Messianic believers in the land also have inspiring and even miraculous stories to tell about moving here. Hence we are delighted to present a new feature in Kehila News, “Why I Chose to Make Israel My Home.”
The Messiah Brought Me Home
Even before 1981, the year that I became a believer in Yeshua the Messiah, Israel had always been important to me but not a place I ever considered home. Despite my Conservative Jewish upbringing having taught me that Israel was the homeland of the Jewish people, I don’t ever remember being taught that the return of the Jews to the land was connected with biblical prophecy.
My Bar-Mitzvah haftarah portion in 1963 was more powerful than I could have ever known at the time. It was taken from Ezekiel 36 in which YHVH, the God of Israel, speaks to the Land, and to us, that the days would come when He would return His people back to the Land, according to His covenant promise. He would bring us back as a people in unbelief – not because we deserved it, or even cared much about it, but for the sake of His holy name. Yet, even though we, as a people, had profaned God’s great name among the nations to which we were exiled, the passage goes on to promise that God would give us a new heart and a new Spirit to know the LORD and to obey Him.
In 1971, between my junior and senior university years, I visited Israel for the first time as a tourist. I was fascinated by the country, its living history (unlike Greece or Rome), seeing the old and the new intermingled on opposite sides of the roads. Oddly, though, I found that I did not like or connect to the people. How could that be? These were/are my people. I found them to be rude, aggressive, coarse – not at all the way we were brought up in the South of the USA. However, even with those feelings, something stirred deep within me which caused me to confront the fact that Israel was important to me as a Jew. My father and mother had visited in 1968, after the euphoric victory of the Six-Day War in June, 1967. They, too, had returned very excited, but had no interest in considering moving there.
In 1974 I returned to Israel — this time as a volunteer on a kibbutz (Yisra’el) in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War in October, 1973. I picked grapefruit, living and working among Israelis, and also other volunteers who had come to help, mostly from English-speaking countries. Not all were Jewish. I still did not like the way the Israelis acted, but I slowly began to understand why they were different. I realized that they did not know if they would be here tomorrow. It was that kind of attitude, as portrayed in Scripture, “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” — an existence which is devoid of hope or faith in a living God, and very much the stuff of idolatry. With constant threats of war, what did it matter saying “thank-you,” “excuse me,” or exercising some patience? The young people would often engage in inappropriate behavior, probably emanating from the thought that they might not have a tomorrow – so why wait?
It wasn’t until February, 1981, that I suddenly understood the meaning of my haftarah. It became personal once I came to know the God of my people, and I heard His voice clearly saying, “Go to Israel.” What was once an abstract, became the reality of our new home. I remember telling my family that we had been taught in our synagogue Jewish history classes that we believe in the living God, and that He, likewise, spoke to our fathers. So, He can still speak to us today. They had to understand that I heard Him say that I, along with my wife, were to go live in Israel.
Ten months after we were married, both my wife and I came to faith in the Messiah, and seven months later we moved to Israel. Neither of our families was thrilled by the idea, but we knew it was the right thing to do.
Having said that, once we arrived, we knew no one here nor did we have any supporters to uphold us. All we had was the Word of God and the name of a couple who lived in the center of the country; and once we met, we began to become acquainted with other believers around the country. We also prayed to know where in Israel we were meant to live. Just as our father Abraham simply followed in faith what he had heard from El Shaddai, we, too, followed His leading to the city that would become our home to this day.
Living in Israel, as a Jew who has come home, has resulted in our lives being more authentically Jewish. This would not have happened had we remained in the U.S., a predominantly gentile Christian culture. As I wrote my best friend back in the States, shortly after immigrating, everything here is Jewish: the Sabbath, the holidays, the culture – it is all Jewish. Even the street cleaners are Jewish! Living in Israel is truly home for the Jewish people, and I am very thankful that I am among them here and that my non-Jewish wife feels at home here as well.
As believers in Yeshua, we have experienced some opposition even at the absorption center where we first stayed. Yet, we trusted God, who we knew wanted us to be here. Despite this, we feel very much at home, even if we are not considered “kosher” by some who do not yet understand. Our children and grandchildren have all been born here. They also feel that Israel is their home. It is also very gratifying, knowing that God has made Israel home for all of our family. We came not knowing anyone, but now we are members of the growing family of Messiah and our Father in Heaven, YHVH the God of Israel.