At Jerusalem’s Alliance Cemetery, Meir Aharoni works each day beside friends
If you have visited the Alliance Church International Cemetery on Emek Refaim Street in Jerusalem’s German Colony in the last 15 years, you were probably greeted by Meir Aharoni, the hospitable volunteer caretaker who also conducts informal tours and provides insight and information to visitors while he works “among his friends.”
Among Meir’s many friends who were laid to rest at Alliance are many whose names the reader may recognize. Among them are eminent Bible scholar Derek Prince and Methodist minister and Christian Zionist leader John Stanley Grauel. Grauel was a crew member of the refugee ship, Exodus-1947, a secret operative of the Haganah during the British Mandate and the renowned “credible Christian” witness to British crimes on the high seas whose testimony before the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine helped create the Jewish state.
The Alliance Cemetery has become a landmark in Jerusalem known not only because of the icons interred there but also for its beautifully landscaped grounds and its recently completed Wall of Life by artist, Patricia Solveson, a colorful mural longer in length than a football field, depicting Bible scenes from Genesis to Revelation.
Without Meir’s dedicated efforts, it is likely that neither the cemetery’s current well-maintained grounds or its stunning mural would exist. When he first visited the Alliance cemetery it was, in his words, “a dark place” and the ambitious mural project which helps set it apart had not yet been conceived. In a way, the cemetery’s restoration and blossoming under Meir’s care parallels his life journey, which also began in the absence of light.
An “ultra-ultra-ultra-Orthodox” Family
Meir was born in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox center of Judaism near Tel Aviv founded in 1924, one of the poorest cities in Israel and the fifth most densely populated city in the world. The city, which Meir describes as “ultra-ultra-ultra-orthodox,” was founded as an agricultural village by a handful of Polish Hasidic families who came to Israel as part of the Fourth Aliyah, a moshav primarily devoted to the cultivation of citrus fruit.
Meir’s mother died when he was 3. Shortly after, his father remarried and Meir was put up for adoption. In his new home among the ultra-religious, he grew up the only male child, stepbrother to eight girls and under constant pressure from his stepparents to embrace ultra-Orthodox Judaism.
He became what he called a yeshiva boy.
“It was a very difficult time for me,” Meir told KNI. “All my life I had been looking for the reality of God and I was concerned, why had God not yet established his kingdom? Why had he not chosen a new king? So I asked questions while I was in Bnei Brak and asked God, ‘Please, God, I want to know who you are.’”
But Meir’s adopted father did not approve of Meir’s constant questioning.
“He used violence to change my soul and my mind so that I might one day become a rabbi,” Meir said.
Meir withdrew. “I only said yes and no and that was it. I was sick but nobody helped me. It was not a very nice life. But the Bible and the Talmud remained interesting to me because I was looking for God.”
They gave me a life
He lived with his adopted family until he turned 14, when his stepfather sent him to live in a yeshiva run by “the Chabad people,” from which he was dismissed after a short time because he was “not able to understand.”
It was not until Meir went to live with a Yemenite Jewish family, his third home in 15 years, when his healing and faith journey began.
“In this family, I slowly came to be healed. They were a lovely family, not very Orthodox, and they practiced a beautiful Judaism. They gave me a life and, slowly slowly, I began to understand who I am.”
Eventually, with his new family’s blessing, Meir went to live in a nearby kibbutz.
“I loved the life there and it looked like God had answered my prayers after two years of being with this family. It was a nice kibbutz. I had my own life. I would study in the morning then work in the afternoon. I was looking for love and I had told some of the people in the kibbutz stories about my past, but I had no idea how sick I was or the trauma I had suffered. It had affected my life very much.”
After the kibbutz, Meir joined the army and his life changed again.
“I was a lone soldier,” Meir said, “and the Israeli Army became a mother and father to me. They took care of me and whatever I needed. For this reason, today, I support the army, love the army and I pray for the army.”
Meir paused to dab at his eyes then added, “I am very excited to tell you that I’m crying now because the army of Israel was like a mom and dad to me.”
I am very excited to tell you that I’m crying now because the army of Israel was like a mom and dad to me.
While in the IDF, Meir continued to try to find God and, although he failed, he found a good friend while in the service. Meir met this friend again, coincidentally—if you believe in coincidences—two years after leaving the army, while living “a normal life” and working in Tel Aviv.
