A search for Jewish roots (Part 2)
(Part I can be viewed here)
One area that reflects our connection to the Jewish roots is our relationship with Israel. Can there be room in our theology for the Jewish people now and in the future, or should they be relegated to the past? In his book, Messianic Judaism, Messianic Jewish theologian David H. Stern stated that the biggest schism to take place in Church history was the breach between the Church and the Jewish people during the first centuries. That breach happened for various reasons. The Church played her part, as did the Synagogue, and blaming “the other” doesn’t lead anywhere. It is much more fruitful to ask: What did we Christians lose? Is there something we might regain, or rethink, after all these centuries?
Biblical Feasts – a Shadow of the Eternal
For some believers, a practical way of honoring Jewish roots is celebrating biblical feasts. The feasts can be a veritable treasure trove in many ways, increasing our understanding about God’s salvation plan as recorded in the bible. However, the bible gives Gentiles full freedom concerning the observation of such festivals, as well as the Sabbath. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a Sabbath day: which are a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ’s. (Col. 2:16-17 ASV) The festivals are a shadow of eternal things and things to come; as such, they are good. They point to a much greater reality. We shouldn’t understand Paul’s comment as a negative or diminishing statement about celebrating Jewish feasts, but as a reminder to keep our ultimate focus on Jesus. Studying the feasts’ rich biblical content is beneficial for every Christian; and whoever so desires is also at liberty to experience them together with Jewish believers.
Staying Grafted in the Olive Tree
Paul wrote much about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Romans 9-11, painting the image of the cultivated olive tree. In Messianic Judaism, David H. Stern explained the symbolism of this picture in a way that is different from the traditional Christian understanding: The roots of the tree are the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The trunk is the people of Israel, with Jesus the Messiah – the most important member of the nation – at the core. The original branches are the Jews, and the Gentiles, the wild olive branches, are grafted into the tree. Lying on the ground near the tree are some original branches, cut off due to their unbelief. Instead of being church-centered, this picture is actually very Israel-centered, and that has very often been a difficult idea for the Church to grasp. Many churches live, function, teach, evangelize and do missions without Israel. They think of Israel as having performed and fulfilled her main role in the Old Testament, but that after Jesus’ resurrection, she became obsolete. Contrary to this mindset, appreciating your Jewish roots could mean being aware of the whole we are always a part of, and remembering the common roots, which nourish us all. We Christians are called to accept and value the eternal election of the nation of Israel. You do not support the root, but the root supports you (Rom. 11:18). A branch, or a tree, cut from its roots doesn’t live long.
Need a New World View?
I would like to propose a Christian world view where Jews also figure into the picture. The election of the Jews as a chosen people did not vanish after Jesus came, nor has it somehow been reconstructed into the calling of Christians. (Although it is obvious that the Jewish people cannot really fulfill their calling until they receive Messiah.) God’s faithful character demands that he honor his promise to realize the destiny of the Jewish people. The Jews haven’t only been instrumental in bringing Jesus into the world; they are also the first recipients of his love and promises. The scriptures have many prophesies about the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the great end-time outpouring of the Holy Spirit over the nation. God will keep the Abrahamic covenant with its promises to Israel, as well as to the Church. As Christians, we have to embrace today’s Jews, not just at the level of friendly dialogue between two different religions, but rather as central players in God’s future plans.
Restoring the Jewish Church
I believe that as we draw nearer to the end, we will see God bridging the gap between the Church and the Synagogue. In their book Israel, the Church and the Last Days, Messianic teachers Keith (Asher) Intrater and Dan Juster describe the development of end-time events: False Christianity will fall prey to rising anti-Semitism, but the true believers will become increasingly aware of the Jewish roots of the faith. Right now, God is already restoring the Jewish wing of the Body of Messiah. More and more Jews are coming to know their Messiah.
The Messianic movement will be the crucial link between the Church and Israel. However, both Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians have their role to play in this healing process. God is calling Jews and Gentiles to live out the spiritual truth about the One New Man (Eph. 2:11-22). Many churches are still quite oblivious to the events which are about to take place. Some of them still struggle with the basic idea of Messianic Judaism and Jewish believers who refuse to “convert to Christianity”. Concerning some aspects of Christian theology, reassessment is needed in order to make room for following Jesus in a Jewish way within the Body.
According to Intrater, there is a special, powerful dynamic in the cooperation between Jews and Gentiles in the New Covenant congregation. Many Jews receive salvation and revelation for their spiritual lives through Gentiles. On the other hand, as we near the end times, Jewish believers are bringing a particular depth of understanding into the Body of Christ, with regards to the end-time prophesies and the restoration of the Jewishness of the Church. Keith Intrater states that if we all want to walk in the fullness of God’s plans for us, we must humble ourselves and receive from one other.
