All of us finished high school and went straight into the army. I was placed in the Israeli Air Force, and as I stepped up to sign my enlistment papers, I noticed the soldier in charge of new recruits took special interest in me. It was love at first sight when I, a Yemenite teenager fresh off the farm, met Israel Comforti, a tall handsome soldier, who welcomed me into the air force.
Israel’s parents came from Bulgaria and moved to Jaffa, the ancient city that borders Tel Aviv. Israel’s father published a Bulgarian-language newspaper, and though he worked night and day, he struggled with great difficulty to put food on the table, as food was scarce in the early years of the new nation. Israel entered the air force after high school, soon became an officer and continued to serve 12 years in the military.
We married three years after we met. I had been accustomed to hard work as a child, and so continually looked for odd jobs in between the births of our four children. I soon found an enjoyable occupation working in experimental greenhouses and became an expert in tissue culture plants over the next 11 years.
In 1991 my boss decided he wanted to expand his business and sent me and my family to open a tissue culture farm in Ohio. We were greeted by our host family, Phil and Thelma Norcom; Phil was the business partner in the U.S. who would be learning the tissue culture business from me and Israel, who by now was also working in this field.
Phil and his family were strong born-again Christians, and they were fascinated with us, their new Israeli friends. This man absolutely lived the Bible. In many conversations, he asked us without pressure who we thought the Jewish Messiah was and how we would know Him when He would arrive.
They invited us to their church for a Thanksgiving celebration. When the audience began to sing, “Shine Jesus Shine,” Israel and I sat there in shock, not knowing what to think, and I began to cry, not knowing why. Soon after, our ten-year-old son, Kobi, attended summer camp with Phil’s son. When he returned, Kobi said to us, “Do you know that Yeshua is God?”
It was as if a knife had been plunged into my heart. I answered, “Kobi! That can’t be! We have our God and the Christians have theirs!” Phil heard the conversation, but he didn’t say anything. I felt like all this talk about Yeshua was wrong, but on the other hand, I was curious.
One day, another believer told me that some Jerusalem dancers were coming to their congregation. When I heard the word “Jerusalem,” I decided to go see them. A young American man, Michael Moran was heading up the dance troop, and I found it very enjoyable. But when I was introduced to his wife, Orit, I was, again, shocked; she was an Israeli and she told me that Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah. I said to her, “How dare you, a Jew, believe in Yeshua!” Orit then began to explain to me from the Bible why He had to be the Messiah. As she spoke, I felt smaller and smaller. I realized that I really knew nothing about God.
At wedding of oldest son, Kobi (Left to Right: Israel, Pnina, Heather, Kobi, Daniel, Gili, Roni)
The Morans (who are now part of the leadership of our congregation, Tiferet Yeshua in Israel) spoke with us often by phone. They invited us to their home for the weekend, and Phil and Thelma joined us. Michael and Orit took us to their Messianic Jewish congregation in Maryland Beth Messiah. I watched them singing and dancing, and saw the love they had for God and for one another.
We talked through the entire weekend. By then, I knew that this revelation about Yeshua and the New Testament was the Truth, but I also saw that Israel was still very closed, so I said nothing.
Over the next three months, Israel and I began to fight the atmosphere became so hostile that we were actually contemplating divorce. Israel said, “Let’s get back to Israel before our kids convert to Christianity!” But seeing that we couldn’t agree about anything, we decided that maybe we should get divorced.
However, Phil said to me, “No, no! This is the work of the devil! God is working in your lives and the devil is trying to destroy your family.” Phil and another believer asked if they could pray for me, and so we all prayed together. I began to realize that I had much more faith in the prayers of Phil being answered than I had in the traditional prayers my family had customarily prayed out of the prayer book.
I then called Orit, and she told me the same thing. “Don’t divorce! This is the work of Satan.” She explained to me the way that Satan and evil powers work in order to tear down families and relationships. She told me I should fight for my marriage. All this time, I had been praying that God would show me whether or not I was wrong to be considering that Yeshua is my Messiah.