“He invited me to his house for a meal,” Meir said. “I went to his home and, after we ate, he told me his personal story and shared the gospel with me. That was the first time in my life I heard the life story of Yeshua and who he was, a very special rabbi. He told me the whole story.
“I also met his fiancé and they invited me to their wedding. Then he gave me a New Testament. First time in my life. Why did he give me a New Testament? I was confused and afraid. But I listened to all his stories and began to pray and ask God if Yeshua was the Messiah.”
Before Meir bumped into his army friend in Tel Aviv, he had seen “a very historical movie” in Tel Aviv called “Ben Hur.”
“And when I saw the crucifixion of Yeshua I was crying and I didn’t know why. It was raining in the movie. Yeshua’s blood ran in the streets and went everywhere. It was very special.”
Because Meir was afraid, he hid the New Testament his army friend had given him for two months without reading it. “But then I began to read it all the time and I had a question for the Lord, ‘If you, Yeshua, are really the Messiah, for Jewish and Gentile people, I want to know.’
“When I received my invitation to my friend’s wedding, I was a little afraid to go because I had been taught all my life not to receive Yeshua, not to get into theology and philosophy. But I wanted to know and so, although my friend was Messianic, I went to the wedding.”
The event was at a Messianic fellowship called Beit Immanuel in Tel Aviv, outside in the parking lot. There were chairs, music and a nice buffet.
“One of the elders of the congregation spoke during the wedding. What he said began to open my heart very much to Yeshua. He said that Yeshua said, ‘I have the key of death and life,’ and when I heard this I saw a vision of a key.
“And the key came into my heart and I felt it open my heart. A short time afterward I saw another vision and Yeshua the Messiah came to me and said, ‘Meir, I want to be a light to the nations and want you to be a witness to what you see.’ Then everything was clear to me. Everything. Yeshua is the real Messiah for Israel, and my life began to be fire for him.”
The real Torah
Meir chose Beit Immanuel as his congregation and later met “one of the great men of God who helped me to understand the kingdom of God, Professor Derek Prince.”
Meir knew Derek Prince for 30 years and now watches over his friend’s resting place at the Alliance Cemetery, having found his way there after spending three years as a volunteer with a Messianic organization in France.
“The Lord began to talk to me,” Meir said. “I prayed to find out if He wanted me to come to the Alliance Cemetery because it was in terrible shape.”
Thanks to Meir’s constant, reliable volunteer caretaking and his key role in enlisting Patricia Solveson’s years-long work on the Wall of Life, the Alliance International Christian Cemetery, no longer a “dark place,” has been set in order, bathed in light and fully restored. Much like Meir himself.
“The real Torah is here,” Meir said, pointing to the orderly, well-kept rows of gravestones, the bright flowers and shrubs, the cemetery’s clean walks and its brilliant Wall of Life, all of which his efforts helped to bring about.
“And my coming here and finding the Lord makes me very curious to learn more and to share the stories of the people buried here with both Jews and Gentiles.”
Cliff Keller lives in Jerusalem, Israel with his wife, Marcia after making Aliyah in the spring of 2011 from the United States. His most recent novel is a work of historical biblical fiction entitled The Lion or The Lamb: Samson Ruth and Salvation. Cliff also blogs at Standing by the Gate and has a writing website, goodStories.
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Looking over from Mount Nebo
Stunning! This was our first impression when we looked from Mount Nebo in the direction of Israel and started recalling the stories that took place in that region.
Moses died there, after he prepared the nation to cross the river into the land of promise. He also warned them to not play the harlot with foreign gods, or else, the very Angel who led them in a pillar of cloud and fire, would be hidden from them.
A statue of copper snake on Mt. Nebo
Balak, king of Moab, was terrified by a possible invasion of the Israelites, so he hired Balaam to curse them (Num. 22). When that didn’t work, he introduced Israel to the worship of Baal (Num. 25).
1. The very thing Israel had been warned against – to not bow down to idols – happened right there. And so, the punishment of the Hidden Faces went into motion (Deut.
2. A plague killed 24,000 Israelis that day (Num. 25:9).
3. Moab was cursed for ten generations, for hiring Balaam and for not welcoming Israel (Deut. 23:3-4).
It was quite powerful to stand where both the announcement of the judgment took place, and where the promise was given, and look from exile into the promised land. We found an isolated spot on one of the mountain tops, and started praying.
