Panic in Petach Tikva: Ultra-Orthodox Oppose Messianic Presence in Major Israeli City
A few weeks ago MyNet, Petach Tikva’s Hebrew online news site, published an article, in which haredi (ultra-orthodox) leaders sounded an alarm over what they called “missionary activity” in the city. Petach Tikva’s acting Mayor Uriel Boso, a member of the ultra-orthodox Shas party, joined them in calling on city residents to “beware of the propaganda” being distributed by Messianic groups.
As most Messianic believers know, this same warning is sounded year after year, in different cities throughout Israel. The accusations against the Israeli Messianic community by anti-missionary groups such as Yad L’Achim and Jews for Judaism are as repetitive as they are baseless: we are practicing deceit by embracing Jewish customs, our leaders are motivated by lucrative salaries, we recruit new believers through entrapment, we indoctrinate minors to leave the Jewish faith in violation of Israeli law, etc., etc…. all with the goal of destroying the Jewish people.
These charges were vaguely repeated by MyNet’s sources as justification for raising the alarm yet again. But in order to convince the news site that the recycled accusations are newsworthy, MyNet was informed that anti-missionaries had obtained “an inside peek” at the sinister tactics of the soul-stealers in their city. Mr. Boso added weight to the claim by declaring that as a city official he has been dealing with the “dire phenomenon” of Messianic literature being distributed over recent months, and he identified activity by Jews for Jesus as particularly threatening. Mr. Boso encouraged MyNet readers to report and hand over any Messianic material they receive, so that “no more people will be hurt” by it.
How much credence was given to these allegations can be seen in the response of MyNet journalists Korine Elbaz-Alush and Yonatan Ochion, who informed their readers in the first paragraph that their “conversations with members of the organizations” identified as a threat revealed a “complex” story. It was one that not only contradicted the haredi charges but also appeared more newsworthy: the claims by Messianic Jews of being harassed and persecuted by the haredim.
For Messianic Israelis this too is old news. So was the defense of Messianic individuals interviewed by MyNet, that our faith is a natural extension of the Jewish stream introduced by the New Testament, a Jewish book based on Tanach (the Jewish Bible).
However, a truly new revelation – in fact, quite a startling one – appeared in the second paragraph of the article. Judging from the scant attention it received, its significance was lost on the journalists, who spent most of their effort trying to determine how Jewish or Christian our community is in its thinking and practice, whether Messianics qualify for the “cult” label, and how many approve of distributing literature as part of sharing their faith. The general conclusion of the article was that it appears Messianic Jews are good for the country, and that the believers in Yeshua may have more to fear from the haredim than vice versa.
So what was the bombshell that went unnoticed? According to MyNet’s haredi sources, the reason their community in Petach Tikva is so up in arms over the distribution of material about Yeshua is that “they are afraid it is drawing hundreds of new adherents – mainly the members of the haredi community in the city.”
If there is one claim continually published by the anti-missionaries, it’s that only Jews who are alienated from their Jewish heritage, or those ignorant of the Jewish Bible, would “fall for” the Messianic interpretations of the Jewish Scriptures as pointing to Yeshua. These “distortions” can be easily refuted, they say, by anyone who is properly educated in Tanach (or even fluent in Hebrew); and for this reason they urge donors to fund their educational efforts.
In Israel, Yad L’Achim has banked on this strategy in producing “Mehapsim”, a magazine targeting Hebrew-speaking Messianic Jews. The publication is crammed with testimonials, arguments and invitations about the power of Torah study, under rabbinic guidance, to “cure” Jews of their faith in Yeshua. Following that organization’s characterization of the Jews “most vulnerable to the influence of missionaries”, MyNet’s anti-missionaries refer to Israelis who are “easily exploited” by Messianic outreach precisely because they are (presumably) Torah-illiterate.
Yet at the same time we have a complaint, voiced by leaders of the Torah community, that the Petach Tikva residents most heavily involved in Torah study are “mainly” the ones being drawn to the Messianic claims of Yeshua; and that they are not a handful, but rather must be counted by “hundreds“.
A few Israeli believers were asked by MyNet if they understood why the ultra-orthodox are so hostile toward us. Their answers focused on what the haredim think of us, ranging from the perception that they “sometimes come to accept us after they get to know us”… to the conviction that “they are against us no matter what we do.” A spokesperson for Jews for Jesus reaffirmed our rights under Israeli law to hand out printed information and to “approach any adult (over 18) who would like to hear about our faith.” None of the believers who were interviewed mentioned the possibility that the hostility might be a panic reaction.
It would appear that the haredi community is quietly experiencing a spiritual meltdown of historic proportions. These people, who literally spend all their waking hours in Torah learning, are so starved for the real Word of the LORD that hundreds are willing to read ‘forbidden’ material in order to find Him.
