Shalom from Tel Aviv!
A journalist appeared in one of the early meetings of the Israeli Messianic Teen Conference that was held in March 1996. She was young and charming. She told us that she had come to visit her brother on the kibbutz where we were, and noticed that there was a Messianic Teen Conference. She said that it sounded very interesting, and asked if it would be alright if she sat in on some of the meetings.
Our personal feelings were that we had nothing to hide. In fact we, with a growing number of other Israeli believers, have felt for some time that this is a new hour. The time has arrived for the Messianic Jewish believers of Israel to be more public about their faith. Because of very real persecution on the job, in school and with neighbors, together with the fact that we are a tiny minority in the land, many believers have been forced into a semi-underground mode.
SHE ASKED: WHAT ARE MESSIANIC TEENS?
However, it is obvious that in order for even the beginnings of revival to come to Israel, masses of Israelis must have the opportunity to hear the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Until today, most Israelis don't really know who or what Messianic Jews are. Perhaps they have heard the name, and perhaps not. But few could actually tell you what we represent or what we believe.
And so we told the journalist she was welcome to sit in on the services. She met a number of the teenagers and talked to them about their faith. The testimonies they gave her truly glorified God. It had to be amazing to her, to see teenagers so turned on to the God of Israel. She commented on the positive influence this conference was having on the youth, and enthusiastically exclaimed that the public needs to know about us.
Indeed, after the conference, she called one of the youth team leaders and told her, "I have been so moved by what I have seen, that now that I am home, I am afraid to turn on the TV or the radio for fear I will lose the wonderful feeling I now have."
Three weeks later, a four-page article about the conference appeared in the weekend magazine section of the largest daily paper in Israel. The name of the article can be translated as "Soul-Hunters" or "Soul- Stalkers". (Yediot Aharonot, April 19, 1996)
Its blaring headlines began thus:
At the start of the Passover vacation, 130 Israeli teenagers took part in a three-day conference of Messianic Jews who believe in Yeshua. Some of them are deprived children, most of them without their parents' consent, some of them from traditional homes. . . "Savior of all Israel, Yeshua!" shouted the youths in ecstasy." Yitzhak Kadman: "This is breaking the law."
The article then mocked God, blasphemed the Messiah, and represented the conference as something akin to a Satanic cult. After the article appeared, we had phone conversations with most of the 20 adults who participated in the leadership of the conference. They could hardly believe their eyes. Much of what journalist Segalit Shahor wrote was a complete fabrication of her imagination. As one team leader told us, the article was "science fiction". Here is an example of her creative pen:
A girl name Dorit ascends the stage; she looks hysterical. . . . "Satan," she shouts and cries with the background music, "Satan hates you, he wants you to die! Receive God, so you can have control over your lives. What do I have in my life?" she sobs. "There is nothing. . . ."
Shahor sums up her "impressions":
The message which was given at the conference: the world is filthy, and you losers will die anyway like that drugged Rebecca (a girl who died of an overdose of drugs). So if you must die, why not go to heaven? The hell which you are going through now is nothing against the hell which awaits you there, after you die of terrorist attacks, or who knows what.
Shahor mocked the testimonies she heard by making them sound ridiculous:
"Last night I cried," Michal reveals to me. "They talked to us about the sins we committed when we were 12." Then everybody began to weep. "Yes," she dropped her eyes. "I used to steal sweets from the neighborhood candy store. But Yeshua who went to the cross and suffered so terribly, will forgive us."
At one point during the conference, a visiting youth group from the U.S. spoke to the Israelis about the growing number of youth in the States who are on fire for God. During their presentation, they threw out to the surprised audience a few handfuls of candies, along with about six C.D.'s of Gospel musicians--something that would not raise an eyebrow in the U.S., and which added a little spice to their presentation.
The journalist, however, was quick to exclaim that "showers of chocolates and discs" were thrown at the young people. She explained that with these gifts, the Messianics "close in bit by bit on the mixed-up souls" of the teenagers.
The picture that Sigalit Shahor paints is patently absurd. She removes any reference to the God of Israel whom we serve, and makes us appear that we trap kids with chocolates, C.D.'s, rock and roll music and smoke machines (the latter used in a 15-minute drama about a lost young person who fails to find meaning in the world, and finally finds the Lord).
