If you have visited the Alliance Church International Cemetery on Emek Refaim Street in Jerusalem’s German Colony in the last 15 years, you were probably greeted by Meir Aharoni, the hospitable volunteer caretaker who also conducts informal tours and provides insight and information to visitors while he works “among his friends.”
Among Meir’s many friends who were laid to rest at Alliance are many whose names the reader may recognize. Among them are eminent Bible scholar Derek Prince and Methodist minister and Christian Zionist leader John Stanley Grauel. Grauel was a crew member of the refugee ship, Exodus-1947, a secret operative of the Haganah during the British Mandate and the renowned “credible Christian” witness to British crimes on the high seas whose testimony before the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine helped create the Jewish state.
The Alliance Cemetery has become a landmark in Jerusalem known not only because of the icons interred there but also for its beautifully landscaped grounds and its recently completed Wall of Life by artist, Patricia Solveson, a colorful mural longer in length than a football field, depicting Bible scenes from Genesis to Revelation.
Without Meir’s dedicated efforts, it is likely that neither the cemetery’s current well-maintained grounds or its stunning mural would exist. When he first visited the Alliance cemetery it was, in his words, “a dark place” and the ambitious mural project which helps set it apart had not yet been conceived. In a way, the cemetery’s restoration and blossoming under Meir’s care parallels his life journey, which also began in the absence of light.
An “ultra-ultra-ultra-Orthodox” Family
Meir was born in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox center of Judaism near Tel Aviv founded in 1924, one of the poorest cities in Israel and the fifth most densely populated city in the world. The city, which Meir describes as “ultra-ultra-ultra-orthodox,” was founded as an agricultural village by a handful of Polish Hasidic families who came to Israel as part of the Fourth Aliyah, a moshav primarily devoted to the cultivation of citrus fruit.
Meir’s mother died when he was 3. Shortly after, his father remarried and Meir was put up for adoption. In his new home among the ultra-religious, he grew up the only male child, stepbrother to eight girls and under constant pressure from his stepparents to embrace ultra-Orthodox Judaism.
He became what he called a yeshiva boy.
“It was a very difficult time for me,” Meir told KNI. “All my life I had been looking for the reality of God and I was concerned, why had God not yet established his kingdom? Why had he not chosen a new king? So I asked questions while I was in Bnei Brak and asked God, ‘Please, God, I want to know who you are.’”
But Meir’s adopted father did not approve of Meir’s constant questioning.
“He used violence to change my soul and my mind so that I might one day become a rabbi,” Meir said.
Meir withdrew. “I only said yes and no and that was it. I was sick but nobody helped me. It was not a very nice life. But the Bible and the Talmud remained interesting to me because I was looking for God.”
They gave me a life
He lived with his adopted family until he turned 14, when his stepfather sent him to live in a yeshiva run by “the Chabad people,” from which he was dismissed after a short time because he was “not able to understand.”
It was not until Meir went to live with a Yemenite Jewish family, his third home in 15 years, when his healing and faith journey began.
“In this family, I slowly came to be healed. They were a lovely family, not very Orthodox, and they practiced a beautiful Judaism. They gave me a life and, slowly slowly, I began to understand who I am.”
Eventually, with his new family’s blessing, Meir went to live in a nearby kibbutz.
“I loved the life there and it looked like God had answered my prayers after two years of being with this family. It was a nice kibbutz. I had my own life. I would study in the morning then work in the afternoon. I was looking for love and I had told some of the people in the kibbutz stories about my past, but I had no idea how sick I was or the trauma I had suffered. It had affected my life very much.”
After the kibbutz, Meir joined the army and his life changed again.
“I was a lone soldier,” Meir said, “and the Israeli Army became a mother and father to me. They took care of me and whatever I needed. For this reason, today, I support the army, love the army and I pray for the army.”
Meir paused to dab at his eyes then added, “I am very excited to tell you that I’m crying now because the army of Israel was like a mom and dad to me.”
I am very excited to tell you that I’m crying now because the army of Israel was like a mom and dad to me.
While in the IDF, Meir continued to try to find God and, although he failed, he found a good friend while in the service. Meir met this friend again, coincidentally—if you believe in coincidences—two years after leaving the army, while living “a normal life” and working in Tel Aviv.
“He invited me to his house for a meal,” Meir said. “I went to his home and, after we ate, he told me his personal story and shared the gospel with me. That was the first time in my life I heard the life story of Yeshua and who he was, a very special rabbi. He told me the whole story.
“I also met his fiancé and they invited me to their wedding. Then he gave me a New Testament. First time in my life. Why did he give me a New Testament? I was confused and afraid. But I listened to all his stories and began to pray and ask God if Yeshua was the Messiah.”
Before Meir bumped into his army friend in Tel Aviv, he had seen “a very historical movie” in Tel Aviv called “Ben Hur.”
“And when I saw the crucifixion of Yeshua I was crying and I didn’t know why. It was raining in the movie. Yeshua’s blood ran in the streets and went everywhere. It was very special.”
Because Meir was afraid, he hid the New Testament his army friend had given him for two months without reading it. “But then I began to read it all the time and I had a question for the Lord, ‘If you, Yeshua, are really the Messiah, for Jewish and Gentile people, I want to know.’
“When I received my invitation to my friend’s wedding, I was a little afraid to go because I had been taught all my life not to receive Yeshua, not to get into theology and philosophy. But I wanted to know and so, although my friend was Messianic, I went to the wedding.”
The event was at a Messianic fellowship called Beit Immanuel in Tel Aviv, outside in the parking lot. There were chairs, music and a nice buffet.
“One of the elders of the congregation spoke during the wedding. What he said began to open my heart very much to Yeshua. He said that Yeshua said, ‘I have the key of death and life,’ and when I heard this I saw a vision of a key.
“And the key came into my heart and I felt it open my heart. A short time afterward I saw another vision and Yeshua the Messiah came to me and said, ‘Meir, I want to be a light to the nations and want you to be a witness to what you see.’ Then everything was clear to me. Everything. Yeshua is the real Messiah for Israel, and my life began to be fire for him.”
The real Torah
Meir chose Beit Immanuel as his congregation and later met “one of the great men of God who helped me to understand the kingdom of God, Professor Derek Prince.”
Meir knew Derek Prince for 30 years and now watches over his friend’s resting place at the Alliance Cemetery, having found his way there after spending three years as a volunteer with a Messianic organization in France.
“The Lord began to talk to me,” Meir said. “I prayed to find out if He wanted me to come to the Alliance Cemetery because it was in terrible shape.”
Thanks to Meir’s constant, reliable volunteer caretaking and his key role in enlisting Patricia Solveson’s years-long work on the Wall of Life, the Alliance International Christian Cemetery, no longer a “dark place,” has been set in order, bathed in light and fully restored. Much like Meir himself.
“The real Torah is here,” Meir said, pointing to the orderly, well-kept rows of gravestones, the bright flowers and shrubs, the cemetery’s clean walks and its brilliant Wall of Life, all of which his efforts helped to bring about.
“And my coming here and finding the Lord makes me very curious to learn more and to share the stories of the people buried here with both Jews and Gentiles.”