In the third paragraph, before launching into their encounters with the Messianic community in Israel, the MyNet journalists again touched on the real scoop without recognizing it. They wondered whether the outspoken Messianic witness in Israel really has a “far-reaching” influence, or whether it just served as a “permanent scarecrow”, one of many that “the haredi community likes to use to unify its people against” a perceived outside threat. Either way, these reporters got the impression that current tensions would not be channeled into one more round of debates: “Word on the street is that this time we’re talking about a real confrontation, which might even lead to violence.”
If it should come to that, we as followers of Yeshua need to remember the real reason behind the panic in Petach Tikva… and rejoice that Messiah is so powerfully reaching those of our people who have lived all their lives “behind the Torah Curtain”.
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A Testimony from Hitchhiking
I’ve been hitchhiking for years and have lots of colorful stories to share. Here’s a recent encounter I had:
While hitchhiking into town, I was picked up by a man who had clearly been outside most of the day. He told me that he works in security on the borders of Israel. When he asked where I was from, I told him Texas. Then I described a recent attack in Amarillo where a Muslim came into a Walmart, taking hostages with his gun because he wasn’t satisfied with his salary there. Thank G-d the SWAT team took him out and no one else was hurt. The left wingers are calling this workplace violence instead of terrorism.
The man in the truck began to yell at me, “Do you know who I am?! Did you ever meet me before?!”
“No,” I answered quietly.
“I am an Arab!”
“Oops, I’m dead”, I thought.
“I am an Arab Christian and I know what terrorism looks like and this is it!” Then he began to yell repeatedly, “Obama, ata lo b’seder – Obama, you are not ok!” “I see what these Muslim terrorists can do and if you don’t identify them for who they really are, then you’re in big trouble.”
When he calmed down, I told him that I’m a Jewish believer in Messiah so then we spoke about Yeshua and how this is mainly a spiritual battle. I made a new politically incorrect friend today. Only in Israel….
Carolyn Margolin-Hyde was raised in an Orthodox Jewish synagogue near Chicago. She graduated from University of Illinois and as an RN she practiced nursing for many years. After making Aliyah Carolyn served as worship leader at K’tsir Asher, The Harvest of Asher Congregation, in Akko, and then led worship at Kehilat Poriya, a congregation near Tiberius. She has written and recorded many worship songs in English and Hebrew and her worship CD’s include “Just Like Joseph” and “The Latter Rain”- contemporary worship CDs; “Deep Calls to Deep” – a soaking CD; and “Fine Linen” – worship with a touch of the blues.
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Defending the Jewishness of Messianic Jews
For decades, Messianic Jews in Israel have struggled to convince their fellow citizens that they too are Jewish, but most of their persuasions have been met with skepticism and, at times, downright hostility. Until recently.
Shortly after Yaakov Katz was named Jerusalem Post’s Editor-in-Chief, he wrote about Israel’s inclusiveness as a society that includes four main streams of Judaism. After reading the article, Terri and Eric Morey of Poriya jumped at the opportunity to pen a response to the May 13 Editor’s Notes.
“In his excellent ‘Israel’s qualitative edge’, Yaakov Katz mentioned that there are four streams of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist),” Terri wrote. “But I want to assure him that there are at least five, and that one of them is Messianic Judaism.”
The Jerusalem Post printed Terri’s letter – with no content changes – in the English-language daily that has a circulation of 50,000 and some 3 million visits a month to its website.
The newspaper titled Terri’s letter, “We are still Jews!”
For Messianics, being simultaneously Jewish and believing that Yeshua is the Messiah is not only biblical but logical. Mainstream Judaism, however, has yet to coalesce the two seemingly disparate beliefs. After centuries of Christian persecution of Jews “in the name of Christ”, and forced conversions to Christianity, a deep seated fear and suspicion of Yeshua’s followers may be understandable. The Moreys hope that this letter is a step toward changing that perception.
“I’ve been living here 33 years and I don’t remember reading anything in the secular press that would let us say who we are,” Terri told Kehila News. “Messianic Judaism should be considered the fifth branch of Judaism. They don’t think we are Jewish, but if God would put this on the front page, so to speak, if people would see the simplicity of this fact and pick up their Bibles, they’d see it’s the truth.”
Katz wrote, “We don’t ask questions regarding how Jews practice and what they believe. Israel, we contend, is the homeland for all Jews and doesn’t belong to one denomination or stream.”
When Terri read those words she knew God had answered her prayer to be able to directly counter the notion that Messianics are not Jewish in a public forum.
“Most Jews in this country,” Terri said. “accuse us of deserting them. But we haven’t stopped being Jews – and that’s what I want to communicate.”
