In a Facebook post, the anti-missionary organization Yad l’Achim falsely accused a Messianic culture center in Ramat Gan of deceiving Israeli youth.
“We were standing at the entrance of a missionary center who organized a ‘Korean Evening’ with traditional Korean food, dance and music, but we knew it was all a cover to convey missionary messages,” Yad l’Achim field officer Shimon Avergel wrote on Jan. 28. “Dozens of teenagers fell into the trap. We tried to talk to them. Some of them looked like religious Jews. We explained the danger, and some left, but others refused. ‘Don’t worry, we know how to be careful’ they said.”
“When we tried to research this, it was surprising to see how popular Korean TV-series have become in Israel. Many teenagers watch it, and they are drawn to Korean culture and traditions. This is where we at Yad l’Achim come into the picture.”
The short post concluded with a warning: “Beware of these types of cultural evenings. They are only designed to expose you to missionary activity and manipulate you to convert to their religion.”
But the center’s Instagram account indicates right at the top of the page, “Messianic Jewish cultural center.” David, who runs the cultural evenings at the center, explained the program to Kehila News.
“Many young Israelis are interested in Asian culture,” he told us. “Many travel to the far east after their army service. When people come to our center, they hear from these Korean, Japanese and Chinese people that ‘we love Israel because we love Yeshua.’ It’s not about converting or being deceitful. It’s about being open and having a dialogue. Everyone knows this center belongs to Messianic Jews. We are not hiding that. Our goal is to build bridges and have a dialogue with the local community.”
It is illegal to evangelize minors in Israel without parental consent, and that is why Yad l’Achim often tries to accuse ministries of breaking the law. However, David noted the organization was being deliberately deceitful by writing “teenagers” in its post.
“They know very well that we hire security guards and make sure the entrance to our premises is from 18 years and up. It’s important to us to follow the law,” David said. “They have noticed us, and it upsets them that we are reaching the Israeli secular middle class society in the Tel Aviv area.”
The center, which has been around since 2017, arranges much more than just Korean evenings. They held a Chinese New Year celebration for Chinese people in the Tel Aviv area who weren’t able to go home over the holiday due to the Corona virus outbreak. They have had Japanese and Korean evenings, with sushi and other traditional food.
The center has also hosted Israeli artists, both believers and non-believers, for live shows. They have had an evening with Persian music, celebrations of Jewish holidays and special events for Holocaust survivors. Besides these cultural events, they also offer classes in Korean and Japanese language. Every Friday evening they hold a Messianic Kabbalat Shabbat with teachings from the Torah.
“Non-believers come to these lessons too, and we are open about being Messianic,” David said. “All cards are on the table, there’s nothing deceitful about it. We don’t even do these lessons as lectures, but as dialogues. We need to listen to their viewpoints as well.”
David also explained the decision to host secular artists.
“About 60 percent of the people who perform are from a local music school. We let them use our premises for free and let them invite their own audience. I inform them in advance that this place is managed by Messianic Jews. We don’t influence or evangelize to them. The only thing we do is to look through the lyrics of their songs to make sure there aren’t any values morally opposed to our faith. Besides building bridges and creating a dialogue, we create an opportunity for young Israeli musicians. It’s about being present, showing we are a part of Israeli society.”
David said the name came from Messianic youth who gathered from different congregations to hang out, drink coffee and listen to music. They dubbed it “The Messianic Center.” The official name is HaMercaz, the Center.
“We want to be a unifying factor for the different Messianic congregations in the Tel Aviv area, but also to unify our people around something spiritual. In our Torah lessons our approach is always ‘let’s think about these things, let’s talk about it together.’ Other ministries may take a more aggressive approach to how they conduct their evangelization, but that is not our calling.”
As the number of Messianic Jews in Israel grows, so will the number of businesses, organizations and cultural centers in Israel, run by Messianic Jews. There will be more meeting points and dialogues with the secular and religious society. In contrary to the accusations, Messianic Jews are largely up front about who they are. People still come to their events, and that just might be the actual issue which bothers Yad l’Achim.