The First Wave of Jews coming to Jesus hit in the 1970s in America. The Second Wave were Russian Jews in the 1990s. And now – in a Third Wave – Jews in Israel are coming to faith in increasing numbers. “I have never before seen what we’re seeing now,” said Tuvya Zaretsky, chairman of the Israel branch of Jews for Jesus. “We’re seeing a steady stream of particularly young Israelis who are coming to Jesus from all walks of life. There seems to be a greater openness to spiritual input.” In the 1990s, there were about 3,000 Messianic Jews in Israel; today there are as many as 20,000 (still less than 1% of the population), said Simon Stout, executive assistant of Jews for Jesus. There is estimated to be 150 congregations of like-minded believers in Israel. Of Israel’s 84 cities and towns, 81 have at least one messianic Bible study.
“There is a very unusual turning in Israel,” said Zaretsky. “The community of believers there has solidified. They’ve found their voice. There’s less antagonism. The situation is changing.” When Jews for Jesus launched its Israel branch in 2000, its banners were torn down and workers beaten up by ultra-orthodox Jews who associated Christianity with the Holocaust. Now, Jews for Jesus has a staff of 31 and the world political situation has sparked greater interest in Jesus, Zaretsky said. After World War II’s Holocaust killed 6 million Jews, Israel was created by decree of the United Nations as a safe place for Jews. But now many Israelis feel more imperilled than ever. Iran, which is feared to be close to producing nuclear weapons, is constantly threatening Israel’s destruction. On the streets of Israel, terrorism is a constant.
“Young people generally feel very little hope for the future and are therefore more open to the gospel,” said Zaretsky. With half the country’s population, Tel Aviv is where Jews for Jesus runs a 3-story discipleship centre which hosts coffee house activities, art shows and other events to bring in neighbours in the trendy Florentine neighbourhood. A brief presentation of the gospel is always given; literature is on hand, and messianic Jews are present for anyone curious. In 2008, research showed that most Israelis had very little concept of who Yeshua was. They knew him by the name Yeshu, a corruption of his name imposed by the rabbis to expunge Christianity from Judaism. While Yeshua is related to Yeshuah, which means “salvation,” Yeshu is an acrostic that stands for “Cursed be his name and his memory.”
So Jews for Jesus took to the streets with banners to educate Israelis about Yeshua. The placards read: “Yeshu = Yeshua = Yeshuah” and included the phone number of the Jews for Jesus office. They took out ads in the newspaper with this motto and placed it on billboards and buses. The ultra-orthodox tore the signs down. Now workers hold up banners along streets and highways at different times. Jews for Jesus have also staged yearly region-wide campaigns, called “Israel, Behold Your God,” that included months of concentrated evangelism. Ben, an 18-year-old high school student from northern Israel, contacted Jews for Jesus personnel through its website two months ago.
Igal, a missionary intern, talked to Ben via Skype and found out that his mother was a believer. Igal shared with him his personal testimony about how God set him free from drugs and brought him peace, encouraging Ben to believe that Yeshua would do the same for him, Stout said. Ben agreed to study more about Yeshua and actually stated that he wanted to give Yeshua a chance to work in his life. Igal prayed daily for Ben and talked to him once a week. Just this month, Ben prayed with Igal to accept Yeshua as his Messiah, Stout said. “People are receiving Christ at a fairly constant rate,” Stout said. “They’re coming in ones or twos each month. It’s not a speedy process. There are cultural barriers for Jews to accept Jesus Christ.”
Stout was himself a non-believing, reformed Jew from Indianapolis who visited Israel on a government-subsidized tour in 2001. First he saw the horrors of concentration camps in Poland, where Jews were imprisoned and killed wholesale as part of Hitler’s anti-Semitism during World War 2. Leaving behind the dreary memorials and the cold weather, Stout landed in Israel when it was warm and lovely. “The first time I saw Jerusalem, there was a rainbow over part of the city,” he said. “There was something inside me that told me that there was a reason for me to be in Israel. I had this feeling that there was a God and He had a purpose for Israel.
“I felt God must be real because only He could have taken the horrors of World War II and birthed a nation and bring us back after 2,000 years,” he said. But it wasn’t until years later that Stout accepted Jesus when he came to Israel to study for a master’s in education. A friend from a messianic congregation invited him to visit. In Indianapolis, his only exposure to Christianity were school kids telling him he would burn in Hell for being a Jew; he also saw Jewish houses get egged, he said. Despite the bad first impression with Christianity, he wasn’t completely closed to hearing about Jesus. For two months, he attended Bible studies and fellowship groups. Then one night he had a dream about a flood in New York and a flood in China.
When he attended a Bible study about prophetic dreams, he hoped to find an interpretation. Instead the lady speaker prophesied over him: “God hears your prayers. Yeshua is real, and He has great plans for you.” Stout broke down crying. He accepted Yeshua and was baptized in the Mediterranean Sea. He decided to remain in Israel, where he has married and had two children. Originally, he taught English literature but two years ago started working with Jews for Jesus. Another ministry of Jews for Jesus is its “Massah” outreach in India. Surprisingly, the Himalayas are a favourite hiking mecca for Israelis after they complete their mandatory military service at about age 20. Secular Jews, in particular, use the getaway to take drugs and forget the stressful experience of constant war threat in Israel, Zaretsky said.
