After landing in Israel a driver was waiting for us to take us to Netanya to meet up with the rest of the tour group. We spent our first night there. Netanya was a beautiful city on the Mediterranean. This was my first big trip out of the states and I was having a blast. The impact of me being in Israel had not really set in.
We spent the next few days in the north Galilee area. I loved our guide; he was an archeologist and gave us a tour based on what they knew from archeology instead of a religious tour. Yes, we did go to many Christian sites, and it was weird that it would be in Israel where I would go into a Catholic church for the first time. I felt so dirty and in need of a bath after going in those places.
We stayed two nights on the southern tip of Lake Kinneret at Kibbutz Maagan. It was amazingly beautiful there even in February.
We then slowly worked our way to Jerusalem where we would spend our last four days.
When we entered Jerusalem it was at night and it was drizzling rain. We were taken to a platform up by that windmill that looked out at the city. The walls were glowing from the lights. I stood there at the railing looking upon the most beautiful city – I began to weep uncontrollably, the tears came and could not be stopped, I had to hold on to the rail so that I would not fall down. I stood there for the longest letting my eyes be filled as much as they could with the city. I have now words in my language of what was going on in the inside of me.
From there we went to the Dead Sea and Masada. I remember watching a movie maybe mid to late 70s titled, Masada, I was always amazed at that ramp was built up the side of the mountain. I stood there at the top of that ramp and tears rolled down my face, one for I never thought I would ever be there and two of the tragic story of it all.
Besides the night I saw Jerusalem for the first time my all-time favorite place was the few minutes I got to spend at the kotel. Now what I am about to describe you can belief it or not but it did happen and I think it has been a key factor to where I am today.
I had taken a bible with me, I opened it up to what the Christians call the Lord’s Prayer and I felt lead to read it there to myself. I closed the book and placed my left hand on one of the corners of a stone in the wall. As soon as I had touched it, it was as if a hand had come out of the wall into my chest and took my heart into its palm. My breath was taken and all that would come out of my mouth was, Oh my God, Oh my God, it is You – Oh my God, it is You – every micro fiber of my being knew with 100% clarity it was HASHEM, The Four Lettered name God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob. It was not anyone who I had known but it was Him in whom Moshe talked with.
It would be a few years before the full impact of that moment would come back to me at the time I made the hardest decision of my life.
We spent our last day shopping on Ben Yehuda Street. While there I bought a very nice porcelain seder set. I had a Jew to stop me in the street and asked me why I bought a seder set. I told him that my family does a personal seder at home. He asked me if I was Jewish, I told him, “Not that I know of.” He looked at me again asked why – I stood there on Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem and told him that I cannot explain it but if there is a next time that the Jews are made to wear yellow stars and gathered up that I would have one on and stand next to him. He gave me a strange look and walked away.
I carried that seder set in a bag from Jerusalem to Cleveland, TN without it leaving my hands except going through our baggage check at the airports.
When we left as the plane banked and headed north I had them most sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. I somehow knew that I was going back into a diaspora, I could not explain these feelings knowing that I was not Jewish – I had come home but then I had to leave.
After getting back the next few years would be a rollercoaster. Our home group out grew the house so we made our first attempt into forming a congregation. Then there were troubles as I was one who did not want anything to do with Christian holidays and made it known. The leadership wanted to appease the Christians that were still in church and our group was just a hobby for them. We split for a while and some of the people asked me to teach.
So for a few months we had our own group and building. Until.
My wife and daughters had met a Jewish man at Wal-Mart, they came home telling me about it, and so I went over to see for myself. And low and behold right here in our town was a Chassidic man working at Wallyworld. It was around Rosh Hashanah so I went up to him and greeted him with the traditional greetings. His eyes got big and I walked away. I would go back several times just for small talk – then one day I snuck up behind him and grabbed hit tzitzit, he tried to pull them back and I said, “Oh no, you know the passage about men of the nation’s grabbing a Jew by the tzitzit.” He did not know how to take it.
As time went on we became good friends and he and his family invited us over for Shabbos one Friday evening and we got to experience the real deal.
About a month into our friendship our group had some out of town big name Messianic leaders come by and do some teachings for us. That night it was open forum and one of the ladies stood and raked me over the coals for befriending a Jew and all he was about was Kabbalah and kabbalah was witchcraft from the devil. I was chewed up and spit out over my friendship with a Chassidic Jew.
I sat there and took it but in a couple of weeks I got up to give my message and I told them that I had been put in a position to choose the congregation or my friendship with this Jew – I told them I chose the Jew and walked away and came back home.
My wife and I could not figure out what was going on, we had been in a major battle and for a month we wept upon our bed over this. I told her that I was don with ministry, God could keep it to himself.
About a month had passed and we began to get phone calls. And within a few weeks we had 25 people coming to my little 1000 sq. ft. house for Saturday Torah study. This went on for 2 yrs. I did not want to go out and find a building and start a congregation.
I had heard that the guy Al and some others had restarted themselves and so we joined them. We had a small Messianic congregation of about 80 every week but many of them were still church goers.
In a short time I was asked to be one of the Torah teachers; there were three of us that rotated and I held a Thursday night class.
During those years of my home group I had come to the point where I did most of my studying from Orthodox Jewish resources like, chabad.org, Aish HaTorah, Rabbi Lazer Brody, my library started being filled out with more books from Artscroll, Feldheim and Breslev Israel. I was leaning very hard toward Chassidism and my teachings reflected it.
Some of us men began setting up on the front row with our wives behind us. We did not dance with the other women during worship dance. An issue was bothering me and I preached a message on modesty about the married women bouncing up and down in front of other married men – to say the least it did not go over well.
I was in the leader’s home the next week and he said nothing, they had left and gone to his in-laws and he sent me an email chewing my behind out for a message like that. I was told that my message notes would be inspected before I spoke again.
This did not set well with me – I was in his home and he could have dealt with it face to face but he chose an email from another state – again I was over all the Christian crap.
I went in and cleaned the building and got it ready for that week’s service. He was still out of town I left a key and a note on the lectern for his main assistant. I told my wife this was it, I wish God would leave me alone.
In a few weeks word was sent to us that they had closed their doors and that the two leaders with their wives went and converted at a Conservative Jewish Synagogue. I received a call later from one of the wives and I asked some questions and found out that they knew how to answer the questions to skirt around the Jesus/Yeshua issue – they still secretly believe in him and go there.
I will end this part to say God done it one more time – He did not listen to me, to leave me alone and I am glad He has selective hearing when it is needed.