inmates. He had been a drug dealer and had scars all over his chest from gunshots. However, he seemed to be a preacher and the prison administrator allowed him teach Bible groups where he spoke about being born again and about Jesus.
I COULDN'T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING HE WAS SAYING
I paid no attention to him at all as I was in deep depression. In fact, none of us Israelis paid him the slightest heed. One time he was preaching quite close to me, and I heard him say Jesus Christ and Christian a lot, but he spoke loud and fast, and with his street accent, I couldn't understand anything he was saying.
There was also a Palestinian prisoner in jail, and when he threatened to kill us, we four Israelis were put in solitary confinement for our own safety. In my windowless cell, I thought of my family and my kibbutz. I wondered if I would ever see them again.
Suddenly I felt a presence in my room. I didn't see anything, but I felt a powerful being next to me. I felt like this presence was touching me - almost like it was softly caressing my head. All the anger simply poured out of me. I began to weep. In a way I cannot explain, I instantly knew that something very holy was in my room. I knew that "something" was Jesus, the person about whom the black man had spoken. I cannot explain how I knew, but I just simply knew.
I had always been told his name was "Yeshu" in Hebrew. [Yeshu is the way non-believing Israelis pronounce Yeshua's name. One can usually tell who is an Israeli believer by his correct pronunciation of the name, "Yeshua," meaning "Salvation."]
This presence seemed to be saying to me, "Everything is all right. There is nothing to worry about." Suddenly, I didn't care about my laptop or the thousands of dollars in the motel. I didn't care about anything else. I just wanted to go home.
I was in solitary for yet another week, but as soon as I was transferred back to the main part of the prison, I found the black man. I grabbed him and told him about my experience. I asked, "What has happened to me?" He looked at me and said, "This is the Spirit of God!" He prayed for me and then said, "You are now a Christian!" That was very unnerving to me - very difficult to hear. I wanted to stay a Jew. But I thought to myself, "There is nothing I can do about it. I believe in Jesus."
I told my three other Israeli friends, "I believe in Yeshu! I am now a Notsri! [The word for "Christian" in Hebrew, is literally "Nazarene." In Israeli thinking one cannot be a Notsri and a Jew at the same time. A Notsri, (pronounced notes-REE) by definition, is a non-Jew.]
The other Israelis got really mad, especially one from an Orthodox background. He said to me, "Read the Tanach [Old Testament] first and then become a Notsri! In other words, search in your own roots before you go off and become an alien in another religion.
Meanwhile, the prison authorities kept lengthening our stay. The prison was dark and depressive. Nevertheless, my new faith only deepened. I found that I had stopped smoking. The black man gave me a Bible in English. At night when the other Israelis were sleeping, I would pull out my Bible and read the Lord's prayer that he had shown me. That prayer would soothe my heart.
The day came for us to be released from jail. I had prayed that God would let my plane arrive in Israel on Friday and not Saturday, so I wouldn't profane the Sabbath day. (Imagine me, who had never worried about profaning anything in the Bible before!) The Lord answered my prayer and we were released from prison on Thursday and taken handcuffed onto a plane from St. Louis to New Jersey and then straight to our own El Al Airlines.
The U.S. immigration officer who checked my hand case went through my things and found my Bible with a New Testament. Knowing I was Jewish, he looked at me and said, "Why do you have a New Testament?" I told him, "I'm a Christian now!" The man bent over and hugged me and said, "You are my brother!" The other Israelis look on in dismay as if to say, "What will we tell his mother?"
The immigration people escorted us to the front of the long line waiting to get on board our Israeli airline and brought us to the El Al security. The head Israeli security officer told them, "Take the chains off of them. Now they're ours." Then he looked at us and said, "You're home, boys!"
Both of my parents greeted me at the airport. At the first chance I told my sister my story but warned her not to tell my mother that I was now a Notsri. My sister said to me, "It's OK, Nitzan. We know you have really been through a hard time. Maybe we can go visit a psychiatrist. Meanwhile, I thought to myself, "How in the world am I going to start worshiping in some cathedral here in Israel?"
