Ashdod threatens Messianic congregation for operating a ‘house of prayer’
As if it wasn’t enough that Orthodox Jews had vandalized their new building, now the Municipality of Ashdod is bearing down on the Beit Hallel congregation in the legal arena declaring that the non-profit organization itself is operating illegally.
“We got our permits 11 years ago,” Pastor Israel Pochtar told Kehila News Israel. “Then suddenly one day you wake up and say its illegal?”
This latest threat, which is a different tactic from the physical vandalization of the congregations’ property, began when Pochtar and other leaders went to City Hall to discuss getting permits for a new building they are planning.
“Not only did we not receive them, we received a letter saying our current building is illegal,” Pochtar said. The municipality accused the congregation of “illegal gathering and operating a house of prayer in the city.”
The municipality’s declaration, made in a letter sent last month, is quite a switch since the municipality itself had granted Beit Hallel’s tax exemption based on its non-profit status a decade ago.
The matter had been brewing for about two years, however, when one of the city council members, Avi Amsalem, publicly promised to do everything in his power to stop Messianic Jews in his community. Amsalem, who is running now for re-election, is Orthodox and is a member of the Shas party. Two years ago he asked the city to verify that renovations of the congregation’s building were being one according to the law.
In a letter this week to leaders in the believing community, Pochtar says that the municipality “has really taken on itself the mission to put an end to our presence and work in the city.”
Pochtar wrote, “they suspiciously enough decided it wasn’t enough for a prayer house to operate under all the required permits, according to their current stance” and that “a different, exceptional permit is also required for an organization like ours (something that as far as I’m aware of, has never been mentioned, nor appears in city bylaws, that I know of).”
Despite the ongoing pressure from these attacks, Pochtar said he has received supernatural encouragement from the Holy Spirit.
“We’ve come through many battles and each one has turned out for good for us,” Pochtar said. “So now we are looking to see how this is going to turn out.”
The congregation’s administrator, an Israeli lawyer who has won in the courts several cases of discrimination for other congregations and houses of prayer, is on the case.
Pochtar believes that at the root of the continuing discrimination in Ashdod is the influence that his congregation of 300 people has in the city. Each month, the ministry helps 1,200 families from Holocaust survivors and people with disabilities to single mothers and new immigrants. The congregation provides food, clothing and counseling to those who are in need. Some 100 volunteers man the center.
The impact of the believers in Ashdod from two congregations that meet in buildings and a few home groups rivals that of the Orthodox community in 350 synagogues in the city.
“That is part of the reason the religious people have become jealous,” Pochtar said. “They see the work we do and our influence. And everyone knows, the Orthodox only help the Orthodox.”
Pochtar said his team will fight this latest battle so as to prevent a precedent in Israel that could be used “to impose strict limitations on the work of other congregations in the country.”
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Messianic organization urges believers: Adopt, foster vulnerable children in Israel
An initiative that is going nationwide this year intends to bring awareness to the plight of orphans and foster children in Israel and to encourage believing families especially to provide them with loving and nurturing homes.
Orphan Shabbat, an initiative of the HaTikva Families department of HaTikva Project, is the local adaptation of Orphan Sunday, part of an international organization based in the United States. While the event last year was hosted by one local congregation, this year leaders are hoping several congregations will dedicate a full weekend to shedding light on the dire situation of at-risk children in Israel.
“The orphan is kept out of view from the public. We want to say through this initiative, ‘We see you and we will care for you,’” a HaTikva Families representative told KNI.
According to HaTikva Families, some 367,000 children in Israel are classified as at-risk. Approximately 10,000 children have been removed from their homes by the Ministry of Welfare and only 25 percent of those have been placed in foster families.
“People don’t realize how great of a need there is,” HaTikva Families said. “We are using Orphan Shabbat as a platform to really campaign, primarily to the local Body of Messiah, but we are targeting society in general and the Jewish diaspora.”
While the main push of HaTikva Families is recruiting families for adoption and foster care, the organization is an advocate for child welfare and is partnering with other nonprofits that have similar missions.
Orphan Shabbat is scheduled for Nov. 10 and 11. It purposely rolls over into Sunday so that religious Jews who observe Shabbat will be able to connect the following day. HaTikva Families provides resources to congregations and organizations that want to get involved and ideas for teachings and Bible studies that relate to the issues of adoption and caring for at-risk children.
“The narrative of the scriptures is, you were adopted into a family that is not your own,” HaTikva Families said. “If we’re talking to believers, there’s no better way to live out the Gospel than reaching out to children in need. That’s pure religion: visiting the orphan and widow in their distress. (James 1:27)”
Since not everyone is able to adopt or foster, HaTikva Families suggests other ways people can help including volunteering at a local welfare office, touring a children’s home or supporting an adoptive family with babysitting, meals or financially.
“Even the smallest action can make a difference,” HaTikva Families maintains.
