Members of Lehava, a violent anti-assimilation organization led by Ben-Zion Gopstein – a former disciple of Rabbi Meir Kahana – have been attacking a safe house for at-risk youth which is operated by a Messianic family.
“When they came, during opening hours, we asked them to leave and said that we have three little children here,” Michael, who manages the home, told Kehila News Israel (KNI). “They didn’t care. They left and came back throwing bricks and stones at us. One flew right by one of our heads.”
Lehava members have repeatedly attacked the home over the past two weeks. On Feb. 15, young men walked into the home, trashed the place, threw glass bottles into the garden and stole a cell phone. At 5 a.m. they returned and threw a rock at the front door, shattering the glass and waking up the family.
Police are investigating the attacks and the organization is installing a surveillance system in the meantime.
The outreach is operated by a Messianic organization from Michael and his wife’s private home in Jerusalem. The home provides an address for at-risk youth and former Orthodox Jews, supplying anything they might need and being available 24/7 for a warm meal, a place to sleep, a hug, a cup of coffee or a heart-to-heart talk. Young people from Orthodox families who doubt, or even leave their faith, are often ostracized from their families.
“Former Orthodox Jews, especially if they are from an ultra-Orthodox background, need a place that will accept them as they are and help them transition into the outside world. Our home provides workshops in music, English lessons, and more,” Michael explained. “Sometimes people with black ultra-Orthodox clothes will arrive just to speak out. They don’t believe in God anymore, but they have to study in the yeshiva and live within the Orthodox community and pretend. Otherwise they will lose their wives and children.”
As this reporter was interviewing Michael for this article, Lehava members returned and again threw rocks at the windows.
“I worry just going to the store now,” he said. “What if they come and attack the house when my wife is alone at home?”
“It is important to emphasize that Lehava is an extremist Jewish organization, which is widely condemned, also by many religious Jews,” Michael said. “A lot of the young ex-religious people who we help are boldly standing on our side against their former peers. It’s amazing to see. Others left once the trouble started.”
These recent attacks are part of a long string of persecution against Messianic and Christian outreaches. Twice in recent years Lehava organized protests that turned violent in Jerusalem – one of which was at a Messianic concert attended by several children.
Yad L’Achim, another anti-missionary organization that stalks believers and speaks out against Messianic and Christian organizations, is also “raising awareness” about the safe house. On a radio program, Shimon Avergel, a Yad L’Achim field officer, said the safe house is a secret missionary base where vulnerable youth are lured into Christianity.
Michael denied this.
“Our prayer is for everyone to be saved. But because these people are in a confused situation of searching for the truth, it’s not the right time to push for a different faith. If they ask us, we will gladly explain to them what we believe and why. But we are not forcing our faith upon them. We are not demanding that they listen to a sermon or pray a prayer to receive help. Even if an angel from God would come and tell us that ‘this specific person will never be saved’ we would still help him. That’s what we do here. We have received a mandate from God to serve and love everyone.”
On the radio program, the host asked Avergel how to distinguish between acceptable humanitarian aid and a “secret missionary” place.
“They don’t have any rules at missionary places. They let you do whatever you want,” Avergel said. “Also you will find missionary literature sneaked in between regular books like Harry Potter.”
Michael laughed at the analogy.
“They are just making things up now,” he said. “Other humanitarian places in Jerusalem allow them to drink and smoke whatever they want. We prohibit all kinds of smoking and drinking in or around our home. Whenever people spend the night, we don’t allow guys and girls together. The only issue where we have fewer rules than other places is that we don’t put a curfew. If it’s late we don’t throw them out, we let them spend the night on our sofa. We just can’t send them outside in the cold. It is rare that people spend the night, but it happens. And about the books? That’s just a ridiculous accusation. It’s our home, those are the books we read.”
What do you want to tell the readers of KNI?
“Ask them to pray for those who persecute us. They are poor teenagers who have been brainwashed to think they’re doing ‘God’s work’ when they throw bricks and attack us. Pray that God will take them out of this hatred captivity. Pray also for us, for divine protection and for wisdom, and for the populations we serve here, that they won’t get hurt.”