Jews and Gentiles – Members of God’s Family
The Jewish roots of the faith are not a matter of any individual’s salvation, though they are a matter of the Church’s future. This world is full of pain of rejection and envy. It creeps into our relationships, even in the body of Yeshua. Throughout Church history, the identity of Jewish believers has continuously been invalidated. However, according to Paul, Jews are called to remain Jews, even when following Jesus (1 Cor. 7: 17-20). At the same time, Gentiles are valued as Gentiles, loved and chosen by God. Being Gentile is not a secondary status, some kind of concession from God. It is a unique calling which brings along full rights in the commonwealth of Israel (Eph. 2). Faith in Jesus is enough. Both Jews and Gentiles are called to see their backgrounds as a blessing to live out their faith in this world.
This article originally appeared on Caspari Center, December 20, 2019, and is reposted with permission.
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Humanitarian aid goes blue and white
It is a privilege to give. Once we experience the joy of giving, a desire springs inside of us to see even children learn and understand how much richer we become when we share what we possess.
For decades many Jews and Christians around the world felt prompted in their hearts to give towards Israel – first to help it grow as a nation making the desert bloom, then also to support those who arrived in the land with not much more than the clothes on their back.
As the young nation was getting re-established in their ancient land, the harsh conditions could have made it what one might call “survival of the fittest”. However, that did not happen.
How was it averted, you may ask? In major part, it was thanks to the camaraderie and generosity of the people – of Israel supporters both in the land and abroad.
Although a lot has changed since the humble beginnings of independent Israel, these great values survived and continue to bear fruit.
Jews and Christians alike continue to give towards worthy projects in Israel that care for those in need.
One organization that plays an important role in this inter-sectorial supply-chain is called the Joseph Project.
This nonprofit humanitarian aid corporation is dedicated to the physical and spiritual restoration of Israel through providing a channel for Jewish and Gentile believers worldwide to demonstrate mercy and love to the people of Israel via humanitarian aid.
The Joseph Project imports a wide variety of practical aid into Israel from charities worldwide and distributes these items to needy families, rehab centers, hospitals, schools and more.
Their excellent operating system proved to be successful. Since the year 2000 the Joseph Project has delivered over $100 million worth of humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of needy Jews and Arabs.
In their dedication to grow and expand, this year the organization took on a new challenge: to cultivate generosity also in their own “backyard”.
Aware of the surplus of goods at successful Israeli companies, the Joseph Project developed a vision for a civil sustainability project where local business owners can support the needy in Israel.
This new initiative, called the Blue and White Project, focuses on receiving donations and contributions from businesses within Israel to pass forward. The goods collected from Israeli manufacturers are distributed among the disadvantaged in the land. The Joseph Project ensures that the supply chain runs smoothly, and by collaborating with the Ministry of Welfare they guarantee that the support reaches the appropriate households.
Through their incredible humanitarian work, the Joseph Project is giving believers worldwide a chance to come together and share the wealth. This opportunity is now extended to Israeli businesses, so together we can demonstrate God’s love to His people.
This article originally appeared on FIRM and is reposted with permission.
Estera Wieja, born and raised in Poland, moved to Israel in 2010. She is a journalist and in 2018 joined the staff of Fellowship of Israel Related Ministries (FIRM) in Jerusalem.
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Israeli believers choose unique way of giving from the heart
About twice a year, believers in Haifa get together at Beit Eliyahu Messianic congregation to give blood.
It may sound like a strange reason to gather, but this has become a semi-annual outing for some families that make it a point to attend the blood drive. The event is often paired with either a handmade crafts sale at the seniors’ home nearby or the sale of secondhand clothes to support a ministry that works with women freed from prostitution.
Those who donate blood during these drives are mostly believers from the Haifa area, but not just from Beit Eliyahu.
For over a decade now, every six months or so or during times of conflict, Beit Eliyahu gets a call from Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel’s emergency service. They then begin spreading the news verbally and electronically sending an announcement to other local congregations, creating a Facebook event and posting a notice on their website.
Since 2005, the congregation has organized blood drives for anyone who is interested to give approximately a half liter of blood to a stranger somewhere in dire need. At the most recent drive 40 people donated, with the average number of donations standing at 37 and the record at 52.
The idea first came to Heidi Litle when she was volunteering as an emergency medical technician (EMT) with MDA from 2004 to 2006.
“It was an easy connection,” she told Kehila News. “The Blood Bank is always looking for places to hold drives closer to where people are and in communities that are varied, so that it’s ‘easy’ to give and they can reach people that might not otherwise give blood. They are almost always in need of more units.”
And so, Beit Eliyahu became a logical place to hold regular blood drives due to its location in downtown Haifa, a densely populated neighborhood of one of Israel’s most intercultural cities. Other believers have since also started volunteering with MDA and see this as a great way to be a light in the community.
In preparation for a blood drive, the main hall is cleared of its rows of chairs and in their stead are erected tables for donors to fill out declaration forms; a station with hot beverages, water, juice and cookies to make sure everyone is well-hydrated and well-sugared before and after donating; a nook for one of the crew to review declaration forms and screen donors for adequate blood pressure and hemoglobin; and of course four to six comfy beds on which one lies during the procedure.
