June 20 – 2007

Caspari Center Media Review………….June 20, 2007


During the week covered by this review, we received 15 articles on the subjects of Messianic Judaism, attitudes to Christianity, and Christians in Israel. Out of the total:


  • 2 dealt with Messianic Judaism
  • 1 dealt with anti-missionary activity
  • 2 dealt with attitudes to Christianity and Jesus
  • 2 dealt with Christians in Israel
  • 1 dealt with Christian sites
  • 6 dealt with the Pope and the Vatican
  • 1 dealt with culture


Despite its brevity, this week’s Review contains an extensive interview with Shmuel Awaida of Beit Eliahu in Haifa, together with an article on a film on the Messianic community in Arad – plus several pieces reflecting Israeli attitudes towards Christianity.


Messianic Judaism

HaZvi, June 7; Kol Bo (Haifa), June 8, 2007

A reporter from the local Haifa paper Kol Bo (June 8) determined to investigate the “Messianic Jewish stronghold” in the city and interviewed Shmuel Awaida, pastor of Beit Eliahu. Under the title “Messiah, Messiah” (taken from a popular Chasidic song), the article opened thus: “‘We believe that the people of Israel are the chosen people, that the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel, and that God chose the people of Israel to be a light to the nations.’ When these words are said in fluent, unaccented Hebrew, by Shmuel Awaida, 39, a Christian Arab born in Haifa, a graduate of a municipal school, they sound rather surrealistic.” The cause of this surrealism lies the fact that – as the interviewer, Chana Tal, points out – Awaida hasn’t converted or become Jewish but was born an Arab. Awaida’s love for Israel – both land and people – is expressed, in Tal’s words, “with a naturalness that arouses astonishment,” leading her to raise the rhetorical question: “Confusing, no?”

Describing the service she attended at Beit Eliahu, Chana Tal noted the amiability of the congregants who “were willing at any moment to spread the Gospel that Yeshua the Messiah was born to the Virgin Mary, crucified, and buried, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and the day is soon coming when he will be revealed again and reign over the world.” Having spoken of the “angelic singing,” she then described the prayer: “The prayers aren’t taken from a book. They’re personal and spontaneous, but with a fixed content: asking the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for mercy and compassion, healing for the sick, and aid to the needy. They also request from the Creator of the world that He will help the earthly and local leaders make the right decisions – at this moment, that Ehud Olmert will be able to stop the rocket attacks on Sederot and that the mayor will run the city properly.”

Under the subheading “Baptism and Bible study,” Chana Tal noted “according to their faith, the first Messianic Jews were Yeshua’s twelve disciples who, following his crucifixion, believed that he was the Messiah. They were considered traitors by the Jewish people, and all contact with them was forbidden … According to their system, God made a new covenant with those who believe in Him, which demands that they believe in Yeshua as the Messiah, Son of David. This belief is sufficient to gain them entrance to Paradise, without the duty of observing any [of the] commandments. They choose to celebrate the Jewish festivals out of identification with the Jewish people.” Tal understood that the only obligations they feel imposed upon them are baptism – “a symbolic declaration of their faith and new birth” – and communion, which they celebrate once a month.

According to Tal, the Messianic community in Israel numbers around 15,000, having doubled in the past ten years due largely to the influx of Russian immigrants. The 100 or so congregations across the country “have names which carry a Jewish character: Mercy, Grace, Hope of Israel, Israel Lives, Living Water.” Claiming that “the congregation’s character is missionary by nature,” Tal addressed the fact that it is consequently the target of anti-missionary organizations, especially Yad L’Achim, whose activities “slid over into real violence against the congregation in Arad and Beersheva.” According to Tal, Yad L’Achim protested against a march by the “Haifa congregation” in August 2005 during which the participants handed out literature. “They were met by Yad L’Achim who loudly announced ‘Beware, missionaries! Don’t take anything from them! They want to make you convert’ –and promptly led to the dispersal of the march.” In response, Awaida declared “We are no more missionaries than the Chabadnikim who stand at cross-roads and sell books.” When asked by Tal concerning feelings of persecution, Awaida noted that the congregation has suffered from graffiti and he himself constantly receives threatening and abusive telephone calls in which the community is described as Nazis and Christians. Responding to a specific question regarding his Arab identity, Awaida said: “I don’t live among them, don’t come into contact with them, don’t even speak Arabic. I’ve never once spoken to my two brothers in Arabic. I only see Arabs when I go to buy a shwarma [meat in pita bread]. The Arabs perceive us as enemies. Whoever believes in the Tanakh [“Old Testament”] believes that God chose the people of Israel and gave them the Land of Israel, and there can’t be a situation in which he will see the Jewish people as an enemy.”

Tal interviewed several young people in the congregation, most of whom preferred not to reveal their full names. She also interviewed a former congregant who, having become a believer, then left the faith, claiming that it was a cult. At the end of the article, she devoted a section to Yad L’Achim’s attitude towards the Messianic Jewish community. Overall, the piece was objective and even positive towards Shmuel, the congregation, and Messianic Judaism in general.