For 5-6 weeks during the summer, there are so many Israelis in the Himalayas that entire restaurants and coffee houses are filled with Jews. There are even Hebrew-speaking waiters and Hebrew menus to cater to the sub-culture diaspora. There’s something about the mystique of India, with its varied spirituality, that seems to open Jewish youth to talk about alternatives. It’s the perfect spot to strike up a conversation about Yeshua. So yearly, the Israeli branch of Jews for Jesus forms a team that travels to India for ministry. “India is a relevant place to talk about spirituality and belief,” said one Messianic Jewish believer on a YouTube video about Massah. Another recounted about sharing the gospel with a Jew who, intrigued, told her: “This whole talk we’ve had would not have happened if we were in Israel.”
The parents of Shmuel Salway immigrated with his family from India and now the 42-year-old is associate pastor of the Adonai Roi congregation, which has functioned in Tel Aviv for 19 years. It’s now a church of 100 members. “We just had five baptisms last month,” Salway said. “The Jews are coming back to the land, and they’re coming to know the Messiah. We’re living in prophetic times. I believe Yeshua will come back in our lifetime. He’ll come back when many more Jews come to Messiah and cry out ‘Baruch Haba B’Shem Adonai’ – Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
INCREASING NUMBER OF ARAB YOUTH ARE OPENLY BLESSING ISRAEL
Young people from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Yemen and many other Arab countries are turning to social media to tell the world that they love Israel. The trend began, according to Al-Monitor, a popular pan-Mideast media outlet, when an Israeli Arab Muslim who served in the Israel Defence Force (IDF) wanted to convince other Israeli Arabs that the (IDF) are not an “army of evil” and that its soldiers are not as bloodthirsty as they tend to be portrayed in Arab propaganda films. But instead of messages from the Israeli Arab audience he was targeting, he began receiving messages of peace and love from young Arabs all across the region. M., who told his story to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, noticed that the Arab-Israeli political parties were putting up billboards protesting against recruiting Israeli Arabs into the IDF.
“I saw the signs that were hung in Arab villages being run by activists of Balad and the other Arab parties under the banner ‘The IDF isn’t worth it’. It infuriated me,” he said. “I decided to respond to them on Facebook, so I made a page called ‘The IDF is worth it’, but instead of getting responses from the young Israeli Arabs to whom I was directing my personal campaign, I started to get photos and texts from young people around the Arab world. My jaw dropped,” M. told the website. One young woman from Saudi Arabia posted a video holding a green Saudi passport against a street scene in Jeddah, saying in the background: “Good evening. I am a young woman from Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. I am a member of one of the better-known tribes of the Hijaz, and I am showing you Darajeh Square, a famous landmark in Jeddah.
She said “I’d like to send a message of peace and love to Israel and its dear citizens. I know it is surprising that a Saudi Arabian citizen sends a message to the people of Israel, but it is a basic principle of democracy that everyone is free to voice an opinion. I hope the Arabs will be sensible like me and recognize the fact that Israel also has rights to the lands of Palestine.” A young man from Iraq posted a picture of his passport along the Tigris River. “I want to send a message of peace and love to the dear Israeli people,” he said. “I decided to shoot this video and tell you, ‘True, we are two countries that do not have friendly relations, but that doesn’t matter. I believe that the number of people who support Israel here will grow consistently.'”
Other young people send M. photos of their passports with handwritten messages in Hebrew, Arabic and English. It is always the same: “We love Israel.” M. also engages the senders in private conversations. “After I got a video from Baghdad, I asked the person who sent me the clip what it was that caused him to express support for Israel.” The Iraqi man responded, “You’d be surprised. I’m not the only one. There are a lot of young people here who think like me. Everything that is happening to us here in Iraq-the killings, the terrorism, the veritable bloodbath-showed us that Israel has nothing to do with it. There are many young people …they are fed up with the religious wars between Sunnis and Shiites.”
Of course, there is also a growing pro-Israel sentiment among young Israeli Arabs, especially Christians. Ehab Ashkar, an Arab Believer from Nazareth, had this to say when Israel Today asked him about the phenomenon: “As an Arab who lives in Israel, it is a great honour for me to live side by side with my brothers the Jews. I bless them and love them and it is a privilege to tell them about my faith in their book, the Bible. There is a real way that we can live together in love, unity and peace, Arabs and Jews-through our Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.”
ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER WARNS A NUCLEAR IRAN A THOUSAND TIMES MORE DANGEROUS THAN ISLAMIC STATE
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told a US Senator that a nuclear-armed Iran is a thousand times more dangerous than the Islamic State (ISIS). “As horrific as ISIS is, once Iran, the preeminent terrorist state of our time, acquires nuclear weapons, it will be a thousand times more dangerous and more destructive than ISIS.” The deal negotiated with Iran last year will also provide Iran with tens of billions of dollars to fund its aggressive pursuits. Netanyahu said “I see no reason to fill Iran’s coffers with tens of billions of dollars to pursue its aggression throughout the Middle East and around Israel’s borders,” he said. Netanyahu said it was possible for a better deal to have been negotiated.
“I think a better deal that avoided those two pitfalls would have been better” Netanyahu told the U.S. lawmaker. “I think we must resist both ISIS and Iran,” he said. “ISIS should be fought. Iran should be stopped.” The prime minister began the meeting by also affirming U.S.-Israeli relations. “We welcome the partnership, bipartisan, with the United States because we think that the relationship between Israel and the United States is a precious asset for both countries,” Netanyahu said. “Everyone in Israel thinks as I do.”