Fostering and adoption in Israel goes according to religion, meaning Jewish families can adopt only Jewish children, Muslims only Muslims and Christians only Christians. Culture and language also play a role in placing children in family situations.
The country averages 120 adoptions a year and tends to prefer keeping an at-risk child in the welfare system, whether in an institution or in foster care. While the government works to rehabilitate the biological family, the issue is that there is no law that stipulates the amount of time given for rehabilitation. Therefore, a child can get stuck in the system rather than being moved over to adoption. Hence fostering is a more viable option, especially for believers who want to get involved. Adoption can take five years while foster care can take between three to 18 months to be approved, HaTikva Families said. Children with disabilities or special needs that have been abandoned tend to be more quickly assigned to a family willing to take them in.
“A child wouldn’t be in (an at-risk) situation unless he has gone through abandonment, trauma or extreme distress, or addiction. This has a great impact on a child and even on his or her brain development,” HaTikva Families explained. “The only way we see a child come through to wholeness is through the nurture of a mother and a father.”
After they recruit families that want to adopt or foster, HaTikva Families helps them navigate the process. Currently the organization is assisting about 10 interested families.
For the upcoming Orphan Shabbat, HaTikva Families is partnering with Orr Shalom, an Israeli organization that enables at-risk children to find safe homes — the quintessential goal of HaTikva Families and Orphan Shabbat.
“We hope to see wounds healed and each child fully develop to his potential.”
The first Orphan Sunday is credited as occurring in Zambia where a pastor called on church members to care for orphans in their community. A visiting American pastor was inspired and the idea — adopted by American churches through Every Orphan’s Hope — eventually spread around the world through the Christian Alliance for Orphans.
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Saying goodbye to a Messianic Music Pioneer
At my wedding, 30 years ago, Elana and I were honored that one of the most famous Messianic worship groups performed. Of course, they were our dear friends Israel’s Hope. Marc Chopinsky wrote most of the music. Yesterday, we buried him in Haifa.
Marc died suddenly on Sunday morning. Next to his body was a hymnal that he must have been reading when he collapsed, opened to the song, “I believe in Jesus.”
As I was driving home, Israel received her first rain since Spring…something that is always seen as a sign of blessing. I have to believe that God was telling us that Marc was now with him. I shared some thoughts from my car.
This article originally appeared on Messiah’s Mandate, October 23, 2018, and reposted with permission.
Ron and wife Elana make their home in Tel Aviv. He serves on the pastoral team of Tiferet Yeshua—the Glory of Yeshua—a Tel Aviv-based, Hebrew-speaking Messianic congregation. Ron is a published author with Destiny Image Publishers, having written books like “Identity Theft”, “Leave Me Alone, I’m Jewish” and “The Jerusalem Secret”. Ron is a sought-out conference speaker and shares passionately about the Jewish Roots of the New Testament and God’s broken heart for His ancient people Israel.
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Remembering Israeli Musician Marc Chopinsky
JERUSALEM, Israel – Musician, composer and worship leader Marc Chopinsky will be greatly missed by many. This beloved brother was laid to rest on Monday.
“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (Psalm 116:15)
Born in Philadelphia in 1950, the self-taught guitarist traveled the rock and roll nightclub circuit for 17 years without ever composing a song. All that began to change in the spring of 1981 when he met the Messiah.
He became a prolific songwriter and part of Israel’s Hope, a popular trio in the 1980s, with Paul Wilbur and René Bloch.
Chopinsky’s lifelong friend and founder of Tents of Mercy Eitan Shishkoff, gave the eulogy at the service.
“This is hard. I won’t kid you,” Shishkoff told the gathering. “He gave so much to so many.”
“I think Marc never got over being saved,” Shishkoff said. “It was perhaps his first theme: the gratitude and joy of his salvation.”
The two families knew one another when they lived in the US, their 15-year friendship picking up again at Ohalei Rachamim (Tents of Mercy) congregation Shishkoff led in Haifa.
“Marc gave our son, David, his first guitar lessons – a gift that continues,” Shishkoff relayed.
Chopinsky and his wife, Leah, passed the legacy onto their son, Eli and his wife, Vanessa. They held family worship together every week in their home.
“It meant a lot to me how much their prayers became a living legacy,” a friend and member of the congregation told CBN News. “They prayed a lot for their son over the years.”
The news of Marc’s passing took everyone by surprise.
“It just felt so unexpected. We just saw him on Shabbat [Sabbath]. To get news of his passing on Sunday morning was shocking.”
“Everyone admired his calm, even-keeled, upbeat and encouraging demeanor,” she continued. “He was always approachable if somebody had a question. He was never ruffled by things. It didn’t matter how many people were there.”
“Marc’s songs became the calling card of the ministry and the reason the phone kept ringing,” Paul Wilbur wrote after hearing the news.” Always humble, always tender hearted, Marc was the unflappable one who always had a soft answer and a large smile.”