Meanwhile the Morans introduced us to another couple, Ron and Elana Cantor, a sabra (native-born Israeli). Suddenly Elana stared at Israel and said, “Israel, you were my officer in the air force!” They spent much time explaining the Word of God to us. (The Cantors are also now very active in our congregation in Tel Aviv.) It was becoming increasingly clear that the Bible, from beginning to end, spoke about God’s redemption for His people through Yeshua. We continued to be amazed that we were meeting Israelis who were believers in Yeshua. This, then, was not just an American phenomenon…
It was around Pessach (Passover) of 1993, when we had been invited to the home of a traditional American Jewish family for the Seder, (traditional meal) and my concern was that my relationship with Israel had so deteriorated that we might embarrass ourselves. I prayed a simple prayer: “Lord, if it is not a sin to believe in Yeshua, then I pray you answer my request and give Israel and me peace tonight at the Seder.”
Israel came in, in a great mood, and we had a wonderful Seder. I knew then that Yeshua was and is the Messiah. But I still said nothing to Israel.
Soon after the Seder, we were invited to a conference, where the speaker was giving a message to a large audience of hundreds of people. Suddenly, he walked over in our direction... I want Israel to tell you in his words what happened.
Israel: We listened to a speaker by the name of Mahesh Chavda who was speaking about salvation and healing through Yeshua, when he suddenly turned in our direction where we were sitting and said, “This is the time for you, while the door is still open. Come while it is still open.” Then he turned back to the rest of the audience. A second time he looked toward me and said, “Come, before the door closes.”
“After a few minutes, he came a third time, and this time he looked at me and said, ‘Israel! Don’t wait! You are being given yet another opportunity to come to me!’
“Now here is the strange part. He didn’t say “Israel'' like American’s do, putting the emphases on the first syllable. He said, “Is-ra-EL’' like Israelis do, which is the way my name is pronounced.
“I looked at Pnina and Phil. I said, “Who is he talking to? Why did he say, “Israel?"" They seemed not to comprehend what I was saying, and so I said again, “Why did he say, “Israel, you are being given yet another opportunity to come to me?"" Finally, Pnina and Phil answered that they didn’t hear Mahesh say anything about Israel. It appears that only I heard him say my name.
“The next day I told Phil that I wanted to hear Mahesh Chavda again. On the third night, our whole family went forward and asked Yeshua to become our Lord and Savior.”
Pnina: We found such love for God among the Jewish believers. It confirmed to us both that Yeshua is not just the Messiah of the nations, but the Jewish Messiah of all Israel. And because we had been talking with many different believers over the course of a year and a half before we actually accepted Yeshua, by the time we said, “Yes!” we already had a good foundation in the Word of God.
In just two more months, our mission in the agriculture project would be completed. It was as if God had brought us there for the sole purpose of receiving salvation, and now it would be time to return home.
Back in Israel, I took a new career direction and decided to learn confectionery and pastry. After studying at Israel’s leading confectionery institute, I began baking in my home in Gan Yavneh, a village near Ashdod. After three years, we opened a small bakery. Israel worked for the army driving a truck and doing jobs on military bases, including in Gaza. As the bakery began to grow, many times he would leave at 4:30 in the morning to do his hauls and then in the evening, he would help me in the bakery. I used only the best ingredients and gained a reputation for making really delicious pastries.
All was well until one day we saw our town covered with leaflets. These flyers said, “Beware of Pnina Pie Bakery. She is a missionary and is dangerous to your children.” Then the Rabbinical authorities walked into our bakery and took our kashrut (kosher) license off the wall. Immediately a large percentage of our customers, many of whom are traditional, ceased to buy at our bakery. To this day, the synagogue in Gan Yavneh posts the warning and our picture on their bulletin board.
Flyers printed by ultra-Orthodox in Hebrew and French:
What is hiding behind the Café-Bakery?
Pnina Comforti, manager of the Café, belongs to the cult of Messianic Jews. These are Jews who sold their souls, betrayed their nation, and converted to Christianity.
