In the eve of Israel’s New Year 5756, known in the Bible as the Feast of Trumpets, the Jewish State declared a full year of celebrations for the anniversary of the crowning of King David when he marched into Jerusalem and made it Israel’s capital.
Israel’s archeologists and rabbis concluded that Jerusalem became Israel’s capital in the year 1004 B.C. Therefore, the year 1996 A.D. of the Gregorian calendar would mark Jerusalem’s 3000th anniversary as the capital of the Kingdom of Israel.
Even more astounding for Messianic Jews, this would also be the 2,000th anniversary of Yeshua’s birth according to the Gregorian calendar. Many scholars agree that Yeshua the Messiah was born in 4 B.C. because Herod the Great (who killed the babies in Bethlehem) died in the year 4 B.C. So the year of 1996, also marked Yeshua’s 2,000th birthday!
Ari and I had been wrestling with the idea that God was wanting us to plant a congregation—again. We discussed what we felt with our ministry partners, Arni and Yonit Klein, and they were all in.
So, as our nation celebrated this historic moment, our small group of believers gathered to celebrate our first service together a few miles north of Tel Aviv. We called it “HaSharon Congregation” as we lived on the Sharon plain near the Mediterranean Sea. We would eventually outgrow our home, move our meeting place to Tel Aviv and rename the congregation Tiferet Yeshua (The Glory of Yeshua).
Israel Celebrates by Itself
We were fortunate to attend Israel’s opening celebration—a spectacular and unprecedented sound-and-light show marking the start of the 3000th year anniversary. Throughout the coming months, over 100 conventions, including a number of Christian events, were scheduled to take place.
But Israel was celebrating alone. In an eerie rehearsal for the day when some nations will not go up to celebrate the Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles) in Jerusalem, the nations in 1996 were boycotting these celebrations of its King who more than any man who ever lived, symbolized the coming Messiah. King David, who was born in Bethlehem and crowned King of Israel in Jerusalem, received the promise that his seed would one day rule the world forever.
Israeli media noted not a single head of state attended the gala opening. In fact, none of the European ambassadors showed up. Neither did the American ambassador. The reason given was that focusing solely on the city’s Jewish history was inappropriate.
Strangely—and sadly—the opening celebrations of King David’s life and kingship were unpleasant reminders to the world that there is a God who still claims sovereignty over this world’s affairs. That He just might have His own plan for this city left the nations in discomfort.
Prophetically we felt this was going to be a very pivotal year when national choices of life and death would be made.
Yitzhak Rabin’s Decision to Divide Israel
Parallel to the national celebrations, just before sundown of that Rosh Hashanah (New Year), Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo II agreement with Yasser Arafat, setting the clock in motion to begin creating a Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria which, in turn, would become an Islamic state. Its borders would reach to the edge of the Tel Aviv metroplex making Israel just 14 km wide in some areas. With a sinking feeling we read that Rabin declared, “The title deed to Israel’s land is not the Bible.”
Furthermore, upon ratification of the agreement, Rabin had immediately released 1,000 terrorists—600-700 of them convicted murderers. Rabin planned to release five times that many over the next couple of years. Of course, a fresh wave of terror attacks would follow.
I wrote in the September 1995 Maoz Israel Report: “Israel is shaken to her roots. People are waiting for the next bus bomb. Everyone is looking for a real answer to the tumult and havoc in the land. Yet nobody has an answer. Nobody can have the answer, except born again, filled with the Spirit, bold believers in the Messiah.”
Life Goes On, New Congregation Takes Root
It is remarkable how Israeli citizens continued to live their lives somewhat routinely in the midst of uncertainty and continuous terror attacks across our country. True, with bus bombings a possibility, we didn’t particularly like stopping at a red light with a bus in the next lane. But God had called us to plant a congregation for such a time as this. And brand new young believers, and those who were interested but not yet committed—all needed a lot of attention. And there were not that many other believers around to serve as role models.
On Saturdays there were no buses, so Ari would travel for several hours to pick up members of our group from 20, 30, even 40 miles away. He would leave early in the morning, preach a sermon, spend a couple of hours with visitors and regulars, and often arrive home around midnight after a few rounds of dropping everyone off at their homes.
When Israelis thought about followers of Yeshua, they would immediately think of the cold formal feeling of cathedrals. We wanted them to experience following Yeshua as a part of everyday normal life. Working out of our Maoz center, a large house, gave the new seekers the sense of home. It put people at ease. We also had a backyard where after services, we would have a potluck lunch, while endless conversations took place between our new believers as they explained the Good News to new seekers! Many have told us those years in the Maoz center were foundational to their own rebirth and growth in a relationship with Yeshua, our Messiah.
Also, we had the Mediterranean Sea 15 minutes away, where we brought our new believers to be immersed, symbolically being buried and resurrected with Yeshua. We found ourselves heading for that beach time and time again with new believers.
Fear Overtakes the Nation
As terrorist attacks of every kind only increased, the terms of the Oslo II accords weighed heavily on the Israeli consciousness. PM Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat agreed that the Palestinians would have 9,000 policemen. Without blinking an eye, Arafat then quickly put together a force of 30,000 armed men; most of its officers were former terrorist chieftains. It was rumored his aim was to transform his “police force” into a well-equipped Palestinian army of more than 50,000 men.
