Ayelet Ronen, secretary of Yad Hashmona, a moshav of Messianic Jews and Christian Zionists in the Jerusalem hills, comes from an aristocratic Israeli family. "I'm a fourth-generation Messianic Jew," she says in the reception area of the moshav's bed-and-breakfast.
The interior is of lacquered logs and looks very Scandinavian because the roots of Yad Hashmona are Finnish - it was founded by Finnish Christian Zionists in 1971, then augmented by Israeli Messianic Jews including Ronen's father and two uncles. Today about 100 people live there, mainly Finns and Israelis, says Ronen, 36, a high-spirited mother of five married to Daniel, a Finnish Christian Zionist.
Ronen's maiden name was Bar-David, and the family's Messianic roots go back to her Jewish great-grandparents in Sofia, Bulgaria, who turned to Seventh Day Adventism. Her grandparents moved to Palestine in the early 1940s ahead of the Nazis and founded one of Israel's first Messianic Jewish congregations, in Ramat Gan, which Ronen attended as a girl.
"It was very straitlaced, the women wore head-coverings on Shabbat," she recalls. "We sang three songs, there was no raising of hands, nothing emotional, no hallelujahs. The first time I saw Messianics carrying on like that, speaking in tongues, I thought they were crazy."
Every year the moshav gets tens of thousands of Israeli tourists passing through on weekends, drawn by the buffet and the scenery, while the auditorium brings in conferences. On the Friday I was there, the National Insurance Institute was holding one. "Government offices love us," she says. "We've had groups from the Israel Police, Income Tax Authority, Justice Ministry, Health Ministry. A lot of times they want to know about our beliefs, and I tell them. Sometimes we get into big debates."
The moshav also maintains the ruins of a Second Temple-era synagogue from the Golan Heights, which it got from the Antiquities Authority. "We get families doing bar mitzvas there and having their Shabbat meal in our dining room," she says, noting that the kitchen has "the lowest possible kashrut license" - from the regional authority's rabbinate.
While Yad Hashmona does not get haredi visitors, it does attract lots of "crocheted kippa" Jews, she says. "We don't allow loud music or excessive drinking or accept money on Shabbat; we dress modestly; it's quiet and peaceful up here. Observant Jews like the Shabbat atmosphere," she says, adding that while Yad Hashmona doesn't advertise itself as a community of Messianics, she assumes that many if not most visitors know.
Conference groups of any nationality or ethnic group are welcome, she says, but religious or spiritual themes are limited to Judaism and Christianity. "No yoga, no Eastern spiritualism, either," she says. "We're not liberal. I believe God is a jealous God. We're open to discussion, but this is a biblical community."
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