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Israeli Parents Grieve For Children
"Lost to Orthodox Judaism"
(Continued from last month)

  Monthly Report: August 1997  



Shalom from Tel Aviv!

You hear it from friends and from casual acquaintances. You read it in the papers. Israelis are looking for spiritual reality. They are asking the deep questions. As one twenty year old who recently became Orthodox told an interviewer, "'I was like any other kid in Holon and Bat Yam,' [suburbs of Tel Aviv] But there was always something that drew me to try to understand why I'm on this earth, what is the purpose of life.'" (Jerusalem Post, May 19, 1997)

At the age of 16 he took a trip to Poland with his high school and visited the death camps of Auschwitz. From that moment he determined to pursue a haredi (ultra-Orthodox, pronounced ha- RED-dee) life. "'All in all,' he continued, 'I was a completely regular guy. I went to the beach on Saturdays and danced at discotheques.’” But after Auschwitz, he became, as he said, preoccupied with ‘”questions, doubts and confusion. This is where the internal struggle began. How do I get to the truth?'" (Ibid.)


An Orthodox activist heard about his inquiries, and invited him to an Orthodox "revival seminar". The young man continues: "'I don't have the words to describe what it was like', he said. 'The seminar was bigger than life. It was gigantic. The questions that were asked. The doubts that were raised. The rabbis answered all the questions.

"Three months later, I left school. I assumed the burden of the kingdom of heaven and understood once and for all that there is a Creator and that He wants each of us to diligently pursue his plan, for which He has provided the instructions." (Ibid.)

This type of conversion to Orthodoxy is becoming widespread among teenagers and young adults. At first, many secular parents are happy about their children's interest in religion. Especially in Sephardic* homes there is a certain respect for religious observance. And often secular parents have a latent guilt for not being observant themselves.

Moreover in disadvantaged neighborhoods, "parents are obsessed with the fear that their children will become drug addicts...So when children take their first rudimentary steps toward religious observance...their parents identify with them." Yet, according to a five-part series in the Jerusalem Post, many secular parents "often come to regret it--when it's too late." (Ibid., May 17, 1997)

* Jews who came from Northern Africa or Arab nations and who constitute over half of all Israelis.

One such single parent, Rina Aviv, tells her story. Her son Shmulik, now 17, had his Bar Mitzvah at the age of 13, as most Israeli boys do. Often in Israel, and indeed throughout the world, this is the last time a Jewish boy studies the Bible. However, Shmulik continued to don tefillin (phylacteries) and recite morning prayers. He told his mother it made him feel good and made him successful. He then joined a synagogue and began to wear Orthodox style clothing.

When he began strictly observing the Sabbath according to the regulations of the haredim (extreme or ultra-Orthodox), his mother was worried. Then he cut himself off completely from his family. Rina says bitterly, "The rabbi gave Shmulik money and told him that his mother was bad because she did not keep a kosher home. I asked Shmulik: 'What about the commandment to honor your father and mother?' He replied: 'First God, then your parents.’” (Ibid.)


Up until the end of the 10th grade, Shmulik had been an outstanding student. One day he came home and told his mother he was quitting school and leaving for a yeshiva (Talmudic institution). The mother recounts, "'For me, it was the hardest day of my life. I knew it was the end. My son was no longer my son. They had succeeded in taking my boy away. They beat me.'" (Ibid.) She has given up on her Shmulik and her only concern now is to protect her other two sons, aged 12 and 7, from becoming ultra- Orthodox Jews. (Ibid.)

The Jerusalem Post reported on another single mother, Rachel Fenso, who lost her two sons, now 17 and 15 to Orthodoxy. She explains the process: "'In our neighborhood, the teshuva [literally: repenters] activists distribute tape cassettes, put up posters, and hold lectures in the community center,' she said. 'They also hold four-day "marathons" with different rabbis each day. They use intimidation to influence the children by talking about reincarnation, and heaven and hell. The kids feel like they're high on drugs. It's impossible to extricate them.'"


According to Rachel, parents often don't mind what is happening. "'They are very afraid that their children will take drugs,' she said. 'They say they prefer to let them become religious. But they don't realize what it means. This type of religion takes away their children.'" Rachel said that the teshuva activists begin with children much younger than [her sons]. "'They offer Crembo chocolates and candies to entice them to come to the synagogue and recite the blessings,' she said. 'I'm talking about six and seven-year olds.'"

Rachel's son continues to go deeper into Orthodoxy. His rabbis told him that 'all the secular girls are filthy prostitutes.' The child, she said, simply couldn't stay in school. "'Everything has died for him. Whatever the rabbi says, is sacred. I can tell him a million things, but he won't listen. He sits all day and pores over his religious books. . .It borders on stupidity. He's like a robot. He is always trying to make sure he's absolutely perfect.'"

Her story ends thus: The rabbi has told her son that in three more months, he will take him away to live in a yeshiva. Then, says Rachel, "'We can say good-bye to him. He won't return from there. So, why did I raise children in the first place? I want to sue everyone who made my boy into a haredi. I want them to give him back to me and not touch a hair of his head.’”

