Messianic Jews under fire in Israel

ARAD, ISRAEL : — “The state of Israel promises religious freedom to all faiths. However, in some Israeli towns, Jews who believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah face persecution. One of those places is in a town called Arad.”

This is how Chris Mitchell, who works for CBN News Jerusalem Bureau, began his recent report on what is happening in Arad, Israel.

He continued, “Arad sits in the middle of the Negev Desert, about a two hour drive south of Jerusalem. For most of the nearly 25,000 residents, it’s a quiet setting. But for others, it’s been the scene of noisy protests and almost daily harassment.

“An ultra-orthodox sect called the Gur harasses many of the Messianic Jews in the town.”

Mitchell quoted Yakim Figueros, a messianic pastor in Arad, as saying, “We meet at a congregation building. There’s a narrow way to go in, I mean the gate. So they have two of their people standing on either side and reading curses against everyone that walks in: ‘May his children be orphans. May their wives be widows’ and so on. You know it’s not nice for the simple people to come in and go through this.”

Mitchell went on to say, “The center of town is another place of harassment, where many retired Jewish immigrants gather. Most of the men here are retired senior citizens from the former Soviet Union. Some are holocaust survivors. They come here to play their favorite game at this chess club called The King’s Men.

He said that Eddie and Laura Beckford established the chess club as a way to serve these men.

“We have books and Bibles in all the languages,” Eddie said. “We always keep a stock of Russian Bibles – Old Testament, New Testament. They have a hunger for knowledge, reading and stuff because I guess books…were abandoned behind the Iron Curtain.”

Laura added, “And we try to meet their physical needs too. Like there’s one man here who needs a hearing aid, so we’re working on that. We’re trying to get the funds for a hearing aid or other physical things, whatever is needed.”

Mitchell added, “They provide a place to play chess and dominoes which are games these men love. The club set up chess tournaments and also supply used clothing for Bedouins and anyone in the community.

“But the chess club has been vandalized and firebombed. Many suspect it is the work of the ultra-orthodox sect. Many of the Messianic Jews have also had their names and faces placed on flyers distributed throughout Arad.”

Rebecca Fry is one of those on the flyers, he added. Ironically, she grew up in an ultra-orthodox Gur home. Now she believes in Jesus.

“I know exactly where they’re coming from because when I was a child, I was taught the same thing about the Christians,” she said. “‘The Christians are crazy people, bad people who kidnap children and baptize them and take them to monasteries or convents and lock them up there.’ So I know exactly where they’re coming from. They actually teach you that all the time when you’re growing up – to hate Christians.”

Mitchell said that Arad’s mayor hopes these two groups will find a way to live together.

“I try to make both communities try to figure out how to work together, because this is how I believe. I came to the desert for peace not for fight. My feeling is at the end of the day, they will find ways to live. In the meantime, the situation is not so good,” he said.

In the meantime, the Messianic Jews of Arad are relying on and asking for prayer.

“It helped me to pray for them,” Laura told Mitchell. “I feel sorry for them so it helps me to know where to pray for them and where they’re coming from. But it’s hard when you’re standing there in front of someone who’s yelling and cursing and shouting. It’s hard to see any perspective. But in retrospect, it helps when you pray for them.”

“So pray for a revival, pray for His kingdom, for His Name to be glorified here in Arad and not for the persecution to stop,” she said. “And pray for people to have the courage and strength to stand firmly in the faith.”

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