Since it takes about 15 minutes for the blood receptacle to fill up, many of those who come to donate use the opportunity to connect with the Blood Bank crew. They are not only giving of themselves physically to someone who might need the blood (victims of terrorism or life-threatening accidents, cancer patients and others), but they also share with the MDA workers about why they give and what Beit Eliyahu is about, opening the door for potentially deeper conversations about our faith.
According to Litle, the Blood Bank crew has come to enjoy these drives so much that they compete about who will get the shift.
“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” Hebrews 13:16
Violet moved to Israel in 2013. She lives in Haifa with her husband and their daughter.
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Career course being offered for Israeli believers next month
While Israel’s economic situation is already challenging with comparatively lower salaries and higher taxes and costs of living than many other nations, believers here can find themselves in an even worse situation than the average Israeli.
Arik Pelled, manager of E.L.Y. Israel’s Families department, said that many believers have a tougher time finding good jobs or getting out of a rut of low-paying jobs.
“We have more new immigrants — Ethiopians, Russians — and also people who are confused that God called them to ministry, but they aren’t making money in that and yet they have a family to support,” Pelled told KNI.
E.L.Y. is offering a course in response to this dilemma in order to provide tools to believers to help them refine their careers and be successful in the marketplace. This is the second time the organization has offered this course, called Strong and Courageous. After the first course several participants launched new careers, pursued more training or found scholarships or government assistance to do so.
Pelled said the course fills a “major need” and is designed for people who don’t know what type of work suits them, find themselves at a crossroad in their career or simply are looking for a change.
With Pelled, Naamah Smith, project manager of E.L.Y. Families, and personal coach Hannah Shiloh, participants will explore questions about their own identity, gifts and strengths.
During and after the course E.L.Y. will guide the participants through their next steps, whether finding academic or professional training, business coaching, networking or even finding whether they are eligible for help from the government.
“In this course, we will learn how to turn confusion into clarity and challenge into a positive opportunity,” the course advertises.
“That’s why we opened the course last year,” Pelled said. “To help people get to know themselves better, to know whether their career choice is realistic and to give them tools to enter the cycle of professional work. Basically to strengthen and lift them up, build their confidence.”
One of E.L.Y.’s missions is to help believers build strong families personally and financially. Pelled said believers need to take responsibility for their financial situation.
“Many times believers say, ‘God will help us.’ So they don’t make a plan,” Pelled said. “But God loves order and He is always looking toward the future. We also need to be doing that.”
Smith said the course is very individualized and takes many factors into consideration as they advise each course participant how to build a plan for their lives.
“We get to know the participants through personal meetings, we try to understand what to do with their specific situation, we look for professional connections for them or get help that is due to them through the government,” she explained. “We take a holistic approach to each person.”
The four-week course costs 200 shekels. It will take place at Beit Sar Shalom in Ramat Gan every Tuesday in February from 6 to 9 p.m. To register for the course, contact Naamah Smith at 972.53.623.3281 or email@example.com.
The Kehila News Staff is a team of Israeli believers in Yeshua.
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One in Messiah – Joint gathering of believers from the region of Judah and beyond
On January 12, we conducted a joint Shabbat service with congregations and believers from around the region of the Tribe of Judah, and beyond. The gathering was initiated by Tom Hess, with our congregation, Nachalat Yeshua, handling most of the logistics and equipment needed, acting as hosts, so to speak. As some of you may know, the borders of Israel in the Bible do not extend to Mitzpe Ramon and Eilat, for example, if we accept the prescribed borders described by the LORD to the prophet Ezekiel in ch. 47 (at least, as I understand them now). But we did have believers come up for the service as far as Eilat in the south, from Arad in the east, from Sderot, Ashkelon, and Ashdod in the west, and from Bethlehem in the north!
Yes, we had four Arab brothers join us, being that Bethlehem is part of Judah. Two of the brothers were from Gaza, but moved to Bethlehem some years ago as Hamas took more control in Gaza. Another of the brothers told me that his father used to live in Beer Sheva, and went to a Sonday school operated by the Christian and Missionary Alliance back in the ’50s and early ’60s. I took him to where Yeshua’s Inheritance Cong meets today, which is where the school operated from in those early years. Jewish children were not allowed to go to the school, because the religious authorities forbade the parents from sending them there. Understandable, if regrettable. About 400 gathered together from around the region. Obviously there are more than 400 believers in the area, but not all came, and not all congregations participated. But for those who did, it was a time of encouragement, and for looking ahead to the breakthroughs that the Lord will yet do in our cities and region towards the salvation of many more souls through repentance and faith in the gospel “today”, and towards the salvation of ‘all Israel’ at the end of the age.
Please pray with us for spiritual breakthroughs, including the State of Israel allowing more Jewish believers to immigrate to Israel, and for Jews from Spain who may be descendants of Jews who were forced to convert to Christianity during the time of the Inquisition, and find it difficult to immigrate now that they discover that they are also Jewish.
Howard Bass is the congregation pastor/leader of Nachalat Yeshua (Yeshua's Inheritance) in Beer Sheva, Israel.