From left to right: Rania, Hermana, Orna, Priscilla and Tian Jie
Rania started to pray and decree, “LORD, come and show your Faces again. We invite the Angel of the LORD back into the land.”
“Could it be,” she asked, “that God would want to reverse this verdict today, at the very location where this punishment was pronounced, by another Jewish person?”
We asked God to forgive us, since we turned the Angel of His Faces from being our Lover into our enemy (Isa. 63:9-11). We then asked Him to divorce Israel (and us) from the Baals that we had embraced – all the false husbands and masters that we have bowed to. We repented and divorced ourselves from them as well. I pleaded on behalf of Naomi, and my companions (my Ruths) did the same as they stood alongside me.
I tried to look into God’s eyes, but realized that I could not see His Faces. So I started declaring Numbers 6:24-27: “The LORD bless you and keep you. The LORD make His Faces shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The LORD lift up His Faces and give you peace.”
As you listen to the prayer, look at the necklace I am wearing…
“LORD, just about the time you were to give us the gift of marriage to you, we embraced Baal, another husband. Forgive us for taking another yoke. We nursed on foreign breasts. We gave in to our curiosity for foreign gods and worship methods. Show me your Face.”
Hermana had brought a colorful necklace on the trip, thinking one of us would like to wear this decorative jewelry. But at that moment it seemed as if it would serve better as a symbol of what I was repenting of. Treating it as an item of harlotry, witchcraft and defilement, I cut it to pieces. We decided to burn the destroyed necklace, while proclaiming our turning away from idolatry, false lovers and masters.
Priscilla prayed: “I realize that the Lord has already taken care of this on the cross. But as an outward sign of agreement with the cross, of my love for the Lord, for Orna and her people and for my land (Jordan), I declare that the ancient earth, abused by those who worshiped other gods, would not continue to have a hold on the feet of the children of Israel. Be free – in the name of the Lord. Come away from false gods and follow your Messiah – the One who awaits you.”
Priscilla anointed my feet while praying
Speaking to the Heart of Moab and Amon
Modern Jordan lies in the region where a few Biblical kingdoms and nations resided: Edom, Moab, Amon, just to name a few.
When I opened my eyes again, I did not see the land of Israel or our wound. This time I saw Jordan. “I want to speak to that place in the heart of Jordan, where you feel like you do not belong, that you are not His, that you do not have a Father. I want to speak to the Moab and Amon in you. And to the older brother that gave up his birth right (Esau – Edom). I speak to you and open ancient doors, and say: you are welcome… be comforted and receive the mercy of the Lord.”
Up the Mountains to Medaba
After more prayer along these lines, we (especially I) were exhausted and emotionally spent at the end of the day. From sharing the heart of bitter Naomi with my Ruths… to weeping the dry tears of Israel and myself… to having China come alongside me. Then repenting on Mt. Nebo and renouncing the practices that brought about the provocation and estrangement from our God in the first place – that was pretty intense.
Our hostesses took us to a charming old Arab House restaurant, and treated us with some beautiful Jordanian crafts and traditional foods.
We were ready to call it a day!
This article originally appeared on Ot OoMofet Ministries, August 14, 2018, and reposted with permission.
Orna, born and raised in Israel, is a lover of books, and especially The Book. She is fascinated with the Hebrew language and with the God who created the world through the mere expression of Hebrew words. In 2003 she established Ot OoMofet Ministries (Hebrew for “A sign and Example”), whose main focus is turning stories of brokenness and hardships into stories of victory. Besides ministering to the broken hearted in Israel, she now teaches worldwide about the widowhood of Israel, the role the church plays in its restoration and on a variety of other subjects.
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A light in the darkness
Katherine Snyder talks about the work of Anchor Of Hope and the role God plays in counselling.
Paul: What is Anchor Of Hope?
Katherine: Anchor Of Hope is a Messianic counselling centre in Jerusalem and is under the covering of King Of Kings Ministry.
Paul: When and where did you start and why did you start?
Katherine: We officially opened in 2014. We were also training counsellors and we had a class in 2013 to train counsellors that would ultimately become the staff for the Anchor Of Hope Counselling Centre. We started because there is a great need in the country for people who are suffering, and by suffering I mean whatever life throws at you. Whether it is bereavement and loss, relationship issues, family issues, difficult diagnosis. There was nothing here for believers, very little, I shouldn’t say nothing, but very little serving the Messianic community.
