During the spring of 1987, I saw an intriguing sign hanging on a lamp post at the corner of King George and Hillel streets that said that the Messiah was coming in three weeks and would be revealed at Zion Square.
My mind was abuzz with questions. I began interviewing people about the sign and the possibility that it could be true, for a journalism class I was taking. I asked what it would take for them to believe anyone who claims to be the “anointed one” the Jewish people have hoped, prayed and been waiting for thousands of years. Back in 1987, posters on lamp posts didn’t seem like an outlandish way to publicize it, especially if they were on a budget.
There’s a midrash that the Messiah is present in every generation but is not allowed to reveal himself to the world, unless the time and circumstances are right. What if this was the case? Would all it take for the Messiah to succeed was for people to show up at this event? What if just a little action needed to be taken, a little show of faith, like when Nachshon ben Aminadav walked into the sea before it split.
Back in 1987, I felt compelled to raise people’s awareness about it in any way I could and grew increasingly frustrated as I realized that no matter how much people talk about wanting the Messiah to come, or profess to believing, there is a huge disconnect between their professed belief and their ability to conceive of the possibility that it could really happen in our time, and no one was willing to come on the appointed day at the appointed time to Zion Square.
The people interviewed had many different answers, but one thing was clear, at the time, no one really cared. No one was interested in taking the time out of their busy schedules to even show up for the event. The sign didn’t elicit a burning curiosity for them as it did for me and nothing I could do or say moved them to change their minds.
Despite the famous saying – “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah and even though he may tarry, I await his coming every day” – no one I met at that time believed it could be true.
Just a few years later, tens of thousands of followers of the Lubavitcher Rebbe believed that he was the Messiah and failed in their efforts to get the world to believe. Many are still convinced of it and continue to call him Melekh HaMashiah.
I wrote an article about the non-event for my journalism class and rarely thought about it, until one night, while meditating and praying for guidance, I had a Field of Dreams experience and was told to write the story of that time in the spring of 1987 when I saw the sign. Rabbi Yehoshua, and the four main characters came forward who wanted their stories told: Arielle, a young journalism student, Aryeh, a Hasid questioning his upbringing and looking for his personal truth, a young rabbi named David and his fiancée, Miri.
So, if the Messiah really does arrive, what is the likelihood that they will succeed? Nowadays, with the Internet and the prevalence of social media, people around the globe could hear about it within minutes, but the question remains the same – what will the Messiah need to do for people to believe?
A new series on Netflix is raising these questions, but not from a Jewish perspective. Will the Messiah, Al-Masih, succeed, or is he a fraud?
When I wrote The Messiah Chronicles, Book 1, Have You Seen the Signs, I didn’t intend for there to be a question in people’s minds as to whether the character, Rabbi Yehoshua, suffered from mental illness or was a false Messiah. Even with his special gifts and his Davidic lineage, they question whether he was meant to be the “potential Messiah” for his generation. Just like the skeptics I encountered in my research and interviews, and that the protagonists encounter in the novel, many readers also questioned whether Rabbi Yehoshua could be for real.
The book explores questions of how anyone in the world today or in the future will be able to prove to the world that they are actually the Messiah, but more than the story of a failed messianic attempt, the books tell the story of how people from different backgrounds at all points on the Jewish religious spectrum can get along, accept and respect each other as they are. It’s a story about hope, dreams, and life in Israel on the eve of the first intifada. Book 2 will take readers through the next three decades to the present day. The Messiah Chronicles: Book 1Have you seen the signs?Rivka Sarah Horowitz 210 pages; $19.99