After one week I left the kibbutz for Tel Aviv. Each time that I felt down, I pulled out my English Bible and read the Lord's prayer.I said to myself, "I've got to find a New Testament in Hebrew."After some searching, I found a Bible bookstore on Ben Yehuda Street. I went inside and announced, "I'm a Notstri and I believe in Yeshu!"
The woman there looked at me in amazement. Finally, she said, "You are not a Notstri. You are a Yehudi Meshichi [Messianic Jew], and His name is not Yeshu but Yeshua!"
I said, "What? There are other Jewish believers?"
She gave me three addresses of Messianic congregations and the address of Dugit Bible bookstore, where I met Avi Mizrachi, a Messianic leader, who really discipled me. Because I worked at night in a kiosk, I was unable to go to his congregation which meets in the evening. So I visited another address I had - Tiferet Yeshua Congregation. I love all the believers but I really know that God led me to this congregation. I love my new Israeli believing friends, and I am now a part of the praise team! Through the teaching and my home group I am really growing in my faith. All I feel is that I want God!
Because of the financial situation, I have not been able to find work in my field of computers, so I clean the beaches of Tel Aviv with a tractor at night. As I clean, I pray for the beaches, that one day they will be spiritually cleansed, and will be filled with Israeli young people who have found Yeshua!
Note: Nitzan Arnon is one of the most on-fire Israeli believers we have ever met. He is completely sold out to God and is a joy and inspiration to the new and long-time believers alike in our congregation! God has a future for him! Ari & Shira Sorko-Ram
Our Tiferet Yeshua Congregation in Tel Aviv
When we began Tiferet Yeshua (the Glory of Yeshua) in 1995, we felt God directed us to found a congregation geared to the needs of native-born Israelis, called Sabras. The local Israelis are the hardest national group to reach with the Good News; it is always easier to reach immigrants in any land, because of the fact that they have been uprooted and as a result are more open to new ideas and concepts. We thank God for the Russian-speaking Messianic congregations, the Ethiopian, and the English-speaking congregations in the land. However, we are convinced in our hearts that the Sabras must be reached before there can be genuine revival in the Israel .
We now have about 100 members, over 90% are Israelis, 50% of whom are Sabras, and a number of others have been in Israelfor many years. This number does not include the many family members and friends who are sympathetic to the Gospel and who come periodically. About half of the congregation is made up of teen-agers and young people 20-35 years of age, and we have a steady flow of local Israeli visitors every week who are hearing the Gospel for the first time in their lives. We have seen new Israeli believers come into our congregation in disbelief that there are so many local Israeli believers in one place!
Rent for our congregation facility, which is a hall in a poor section of downtown Tel Aviv, costs $5,000 per month, plus taxes and utilities. Our congregation generously gives tithes and offerings, but their salaries are low, and they are able to cover only a portion of the total costs. None of the leadership receives any salary from the congregation.
We also have the beginnings of a BibleSchool in Tel Aviv, teaching the basic truths of the Bible to new and older believers alike. Asher Intrater, elder in our congregation, is the head of our Israeli Institute of Messianic Judaism. We currently have between 30-40 students attending the courses. We often have non-believers also taking our courses, as many Israelis who are interested in the faith feel they must study the Scriptures first to see if Yeshua is truly the Messiah promised in the Bible. Maoz gave $51,369.00 for the support of the congregation and Messianic Institute in 2001. One of our current prayers is that within six months we will be able to rent facilities for a number of full-time students. We could then begin a much more developed program for Bible School students.
Surprised at a Wedding in Jerusalem
By Shira Sorko-Ram
Emanuel Nachum is one of the most unusual young men you will ever meet. Born in Austria, raised in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, he began composing classical music as a small child, and as a teenager he was asked to play his flute before Israel's prime ministers, presidents and Knesset members numerous times. Presently, he is composing an opera on the subject of Job, while at the same time he is leading the worship at his parent's congregation.
His father, Shimon, grew up in the Lord in our first congregation years ago and met his wife to be, Batya, there. Ari performed their wedding. Now Shimon and Batya pastor a Messianic congregation and are directors of Kingdom Ministries in Jerusalem.
Today, Emanuel is a handsome, talented, charismatic young man, and he loves the Lord. Last year he met Courtney Rebecca, the love of his life! Being the romanticist that he is, he decided that he was going to have a wedding to end all weddings, which he himself meticulously planned out.
