Something remarkable is taking place in Russia right now. At this moment-the summer of 1989-the gates of Russia are opening up. Many Jews, who never before could have left the Soviet Union, are being released. The iron door is coming down.
This last spring a group of Israeli journalists went to Russia for a Jewish Culture Week in Moscow. A Jewish Cultural Center was opened up, and so was a Jewish Studies Center. The projects were co-sponsored by Jewish leaders from around the world and the Soviet Ministry of Culture!
For the Israeli journalists, it seemed too much to hope that the rulers of the Kremlin would ever let the Jews be themselves, even behind the closed doors of someone's home. But to think that the authorities would allow open expressions of authentic Jewish culture, and would even provide buses, theatres, or other public facilities for it-this was beyond all rational expectations.
Such events were not only impossible a few years ago in the Soviet Union, they were inconceivable. Police raids, harassment or imprisonment were all that could be expected from the authorities where independent expressions of Jewish culture were concerned, even if they were carried out in a private flat.
However, do not for a minute consider that everything is coming up roses. The Soviet bureaucracy is still speaking with mixed voices. There are conflicting forces within the Soviet government some which are very strongly anti-Semitic.
RUSSIAN JEWRY FEARFUL AND LETHARGIC
But anti-Semitism does not seem to be the most immediate challenge today. The greatest problem with Soviet Jewry reawakening to their Jewish heritage is how to arouse them from their adopted godless, humanistic religion. After Communism has forcibly stripped the Soviet Jews of their cultural and religious heritage for a full generation, many if not most, now appear to prefer to leave their ancient heritage behind and maintain their rank as a normal Communist atheistic citizen of Russia.
For example, many Jews still will not risk attending any Jewish function for fear the winds will change direction and such indulgences might later cost them or their children their jobs or more. They know that if Gorbachev fails in his goal of restructuring Soviet society, there will be a harsh political reaction from the hardliners and reactionaries, who tend to be steeped in traditional Russian anti-Semitism. Past experiences gives Jews every reason to believe that they will be singled out as scapegoats if this experiment in limited freedoms fails.
Charles Hoffman of the Jerusalem Post* wrote: " No one can say how long these opportunities will last, or whether the masses of Soviets, most of whom are far removed from Jewish concerns will take advantage of them while they last."
MOST RUSSIAN JEWS PREFER TO ASSIMILATE
Roald Zelichonok*, the longtime Leningrad refusenik argues that anyone who visits the U.S.S.R. and takes back an optimistic report about the life and future of Soviet Jewry is misrepresenting the situation. Judaism is not merely on the decline, he contends, it is dying and this is something which must be recognized.
Scoffing at the figures of those studying Hebrew and Jewish history and philosophy, Zelichonok declared that a few hundred in a society of close to three million is tantamount to nil. Jews are generally not interested in identifying with and perpetuating Jewish spiritual and cultural values, he added.
Warning that time is working against us, he urged the U.S. to ease the immigration process for Soviet Jews. Without such intervention, he was convinced that what is left of the Jewish communities of the U.S.S.R. will disintegrate.
40 YEARS OF REPRESSION HAS DONE ITS WORK
What Zelichonok does not know, however, is that Russian Jewry has no more chance of surviving as Jews in America than they do in Russia (See Maoz newsletter June, 1989). In fact, the great majority of Jews who have come or wish to come to the U.S., do so because of economic reasons, not religious. Unless Soviet Jewish immigrants go to Israel they will lose whatever they have left of Jewish identity.
Charles Hoffman, who attended one of the Israeli and Jewish music concerts in Moscow*, was himself astounded to see how little "spirit" was in this audience of 3,000 Jews. Hoffman had expected the concert to open floodgates of suppressed Jewish feelings.
"But early in the performance, I noticed that the audience, which was mostly middle-aged and elderly, missed an important cue. They failed to respond with cheers, tears and applause when Aura Levin let loose with Am Yisrael Hai! (The People of Israel Live!)
"I realized that I was looking at the deadening effect of decades of repression. Mass expressions of Jewish sentiment-not to mention anything resembling Zionist fervor-have been taboo for 40 years, ever since Stalin loosed his lethal psychotic fury against Jewish intellectuals and the flower of the Yiddish stage."
No one can say with certainty at this point how many Jews will respond to these new opportunities for cultural expression. Some will surely come out of the closet once they are convinced that such behavior is acceptable in the eyes of the authorities. But others may still be afraid or may not want to do anything to deflect themselves or their children from assimilating into the dominant Russian culture.
A Talmudic student from Leningrad, Alexander Lakshin, said that there are only four homes in his city where families celebrate a real Shabbat (Sabbath). A total of 50-60 students are engaged in religious study. (There are 300,000 Jews in Moscow, 130,000 each in Leningrad and Kiev).
