Happy Hanukkah from Tel Aviv!
"Thousands of people, mainly from Eastern Europe, are joining the Messianic movement and are embracing Yeshua as their Messiah. Ultra-Orthodox organizations attack believers, physically harming them, their families and the structures where they gather."
So begins an article in Yediot Aharonot, the largest daily newspaper in Israel. The three-page article mixes together the activities of Messianic Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses, but on the whole journalist Gadi Bloom attempts a neutral stance in his representation of Israel's Jewish believers, an improvement over the past. (Oct. 18, 1997) The article continues:
"[ A] movement which is growing in Israel, the Messianic movement, is considered to be in the gray area, between Judaism and Christianity. [It's members] are reporting a drastic growth in the amount of clashes their people have had recently with the Ultra-Orthodox groups.
"The Ultra-Orthodox have opened an all out, front line war against this movement. They are moving with resolve. . .because of the results of a special survey they made on the expansion of the Messianic movement in Israel. The survey reports that the estimated number of Messianic Jews in Israel is about 7000. . .[but] according to the Ultra-Orthodox who are closely following their growth, [the figures] are not relevant to the situation today since the survey was taken a year ago.
"According to the Orthodox non-profit organization Lev L'Achim that is dealing with the war on missionary work, the numbers are actually quite higher. Some Orthodox believe their numbers are approaching 15,000 and growing at an alarming rate, because hundreds are joining every year."
MESSIANIC JUDAISM "AN ALTERNATIVE TO EASTERN RELIGIONS"
The article explains that "the Messianic Jews are a real threat to the Ultra-Orthodox because they are, among other things, an alternative to the secular Israelis who are leaning towards the left and are influenced by America and the West. . .the Messianic Jews are a real threat because they draw the Israelis, especially the Israeli youth that are finding there, in part, a substitute for an escape into the far-eastern cults. [Messianic Jews] are much closer and more available."
“After experimenting with Scientology, Oshu, Aimen, the [physically and spiritually] demanding far eastern monasteries in Nepal—something new has arisen in Israel. . .the answer for those on a spiritual journey but who have not lost their Jewishness, and don't want to get rid of it. There is an in between formula: stay Jewish, but why not accept also... Yeshua? These groups say that they are not cults at all, but actually the true Judaism. No wonder they are experiencing growth in the number of believers. They have become in Israel, which is becoming more Orthodox, the main target of anti-missionary activities by the Ultra-Orthodox Jews." (Italics ours)
Notice that the article says that Israel is becoming more Orthodox. This is a true and is a direct result of the growing desperation of the nation for the answers to life, for spiritual meaning. But the ONLY direction they know to turn if they want to draw near to God is towards Orthodoxy. The Messianic Jews have not been allowed to advertise in newspapers, radio or TV. The Orthodox have attempted, since the founding of the State of Israel, to drive the believers underground.
(However, because of the attempt to pass a law against the Messianic Jews, our beliefs have become a "political" issue. Therefore our Hebrew, English and Russian papers this last month have accepted bold and forceful ads concerning Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel!)
MESSIANIC JEWS TO BE STOPPED BY LEGAL AND VIOLENT MEANS
The newspaper article written by Gadi Bloom includes a description of the activities of the Orthodox against believers, both through legal means and through violence:
"According to the Orthodox leadership who keeps track of the situation through reports from their activists who attack the Messianic activists in the streets, there is a constant influx of new believers who are joining the Messianic movement. Therefore, a decision was made to bring this situation to an end."
(Does this sound like a continuation of the book of Acts?) The article continues:
"The Ultra-Orthodox are acting on two fronts, First, their stronghold in the Knesset: Israeli Knesset Member Gafni is working overtime to pass a strict law prohibiting any kind of missionary activity. He has already succeeded in passing the law on the first preliminary hearing, and now they are diligently putting much effort into making it a permanent law affective next year."
AGENTS SENT TO SPY ON CONGREGATIONS
The second front is in the area of physical violence and threats. The Orthodox realize that the police by themselves will not eradicate the Messianic Jews, according to Bloom. Therefore they are bringing in their own agents "in order to wipe out this phenomenon of abandoning the traditional Judaism in favor of Messianic Judaism, which is an abomination to the Ultra-Orthodox Jew."
Bloom writes that the latest outburst of violence, in the opinion of many from both sides, portends an upcoming bigger explosion. Zeev Shtiglitz, head of Lev L'Achim says he has "ten agents who are planted in various Messianic congregations. His special agents don't know each other." Zeev claims that through his agents, "we are collecting information on the real plans of those groups so we can use them in court at the appropriate time."
Zeev claims that he does not approve of violence such as beatings, vandalism and arson, but he says he cannot really restrain his people when they see what is happening and can't remain silent.