Don't reward them!
Your future and that of your children is more important.
Do not enter (the café) because with her sweet talk, she will try to ensnare you to her Christian religion.
Stay away from her! Be proud Jews! Vote with your feet!
We struggled, trying to keep our bills paid, and slowly, slowly, some of our customers began to return, and new ones came who did not care whether we had a kashrut license or not. We also began to reduce our quantity of products to fit the now reduced clientele.
By February 2006, we were doing well enough, so we decided to open another Pnina Pie Bakery in the center of Ashdod, a much bigger city. We thought we could succeed there since we’d been constantly told there were no better baked goods in all of Israel than ours! So Israel sold his truck, and with a loan from the bank, we opened up the new Pnina Pie Bakery.
We were situated, literally, in the center of town - right on the town square. It was a great location. We decorated the shop very nicely, and put in a few tables where people could sit and have coffee and cake. It was an immediate success, and we began to prosper financially. Then, last June, one of my Orthodox customers happened to visit the Gan Yavneh synagogue where he saw my picture still posted. He went straight to the rabbinical authorities, and they walked into our Ashdod bakery and grabbed the kashrut license off the wall not because of any failure to keep kosher laws, but simply because of our faith in Yeshua.
Immediately, we had 70% less business, as many Ashdod citizens are Orthodox or traditional, and we quickly began to go under financially. But Ari and Shira, our congregational leaders, as well as Asher Intrater and others admonished us not to give in to the Rabbinate’s attempt to destroy our business.
Through their encouragement and financial help, along with our continuing hard work, we have been able to keep our business open. We understand that the goal of the Rabbinate is to close us down, and, if successful, they would next set their sights on other businesses owned by believers.
The empty cafe-bakery. Business was booming until the rabbis went to work.
We realize we are part of a larger struggle in this land where Jewish believers in Yeshua must be able to live and make a living, while at the same time, have the freedom to openly practice our faith as followers of Yeshua. He will see us through this crisis; we know He will make a way.
Excerpts from a positive article written by Yair Harush in "Kol HaDrom" weekly magazine which circulates in Ashdod and Gan Yavneh:
It should be noted that their kosher bakery got off to a meteoric success, and Pnina Comforti found herself working around the clock to fill the orders. But then the rumors began to fly - concerning the faith of the owner who is a Messianic Jew and who believes in the Tanach and the New Testament. According to her lawyer's allegations, ultra-Orthodox circles concerned themselves with fanning the flames, with the objective to strip her of her kashrut certificate...[they] spread a "blood libel" against her through their Orthodox extremist circles, and their goal is to destroy her business, according to her lawyer, Eliad Shraga.
The organization of Yad L'Achim has made itself the right hand assistant of God. They decide who is a Jew and who is not. However what they invent in their imagination does not give honor to God. This is fanaticism and not Judaism.
[The Comfortis'] lawyer said, "We are going to fight this to the end... This is just the beginning... I see that throughout the south of Israel, the tormenting persecution [against Messianic believers by the Orthodox] is very serious. In a democratic country, we must protect the dignity of man, no matter who they are. It does not matter what their religion, nationality, color or race is."
Here we are speaking of atrocious acts against people who have not done anything wrong to anyone, that spills their blood with lies and accusations, and delegitimizes their good name. These same people who do these acts that injure their rights to freedom of worship and freedom to do business, will pay dearly. I hope that our nation will wake up before blood is spilled and realize that those committing these acts of stalking [those persecuted] have no basis for doing so.
We are well aware that the rabbinical confrontation against the Comfortis is with the intention to destroy the businesses of the believers in Israel.
The Orthodox have flooded the area with scandalous articles, such as the one below, comparing their faith to Nazism, to keep all Jews with any traditional ties to their faith, away from the bakery. Therefore, we have taken a stand with the Comfortis, and committed ourselves to underwrite the full cost of obtaining one of the best lawyers in Israel in order to fight for the rights of Israelis to have freedom of religion in Israel. The cost of the lawyer is $25,000.