Paul: How did the vision for the centre start?
Katherine: The vision actually started in the 80’s when a friend of mine, she had marital problems and there was absolutely no-one to go to talk to who was a believer. Israel has many psychologists, but they wanted to see a believer. Then in the 90’s some of us prayed. We saw more and more in the need for a counselling centre and we didn’t want people leaving the country. So the vision was kind of birthed, to see also a safety net of counsellors in all the congregations and that is why we are counselling, but we are also training.
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Haredi Jews bully Jewish believers until law steps in
Since 2011, Israel Pochtar, congregational leader in Ashdod, has become accustomed to the hundreds of ultra-orthodox Jews who would systematically harass, bully, shame and threaten the 300 believers who would attend Shabbat services in their hometown.
After a short spell of relief, once again a group of Haredi Jews took matters into their own hands and on Thursday afternoon defaced the congregation’s new buildings with slurs against “missionaries.”
An IDF soldier, who is also a member of the congregation, saw the vandals inside the compound, wreaking destruction on the brand new building only recently completed. He chased them out while filming them. Security cameras outside the building also captured the break-in and police are now in the process of identifying the perpetrators.
Pochtar is no stranger to these attacks. What began with noisy and intimidating demonstrations in 2011 soon morphed into a full-blown campaign over the past several years to demonize Messianic Jews and spread word throughout Ashdod that not only were these individuals unwelcomed but they were harmful, dangerous and toxic to the Jewish nation.
With that declaration began a campaign to rid the city of these “undesirables.” This included stalking believers, confronting them, invading their space and filming and threatening them. Leaflets were printed and distributed as wanted posters placed on car windshields, in personal mailboxes and on street poles. Newspaper articles and television appearances by members of the Haredi community began to surface as they did all they could to discredit and smear these Jewish believers whose only crime was attending their Sabbath services just as other Jews are permitted to do in the land of Israel.
This daily, systematic persecution continued over the course of the next three years. Pochtar’s assistant, who is also an attorney, decided to get involved. Unfortunately, this backfired on her when Haredi Jews told police that she attacked them. Of course, the authorities then opened up a case against her and the situation intensified prompting Pochtar to hire a high-powered attorney from Tel Aviv.
Up until that time, local police weren’t helping persecuted believers and largely ignored their complaints failing to take their claims seriously. It wasn’t until the new attorney began to exert legal pressure that they suddenly realized that continuing to ignore the systematic violation of civil rights could backfire on them, especially in a nation which promises freedom, democracy and civil rights for all its citizens.
After this, police began to show up at the homes of believers when they were threatened, bullied and harassed, providing much needed relief for those being haunted and terrorized by Haredi bullies whose mission was to stamp out anything Messianic in their city. Police also immediately closed the case against Pochtar’s assistant.
The new attorney also succeeded in getting police to enforce a law prohibiting no more than two demonstrators at the congregation. They are forbidden to scream, curse or cause any kind of disturbance on penalty of arrest.
Since then the congregation has enjoyed relative peace over the last two years. Until Thursday.
Rather than gleefully celebrate the imminent capture of those who have caused him, his family, his congregants and others harm and ill-will for years, Pochtar, who immigrated from the Ukraine in 1995, remembered a dream he had in 2004. In the dream he heard the voice of God loudly tell him to get up, leave Tel Aviv with his family and begin a congregation in Ashdod. He recalls how he spent the next year in preparation for this move, and, once there, 70 Jewish believers joined his effort within the first year.
Today, the Hebrew-speaking congregation is a blend of 300 Jewish believers comprised of sabras (indigenous Israelis), Jewish immigrants from many countries especially Russia. Although some became fearful during the years of intimidation and chose not to attend, the vast majority of congregants continued to come and simply prayed each week for those who were persecuting them.
Perhaps, they took their example from Pochtar who, even after this recent break-in, does not wish to see these lawbreakers imprisoned to the full extent of the law. Rather he simply desires for them to clean up the graffiti which they scrawled on expensive marble walls, doors and windows stating, “Missionaries are a national danger.”
“I’m fine if they will just fix the damage that they caused,” he said.