He selected the setting for their spring wedding in an outdoor restaurant overlooking Jerusalem on a hill called Armon HaNatsiv. There is a beautiful walkway along the length of the hill, and it overlooks, perhaps, the most beautiful view in all of Israel, even - in my opinion - surpassing that from the Mount of Olives because it is higher.
Emanuel had a beautiful pavilion-covering (called a succah in Hebrew) built over the area being prepared for their celebration. It was to give some protection from the coolness of the early spring night in Jerusalem without obstructing the gorgeous view of the old city of Jerusalem.
The only negative aspect is that this hill is isolated with bushes and trees and there are no other immediate buildings except for this one restaurant. It had only been a few weeks prior that a couple strolling along this walkway had been attacked by a terrorist and the woman was stabbed to death. The wedding was to be at night and with all Israel's security forces doing their best, there had, nevertheless, been 60 suicide attacks over the last 18 months.
The Nahums are people of deep faith and they are also practical: they had ordered eight professional armed guards.
Now with suicide terrorists attacking and bombing every few days in Jerusalem, I decided I wanted to be thoroughly prayed up before going to Armon HaNatsiv. Our policy has been that we don't go to dangerous places unnecessarily, but when we must, we confidently believe that God will send his angels to protect us.
Ari was very disappointed that he was not going to be able to attend Emanuel's wedding since he was in the U.S. on that date. That doubled my resolve to not even entertain the thought of missing the wedding, though I would be traveling alone to Jerusalem at night.
Meanwhile Batya called me how to ask if I would pick up an old friend of hers in Tel Aviv and bring her to the wedding with me. She explained that this friend (I'll call her Hannah) is not a believer and Batya very much wanted her to be at the wedding which would have a strong emphasis on Yeshua the Messiah.
When I called the friend to make arrangements to pick her up, she told me she very much wanted to go but was extremely frightened about traveling to Jerusalem, and especially to Armon HaNatsiv. Everyone in Israel knows that suicide terrorists love to target weddings and other celebrations where a large number of people have gathered. And then there have also been drive-by shootings in isolated areas….
I assured her that we would pray in the car in Yeshua's name before starting out and I was completely confident that the God of Israel would protect us because we were making our request through the High Priest, Yeshua.
Hannah said okay and agreed to go with me. For sure now, I had to exercise my faith! I had just told this lady that God would protect us because I was coming to the God of Israel in the name of the Messiah! Besides, a large number of Messianic pastors and leaders would also be attending the wedding - people who know how to pray!
Yet, on Thursday morning, the day of the wedding, I was feeling some unrest in my spirit. I decided to cancel my morning appointments as I wanted to know that I had touched heaven before proceeding to this wedding. I knew the Nahum's and all the believers who would be in attendance were praying, but I wanted the affirmation of the Holy Spirit in my own inner being before traveling to Armon HaNatsiv.
As I was praying, I received a call from Batya about mid morning telling me that there had been a change in the wedding plans. A fierce wind had begun to blow early that morning and had blown down the tent covering and all the decorations, completely ruining them. The forecast said the winds would continue throughout the day. Although the wedding was scheduled to begin in less than 10 hours, they would have to transfer the wedding to an inside hall in the main auditorium complex of Jerusalem.
A great sense of relief came over me and I called Hannah to tell her that the wedding's location had been changed.She was overjoyed. She told me she had not slept for three nights just thinking about going to Armon HaNatsiv."At least," she said, "Jerusalem's main auditorium is a far more secure location than Armon HaNatsiv.
At 4:20 in the afternoon, the news came that another suicide bomber had detonated himself in downtown Jerusalem, killing three and wounding 87. (The day before, another suicide terrorist had killed three and wounded 60 - just a few stores away.)
At 5:00p.m. Hannah met me and we got in the car. Before taking off, I prayed together with Hannah for God’s protection and drove toward Jerusalem knowing everything was going to be all right.
