Messianics: Attack on boy one of many

Members of the community claim years of anti-missionary violence by both Jews and Muslims.

Ambulance 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Ambulance 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Members of the Messianic community in Israel said Monday that while the near-fatal attack last week on 15-year-old Ami Ortiz of Ariel marks a major escalation, it comes after years of anti-missionary violence directed at the community by both Jews and Muslims. "We get the feeling that nobody in Israel is willing to take a strong stand against violent anti-missionary activity," said Pastor Howard Bass, head of the Nahalat Yeshua [Jesus's Inheritance] Congregation in Beersheba. "We have experienced numerous attacks on the Messianic communities by haredim over the years," said Bass. "But there is very little sympathy for our plight." Ortiz was seriously wounded after a parcel bomb in the form of a Purim gift blew up in his face. Ortiz is the son of David Ortiz, a prominent Messianic Christian pastor. This was the most serious attack against the embattled Messianic community in Israel. Both Muslims and Orthodox Jews, who are vehemently opposed to Christian missionary activity, are suspected of sending the bomb. The Messianic community in Israel numbers about 15,000, spread out in roughly 120 congregations across the nation. The community members, who believe there is no contradiction between being Jewish and believing Jesus to have been the Savior and the Son of God, has been steadily growing, in large part due to proselytizing activities. About half of the community's membership was born Jewish. Bass, who was born Jewish, said that he saw the growth of the community of "believers" as another sign of the imminent second resurrection of the Messiah. He admitted that he shared his beliefs with his neighbors in the hope that he would influence them. "When I was involved with politics I tried to influence people's political views. Now I do the same thing with religion." Just this week Bass said that two surveillance cameras that monitor his house of prayer were stolen. Last Saturday, during prayers at the 100-strong congregation, a group of haredim stood outside and shouted, temporarily stopping the prayers. Beersheba has a history of tension between haredim and the Messianic community. In December 2005, just before Christmas, Bass's congregation was attacked by hundreds of haredi demonstrators who received the backing of the local rabbinic leadership. The demonstrators had heard rumors that busloads of Jewish children were to be baptized by the community. Calev Myers, founder and chief counsel of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, an advocacy group that represents members of the Messianic community, said that the police did not press charges against the assailants who forced their way into the church and forcibly stopped the baptism of two Israelis. The intruders threw chairs around and pushed Bass into the baptismal pool, according to Myers. In Arad, another flashpoint for tension between the Messianic community and Orthodox Jews, the Chasdei Yeshua [Jesus's Loving-Kindness] Congregation, a tiny community of about 30, has been harassed repeatedly by the local Ger Hassidic community. Lura Beckford, a Chasdei Yeshua member whose husband Edwin is presently under house arrest for attacking an anti-missionary activist in Arad last month during a confrontation, said that there had been numerous confrontations over the years. "They've verbally attacked us on a regular basis and they even tried to burn down our chess club last February," said Beckford. Meanwhile, Pastor David Ortiz, speaking to The Jerusalem Post from Schneider Medical Center, where his son Ami is hospitalized in serious condition, said that since he came to Israel over 20 years ago he has been the target of violence, mostly by Muslims. "In the past, I have traveled into the neighboring Arab villages, which are all 100% Muslim, to distribute the whole Bible [Old and New Testament]," said Ortiz. "Recently, with the deterioration of the security situation I stand outside the villages explaining to people about Jesus. Or I pick up local Arabs who hitchhike and I give them a Bible. I tell them 'This is the history of your people.'" Ortiz said that he has been beaten up on at least one occasion by Palestinians from a neighboring village while distributing Bibles, and that a Molotov cocktail was once thrown at his car. In the mid-1990's the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Ekrima Said Sabri, issued a fatwa [religious order] calling to kill Ortiz. "The fatwa was even published in the Al Quds newspaper. I got a call from the US Embassy asking me to keep a low profile. "Luckily, I am still here, still ticking. But I live my life as if every day could be my last." Last November Isa Bajalia, an Arab-American evangelical pastor who works with Ortiz in proselytizing among Palestinians, told the Post that he was forced to flee his hometown of Ramallah after being threatened by a Palestinian security official. Bajalia, who was born in Birmingham, Alabama, was ministering to a group of 30 to 35 people in Ramallah and carrying out missionary work there. Ortiz said that he has also been exposed to mild anti-missionary campaigns initiated by Jews. Over the years pamphlets have been distributed in Ariel with his picture on them warning that Ortiz and others that belong to the Messianic community are "masquerading as Jews." But in general, Ortiz, who has brought significant Evangelical Christian financial support to Ariel, enjoys the backing of Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman. Rabbi Shalom Lipshitz, head of Yad Le'achim, the largest anti-missionary organization in Israel, said that he opposed all violent anti-missionary action. But he added that he saw the Messianic community as an enemy to the Jewish people. "There is no one who hates Jews more than they do," said Lipshitz. "They are trying to uproot Jewish faith, just like the Spanish did in the Inquisition. The only thing different is that these people cannot use physical force like the Spanish did. But they try to take advantage of the poor. They prey on Jews who do not know anything about Jewish heritage. "We try to explain the 'truth.' We try to tell people that you cannot be Jewish and believe in Jesus at the same time. It just doesn't go together. "Our job at Yad Le'achim is to make sure the Jewish people gets bigger, and fight people who are trying to make it smaller."