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
Chava Stein, the granddaughter of Jewish European immigrants to the U.S., made Aliyah to Israel in 1993. Married to an Israeli, they live in the center of the country.
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An Orthodox Israeli woman follows Yeshua
A few months ago, my good friend, Ido (a new believer at our congregation) had to give a speech in the framework of a course he was taking. During his speech, he decided to share about the process of deliverance he had experienced at Tiferet Yeshua. Even though he did not mention the name of Yeshua, it was clear that there would be people from the audience who would ask him for more details at the end of his speech.
Noa, who was visibly Orthodox, approached Ido after his lecture and began asking him questions about the congregation and what he meant by “deliverance.” Ido joyfully told her about his faith in Yeshua and invited her to come to the congregation.
First time in Tiferet Yeshua
Noa came to the congregation and loved learning about Yeshua. She loved the praise and worship—it is so different than the repetitive liturgical singing in the synagogue, where every aspect of the service is dictated by a strict, traditional format. Slowly, Noa began to understand that faith in Yeshua was not a “foreign import” but, rather, a faith that is firmly rooted in Judaism, that all of the first believers were Jews and our faith is based on the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament—a book also written by Jews.
Noa began a discipleship course I lead, which delves into the fundamentals of faith in Yeshua, such as Yeshua’s sacrifice, repentance, Messianic prophecies in the Hebrew scriptures, the importance of studying the Word of God, and, finally, the importance of water immersion.
Interestingly, Ido joined some of the lessons and even took part in discipling Noa. Although he is a relatively new believer, it is clear that Ido has a gift for evangelism and discipleship. For me, it was a very special experience to see a man, who just recently became a disciple himself, lead someone to faith in Yeshua and begin discipling them.
The First Prayer from the Heart
It is important to understand that for religious Jews, praying means reciting prayers written in the prayer book called the Siddur. In Orthodox Judaism, prayer is central and important, but there is no such thing as simply talking and communing with God through prayer. Every prayer in Orthodox Judaism is written out in a pre-prescribed format, determining when and what one should pray throughout the day.
Religious girls are exempt from some of the mandatory prayers that observant men must pray throughout the day. However, every morning when Noa woke up, she would recite the prayer “Modeh Ani,” a prayer thanking God for waking up in peace. After each meal Noa would pray “Tifilat Mezuman,” thanking God for food. There are many more prescribed, mandatory prayers in Judaism, some of which are profoundly beautiful, but none of which come from a personal, spontaneous heart-cry to God.
At Tiferet Yeshua, Noa was exposed to a different type of prayer, one that she had never experienced before; having only ever read prescribed prayers from the page. Noa loved how we prayed in the congregation, but she did not succeed, at first, in praying spontaneously. However, all that changed during one of our services. Towards the end of the sermon that day, the entire congregation divided into small groups in order to pray about a number of topics—and also to pray for one other. Noa was in one of the groups and really enjoyed hearing the spontaneous, personal prayers that people in her group prayed. When her turn came, she simply opened her mouth and, for the first time in her life, began to pray directly from a heart overflowing with love. She was overjoyed that God had given her the ability to pray a personal prayer from her heart!
Praise God! One more Israeli knows how to petition heaven!
Last week, we went to the Jordan River near Tiberias where Noa would be immersed in water. She was so excited about this special day. Ido came with us, along with two cars full of witnesses. It was important that Ido immerse Noa with me because he was the one who led her to Yeshua. We explained to Noa that at the time of baptism, we identify with the death of Yeshua, signifying the death of the old man, with all his lusts and sinful desires. And, as soon as we come out of the water, we identify with the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead (Romans 6: 6) and begin to live, by the power of the Holy Spirit, a new life (Romans 6:4).
Noa proclaimed that she was dedicating her life to the Messiah of Israel, Yeshua. She thanked God for her new salvation and went into the water. It was a powerful and holy moment, and there was a strong presence of the Holy Spirit at the time of her immersion. God filled us with joy, which was a sign to us of how happy He was that this “daughter of Zion” had made a decision to follow His ways. We sang and prayed together and returned all the way to Tel Aviv with great joy and peace in our hearts.
This article originally appeared on Messiah’s Mandate, September 3, 2018, and reposted with permission.
Moti serves on the pastoral staff at Tiferet Yeshua Congregation in Tel Aviv.