The editors of The Jerusalem Post summed it up this way:
For the first time, there will be a large PLO army on the outskirts of Israel’s major population centers, and it will be in control of strategic areas which dominate Israel’s heartland. To expect such an arrangement to bring anything but unrest, terrorism, and ultimately war, is to live in a world of make believe.
Something for Nothing
What was Israel receiving in return? That Arafat would recognize Israel’s right to exist and stop terrorism in the PLO controlled territory. Those were the same broken promises he had made under Oslo I while continuing to lead the terrorist attacks which killed hundreds of Israeli civilians.
The question being asked by so many was, why are Rabin and Shimon Peres (co-engineer of Oslo II) giving Israel’s inheritance away for nothing? Charles Krauthammer, the well-known American conservative (and secular) Jewish journalist of The Washington Post, was able to cut through the fuzz:
“Even if you believe fervently that Israel must give up the West Bank, what kind of an absurd negotiation strategy is it to hand it over now, piece by piece, for nothing?
Any negotiation novice would say to the Israelis: Hold everything. Begin your final status negotiations now. You want Jerusalem? Hold out for it—in return for, say, giving up the West Bank.
But if you have already given up the West Bank by the time the Jerusalem negotiations arrive, the only thing you will have to offer on Jerusalem will be half of Jerusalem—the half the Palestinians claim, the half so sacred and central to Jews. And what will you have to offer when the Palestinians demand the return of, say, two million Palestinian refugees? A counteroffer of one million?”
Even U.S. Senator Jesse Helms and Congressman Benjamin Gilman tried to “save Israel from itself!” In both houses, they proposed to limit and restrict American aid to the Palestinian Authority unless Arafat kept his word. Unbelievably, Israel did nothing to encourage this proposal.
It was only a matter of time when Arafat would be demanding the ancient city of Jerusalem including the Western Wall, the last remnant of Solomon’s Temple. Just as the Bible says in Zechariah 12:3: “It will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples…and all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it.”
The Body Rises Up: Intercessory Prayer for the Nation
In an unprecedented show of unity among Israel’s small Messianic community, sixteen congregations had recently come together near the banks of the Yarkon River (near Tel Aviv). The eucalyptus trees above us were gigantic and majestic, giving us shade from the still-humid heat of the Mediterranean air.
A large crowd of Messianic Jews had already gathered, and busloads continued to pull up and discharge their passengers—Sephardic, Ashkenazi and Ethiopian Jewish believers. The 600-700 adults who came meant business. Eliahu Ben Haim of Intercessors for Israel, a prayer ministry in Jerusalem, sounded the call for the congregations to come together for a time of fasting and humbling ourselves, crying out to God for the sins of our nation.
With our congregation just one week old, we came on the Sabbath during the ten Days of Awe, between the Feast of Trumpets and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
One of the Messianic leaders in Jerusalem, Reuven Berger, gave a call which echoed the cries of our prophets of old:
He makes nations great, and destroys them; He enlarges nations, and disperses them. He deprives the leaders of the earth of their reason; (Job 12:23-24)
Then we worshiped and beseeched the Lord God to have mercy on our nation’s government leaders, on our people and on ourselves, the Body of Messiah. Even though there were various political perspectives represented in the crowd, all agreed that our nation in its godlessness, had lost its way. We had come to confess our sins and the sins of our people, as the prophet Daniel had done.
Our time ended with corporate prayer for evangelism teams going out to a heavy metal rock concert that evening, to witness to the people in line for tickets. The report that came back is that many teenagers asked for prayer from the team and one young man accepted the Lord on the spot. The young people were so hungry for literature that the teams ran out of every single piece of printed materials they had—Bibles, books and tracts.
One of our team who has participated in many such campaigns around the world said, “Except for one meeting in the Ukraine, I have never seen teenagers so open and hungry for the Gospel.”
A Dream: The Train Wreck
On a national scale, however, Rabin’s plans to divide Israel continued. In mid-October, as I prepared the November Maoz Israel Report, I recorded I had never before felt such sadness for the inevitable outcome of the Oslo I and II Accords. After much pondering of the direction our nation was going, I went to bed and had a dream.
We were looking at a terrible train wreck. The many passenger cars lay at different angles, fallen off the track. We went to look inside the train, and we were stunned to find the cars full of Israeli soldiers, all shackled to their seats. When the accident occurred, they could not get out. They were dead, and their flesh picked clean. Yet somehow one could still recognize their pained, resigned features.
I began to count the number of rows of seats. There were sixty-six seats in each car. On each row were six seats—three on each side of the aisle. I began to weep uncontrollably, until I awoke.
Two weeks later it was November 4, 1995. At 9:30 p.m. we received the news. Prime Minister Rabin has been shot. At 11:02 p.m. the announcement was made: Rabin was dead.
This article originally appeared in Maoz Israel Report, November 2021, and reposted with permission.