SAVING ISRAEL WITH CHOCOLATES
Even though we had no idea that our visiting friends were going to throw treats out to the teenagers, we can only wonder at the journalist's attempt to portray Israeli youth as so retarded that they will come to believe in Yeshua, Messiah of Israel, because of a piece of candy. If this is true, then come let us order a few truckloads of chocolates, and behold, all Israel shall be saved!
Besides, the hypocrisy of such accusations becomes all the more absurd when one considers such Orthodox Jewish movements as Habad, whose members travel the streets of Israel offering free meals and even living quarters to young people who show interest in becoming Orthodox. We have never heard of a believer in Yeshua doing such activities.
However, from a legal standpoint, the most serious accusation of the newspaper is that the Israeli teenagers attending were there without their parents' permission or knowledge. (As if 130 young people could disappear during Passover vacation from their homes without a trace for three days.) All through the article, Shahor insinuates that the young people were victimized. Even the pictures were used to corroborate their claims. For example the photo of the boy with raised arms and blanked-out face looks as if in distress. In reality, the boy is our son Ayal, who was singing with the praise team.
Another example is the picture on the last page of a boy wearing a yamulka, his head bowed, his hands covering his face. Under the picture was the caption: "His parents didn't know." This boy is the son of a leading Messianic rabbi from outside the country. Even though the conference was for Israelis only, the parents and the teenager himself, asked if he could attend, as he was making aliyah.
To strengthen her article, Miss Shahor contacted the National Council for the Welfare of Children. She presented its director with her story, and asked for his response which was included in the article. It reads as follows:
"Yizhack Kadman: This is a criminal offense."
The facts are severe, from an educational and lawful point of view, argues Yizhack Kadman, the General Director of the National Council for the Welfare of Children. Anyone who attempts to convert anyone to their religion for the exchange of anything material or other, is breaking the law, to the best of my knowledge, which penalty is prison. According to the description, we are dealing with people who have committed criminal offenses. The first thing that needs to be done, is to make a complaint to the police, and we will be the first ones to do this. . . We need to prevent deprived children from falling into the hands of charlatans.
NEARLY ALL TEENS FROM BELIEVING HOMES
What the newspaper failed to state, was that out of 130 youth, 124 were from Messianic homes. Obviously, then the visiting youth group was wasting their candy, as these children have been brought up as believers. What this conference did, however, was to strengthen many of these teenagers, who day in and day out feel the pressure of either a pagan society which does not believe at all in God, or on the other hand, the religious society which is vehemently anti-Yeshua.
The hands of these teenagers were strengthened. And no one was more thankful than their parents, who pray constantly for the physical and spiritual well-being of their children. The other six teenagers who came as a result of relationships with teenage believers, brought written permission slips from their parents.
When the article came out, there was outrage from every participant of the conference with whom we spoke. However, what we could not anticipate was the outrage expressed by our unbelieving friends-- some who have committed to helping us fight this vicious attack in ways we cannot write about in this article.
WE INITIATE PROCEEDINGS AGAINST THE NEWSPAPER
There was great consternation in our own spirits. Not so much for ourselves. Of course, it was not pleasant to walk down the street and have people staring at us. However, what concerned us most was that this article would store in the collective Israeli consciousness more lies about followers of Yeshua--that Messianic Jews are cultish, preying upon children, unscrupulous charlatans.
In our nearly thirty years of living in Israel, we both have had numerous articles written about us, as have other Messianic Jews of the land. Most of them were relatively fair and a number of them even sympathetic to our beliefs and our rights to believe the Bible as we understand it. Never in all these years have we ever seen such a vicious article. More serious, however, are the threats to initiate criminal proceedings against us.
Since this article contains such blatant lies which are relatively simple to disprove, we sought the advice of a lawyer. After prayer, we have decided to sue the newspaper for damages, and are pressing charges for intentional defamation of character against ourselves and against our faith. We have procured one of the best lawyers in the country.
A JUNIOR JOURNALIST'S PATH TO FAME
What were her natural reasons which motivated this secular journalist to write such an article? We have discussed the subject with a number of people. The answer is probably that this junior journalist-- who nobody we talked to had ever heard of before--saw an opportunity to write a sensational article which would catch the attention of much of the nation--and give considerable boost to her budding career.