The wedding was gorgeous. The beautiful music had been composed and recorded by Emanuel for his bride. In my opinion, it compared with anything Hollywood could have produced. Everyone wondered how such a beautiful wedding with gourmet dishes (the hand of Batya who was born in Austria), with lights, sound effects and even fireworks (outside the windows) could have been fashioned in just a few short hours at the new location. We, of course, could not forget that we were in Jerusalem; under the purple-violet lighting were eight armed guards, one with a ready machine gun.
As I was eating, the son of another close family friend came by to chat. Ari and I have known him since he was born; he is now doing his military service on the police force in Jerusalem and has received several citations for excellence in the line of duty.
He said to me, "You know the suicide bomber that blew himself up this afternoon downtown?" "Yes," I replied. "Well," he said, "We were looking for him all morning. Arafat had arrested him after Israeli security had given the Palestinian Authority information that he was planning a suicide bombing in Israel. Then Arafat transferred him to a Ramallah jail, but on the way (guess what?) the terrorist escaped from Arafat's men." (The next day the newspapers confirmed this story.)
My police friend continued, "We looked for him all morning in the Talpiot residential area of
Jerusalem, which borders Armon HaNatsiv, but we couldn't find him…”
I interrupted, "Armon HaNztsiv?" You mean where the wedding was supposed to be?" I asked the obvious, “Do you think that the terrorist could have been hiding, waiting to target the wedding?" "Possibly," said my undramatic friend." "But," I questioned, "How would a terrorist have known there was going to be a wedding at the restaurant at Armon HaNatsiv?"
"Easy," my policeman said. The succah (covering) and all the decorations outside had been put up the day before, and the Arab village right across the valley would have seen everything."
"So you think maybe the terrorist hid somewhere in the bushes waiting for the evening to come…but then when he saw the wind had blown down the covering and the decorations and no one came to repair the damages all afternoon, he finally decided that the wedding had been called off and took a bus downtown…."
My friend said, "We can't say for sure. But what we do know is that today, in mid afternoon, the terrorist boarded a bus at the Armon HaNatsiv bus stop by the restaurant and exploded himself downtown a short time later."
The extraordinary wedding was crowned with the passion of Emanuel and his bride's very first kiss ever (at least three minutes long)! It was electrifying as the guests looked on in wonder and then broke into cheers.
Shimon Nachum told me later that when the wind began to blow, some suggested - knowing he was a man of strong faith - that he rebuke the wind and command it to stop. But he said the Lord spoke to him in his heart and said, "There is more than one way to stop the wind. You can also stop it by moving the wedding to another location."
Personally? I believe Shimon's sensitive spirit heard from God. Infact, I believe that the Lord sent the wind and blew the succah covering down. God protects us when we call upon Him. Either He sends His angels to keep us in the midst of danger, or he blows down our tent and moves us to another place of safety. After all, God has been known in the past to use the wind.
We dedicate this issue of the Maoz Israel Report to the believers in the land of Israel - Messianic Jews and born-again Christians who live here.
We, we alone, know the Answer to Israel's sorrow.
I'm listening to an old Keith Green song (Keith was a Jew who found the Truth):
There is One who heals the sorrows,
There is One who makes the day….
He's the One. He's the Way.
Next door to our apartment in downtown Tel Aviv lives a couple of homosexuals. Next to them are some girls who are searching for the truth through Jewish mysticism and drugs. (They have been witnessed to by some in our congregation.) In the early hours of the morning we hear young people stumbling down our street, trying to find their way home.
Israel is staggering in her sin and sorrow. The religious leaders of Israel are using the massive means available to them - as the state religion - to point Israelis back to Orthodox Judaism. But most of Israel has rejected Orthodoxy.
These same modern day Pharisaic leaders are doing all they can to keep the truth of Yeshua from reaching the lost sheep of Israel.
But the Messiah, Yeshua, the King of the Jews, cannot be silenced. He can go through any wall, penetrate any heart. Keith's song simply says:
When you need to know the Savior,
You will find you can know Him.
Yeshua WILL reign as King over Israel. He is beckoning to his Bride around the world, His very own Body, to help bring the Truth about Him to His own Jewish brethren.
On this (probably hot) summer day, will you turn your thoughts to those in Israel who have lost their way and need someone to point them to Yeshua?
Will you, today, help us bring the Savior to Israel?
In the love of our Messiah Yeshua,
Ari & Shira Sorko-Ram