Meanwhile we, our congregation, and others such as Asher Intrater are helping them on a continual basis so that they do not lose their bakery in Ashdod.
Please see the letter enclosed with this Maoz Israel Report to see what you can do to help this family, and by extention, all the believers who have businesses in Israel.
Ari and Shira Sorko-Ram
I want to help the Comforti family battle against persecution!
FOR ISRAEL TODAY AND FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS...
UNTIL YESHUA RETURNS
This will be written for the generation to come,
that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord. Psalm 102:18
Be a part of prophecy. Give Israel a chance to know the God of Israel. Help publish the written Word for the People of the Book.
Become a Member of the Hebrew Book of The Month Club
Jerusalem's fabled Mayor from 1965-1993
ONE OF ISRAEL'S LAST FOUNDING FATHERS LAID TO REST
Teddy, as everyone called him - became mayor of half a city, a back-water town, with a high wall dividing its heart. Jerusalem was an underdeveloped, poor, provincial town - a fortress on a hostile border. The city treasury was empty as no one was investing, and tourists stayed for one day.
But eighteen months into his first term, the Six Day War erupted in 1967, and suddenly, shockingly, Jerusalem became a "united city." Immediately, Teddy tore down the fortressed wall between the Jewish and Arab sections and over the years turned the wide strip of no-man's land into a beautiful green area. He also tore down the mass of hovels that had been placed near the Western Wall, and created an enormous plaza which is visited by virtually every tourist that comes to Israel. Additionally, he began expanding Jerusalem in every direction with thousands of new apartments.
Teddy Kollek's life mission was to bring Jerusalem from a sleepy Levantine town to a vibrant modern Israeli capital. But his greatness resided not only in contending with obvious grand tasks. His success, to no small measure, sprang from his earthy no-nonsense emphasis on the minutest of details and the most unglamorous of daily chores - "household work," as he dubbed them. Nothing was too lowly or mundane for Kollek to trouble himself with.
(Jerusalem Post, 3 Jan 07)
HIS PHONE NUMBER WAS LISTED
His telephone number was always in the phone directory, and when he came home late at night, his wife often had a pile of little notes from Jerusalem residents seeking his help. One lady, his wife told him, had called at 1:00 a.m. - before Teddy had arrived home - and said that there was a pothole by her house that had not been fixed for a month. Teddy called her back at 3:00 a.m. and said, "Madam, I will tend to that pothole the very first thing in the morning."
The Kolleks were usually up by 5:30 a.m., where they spent a half hour talking to each other over breakfast before he would go to the office. They lived in a three bedroom apartment on a third floor with no elevator. Kollek's son, Amos, said at the funeral, "He was an especially strong man in spirit and in body who was loyal both to his family and to work in an absolute manner." (Ibid. 3 Jan 07) The Kolleks were married for 70 years.
With his larger-than-life persona, which mixed the irrepressible charm and love-of-life of his boyhood Vienna, together with the salty down-to-earth Israeli bluntness, he was equally at home hobnobbing with movie stars, famous people and millionaire sponsors - out of whom he coaxed hundreds of millions of dollars - or with listening to his constituency's complaints at all times of the day and night. Jerusalem Post editor, David Horovitz, echoes Israel's perspective of one of the world's all-time great mayors: "Teddy's idea of personal betterment lay solely in the growth of his city, not of his bank account." (Ibid. 5 Jan 07)
The indefatigable, irascible mayor poured his soul into his city. During car rides throughout the city, the ever-opinionated Kollek would make various asides to his aides: More green was needed here. More focus was needed on education. The city was too dirty. Whatever could be done immediately would be on a list to be distributed by his secretary that same morning, and woe to the department that failed to follow through.
One of his close associates said that Teddy "was an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind and special human being who strove to improve the lives of all the residents of Jerusalem and saw each of them - Jewish, Muslim or Christian - as an equal partner in making Jerusalem a beacon of hope." He was well-known for being a patron of all Jerusalem - of all its communities.
