For more on this Origins Saga, See Part 1.
Even if your exiles are at the ends of the earth, from there He will gather you and bring you back (Deuteronomy 30:4).
In the early 90s, both Asher Intrater and I were being pulled to Israel, to play a small part in the fulfillment of biblical prophecies of the Jewish return from the diaspora to Zion (Psalm 126, Jeremiah 31:8-10, etc.)
A new chapter was opening in the partnership we’d forged throughout the 80s with Dan Juster and others. Preparing for the leap of aliyah (returning to Israel) consumed our immediate families, as we drew strength from the Tikkun congregations sending us.
New Toyota vans for both the Shishkoff and Intrater families were amazingly provided when we arrived in Israel, thanks to a donor’s generosity. The Beth Messiah elders (including Jerry Miller) sacrificially allotted a salary base to Asher and I for our initial years of absorption in the Promised Land. What a significant, and ultimately fruitful sacrifice!
I remember our first Thanksgiving as immigrants in Israel. It was barely two weeks after my family had landed in November 1992. We traveled two and a half hours from Haifa to Asher and Betty’s home in a Jerusalem neighborhood. It was hard to believe. We had actually made the move. The challenges of immigrant life were already evident, and our idealism was being tested. So, spending that evening together provided timely, warm comfort to our hearts.
Help Hurdling the Language Barrier
The trust and affection Asher and I had for each other enabled us to support each other during those first steps in Israel (and ever since!). With loving affirmation, Asher’s radical commitment to functioning in Hebrew challenged me. Talking and working in Hebrew is a big hurdle for new immigrants. He encouraged me; and we patiently forged a new stage of our friendship in Israel’s resurrected tongue.
What would we do, now that we were finally living in Eretz Yisrael – the land of Israel? Connie and I had agreed before coming that if all we were able to do was to pick oranges, that would be enough to validate “picking” up our family from the U.S. and moving to Israel. But God had other ideas.
Those “ideas” had been planted during an early morning prayer meeting back in the States. While interceding for the Soviet Jews who, in late 1989, were finally free to leave, God interrupted my prayer. Such chutzpah! Still in prayer mode, I saw a desert oasis. There were palm trees, tents, and a spring-fed pool – everything but camels! Having no idea what it meant, the Spirit began to unpack this waking vision, one I’d not even asked for. The oasis represented a place in Israel that was to provide humanitarian aid, healing, and salvation for those wearied by the spiritually dry desert. I heard the phrase, “tents of mercy.” Only years later, in Israel, did I come across an astounding verse in Jeremiah that contained this concept: “Behold, I will bring back the captivity of Jacob’s tents, and have mercy on his dwelling places” (Jeremiah 30:18). I understood that God wanted a center – an oasis of mercy – among His people in His land.
Tents of Mercy and the Blessing of Persecution
So, after only three years, in December 1995, we found ourselves pioneering a small congregation consisting of three house groups and providing a very modest amount of humanitarian aid. It began with three cardboard boxes to be exact. We rented a drab warehouse in a rundown area and began worshiping the Lord, in Hebrew, Russian, and English. Most of the congregants were Russian-speaking immigrants living in the Haifa Bay area. A few of us spoke English, including Moshe Morrison and his family who had made aliyah as well. The shared language was Hebrew – and most of us were still far from fluent! We called the congregation Tents of Mercy, in Hebrew, Ohalei Rachamim.
Some local Orthodox Jewish elements were not so happy and firebombed our rented facility two years later. Having the support of Dan, Asher, and Paul meant a lot – plus David Rudolph and Don Finto who had joined the central Tikkun board by that time. In a way, the firebombing was the best thing that ever happened to us. As a result, we began receiving unsolicited donations and were able to begin purchasing a large, brand new, second-story warehouse only 100 yards from where arsonists tried to burn down the first facility!
Celebrating four decades together, with you… a special history series
Then the young leaders raised up within Tents of Mercy began planting new congregations. First in Haifa, and Upper Nazareth, then Akko and Poriya (near Tiberias). What a humbling reality, to be revisiting the pattern of the Book of Acts – seeing the reborn Messianic movement multiply on its native soil.
Nurturing & Equipping Israeli Youth
Along the way, we saw the urgent need of teenagers in the local congregations. Unexpectedly, I had the privilege of helping establish Katzir (harvest in Hebrew), as a national youth ministry over 20 years ago. Year after year, Asher sent members of the Revive Israel team to be counselors to the teens. Under his leadership, Revive Israel has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the equipping of young Israeli believers. Other ministries in Israel took part as well – Maoz with the Sorko-Rams and Dugit with Avi Mizrachi. Talk about feeling supported! Often, Asher was a special speaker challenging the teens to give themselves to God radically, and God moved on them.
In one camp, held in a tent in the desert, Asher repented on behalf of other parents for mistreating and failing to support their teens. I was personally brought to tears and reached out to my teenage daughter who was one of those listening. We’ve been able to walk out our shared burden to see the youth of this reborn nation strengthened in their faith. The prophet Joel says that our sons and daughters will prophesy in the end-times. What a privilege to help equip them.
I also love to visit the Revive Israel Equipping Center near Jerusalem as an “uncle,” and worship with Asher and his team there.
Grandfathers Together, Passing the Baton
For nearly 25 years we focused on serving in our regions and mentoring spiritual sons and daughters – Asher in the center of the country (Tel Aviv and Jerusalem) and I in the north (from Haifa to the Sea of Galilee). Dan Juster also made aliyah, adding his encouraging presence to Ahavat Yeshua Congregation and other Tikkun related works.
As we turn the corner to become grandfathers (in the natural and in the spiritual sense) our friendships are holding strong. God has birthed eight Messianic congregations and additional servant ministries. In recent years we have seen the next generation of leadership develop new outreaches and a network of mutually supportive ministries across the nation called Tikkun Israel.
For the “founding generation,” now in our late 60s and early 70s, our focus is mentoring. We are passionate about raising up the next generation of leadership and releasing the works we helped pioneer into their hands. To paraphrase 3 John 4, we have no greater joy than to know that our children are walking in the truth of Messiah.