An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 Messianic Jews live in Israel – less than 1 percent of the population of Israel. But with this platform in the media recently, the Moreys hope their letter will raise awareness and answer questions about the Jewish belief that Yeshua is the Messiah.
“The more responses the Jerusalem Post gets to this, the more controversy it stirs up, the more interest people will have,” Eric said. “We encourage more people to write in and respond to that article.”
Eric desires to help Jews immigrate to Israel, even Messianic Jews who encounter obstacles due to the misperception that they aren’t Jewish.
“These are the very people that nobody is helping and many are trying to exclude,” he explained. “One of our major hopes with this letter is to overturn that misunderstanding of the truth.”
Both originally from the United States, Terri was raised a secular Jew while Eric was a non-religious Gentile. The couple separately became believers and a few years later immigrated to Israel in 1983. They settled in the Tiberias area.
Currently, the Moreys devote their time to Kehilat Poriya, a community of about 40 believers that is part of the Tents of Mercy network. Eric and Terri founded the Galilee Experience, a tourist center in Tiberias, which opened in 1991. The Moreys currently run a business producing a line of Hebraic roots calendars, an offshoot of the Galilee Experience.
Yaakov Katz’s entire article may be read here.
The Moreys’ letter (reprinted below) can also be seen here.
We’re still Jews!
May 25, 2016
In his excellent “Israel’s qualitative edge” (Editor’s Notes, May 13), Yaakov Katz mentioned that there are four streams of Judaism (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist). But I want to assure him that there are at least five, and that one of them is Messianic Judaism. There are more than 100,000 adherents in the US alone.
Certain people have concluded that when a Jewish person believes in Yeshua as the messiah, he or she is no longer Jewish. This is absolutely wrong. If you ask any Messianic Jew if he or she is Jewish, that person will say: “Of course I am. I was born Jewish and I will die Jewish. I believe in a Jewish man who fulfilled the prophecies of the Jewish messiah from the Jewish scriptures. The idea that this makes me a non-Jew is absurd!”
Let’s say that, worst case, we are wrong and Yeshua is not the Jewish messiah. So take the case of Rabbi Akiva. He proclaimed that Bar-Kochba was the Jewish messiah. Today, we know otherwise. Not only was Akiva mistaken, but his mistake brought enormous catastrophe upon the Jewish people. But do people say he was not a Jew? So how is it that a Jewish person who believes in Yeshua as the Jewish messiah, even if he or she is wrong, is no longer a Jew?
One of the more prominent streams of Judaism today is the Chabad movement. Many of its adherents believe that their late rebbe is the Jewish messiah. I believe this is wrong, but I have no doubt that these people are still Jewish.
Mr. Katz invited us, his readers, to share our thoughts, and I am glad he did this. It shows that we live in a country where freedom of belief and freedom of the press still exist.
TERRI MOREY Poriya Illit
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Jerusalem Encountered by Young Evangelical Christians
How is success measured?
By the hope and progress it has inspired, in relation to the goals of the organizers. What goals are we talking about? Networking among the Israeli ministries with international ministries, is one goal.
A second major goal was taking a big step towards engaging a broad and popular Evangelical audience, previously disengaged in regards to Israel. These are the things you noticed, if you were there: lots of ministry networking, and a new crowd of younger mainstream Christians.
Check out this video focusing on previously disengaged young people on tour and at the conference:
The speakers were impressive; sharp in their personal presentation of themselves and in the manner in which they speak.
Francis Chan, arguably the most compelling and most popular public figure for young American believers, was the main speaker at the opening and closing evening sessions. This in and of itself is a big deal for reaching this new younger audience, the future of Evangelical leadership.
Rich Wilkerson Jr. is also extremely popular amongst young Western Christians and his presence was felt significantly at the conference.
The conference will definitely be repeated annually from now on. The next conference dates are already set: June 13-15, 2017.
This first time roughly 600 attended, 250 coming from abroad. That is a lot of people, especially when you consider that we are not talking about a typical tour of Israel, with a typical crowd of Christian tourists. These are young adults and/or pastors who came all the way over, albeit some on scholarship, to experience Israel and the local ministries with minimal previous exposure and interest in Christian Zionism or Jewish evangelism.
In that sense, FIRM’s work is truly original and cutting edge. It is a common unofficial topic of concern that the Christian followers of Israel and Jewish ministries are growing older, and finally, much obliged, the younger generation is coming.
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A Step of Faith: Responding to God’s Call
This is Part Two in a series of articles showing God’s call on a family, their decision to move to Israel and what happened when they did.
In Part One, “God Has A Plan,” Scott Presson wrote about how God had moved upon the hearts of his parents to leave their life in the United States and to move to Israel.