YIDDISH GROUPS OF SOVIET JEWS STAND AGAINST ISRAEL
Nikolai Kolinsky* of Kiev is a young historian and also a Hebrew teacher. The main problem, he says, is that the Zionist movement, which was strong in the early 1970's, is very weak now. It has been thwarted by, among other things, the "Americanizers".
Visitors from the U.S. have come with greater frequency, preaching the glories of America, and how good it is for the Jews there. Russian Jews began to believe, as one observer put it, that America is heaven, and Israel is hell. Since then, most Jewish emigrants from Kiev have become drop-outs (gone to America instead of Israel).
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT THE JEWS FROM THE NORTH?
We believe that it is not God's expressed will that Soviet Jews be brought to America. The Scriptures have stated that the Jews in the North are to go to Israel. Jer. 3: 18
Ironically, though Soviet Jews might like to forget their Jewishness, the Soviet anti-Semites, by discriminating against them, force them to be “different”. For years, Jews in Russia have had problems being promoted to better jobs and educational opportunities.
So even though many Jews are ready to forget they are Jewish they cannot. Therefore, they are ready to leave Russia because of the omnipresent potential of harassment. There is even now a great back up of Soviet Jews waiting in refugee facilities in Austria and Italy for a chance to come to America.
The government of Israel estimates that approximately 500,000 Soviet Jews are ready to leave. Of course they would prefer to come to the U.S.A. But the U.S. government is now publicly stating that they can no longer accommodate such a large flow of refugees. That is the reason for the great back log of Jewish refugees right now in Europe.
Instead the U.S. has begun to push for what Israel has long asked for: direct flights from Russia to Israel.* If this should occur, the refugee "camps" in Austria and Italy would cease to exist. And most Soviet Jews would end up in Israel (instead of the 10% now coming) instead of the U.S.A. God will find a way to bring the Soviet Jews to His Land. He will watch over His Word to perform it.
PRAY THAT GOD WILL PUT AN END TO THE ISRAELI RABBINICAL AUTHORITIES' ABILITY TO CAST OUT THE JEWS THAT DO NOT MEET THEIR APPROVAL
However, there is one genuine obstacle put in the path of Soviet Jewry coming to Israel. It is placed there by none other than the Orthodox Rabbinical authorities in Israel.
Charles Hoffman reports that Mikhail Chlenov who has now emerged as the leading spokesman for Soviet Jews, has himself openly declared that "for personal reasons", he has no plans for making aliya (immigration to Israel).
Is it not interesting that Chlenov and his wife are spending their lives to resurrect Jewish life in the Soviet Union, and yet have no plans to ever immigrate to Israel? Would you like to know why?
A JEW IN RUSSIA MAY NOT BE A JEW IN ISRAEL
Although Chlenov's father was Jewish*, his mother was not. In Russia, he chooses whether or not he wants to call himself a Jew. But if he went to Israel, he anticipates being stripped of his Jewish identity by the Orthodox establishment, which has determined that a person is Jewish only if his mother is. It doesn't matter what the father is. (Israeli civil law, on the other hand, considers a person a Jew if either parent to the third generation, was Jewish).
As Jews who love and cherish their heritage more than life itself, Mikhail Chlenov and his family don't want the hassle from some fossilized institution that would try to take from them what the Russians could not.
In fact, many Russian Jews, as is true of American Jews, are of mixed parentage, and are loath to let a religious regime in Israel try to steal what has been birthed in their hearts and literally destroy their Jewishness.
We have seen that there are two lines of attack by evil spiritual forces against Soviet Jewry. As we wrote in last month's letter, we must pray open the gates of Israel to receive world Jewry-whoever desires to come-and especially those Jews who believe in Yeshua the Messiah.
Secondly, we must pray for laborers to go to Russia and search out the Jews there, and explain to them God's plan.
TOM HESS, A MESSENGER TO RUSSIA
There have been a select number of Christians who have gone to Russia at different times, calling for the Jews to return to Israel. Tom Hess is one of those men, who feels that God's call upon his life is to help World Jewry back to the land of their fathers.
Tom has just returned from Russia. He feels that God is calling for fisherman to come fish for the Jewish people right now. Note what God's plan is for Soviet Jewry according to the Scriptures:
Therefore behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when it will no longer be said, "As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt."
but, "As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them", For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers.
Behold, I am going to send for many fishermen, declares the Lord, and they will fish for them; and afterwards I shall send for many hunters, and they will hunt them from every mountain and every hill, and from the clefts of the rocks. Jer.16:14-16
As Tom said, fishermen have to go where the fish are. Hess points out that perhaps the exodus from Russia may not be exactly like the exodus from Egypt, that is, one mass of people leaving at one time. And even if the final exodus will be like that from Egypt, right now the opportunity has been provided by God for fishermen to go in and fish out the Russian Jews.
