There is something that we do, not periodically, but consistently. Though it certainly involves faith, at times we don’t feel very spiritual participating in this activity. And, in fact, there are even times when we wonder if there is any connection between this thing we do and spirituality. I’m speaking about living in the land of Israel.
I grew up in a strong Jewish community in Baltimore; Israel was always a part of my consciousness. We learned about Israel in Hebrew school. We said prayers for Israel in the synagogue. We bought Israel development bonds. And we intently followed what was happening with Israel in the news. Many people I knew were able to come on tours to visit Israel, but only for brief periods of time.
Yet, I knew only one person who actually made aliyah. He lived in Israel for a few years, but eventually returned to America. As for myself, I never remotely considered the option of moving there until after I became a follower of Yeshua. Even then, it was only after I understood that the Jewish people’s return to the land of Israel was an essential part of the plan of God that I began to seriously consider that my destiny might be there. The concept began to grow in me over the following years. I was 40 years old when I went on my first tour in 1988. I made several trips after that, but it wasn’t until 1993 that God spoke to me clearly about making aliyah.
There’s an old joke about Stalin and how he was allowed to visit heaven and hell before his death. Heaven appeared to be a very boring place: people sitting around in white robes and strumming on harps. However, hell was full of excitement: wine, women and song. So when his time to die arrived, he found himself in front of an angel sitting at a desk who asked him which place he wanted to go. Without hesitation Stalin answered, “hell.” In the twinkling of an eye, he found himself engulfed in flames and in great pain, surrounded by sounds of weeping and wailing and the laughing of demons. He managed to drag himself over to one of the demons and in an anguished voice cried out, “What has happened? When I was here before, it was a wonderful place.” The demon grinned at him and said, “When you first came here, you were a tourist. Now you are a citizen.”
When we move to Israel, suddenly everything is different. Of course, people come for different reasons. Some come because they believe God has clearly spoken to them to be here. Others come because they want to get away from their former circumstances. Some are here as a step along the way to somewhere else. It is a fact that any major life change is always accompanied by stress, difficulties and the challenges of adjustment. However, living here has a uniqueness all its own, for it is a significant act ordained by God. Because of that, Satan strenuously opposes the people of Israel returning to the land of Israel.
I believe what the devil hates the most is Messianic Jews living here. Extremists among the religious political parties and fanatical so-called “anti-missionary” organizations have worked very hard to prevent Messianic Jews from receiving citizenship. They have even sought to keep out non-Jews who love this land and this people. This is because our living here is a proclamation in both the natural and spiritual realms of the faithfulness of God and the truth of Yeshua. When you know this, it gives meaning and purpose for being here in spite of the opposition.
The reality is that just about every believer from Western countries who comes here takes a serious cut in their standard of living. Many who left the former Soviet Union also left good and meaningful employment only to arrive here and take menial jobs. It is a major blow to the self-esteem of a trained engineer to end up sweeping streets. Then there’s the struggle with the language. Nothing can make you feel like an idiot quicker than the inability to communicate with another human being.
In America I was a communicator; not just in the pulpit, but in the store, on the street, in gas stations, on a radio talk show that I co-hosted for a year and a half. Wherever I went, I schmoozed with people, but when I came here, I couldn’t do it anymore. My Hebrew was so bad that I avoided, as much as possible, speaking to anyone who did not know English. My first two years in Israel I was very depressed. What was worse was that I couldn’t leave because I knew that the Lord was the one who called me to come here with my family.
Once at the shuk (outdoor market) a merchant asked me which was better, America or Israel (this is actually a very common question). I remember thinking that I could make more money in America, could have a nicer house there. I could speak with people effortlessly. I wouldn’t have to worry about whether missiles were about to fall on my head. There I could feel normal. I pushed all those thoughts away and just told him I was here because I was supposed to be. Indeed, that is the crux of the matter.
Living here is a proclamation when you’re standing in a line with a lot of aggravated and impatient people, because some incompetent clerk messed up your medical insurance records and it takes hours to straighten everything out. On top of it all you’re not even sure how the medical system really is supposed to work.
It’s a proclamation when the government collects everyone’s gas masks, yet the new ones are still not ready, even while Syria manufactures chemical warfare supplies.
It’s a proclamation when the government cuts the education budget, while the schools desperately need new equipment and supplies, and teachers are grossly underpaid. At the same time, millions of shekels flow into ultra-Orthodox schools whose rabbis have only disdain for the nonreligious that are giving them the money.
There are many challenges that in time are overcome, only to be replaced by new ones. But it’s a proclamation when we choose to stay instead of running someplace else where the intensity of the spiritual atmosphere might be more relaxed.
In the 6th chapter of John, Yeshua said some things that were very difficult to receive and, as a consequence, many of His disciples walked away from Him. He asked Peter if he also would leave Him. Peter’s reply in verse 68, is our pattern: “To whom shall we go, Lord? You have the words of eternal life.” We are in a similar situation. Living here is often hard, but where can we go? Back to where we came from? To some other place?
What I said many years ago to the vendor in the shuk, is just as true today. If Yeshua has brought us here, this is where we are supposed to be. Our very presence here – our obedience to God’s specific calling upon our lives to be a part of the returning exiles – proclaims His own soon return. May the Lord’s name be glorified as we live and serve Him in the land of Israel in spite of the challenges!