EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story was related as told, only the names, including that of the author, have been changed or left out to protect the family.
When Grandpa and Grandma came to Israel in the 1950s, they arrived with their son on a ship from the Old Country to the Port of Haifa. Back in those days, the Ministry of Immigration was a hole-in-the-wall office at the port where their passports were stamped, and they were registered as citizens of the State of Israel.
They were packed onto a hot and crowded bus with other Jewish immigrants and headed off to the kibbutz where they lived out the rest of their days. They were Jews who believed in Jesus, and in those days, government officials and everybody else in the country were so happy that any Jew would want to live here that no one coming from well-known Jewish cities was questioned whether or not they are Jewish (they are).
One summer, I met a Christian girl who came to volunteer on our kibbutz. We fell in love and got married overseas because the Orthodox Jewish Courts in Israel refuse to wed Jews with Gentiles, though civil marriages performed outside Israel are officially recognized. A few days after flying, my wife went to the Ministry of Interior in Jerusalem with our marriage certificate to register as an Israeli citizen according to the law.
Looking down at the Hebrew form the clerk handed her, she couldn’t understand all the questions, so left them blank and handed it back. In those days hardly anyone spoke English. She watched as the officer filled in what was missing, and with no questions asked she was registered as a Jew without even knowing and left the office with her Israeli citizenship and a temporary Israeli ID.
By the time our son had to go to the Ministry of Interior, times had changed. Like so many Messianic Jews in Israel, he too married a Gentile girl (it’s all too common, see Children of Mixed Marriages and the Future of Messianic Jews in Israel). By now Messianic Jewish congregation had spread around the country and Orthodox anti-Messianic groups turned informants to warn the rabbis now serving as officials in the Ministry of Interior of Messianic immigrants.
When our son ’s wife went to register for Israeli citizenship with their civil marriage certificate, the Ministry of Interior wanted to know if he and his wife were Jewish (she is not) and if they believed in Jesus (she does).
The couple went back and forth for appointments and meetings with Ministry of Interior officials without getting anywhere for almost three years each time being told that “it is in process.” On their last recent meeting, a young clerk asked them why it is taking so long and so many appointments to get his wife’s citizenship, my son said, “I am a Messianic Jew.” The clerk nodded with understanding. “Yes, Shas (the Orthodox party running the Ministry of Interior at the time) has been giving us a lot of trouble over the years,” he told her. “I know,” the clerk said raising her eyebrows, “let’s hope the new government can change that.” In the meantime, the couple still waits for yet another appointment to register his wife as an Israeli citizen and she has decided to go through the Jewish conversion process because it is important for them to raise their children as Jews.
In the meantime, their first child, my grandson, has been born in Israel. When he grows up and decides to marry a Gentile girl (today it is still quite popular among Messianics in Israel) what will they tell the clerk? “Shalom, we are followers of Yeshua the Messiah. We love this country and want to continue serving our people as full-fledged citizens of the State of Israel. Here is our recommendation from the rabbi of the synagogue where we pray who confirms that we live a traditional Jewish lifestyle. He hopes the State of Israel will receive this beautiful young couple as members of our tribe.”
Attitudes towards Yeshua and Jews who follow Him as their Messiah are changing in Israel, so I can hope.