For some, Chopinsky’s sudden passing brought to mind the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“The righteous perishes and no man takes it to heart; merciful men are taken away, while no one considers that the righteous is taken away from evil. He shall enter into peace; they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.” (Isaiah 57:1-2)
Chopinsky shared a little bit about himself in an interview in 2014 at the annual Intercessors for Israel prayer conference in Jerusalem.
His sudden departure is a reminder for all of us to cherish one another, encourage and love each other while we can.
This article originally appeared on CBN News, October 23, 2018, and reposted with permission.
Tzippe Barrow is the CBN News Internet Producer - Jerusalem. She and her husband made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) nearly two decades ago. Barrow hopes that providing a biblical perspective of today’s events in Israel will help people in the nations to better understand the centrality of this state and the Jewish people to God’s unfolding plan of redemption for all mankind.
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Orthodox Jewish publication lambastes Messianic writer
Even with his bold and evangelistic approach here in Israel, Ron Cantor had yet to experience an attack as vicious as he did when a media outlet accused him of being anti-Semitic and even compared him to perpetrators of the Spanish Inquisition.
“It was kind of like getting hit by a two-by four-to be honest,” Cantor told Kehila News Israel (KNI). “I have no ill will against them, but I have to be honest this is one of the few times in 15 years that I encountered this level of rejection and rhetoric against me.”
Breaking Israel News (BIN), a Jewish-run Israel news site with an Orthodox leaning, published a scathing article in response to Cantor’s original piece in which he questioned the credibility of the self-appointed Sanhedrin in Israel and its courting of Christians for donations. While Cantor’s own article was opinionated, the response to it bordered on defamation and slander.
In it, Sanhedrin spokesmen Rabbi Hillel Weiss was quoted as saying that Cantor “is reenacting every anti-Semitic act ever perpetrated throughout history.”
“I know that everyone’s got their voice and they are free to respond, and I certainly expected them to disagree with me,” Cantor told KNI. “But I was a bit stunned by the over the top rhetoric. It seemed that it was an emotional response. Clearly I’m not anti-Semitic. I live in Israel, I sent my daughters to the army, I speak Hebrew. I love this country. I could live a very nice life in America.”
After making aliyah 15 years ago, Cantor, a ministry leader and writer, has chosen to live in Israel and has dedicated his life to see the salvation of the Jewish people.
In his original article, published on his website on Sept. 19 and picked up by Charismanews.com, Cantor addressed a worrying phenomenon that Christians are seeking friendships with the Jewish people possibly at the expense of both Messianic believers and of recognizing Yeshua.
“As a Jewish believer, I am deeply conflicted: On the one hand, I love that Christians are seeking friendship with Jews. On the other, I am deeply concerned that it is in an effort to affirm a Yeshua-less Judaism,” Cantor wrote in his article.
He called out the new Sanhedrin as a group that would shun Messianic Jews even while seeking partnerships with evangelical Christians.
“Not only would they not fellowship with me, they would most likely persecute me. While I love the fact that evangelicals are establishing relationships with Orthodox Jews, it seems that some of it is coming at the cost of compromising our most holy commission—to spread the message of Yeshua to all nations,” Cantor wrote.
Cantor himself subscribes to BIN and appreciates the organization’s zeal for God and its mission — to repair relations between the Jewish people and Christians. But he points out on his blog that, “Christians, while absolutely having a calling (Rom. 11:11) to reach out with love to the Jewish people, should never assume that Judaism without Yeshua is acceptable.”
When he saw the BIN email containing the article in his inbox, Cantor said he shivered. At first he was hurt, then he thought that such inflammatory rhetoric is possibly illegal. He contacted a lawyer who agreed, then contacted the author of the article.
“To my great delight the writer responded saying. ‘I understand how you feel, let’s have a conversation,’” Cantor recalled.
“I understand why what I wrote was offensive,” Cantor told KNI. “I sympathize with their feelings against me. I realize the church has persecuted the Jewish people for centuries so in their minds I am masquerading as a Jew who believes in Jesus with a hidden agenda.
“In their eyes Messianic Jews are coercing Jews to convert to a foreign religion when in fact all of the first followers of Jesus were Jews and it never entered their minds that they were changing their religions.”
In his own community of secular and Orthodox Israelis, Cantor’s beliefs are not an issue: “Three things impress the average Israeli: That I moved here, that I know the language and that my children served in the army.”
Cantor said he is up for strong debate, but the challenge for him will be to communicate in the most gracious and honest way possible. He encourages other believers in Israel to not back down from the challenge but at the same time to understand that there are people behind the criticism — and these people share a zeal for God despite their difference of opinion on who the Messiah is.
“The thing to take away from this is that while we can never compromise our commitment to the Great Commission, I would be lying if i didn’t say that we want to bring Israelis to faith in Messiah,” Cantor encouraged. “But when we speak about issues like the Sanhedrin or others, we need to remember that these are real people with real feelings in our country and some of them are actually willing to dialogue.”