RUSSIA'S JEWS WANT BIBLES
Hess said that he recently took a group of Americans into Russia to pray for Soviet Jewry. In that short time, they learned many valuable facts. First of all, Russia's Jews are very hungry for the Bible. Hess mentioned one place of business where many professional Jews worked. They had one Bible between all of them and they were passing it around from one person to the next. Each had read the entire Bible through three times.
Hess said that most of the Soviet Bibles brought in have gone to other Christians. Praise God for that! But the Jews also need and want the Bible-the whole Bible-Old and New, in Russian.
Secondly, Hess found that many Russians would be interested in immigrating to Israel if only someone with a prophetic understanding of her future would tell them about Israel. Hess collected 50 names of Jews who asked him to request visas to move to Israel, after he spoke to them about Israel from a Scriptural standpoint.
MESSIANIC JEWS FROM ISRAEL URGED TO GO TO RUSSIA
Hess then went from Russia directly to Israel to encourage Israeli Messianic Jews to travel to Russia with the message of salvation, and a call to return to the land their fathers possessed (Deut 30). Messianic Jews are the only Jews from Israel that can preach hope!
Again, we repeat, we must pray fervently for victory in the Beresford Supreme Court case (see Maoz newsletter, July, 1989), so that as God begins to stir up the spirit of revival among Soviet Jews, and they accept the Messiah, the Holy One of Israel, that the Rabbinical structure in Israel will not be able to stop them from coming home!
We, ourselves, believe that this is the time that God has opened up a window in Russia, in order to bring them to Israel.
If God can open up the gates of Russia-as He now is doing to let the Jews out, He can certainly open up the gates of Israel to receive all of them, including the believing Jews.
In summary, the coming home of World Jewry to Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel, is going to be an event of such magnitude that it will be seen as an even greater miracle than the release from Egypt.
THE ONLY LAND NORTH OF ISRAEL WITH MANY JEWS IS RUSSIA
But out of all the countries that the Jews will journey home from, the most dramatic exit in the end will be from Russia. That is seen from the emphasis in the wording, "from the land of the north (of Israel) and from all the countries".
With these promises, we have plenty to pray and work for. We must pray for revival in Russia among its Jewish population, before it loses all recollection of its heritage. We must pray that God will raise up indigenous leadership among Russian Jewish believers.
We must pray and work to send fishermen into Russia with a call to the Jews to come home to God and to His land. We must pray for literally tons of Russian Bibles to be distributed among Russia's Jews, and while we're at it, for all of Russia's people. Every citizen of Russia should have the privilege of having a Bible.
We must pray for and work among Russian Jewry already settled in America that they would return to their God, and to the land of their forefathers. We must pray that God will send both Jew and Gentile to the Soviet Jewish vineyard. Since God declares that His people from among the Gentiles will have a very significant part in Israel's salvation (Isa. 49:22-23), we must pray that God will anoint those He wants for the various tasks including intercessory prayer.
We must pray and work for deliverance from the Orthodox rulers in Jerusalem who unknowingly would destroy the flower of their own people by their dictatorial use of religious power over the souls of men.
A NEW SITUATION NOW, AND WE MUST USE IT
When Chlenov, Russian Jewry's spokesman, was asked if he believed in the future of his people; he answered: "One can only believe in God. But we have a new situation here now, and we must use it. Right on!
It has been now a generation of 40 years since Stalin tried to obliterate the Jews in Russia through atheism and assimilation.
But he cannot succeed for God has the last word on what will happen to His people, whose gifts and callings are without repentance.
We must not forget to pray and work towards preparing a place for these refugee Russians once they arrive in Israel. Christians who feel God has told them to prepare "way stations" of rest and shelter in Europe in anticipation of a great exodus is all well and good. But once they arrive in Israel, where are they going then? To tents, as happened with the refugees to Israel in the 1950's? Israel has no possibility of supplying the most elementary shelters for masses of refugees. Put yourself in their shoes. What if you were one of those refugees-to-be? Pray.
But most important pray that Israel's born again believers will be spiritually strong enough to make an impact on the Russian Jews as they come home. We must train Israeli leaders from every background including Russian.
OUR HEARTS LOOK TO GOD FOR A BIBLE SCHOOL
We, Ari and Shira, are in the States raising funds for the establishment of a Bible School in Israel. The beginning cost is about $2,000,000.
Should Israel not have an opportunity to have such a Bible School to train pastors, teachers, evangelists, and soul winners? Think of the hundreds of Bible Schools available to Americans and Canadians, not to mention other countries. But at this point, there is not a single Messianic Jewish Hebrew Bible School for Israeli believers in existence.
And remember, the resurrection of the Jewish people will be "life from the dead" for all of God's people according to Romans 11: 15. The whole body will benefit from Israel's return to her God.
Pray about what God would have you give for Israel's restoration.
In our Messiah,
Ari & Shira Sorko-Ram
(1). March 31, 1909 (2). Jerusalem Post Dec. 9, 1988 (3). Ibid; March 17, 1989 (4). Ibid; March 31, 1989 (5). Ibid; June 8, 1989