“Tzabarim” for Yeshua

Alec Goldberg, Israel Director at the Caspari Center

“I thought I was the only Jew in all of Israel who believes in Yeshua!” This statement can often be heard from native Israelis describing their first days, weeks and sometimes months after experiencing the absolutely stunning discovery of the Messiahship of Yeshua, and committing their lives to him. And that is one of the major differences between them and us – Jews who today also believe in Jesus but who were born and raised in the “Galut” – the “Exile”. Although a Jesus-believing Jew tends to be viewed by the Jewish mainstream as completely ridiculous in the Diaspora, nonetheless such “odd” Jewish individuals can be met there much more often than in Israel. In fact, according to some unofficial statistics I once read, at some point in Moscow and Saint Petersburg – the two largest cities of my native Russia – one tenth (!) of Russian Orthodox priests were ethnic Jews. Of course, in Israel the situation is quite different. “A true Jew does not believe in Jesus” – while in the Diaspora, Jewish parents could only whisper this millennia-old mantra into the tender ears of their children for fear of offending the non-Jewish neighbors, here in the Land they are free to shout it at street corners if they want to. And the local Orthodoxy – that is, the Jewish one – can be safely counted on to fully back them in this, as the activity of anti-missionary organizations proves over and over again.

In spite of this spiritual climate, each year the Israeli Messianic community grows. And not simply owing to our dutiful and happy obedience to the first commandment “Be fruitful and multiply”, but also by virtue of God’s Spirit working in our midst and revealing Yeshua to those who had never before dared to consider him. But how many of us Israeli Messianic Jews are “tzabarim” – native Israelis? According to conservative estimates, native-born Israeli Messianic Jews make up around 15%-20% of all Messianic believers in Israel. Since most of those were born into believing families, the percentage of those who came to the faith in Yeshua with no support whatsoever from their own family is even smaller. It is this group of people, relatively small today, which has always been of particular interest to me. Their stories are special because both the immediate family and the culture – the two factors wielding the greatest influence on our formation as human beings – were anything but conducive to believing in Yeshua. How did they become his followers?

If you want to write something that will make really big waves in Israel, start by interviewing a former ultra-Orthodox Rabbi from Bnei Brak who is now a follower of Yeshua. Our goal was not to create big waves, however. We wanted to obtain testimonies of believers in Yeshua that would speak to the average Israeli, ‘the man on the street’… in Hebrew, of course. We thought of filming them, delving deep into their testimonies, and having them share about their families and backgrounds, about the hurdles they had to overcome along the way, while giving them the opportunity to reflect upon their faith.

In 2017, we began searching for people to interview. We used a number of filters in the process of sorting out the candidates. We wanted people who had been born and raised in Israel by non-Messianic parents, the first in their families to come to faith in Yeshua, mature in their faith, having a good standing in the Messianic community, able to tell their story in an engaging way, and – last but not least for my purposes – willing to make it public without fear of repercussions from family members, employers or authorities.

Now the interviews are in the final stage of editing, and will soon be uploaded to the Caspari website and YouTube channel. If you don’t understand Hebrew, please give us a bit more time to provide English subtitles. In any case, your prayers for the viewers will be greatly appreciated, especially for those who do not yet believe in Yeshua.

This article originally appeared on Caspari Center, December 3, 2018, and reposted with permission.