Professor Dan Mahler is one of the most outspoken critics of the teshuva (repenting) movement and a leader of ILA, the Association to Fight Haredi Domination. He himself has lost a son to the haredim, which still rankles him after 13 years. (Ibid., May 21, 1997)

"'The process of hazara betshuva [literally "to repent", but to Israelis it means to become ultra- Orthodox] has nothing to do with gaining knowledge,' said Dr. Mahler. 'What is involved is a rapid change in thinking without opportunity for the gradual development of opinion, while denying the opportunity to hear criticism or conflicting evidence. . . The lifestyle in this closed system obliges changes in eating habits, dress, language, attitudes to work, the state and its laws, and everyone outside the system.’

"According to Mahler, for the process to be successful, the 'repenter' must be isolated from all the influences of his old life--family, friends, society and the state. 'The nuclear family is the strongest foundation in the life of every child. The [haredi] preacher must destroy this source of opposition to clear the way for the victim to be dragged to his intended goal.' (Ibid.)


"'Converts are brainwashed into giving up their former lives. This is achieved by holding a series of lectures, while putting off rest, sleep and food.'" Mahler compared the technique used by such organizations to brainwashing methods first revealed in the West after the Korean War. "'The teshuva movement has more of the cult-defining characteristics listed a decade ago by a Knesset panel [Tasa- Glaser] than any of the officially designated cults operating in Israel.'"

Mahler wants to take rabbis who have persuaded minors to leave home to court on charges of violating the Custodian Law. However, usually by the time the parents figure out what has happened, they have lost their children's hearts. Says Mahler, "'Parents wake up late to the process their children are undergoing, because of the residual guilt they feel for not being observant themselves, and because the preachers do not reveal their goal of making their children haredi until much later on.’” (Ibid., May 21, 1997)


Meanwhile, Mahler warns, the haredi missionaries are working the suburbs of Tel Aviv through their many organizations. They continue to conduct a well-oiled campaign to win over the children of the have-nots. And because the haredi political parties hold the balance of power in the Knesset, basically no one is taking note of their methods of gaining new converts.

Indeed, over the past year, following the national elections and the resurgence of haredi leverage in the Netanyahu government, the movement is enjoying a revival. One of the leaders of the teshuva organizations Yosef Walis, said that "almost every 'repenter' has a sense of mission, because there is so much emptiness and ignorance. We must spread the message." (Ibid.)

This last year there has been a sharp jump in the number of calls Mahler has received from distraught parents who feel their children are disappearing in front of their eyes. In fact, teshuva missionaries are now waiting outside the gates of secular schools, seeking interested candidates. (Ibid., May 16,1997)


In the midst of the intense activity of the ultra-Orthodox throughout the country to convert the nation to haredim, the persecution of what Paul the Shaliach (Apostle) calls "the true remnant of Israel" is also intensifying. Yet here is an amazing fact. When an Israeli from a secular family comes to the knowledge of the God of Israel through the Messiah of Israel, Yeshua, the family usually goes into shock. They have studied the history of the sins of the Christian Church against the Jews for centuries, and they therefore connect Yeshua with these sins.

Furthermore, they have heard horror stories about Messianic Jews--in fact, the identical horror stories involving current Orthodox conduct. Notwithstanding their own behavior, the Orthodox point the finger at the small Messianic community and cover the nation with stories of hapless victims being enticed into Messianic Jewish cults which in turn cut children and adults off from their families. Messianic Jews, they say, convert Jews into Anti-Semites. They spiritually kill Jews by taking them away from God and from Judaism, into a Christianity of crosses, idols and Mother Mary.


Most of the time, the family of a new believer has never met any Messianic Jews because the Body of Messiah is extremely restricted in our freedom to publicly proclaim the Gospel in Israel. On the other hand, the airwaves and the newspapers are full of Orthodox propaganda.

HOWEVER, after a period of time--and often that time is just a matter of months--the parents or family nearly always see such positive changes in the new believer that their fears subside. Messianic Jews never cut their families off (unless criminally abusive). To the contrary: they show love, morality, honesty and joy that most did not have before. And often the relations of the entire family improve. What's more, to their surprise they find we're Jewish!

Time after time in our own congregation, the family of a new believer is first horrified, then curious, then openly sympathetic. Already a number of our members have brought their parents and siblings to our services or celebrations. Without exception, the family feels the warmth and love of the believers, and is open to know more. Nor have we had a single case in our congregation where parents feel we are teaching their children to separate themselves from their family.


Yet we have been under police investigation for over a year. Why? It all began in the fall of 1995. We had sponsored several very special and wonderful Israeli Messianic Leadership Conferences, when a close friend spoke to us and said, "Wouldn't it be wonderful for the teenage believers of Israel to have their own national Messianic Conference!" The thought excited us as we have two teenagers ourselves--at that time 17 and 16 years of age. And we were painfully aware of how little fellowship our own children had had with other believing children. There are yet so few born-again young people scattered around the whole land--perhaps a few hundred.

