(photo credit: ALEX RICHLER)
While many European countries succumbed to the German occupation forces during WW2 and turned over their Jewish citizens, the Scandinavian countries felt little pressure to do so. However, despite their small Jewish population, Finland turned over eight Jewish refugees from Austria to the Nazis in 1942 during a collaboration with Germany. When news broke out about this exchange, the Finnish people felt the need to atone these sins, and they did so right in Israel.
Situated 30 minutes outside of Jerusalem is Yad HaShmona, a kibbutz founded by a group of Christian Finns in 1974 as a symbol of atonement for remembering the eight Jews Finland turned over.
“The first purpose of Yad HaShmona is to atone for the sins of the Finnish people against the Jewish nation,” said Ayelet Ronen, general secretary of Yad HaShmona. The kibbutz received its name from this exact purpose. Yad, which translates to hand in Hebrew, is a word often used to signify a remembrance. HaShmona signifies the eight Jews Finland handed over to the Nazis. “I find that very special, I have almost tears every time I think about it.”
Today, the kibbutz became a home for families who believe in Jesus. Its residents are a mixture of Christian Finns and Messianic Jews who continue to preserve the Finnish culture while also upholding the structure of a traditional Israeli kibbutz. However, Yad HaShmona is unique in both its current state and its founding.
Spear-headed by Seppo Raulo, the idea to establish a kibbutz formed when the final death tolls were released after the war. Raulo, and six other founders were behind this project. However, the process to establish a kibbutz by non-Jewish people was an obstacle because the kibbutz system was dedicated to Jews. A request from Christian Finns to start one of their own in Israel was not a priority for the government.
However, Raulo’s request climbed the ladder and he eventually met with Golda Meir, then Prime Minister of Israel. Meir approved of the non-Jewish kibbutz although the reasoning behind her approval remains a mystery. Prior to being Prime Minister of Israel, Meir was the ambassador of Israel to the Soviet Union. “She must have realized the Finnish people were a very important bridge between Israel and the Soviet Union,” said Ronen, describing the role Finland has played in the Soviet-Jewish relations over the years. “We don’t know why she said yes but this is what the Finnish people thought.”
Yad HaShmona continues to be unique from other kibbutz today. With the majority of their residents being Believers (Messianic Jews and Christians), they celebrate all Jewish holidays as well as Christmas, the day Christians believe to be the birth of Jesus Christ.
“The Finnish people that lived here turned their life around to be in sync with the local lives of the Jewish people meaning Saturday, Shabbat, is the day of rest and Jewish feasts like Shavuot, they celebrate with us,” said Tsuriel Bar David, manager of the Yad HaShmona hotel. The kibbutz has also developed into a center of activity for those who believe in the New Testament.
In addition to hosting music conferences, children and youth programs, they have a Biblical Garden tourists are invited to visit. Though not an archaeological site, the garden was created using some authentic pieces to share the story from the Bible. “[Tourists] like to visit and see and [the Biblical Garden] opened a lot of doors for information that we get to share with the Israelis and of course Finnish people keep coming here,” said Ronen, explain that Yad HaShmona does not partake in any missionary work.
To help keep the Finnish culture alive, Yad HaShmona accepts many volunteers to live and work on the kibbutz. At any given time, Ronen says they have about 25-30 volunteers who stay between three to six months through a volunteer’s visa. More noticeable, however, is the Finnish sauna found in many of the homes. “Most of the Finnish people that live here have a sauna they built in their garden,” said Ronen, explaining that for Israelis going into a sauna when it’s already hot outside doesn’t make sense, but for the Finns, it’s deeply ingrained in their culture. “Even if it’s 40 degrees, they still go to the sauna.”
With 65 families currently living on the kibbutz, Yad HaShmona is the only village that focuses on the New Testament in their celebrations and daily lives.
“I think that God was using a group of crazy Finns to come over 40 years ago, brought them all the way from Finland in order to establish such a small community that turned to be the only Messianic village in Israel,” said Bar David, adding that the likeliness of such a kibbutz existing by the request of the Messianic Jews themselves would be highly unlikely. “I think it’s a great miracle how God operates in his funny ways but this is it”
While some of the founders, including Raulo, have returned to Finland, two of them are still living in Yad HaShmona and two have been buried on the kibbutz.