INTELLIGENCE OPERATIONS OF EVERY KIND
His powers of persuasion and creating facts on the ground were nothing short of miraculous. In fact, the list of Teddy's accomplishments before he became Jerusalem's mayor are absolutely astounding. He helped thousands of fleeing Jews in Nazi Europe to escape - using every cloak and dagger tool imaginable. Once, armed with 3,000 British agricultural pink cards, he gave them to young German Jews who were able to escape to England.
Another time, taking a large number of British visas made out to Austrian Jews, he persuaded an unknown Nazi officer in Vienna to let them go. Only twenty years later did Teddy recognize the officer as the infamous Adolf Eichmann who was tried and hung in Jerusalem for his part in genocide.
Long before the new State was born, Teddy raised millions in the U.S. and Europe, smuggled arms and people into what was then called Palestine, to help prepare his Jewish people for the onslaught of Arab armies which would soon be unleashed when the occupying British would leave. At one point, carrying on business above a dingy bar in New York, he clandestinely bought vital equipment for the yet unborn Israeli army. He scrounged for pieces and parts of old planes, fixed up the ones he could and secretly shipped them to Palestine, until he was warned that the FBI was closing in on him. (Ibid. 3 Jan 07) Nevertheless, his incredible number of contacts with intelligence officials in European countries, together with a variety of spies and such people, was greatly beneficial to the CIA, through his friend James Angleton, CIA counterintelligence chief.
After the War of Independence, his government instructed him to help establish another funding vehicle through Israel Bonds, as the little nation was hand-to-mouth and could hardly pay for oil and it's people's food. One day the government desperately needed $20 million within 48 hours. Kollek was on a plane from New York to Washington when he noticed Averil Harriman, then director of the U.S. Mutual Security Agency, and got the money from him!
MONEY FOR HIS BELOVED JERUSALEM
Kollek's courage, resourcefulness and uncanny ability to raise money and secure loans in the most unexpected places and from the least promising donors, enabled him to first help Israel get on its feet and then, as mayor, put hundreds of millions of dollars into building and beautifying his beloved Jerusalem.
Using his incredible ability to relate to people, he established the Jerusalem Foundation which underwrote the building of gardens, parks, sports fields, libraries, youth clubs, synagogues and many cultural institutions and activities in his city. His jewel achievement, he believed, was the Hebrew Museum which houses many precious antiquities including the Dead Sea Scrolls.
After serving six terms as mayor, the 83 year-old Teddy was voted out in 1993 by Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox constituency that opted for Ehud Olmert, who now serves as Israel's prime minister. Olmert's brilliant slogan, "Love you Teddy - voting Olmert" no doubt enabled Jerusalemites to continue to smother Teddy with adoration, while still choosing a younger man. Though out of public office, Teddy relentlessly continued raising funds for beautifying Jerusalem parks and streets, with the Biblical zoo becoming his pet project in his last years.
An elderly citizen of Jerusalem said, "We've lost our greatest mayor. There are no politicians like Teddy today. There may never be another leader like him."
HIS DISAPPOINTMENT WITH JERUSALEM
As great a mayor and man that he was, Kolek had no control over external events, such as the first Intifada, which turned wide spaces of east Jerusalem into no-access areas. Also, complains Jerusalem Post editor, David Horovitz, Kollek might have been a great builder, but he failed to create an infrastructure that would provide employment beyond civil service jobs. During his tenure, factories and businesses moved to Tel Aviv, along with a growing exodus of middle class secular Israelis, leaving the city more and more for ultra-Orthodox Jews and Muslim Arabs. By the end of his incredible labors, Jerusalem was a united city, in name only. Today, an ultra-Orthodox mayor runs the city and the vision of a united Jerusalem is history. (Ibid., 3 Jan 07)
Yet as a visionary, an honest man of his people, and a stickler for attending to the smallest detail, he stands high in stature beside Israel's other founders. He was the father of modern Jerusalem. The fact that he died on the very day that perhaps the biggest corruption scandal yet in the government exploded on the front pages, a corruption that is afflicting most every wing of governance and authority, makes Israelis all the more long for the days when Israel had real leaders.
