On any given Friday evening or Shabbat morning, believers around the country look forward to their weekly congregational service for inspiration and the freedom to worship, which it is their democratic right as free citizens of a civilized country.
But instead, some are met by hundreds of violently angry and intimidating ultra-Orthodox Jews, gathered en masse, using loudspeakers and implementing every form of threatening behavior aimed at blocking congregants from entering their house of worship. If that hasn’t scared them, they must still struggle past these demonstrators who intend to frighten, bully and employ scare tactics to cause people to turn away.
This is the type of persecution that Beit Hallel Messianic Congregation in Ashdod has dealt with for the last few years. The demonstrations escalated last month following a large Orthodox conference which took place in January. Yad L’Achim, a well-known anti-missionary organization got behind the effort helloing to organize, strategize and mobilize large numbers within the Orthodox community in order to eradicate the growing and thriving congregation of more than 300 people.
Those growing numbers are thanks to evangelistic outreaches and strong relationships that have developed between friends and family and the believers. Israelis have the right to come to their own conclusions concerning matters of faith and conscience. But not according to these protestors whose faith formulas only come in one size for all.
Naturally, the congregational leadership went straight to the police to file a complaint. The police, however, said no laws were being broken, that the demonstrators were not creating a public disturbance and that their religious rights include vocally disturbing the religious rights of others.
In fact, the police chief admitted that the believers’ complaints were futile and that, at an internal meeting, police were given orders not to interfere.
“In my opinion, there is no disruption of peace nor does it constitute a life-threatening situation,” the police chief said.
These demonstrators’ clearly mean to stop the fruitful evangelistic outreaches which threaten the nearly 2,000-year reign of rabbinical Judaism as the only legitimate expression of the faith. With full backing of the police, the zealots feel free to go as far as they deem fit in order to remove what they see as a blight from their city.
In fact, Ashdod’s chief rabbis and elders have signed a decree calling on every orthodox member of their community to physically hinder and stop those associated with the Messianic congregation.
The Beit Hallel community has realized it cannot expect any assistance from the authorities. The congregation’s leadership has hired attorneys to bring a criminal case against the organizers of these weekly events, claiming undue interference with the rights of congregants to worship as they choose. Additionally, some congregational members have posted videos and photos on social media so the public could see these despicable events for themselves.
The congregation purchased and renovated a new building within the last few years, however, the city has not granted a permit to use the facility as a place of worship, also referred to in Israel as a “House of Prayer.” The permit granted limits the building’s use as a distribution center to the poor and needy. Yet even this caused a great uproar in the Ashdod Orthodox community.
Israel Pochtar, a leader of Beit Hallel, along with his entire congregation is requesting prayer that they be afforded the basic rights of all citizens, to worship freely without disturbance, intimidation or threat of bodily harm.
The authorities must also care enough to protect the Messianic believers and be willing to end lawless and hateful attacks against them and anyone who interprets scripture differently or who believe that Yeshua is Messiah spoken of by the law and the prophets.
While an estimated 30,000 Messianic believers living in Israel, committed to the Zionist dream, Israeli values and way of life, those who oppose such values belie the Jewish ideals upon which the State was built.
Pray that God would open their eyes to the injustice and blatant bigotry they display and open their hearts to the truth of salvation which they desperately need.