On October 6, 1973, the armies of Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. Initially Israel was caught off guard, but in what came to be known as the “Yom Kippur War”, the Israel Defense Forces repelled the Syrian army on the Golan Heights and the Egyptians in the Sinai Peninsula.
Earlier that year, my father had announced that our family was moving to Israel. My parents had quit their jobs and had given away nearly everything that we owned. My father had reasoned that there were would be folks who would be willing to assist a family “called” to Israel and he had an invaluable resource to help find those people; an address book that looked like the phone directory for a major city. My Dad was a prolific letter writer and in the days before computers and electronic gadgets, his address book was his lifeline to hundreds, perhaps thousands of people that he met over the years.
That summer and fall we traveled the length and breadth of the United States. My father’s contacts had opened up doors everywhere and my parents had spoken to any congregation or group that would have them. The core message was always the same; Adonai had told our family to move to Israel. When people asked what we would be doing there, my father told them that more than anything we were going to be a blessing to the Israeli people. I had heard the message so many times that I was tired of hearing it.
“Dad, can I ask you something?”
“How exactly are we supposed to “bless” Israelis?” To my mind “blessing” someone meant giving them something of value.
“Hmm.” He looked at my mother and she looked at him. He was thinking.
While I had their attention I asked another question, “Where are we going to live when we get to Israel?”
After months on the road, I could tell that they were tired and preoccupied. We all were. We were going to the beaches of North Carolina but the passing landscape had ceased to be interesting. Summer had turned into fall and with the exception of my brother and me, everyone that we knew had gone back to school.
My father cleared his throat, “I don’t know where we are going to live but I am believing that God will honor our step of faith and open up doors for us to bless Israel and that he is going to provide a place for us to live.”
From behind, I saw him square his shoulders and sink deeper into the car seat. The discussion was over. It was just as I thought. They didn’t have any concrete answers.
Little did I know that the Yom Kippur War had changed reality. If we had not already given up everything and traveled around the United States telling people that we were going to Israel, my father and mother may have altered their plans. Now, it was too late. We were committed. For our other family members, the war added another level of worry. My older sister was married and lived in the western part of Virginia. When my father announced that we were moving to Israel, her reaction had been one of apprehension and fear. One evening as she was crying out to Adonai regarding our safety, an angel appeared to her. The angel assured her that not only had my parents made the right decision regarding going to Israel, but that Adonai had assigned angels to protect us.
On a cold February day in 1974, we boarded a flight for Tel Aviv. Almost two years of planning had gone into this moment and what had begun as a far off idea about moving to Israel had become a huge step of faith for our family. The plane pulled away from the terminal and began to taxi towards the runway. Suddenly the engines reversed thrust with a loud roar and the plane began a wide turn back to the terminal. Everyone began to talk at once. My father got the attention of a stewardess.
“Why are we were stopping?” he asked, “Is something wrong?”
She uttered one word, “Strike” and hurried up the aisle.
Apparently airline employees in Israel had gone on strike and our plane’s crew had gone on strike also. We were seated by an access door and before long it opened and airline and union officials came aboard the plane. They crowded into the aisle in front of us, arguing in English and in Hebrew. After a long wait, they seemed to come to a consensus. They exited the aircraft, the door was shut and the plane began to back away from the terminal. A heavily accented voice came over the speaker system.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, after a minor labor dispute, we are now ready to depart for Tel Aviv.”
Everyone cheered. My mother mentioned that it was Valentine’s Day. As the plane took flight, little did I know that this day that represents love would be a defining moment in my life. In the future, I was destined to learn how God uses a step of faith to bless us and others and in the process I would fall in love with a people and a place that would change me forever.
Has God called you to take a step of faith? Perhaps you have a dream to do something for Adonai that is so big that there is no way that it will ever happen without his help. The truth is that we are all called to take steps of faith. In fact the Bible says “…it is impossible to please Adonai without faith.” (Hebrews 11:6). A wise woman once told me ‘Take every opportunity to step out by faith. You will stumble more than some, you will embarrass yourself more than many, but you will grow quicker than most!” Adonai has things for each of us to do that will bless us, help others and that will magnify his name but they require steps of faith. When we combine faith with trust in Adonai, he blesses whatever we do.
Trust in Adonai with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6
Next: Sanctuary of Hope and Tears: Find out what happened when a step of faith became reality. In 1973, God told our family to move to Israel. This is our story.
Scott Presson is a Writer whose commentaries regarding personal and spiritual issues have been published around the world. He is also an award winning TV Producer, Editor and a former Journalist, who has traveled extensively covering everything from politics and weather to domestic terrorism and the front lines of the Middle East conflict.