As one educational official told us, "a month ago, nobody ever heard of Messianic Judaism. Now the whole nation has heard about it.” (That of course is not completely true, as many Israelis have heard about Jews who believe in Yeshua the Messiah.) It is, however, to our regret that this article has probably been read more widely than any other previous article about Messianic Jews.
In reflection, we believe that by touching the youth of the nation, we have touched the soft underbelly of the kingdom of Satan. If Israel is the apple of God's eye, then the youth of Israel is the epicenter of spiritual activity. It is revival among the youth of Israel which Satan most fears. Yes, we wish this junior journalist had not "happened" by. It is clear to us that she was an emissary from Satan. However, if it were not Segalit Shahor, it would be someone else.
In our thoughts about these events, it seems to us that revival among the Israeli youth will not happen without great warfare. We have spent much time in prayer, and will continue to do so. The persecution that the early disciples of Yeshua experienced in the Book of Acts has taken on more immediate meaning. If they suffered severe persecution in their pursuit to bring salvation to Israel, then what makes us think we will escape it now?
We do not know what the future holds. But we do know that we must intercede for the youth of Israel, that Satan will not succeed in imprisoning them behind oppressive walls put up by spiritual dictators who would keep them from the life-giving knowledge of God.
These are some of the sciptures that we are standing upon in prayer:
If anyone fiercely assails you it will not be from Me. Whoever assails you will fall because of you. . .No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; And every , tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord. And their vindication is from Me. Isa. 54: 15-17
We must let you know that we have never seen such hunger for the things of God as we have seen with those Israeli youth who have recently received the salvation of the Lord. And really this whole battle, spiritually speaking, is over these new believers. They are standing against coercion and intimidation on several fronts. Most of this pressure is originating from forces within the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, which is pulling out all the stops to keep these teens from believing. Their aim is to prove that what they wrote is correct, and thus they are pressuring government agencies and other individuals. Yet the teenagers involved in this barrage of persecution are standing firm in their faith!
Can the prey [victims] be taken from the mighty man, or the captives of a tyrant be rescued? Surely thus says the Lord, even the captives of the mighty man will be taken away, And the prey of the tyrant will be rescued. For I will contend with the one who contends with you. And I will save your children. Isa. 49:24-25
There is now much happening of which we cannot publicly speak. Suffice it to say, this incident is already giving us opportunity to explain in detail our faith to those in authority. Several non-believing Israelis in areas of influence have said to us, "The Messianic Jews of Israel must go public with their message!"
Can you believe it? Perhaps God will yet use this sequence of events to bring glory to His Name. One thing we know: The way of salvation must be widely publicized in Israel.
And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? Rom 10:14
Yet up until now, with few exceptions the media has been virtually closed to Messianic Jews except for the occasional article initiated by the press. For example, the Jerusalem Post would not even accept an advertisement for the sale of Dr. David Stem's Jewish New Testament, although they accept all kinds of advertising from the Orthodox and a variety of cult groups. And the Jerusalem Post represents itself as a very fair, democratic institution. David Stem is now in a law suit with the Jerusalem Post, to attempt to force an opening in the media.
Israeli television and radio have also been closed to Messianic programming. But we believe we are entering a new day. Indeed, for fifty years, the believing community has had little choice but to walk cautiously, as this tiny group began to put down roots in the land of Israel. But as a Messianic youth leader said to us recently, "The Messianic Jews have been in the closet for 50 years in Israel. It is time to come out." His statement reminds us of what a former mayor of an Israeli town once told us: "The problem with you Messianic Jews is that you are too quiet about your faith. You need to advertise!"
NO ONE LIKES PERSECUTION
"Advertising" might mean persecution. And we do not know a single believing Israeli who desires to presumptuously go ahead of God and bring down persecution upon himself and his fellow believers. But neither do we want to fall behind what God is asking of the believers in this land.
Will you pray for all the believers in Israel, as we seek God's face for direction of how to reach out to our nation? Will you ask that God would give us wisdom and discernment, together with faith and boldness in fulfilling God's directives for the nation of Israel?
We have been attacked. Will you stand with us?
And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even unto death. Rev. 12:11
For the lost sheep of Israel,
Ari & Shira Sorko-Ram