Bloom also interviewed Yacov Damcani, an evangelist and strong witness in the Tel Aviv area. His book, "Why Me?" is one of the best evangelistic books in Hebrew for the unbeliever, and we ourselves are preparing to help him with a large printing. Yacov has often been attacked and is a prime target of Zeev's organization.
Yacov's speaks for the Messianic Jews throughout the land with this response to the journalist:
I want Lev L'Achim to know that every time one of their guys comes to provoke us or infiltrates our congregations and is found out, he is causing even more young people to come and join us. We are becoming well known and people want to hear what we have to say. . .Every time [they] disturb us, more young people come to see and hear what the problem is and some who were anti-religious are becoming interested in our view. So let him go on doing us this favor. He is doing our work."
MESSIANIC CONGREGATION FIRE BOMBED
Three days after this article was written, an incendiary bomb was thrown at the Messianic Congregation in Kiryat Yam (just north of Haifa) led by Eitan Shishkoff. This congregation numbers about 100 with a high percentage of Jews who have immigrated from the Former Soviet Union. They distribute large amounts of clothes and food to the needy in their area. Their services are dynamic and full of the Spirit of God. Therefore, groups like Yad L'Achim are furiously trying to close them down.
In fact, when Eitan first moved the congregation from a home group into a simple warehouse building, the Yad L'Achim called a public neighborhood meeting at the local synagogue to expel them from the area. Except for the Orthodox organizers and their gun-toting thugs connected with Yad L'Achim, not a single person showed up at the meeting!
SCORCHED PAGES OF THE BIBLE LAY EVERYWHERE
However, the Orthodox did not give up. On October 21, the alarm went off at the Messianic synagogue. When one of the elders raced to the scene, he was met by a raging inferno which was accompanied by several explosions. The fire destroyed the administrative offices and storage areas with heat strong enough to disfigure the steel beams supporting the roof. The entire building, which is used both as their distribution center for humanitarian aid as well as their weekly worship service and prayer meetings, suffered extensive smoke and water damage. The sodden carpet was littered with scorched pages of Bibles in Russian, Hebrew and English. Insurance will pay about half of the damages.
The police have confirmed that the fire was arson set off by an incendiary bomb. This vandalism followed attacks in the streets against the members of the Kiryat Yam Messianic Synagogue, where several believers were beaten and injured. The Russian Jews that attend there tell how they left the Former Soviet Union to escape persecution against Jews, and now find that they are again being persecuted.
However, this attack is only strengthening the members of this Messianic congregation. The energetic believers immediately began cleaning the chairs and floor of their meeting room. Two days after the attack, they held Simchat Torah (last day of the Feast of Tabernacles) services with a generator for electricity in their blackened building. They had been negotiating for some time to buy a larger building. Even though the owners heard about the destruction of their present building, they are going ahead with the final stages to sell to the Messianic Congregation, itself a victory.
Meanwhile the police are doing nothing. You may recall that because Maoz sponsored a Messianic Youth Conference, we and our co-sponsors from six other congregations have been under police investigation for a year and a half. (See page 5) But for the burning of a place of worship, the police can't seem to get started.
THE MEDIA DIDN'T FIND THE STORY INTERESTING
Also, the Israeli media has done little to publicize this attack against democracy and freedom of religion in the democratic State of Israel. Yet imagine what would happen if such an assault were made against an Orthodox synagogue in the U.S. or Europe? Ironically, on the same day that an inch and a half article in the Jerusalem Post mentioned that the Messianic synagogue had been burned and severely damaged, a large article on its back page appeared about a Rabbi's succah (temporary booth for the Feast of Tabernacles) which had been burned down by anti-religious elements in a town not far from the Messianic congregation. The police already had someone in custody and the rabbi called it "'heartbreaking' particularly because acts of intolerance have been rare among Karmiel' s population." (Oct~ 22, 1997)
A little over two weeks later, an elderly couple on pension from the Netanya Messianic Congregation returned from a trip to their doctor to find their home broken into, badly vandalized and a number of items stolen. The perpetrators left stickers behind saying "Beware of missionaries" and other hate messages. These are only the latest of a string of attacks on Messianic believers, including a number perpetrated against the Ethiopian believers.
And so it goes on and on. However, remember that these things are happening because more and more Israelis are turning to the Jewish Messiah, and their lives are being turned around. Satan sees God's plan for Israel closing in on him, and he is fighting in any and every way he can. Yet, because the battle is the Lord's, everything the devil meant for evil, God will turn to good!
We can confidently say that every attack and every move meant to crush the Jewish believers of Israel will only result in more Israelis hearing the Good News and receiving the Salvation of our Lord.
No weapon that is formed against us shall prosper. And every tongue which rises against us in judgment We shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord. From Isa.55:17