“Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly, and revere your God. I am the LORD.” – Leviticus 19:32
In the early-1970s the growing number of aging Israeli believers who needed care prompted believers here and overseas to seek a solution; and in 1976, Ebenezer Home opened its doors in Haifa. On its 40-year anniversary, Kehila News Staff visited Ebenezer’s manager Johnny Khoury, to learn more about this unique ministry.
Holding an MA in Gerontology, Johnny was hired by Ebenezer in 1998, and in 2003 he became its first Israeli manager. Until that time, managers from overseas rotated in and out on short-term assignment, usually for three or four years. “The manager before me was Norwegian, and he did an exemplary job,” Johnny says, but the need for Israeli management was making itself felt; first to interact with local government offices, and second to carry out long-term planning that could only be actualized by someone who was here to stay.
That first year, Johnny noted, was definitely challenging. “We had problems trying to receive visas for our volunteers from the Interior Ministry, but so did other Messianic organizations in those days.” As relations with the government became more cordial, it still “took a few good years” to stabilize the Home’s operations, to the point where eventually the Amuta (non-profit organization) replaced the “foreign company” in the management and running the Home in 2011.
Ebenezer’s manager is justifiably proud of the top ratings the Home is receiving today in inspections by the Health and Social Welfare Ministries. But what makes this senior-citizen facility unique in Israel is its designation for Israeli believers in Yeshua. Johnny related how Ebenezer is highly regarded not only for its quality care to its seniors, but also for its core values as a Messianic institution. He has even been congratulated by managers of other nursing homes for Ebenezer’s good testimony.
Ebenezer is currently home to 29 Jewish and non-Jewish believers from all backgrounds, some of whom have been residents for almost 20 years. They are served by 35 professionals including nurses, social workers and physical therapists, along with kitchen, cleaning and administrative staff. Also assisting are six volunteers on two-year visas. Residents pay a scaled fee according to their income, which is supplemented by private donations.
Grateful to God for this success, Johnny Khoury is focusing on the next stage of development: a growing need to add a Nursing ward. Despite our anticipation of eternal life, “biology is what it is,” he quipped. Many Ebenezer residents are independent octogenarians who are nevertheless becoming frailer with time. Johnny remembers a dramatic struggle four years ago, when a Welfare Ministry inspector suddenly decided that their weakest members should be forcibly relocated, because Ebenezer lacked full nursing services. The crisis erupted right before Passover. It was resolved in the end, but Johnny saw it as a warning from God to start working toward providing these services.
Legally, Ebenezer cannot provide assisted-living care without a license from the Ministry of Health, and there is no Messianic facility in Israel that can receive seniors needing such care. There is one Christian nursing home, which admits only non-believing Holocaust survivors. The government, says Johnny, is granting grace to Ebenezer on this issue for as long as they can, “because they see not only the quality of care we give, but that we are also unique in the country.” Sooner or later, however, they will have to insist on licensing.
Meanwhile the Messianic community here is growing, as is the average life expectancy of Israelis. This means more elderly believers applying to live at Ebenezer, and increasing numbers are asking about nursing care.
Johnny is determined to answer the need so that Seniors in the Body can enjoy fellowship with one another to the very end of their earthly lives. This after all was the founding vision of Ebenezer Home.
What will it take to materialize the vision? He estimates the required investment will run approximately 23 million shekels, to cover not only renovations of the 40-year-old facility but also building a new wing for a nursing ward and an underground “reinforced” wing for war conditions. Although it’s a huge undertaking, this expansion would make Ebenezer eligible for government subsidies earmarked for assisted living. Johnny reports that there are organizations interested in helping, and land available; he has already finalized plans for carrying out the expansion as funding comes in.
The Health and Welfare Ministries are both enthusiastic about Ebenezer’s expansion plans. Thanks to the Home’s sterling reputation built over the years, officials have assured Manager Khoury that the licensing process will go quickly.
As Ebenezer Home moves ahead, they remain firm in their commitment to the aging Messianic Israeli community, confident that God’s provision for the last 40 years will continue for the next 40 years.