The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations held their annual conference from July 16 – 19, 2015 outside of Baltimore, MD. The theme of the conference was “Justice, Justice you shall pursue.”
Several Messianic Jewish Israelis spoke at the conference, but none made more of an emotional impact than a 23 year-old Messianic Jewish woman named Shayna who served in the Israeli Air Force.
As she described it, she is a third-generation Messianic Jewish girl who moved to Israel, joined the IDF, was drafted into the IAF as a crew commander for Israel’s F15 Intelligence squadron, and “strapped bombs on F15 fighter jets.” This experience gave her a birds-eye view of the inner workings of the Israeli Air Force.
She shared some painful experiences about what true justice has cost Israel.
In 2012, after weeks of non-stop rocket attacks from Gaza, with over 100 coming in a 24 hour period alone, Israel made a decision to finally retaliate with what she called the “strong arm of the army” – the Israeli Air Force. This operation began the 2012 Gaza War or Operation Pillar of Defense.
Israel takes great pains to avoid civilian casualties, and often the planes cannot fire at their targets due to the enemy purposefully flooding the target areas with civilians. On several occasions she experienced this first hand as planes came back fully loaded with their bombs.
She sadly recalled one mission where one plane was unable to hit a very active rocket launcher due to the presence of civilians near the launcher. The plane returned to base with a full bomb load. Later, they heard on the news that three Israelis had been killed by a Hamas rocket. Her commander informed them that it was from the same rocket launcher they were unable to destroy.
On hearing that news, she felt a deep sense of sadness for the families, and hated the evil that had just happened. Her squadron could have taken out that rocket launcher, but because Israel values and protects innocent civilians, whether Israeli or Arab, they were unable to protect the lives of those innocent Israelis. That moment has stayed with her even to this day.
As Operation Pillar of Defense continued, her experience caused her to see the Israeli soldiers in a different light. One day she signaled a returning plane to park. As she climbed the ladder to relieve the pilot and take his helmet, she noticed he was crying uncontrollably. That was the moment when the cost of defending her country really hit home. She suddenly saw her pilot as a young 26 year old man having to make decisions that no one should have to make.
She looked around and no longer saw soldiers, but 18 and 19 year old kids who are put in extremely difficult positions in order to protect their families and their country. She said, “these kids are the heroes.” She saw the emotions, struggles and fears. She saw the real humanity in each of us, where “hiding behind a uniform no longer works in war.”
Shayna’s younger brother and sister are among those currently serving in the IDF and putting their lives on the line. She’s incredibly proud of their service and their choice to serve Israel, and she knows there is no place they would rather be. But, in keeping with the theme of justice, she questions the unfairness of them having to be on the northern border with their lives in danger, rather than being able to attend the conference. It’s unfair that Israel is being forced to send their young children to the front lines when all they want is to live in peace.
She made an analogy of what defense looks like, comparing it to watching your child do something dangerous, yet thrilling. You’re holding your breath because you love your child. She said that’s what everyday life is like for Israeli families, “you’re holding your breath.” They see their hopes, dreams, and future in their child.
Shayna holds her breath every time her little brother straps his gun on and goes to his base, every time her coworkers go into Gaza, every time another rocket is launched into Israel, every time her little sister comes home from the army base exhausted and emotionally spent.
She holds her breath when her cousin calls and says she’s being sent to guard an iron dome, when she watches her parents wait for a phone call from her younger brother to make sure he’s OK, and when her friends text to say they are going into Gaza, not knowing if she will hear from them again.
She holds her breath when three young Israeli Yeshiva students are kidnapped by terrorists, when she visits her friend’s graves at Mt. Herzl when only a year ago they were enjoying a picnic in Jerusalem.
She holds her breath at how much war can change a life. Even now she holds her breath.
In America there are people who watch news about Israel, share a blog, or pray for the peace of Jerusalem and for the safety of soldiers, but there is more that can be done.
Shayna issued a challenge to the Messianic community:
- Become involved in Israel awareness and to stand up for the reality, truth, and justice of Israel.
- Do everything possible to make Israel a central part of who we are as a community.
- Hang pictures of the faces of Israeli soldiers in your Oneg halls.
- Read the soldiers prayer and the prayer for Israel during your Torah services.
- Be the number one support system for our soldiers, and to make that known to them.
- Stay informed on the realities and complexities that Israelis live with every day.
- Base your opinions on the reality of biblical truth that Israel is reestablished upon today.
- Travel to Israel often, get involved, volunteer, get active in your communities in the US.
- Educate other believers on the importance of the centrality of Israel in our communities.
Right now there are several Messianic Jews serving in the IDF, defending Israel, who have attended this conference year after year. Those boys and girls are Shayna’s childhood friends that she grew up with “here at this conference,” including her brother and sister. These are the soldiers who should know that their community is behind them 100%, praying for them and supporting them.
Shayna’s final challenge was that Messianic Jews should be known for their love for Israel, and for their love for Messiah.
She said: “If we are a prophetic movement, and if Israel is the fulfillment of God’s promise to his people, a fulfillment of prophecy, then we should be the front runners in that race. It should be us carrying the torch of support and love of Israel.”
Shayna thanked everyone for praying for her and encouraging her, and concluded by reciting the “IDF Soldiers Prayer.”
“May the One who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, bless the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, who stand watch over our land and our cities of our God, from the Lebanese border to the desert of Egypt, from the great sea to the verge of the wilderness, on land, in air and on sea.
May Adonai cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them.
May the Holy One save and spare our soldiers, from all forms of woe and distress of affliction and illness, and invest their every action with blessing success.
May the Holy One lead our enemies under our soldiers sway, and may he grant them salvation from their crown of victory.
And may they be fulfilled in this verse, for the Lord your God is with you, who goes with you to battle your enemies to save you.”
She received a standing ovation.