-By Shira Sorko-Ram
BAR MITZVAH FOR EITAN
This was a very special Bar Mitzvah for Eitan, for his father and mother, Yossi and Oxana, and for Congregation Tiferet Yeshua. Oxana had been praying for the salvation of Yossi for fourteen years. This last year on a Sabbath evening, Yossi stood and was the first to come forward to an invitation to receive Yeshua. On the day that Eitan celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, Yossi brought 50 of his non-believing friends and relatives to the congregation - their first time in a Messianic Jewish congregation. What a celebration we had! Eitan gave a clear explanation of his faith in Yeshua, his Messiah! His now believing father, stood by him, full of emotion.
Dear Maoz Partner,
Last year was a remarkable year. Because of you, our partners, we were able to distribute more than half a million dollars to bless the poor and persecuted among the Messianic believers in Israel.
We only wish you could be in Israel to hear the testimonies of gratitude from those who you helped.
However, the situation concerning Pnina and Israel Comforti transcends the needs of one family or one business. Here we have a unique and groundbreaking opportunity to shout loud and clear that we will not be overcome by the Orthodox and their power.
The vast powers of radical, institutionalized Judaism have targeted the families and the businesses of the Messianic Jewish movement in Israel. This is something we simply cannot sit back and watch — we are compelled to stand alongside the Comfortis and make certain they win this battle.
There is no doubt at all that the Israeli Messianic movement is making great gains. Israelis are being saved virtually every day somewhere in Israel.
Because of the progress being made in building the Kingdom of God in Israel, the enemy is getting nervous. The ultra-Orthodox rabbinical authorities are scared.
They see the fruitful, joyful lives of believers who are true followers of Yeshua. Meanwhile, scandals of corruption run rampant in the Israeli ultra-Orthodox world.
The radical ultra-Orthodox’ answer is to attempt to smother Messianic Jewish believers economically. They work to get believers fired from their jobs, to hurt their businesses, and to shut down any success they see as a threat to their power and their way of life.
We feel strongly in our hearts that it is time for believers everywhere to stand with these Israelis whose businesses have been targeted for ruin by the Orthodox. In a normal democracy, persecution on the basis of faith or religion is usually not tolerated. In Israel, it is not so.
The ultra-Orthodox, who receive literally billions of dollars yearly in all kinds of subsidies and budgets from the government, spend a portion of that money to persecute the born-again Messianic Jews.
However, greater is He that is in us that he that is in the world!
Jewish believers have always been persecuted from the time of the Old Testament, through the New Testament, and on to today. But as we stand together, we are assured of victory. We know that the Orthodox will not succeed to empty Israel of Messianic Jewish families or their businesses. In fact, the day is coming when ALL ISRAEL SHALL BE SAVED!
That is why we want to do our part. We have hired one of the best civil rights lawyers in Israel to help keep the Orthodox from closing Pnina and Israel’s business.
We say, “Enough!” This is the time to favor Zion! This is the time to see an ever increasing number of Israelis come to faith. This is the time for Israeli businesses to flourish so that their owners can support their congregations around the country and be a witness in their communities.
This is the time to stand firmly with those believers who have been targeted for ruin by the ultra-Orthodox authorities. Let us together take this opportunity, in faith, to push back those who have made themselves aggressive enemies of the Gospel.
I want to help the Comforti family battle against persecution!
Help us fight the good fight of faith - the faith of our Fathers - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - and stand strong to see ALL OF ISRAEL SAVED!
For Zion’s sake we shall not be silent,
Ari & Shira Sorko-Ram
P.S. We also want to thank you for your amazing generosity to help us in the moving of the Maoz Israel offices to downtown Tel Aviv where we can expand our outreach in so many different directions. Because of your help, we have been able to make the move and purchase the extra furniture and technical equipment. We are continually advancing thanks to you!