The “largest local paper in Arad and its environs,” HaTzvi (June 7), carried an article entitled “Who would believe,” featuring a film made by a twelfth-grader in the communications track in a local school who “daringly decided to touch the most sensitive subject in Arad – the Messianic community and the dealings with the Orthodox sector.” Correcting itself from indicating that the young woman had “exposed herself” to say instead that “she had exposed the truth behind the Messianic congregation in Arad,” the article maintained that the film’s purpose was to “present the true nature of the Messianic congregation which stands under the constant threat of the religious, according to her [the young woman – ‘Kati’], something which is visible in violent tensions in Arad.” The article quotes her words, which indicate that she is herself part of the Messianic community, in explanation of the friction: “We don’t try to convert anyone to Christianity or to baptize anyone. We – or I at least – don’t try to influence anyone by my opinion. If someone’s interested or wants to know more about my faith, he can come and ask me and learn, when it comes from him and not from me.” Despite the fact that other students have also addressed sensitive and controversial topics in their films, “this time everyone agreed that this film was special and moving.” According to Kati, “I thought that someone had to take a step forward and bring the matter to people’s attention.” The article concluded with the summation: “The film is 16 minutes, and tells about the nature of the Messianic congregation in a documentary fashion, so that interwoven pieces of life can be seen in it.”

Immediately underneath this article, HaTzvi inserted a second piece, entitled “(A) man shall live by his faith?” This article described the recent activities of the anti-missionary organizations in Arad – the verbal abuse of a member of the congregation from outside her own house. “When they mentioned Hitler and the Messianic Jews in the same breath and shouted in unison over her window, the woman evidently summoned the police, who arrived several minutes later and dispersed the crowd.”


Attitudes to Christianity and Jesus

Haaretz, June 8; Ma’ariv, June 8, 2007

This year is the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of Leah Goldberg’s cycle of songs called “The Prodigal Son” (Haaretz, June 8). One of Israel’s earliest, most well known and beloved poets, Leah Goldberg wrote this cycle – which has become part of the school curriculum – as a “serious parody of the parable of the prodigal son which is known from the New Testament (Lk. 15:11).” According to the article, the parable “has gone far beyond its original context and become a great symbol. It has become an important subject in Western art (Rembrandt painted several versions of it), literature, music, [and] dance … But its significance in the arts differed from its New Testament meaning: It wasn’t the father’s (i.e., God’s) good-heartedness that was central but the son’s fate and suffering. The Romantic period turned the son into a secular rebel who immersed himself in all the pleasures of the world and ultimately discovered himself empty, wounded, and humiliated. His submission and his return to his father were interpreted as a great moment of crisis and destruction, of forfeiture and not victory of the spirit (it should be noted that the Christian parable is open to such interpretations). Leah Goldberg goes beyond this development of the story and her poem deals with the tragic symbolism of the figure of the prodigal rather than the father’s good-heartedness. But she also shifts the whole story and rewrites it, this time with a no less astonishing addition: a mother figure. “And not only does a mother appear in the story – she becomes its central protagonist.” It is the mother who decides to allow the son to come home – and determines the father’s response, “teaching him that even anger is a form of love.”

A more recent poem, written by Ezekiel Nafshi, appeared in Ma’ariv (June 8). Entitled “Of God’s Grace,” it is supposedly written by a Jew who, instead of going to India in search of spirituality, visits a monastery in Ein Karem (a neighborhood of Jerusalem, traditionally said to be the birth place of John the Baptist). “The poem is an obviously religious poem. The speaker believes in the Creator of the world and seeks His grace everywhere. Perhaps he doesn’t know, like many other Israelis, that Jews are forbidden to benefit from Christian consecration (holiness). In any case, the poem exudes an aroma of faith and worship of God via a Christian outlook, as for example, in the search for God in beauty, nature,  (and) people’s faces. Even the monk responsible for his hospitality presents his meals to him as if they were a Christian sacrament: instead of wine, jam; instead of bread, toast.”


Christians in Israel

Ma’ariv, June 7; Haaretz, June 13, 2007

The Supreme Court has decided to take a lenient attitude towards the “Christian” couple charged with setting fire to the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth (Ma’ariv, June 7). In response to an appeal on their behalf, the court reduced the husband’s jail sentence from three to two years.

Having set out to visit the Golan Heights during Hebrew book week, Benny Tziffer took a detour and ended up at a “mysterious monastery” established by a Catholic order known as “the neo-catechumenal way” (Haaretz, June 13). “People come to ‘Domus Galileo’ in order to ‘deepen their understanding of prayer’ as one of the brothers in black explained. In the prayer room there is, untraditionally, a Torah ark for storing the Bible [biblia], as in a synagogue. And in the library, at its center, a synagogue pulpit with a Torah scroll on it, covered in velvet. It’s possible to become very cynical in view of this mixture of Judaism and Christianity. But everything dissolves – or almost does – when the door to the balcony is opened, and there, in front of you, is a wall inscribed with Yeshua’s Sermon on the Mount, which begins with the words “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and in a kind of ascending rhythm of lament are added to the poor in spirit those who mourn, the hungry, and blessed are those who are persecuted, blessed are you if people curse and revile you. There can’t be a greater elegy than this.”