We began praying and planning in that direction. We contacted leaders of other congregations, and out of those meetings formed an advisory board of leaders from seven congregations who enthusiastically endorsed the conference. We invited a very anointed youth leader from the U.S. who had seen many teenagers come to know the only true God. And we invited the youth.

125 young people came--from early teens to mid twenties. Believing parents were delighted that there was such a conference for their children. Obviously all the youth from our own congregation wanted to come. Among those were a few who were regularly attending although their parents were not believers. All were looking forward to meeting the Messianic kids from around the country. As a matter of course, in order to attend, those under 18 had to have signed releases from their parents.

The conference was wonderful. It was held on a kibbutz by the Mediterranean Sea. Although it was our first attempt at a youth conference, the youth were really touched by God. Parents called us telling how thankful they were to see the changes for the good in their children. Youth leaders of congregations talked about further conferences in the future.


During the conference, a woman entered the meeting hall while a service was in session. She said she was the sister of someone living on the kibbutz, and happened to be visiting. She worked for a newspaper, and said she had never seen such shining faces like the young people here. She said that while so many of Israel's youth were taking drugs and getting into trouble, here was an incredible group of young people who were coming together to sing songs of praise and to study the Bible. Would it be all right, she asked, if she sat and watched?

Since most articles written by secular journalists about us through the years were usually "objective", and some of them quite sympathetic, we permitted her to come in. Besides, the atmosphere was wonderful. The teenagers and young adults were clean cut, sparkling and exuding love for God and each other.


The longer the journalist was there, the more impressed she was. She talked to different young people who told her how their lives had been messed up, and how the God of Israel had brought significance and purpose to their lives through Messiah Yeshua. She became friends with some of our adult supervisors, and said that this conference was one of the deepest experiences of her life. After she arrived back home, she called up one of our members who had been at the conference as a counselor and said, "I'm now at home, but I don't even want to turn on the television set so I won't lose the feeling that I have from attending the youth conference."

Two weeks later, a four page article in Israel's largest newspaper came out written by this journalist. It was in the weekend paper when readership is the largest. The article said that we had held a youth conference, enticing teenagers to attend without their parent's knowledge. It called us a cult, said we were preying on children of underprivileged families, and described us as charlatans. It showed a very large photo of our son Ayal praising with the worship team, and said this teenager was an example of a distressed teenager whom we had brought in. It showed another photo of a young man who came especially for the conference from a Messianic congregation abroad, and labeled the caption, "His parents didn't know." It was about the sickest article we had ever read against the Messianic believers in the 30 years we have been in the land.


We couldn't believe our eyes. We prayed. We sought professional advice. First of all, we wanted to know why a secular journalist would write such a pack of lies. A lawyer who spoke to us said, "She is a junior journalist, climbing up the ladder of success. She thought that such a juicy article would give her career an exceptional leap forward." (It is against the law to persuade [Jewish minors to "change their religion"--except to Orthodox Judaism--without parental approval.) She seemingly saw an opportunity to create a scandal and make herself a name.

Because we had received signed statements from the parents in order for minors to attend, we knew that we could prove that the criminal libel in the article was a lie. Furthermore, we knew the article was being used by Satan to terrify parents from ever letting their children near Messianic Jews. Therefore we decided to sue the newspaper. As soon as the journalist found out we had sued, she somehow secured the addresses of the children who had non-Messianic parents. We were told by the teens that she tried to persuade their parents to sue us "because we were a dangerous cult" that would destroy their children. The parents were in shock.

To make a long story short, God has worked miracle after miracle. The young people who were attending our congregation are still attending. Their parents who, although do not believe as we do, are our friends, appreciate us and are happy that their children attend the congregation. It appears that we are on the way to winning our lawsuit, which is now in process.


However, because of the article, the police opened an investigation on us, which has been going on for about a year. The investigation was initiated by the Attorney General of this present government. We took the signed forms to the police and showed them that all parents had known about the Messianic Youth Conference and given permission for their children to attend. The police interrogated us further, then told us they would be in touch with us. They have called several times, asking for names and address of parents, which we supplied. They have contacted parents, asking them to testify in court. This week they called to say they will now interrogate the leaders of the other congregations that cooperated in the conference.

We have been informed that the police are calling up parents and asking if they gave permission to attend the conference. When the parents answer in the affirmative, the police respond, "But did you know this is a cult? Did you know they have ceremonies with crosses. . ." They are not objectively investigating. We can only say it is religious harassment. They are obviously attempting to find someone to witness against us.

Perhaps one day, the police will create an excuse to put an Israeli believer in jail for his faith. Obviously no Israeli wants to be arrested. But we have been in meetings concerning religious persecution with Israeli leaders and we know that most would count it a privilege to be jailed for "Kiddush HaShem", for their faith in the Holy One of Israel.




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