Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the man of peace, spoke at the largest peace rally of his life. It was held in downtown Tel Aviv at the Plaza of the Kings of Israel on Saturday night, November 4, 1995. Over 100,000 admirers had come to celebrate the arrival of peace to the Jewish state, under siege from constant terrorism. One of Israel’s controversial folk songs of the 1960’s, “The Song of Peace” was featured in the program (it’s lyrics challenged the glorification of religious efforts and victory by war). Rabin was not a singer—especially in public. This night, however, he joined along with one of Israel’s pop artists, and sang with the crowd:
Let the sun rise and shine to the morning,
The purity of prayer will not bring us back.
He whose candle‘s been blown out and is buried in the dust,
A bitter cry won’t wake him up, won’t bring him back…
The joys of victory and songs of praise won’t help us.
Don’t say, “The day will come.”
Bring the day, because it is not a dream.
And in all the plazas, shout only peace.
Don’t whisper a prayer,
It’s better if you sing with a great shout a song of peace.
Afterwards, Rabin folded the words of the song and put it in his left shirt pocket. He thanked the mayor of Tel Aviv for arranging the peace demonstration and told him this had been one of the happiest nights of his life. A few minutes later, that paper would be pierced by a bullet hole and saturated with blood.
On Sunday morning, November 6, when the gates were closed to prepare for the funeral, tens of thousands would be left waiting in line to bid farewell to the slain prime minister. During the 20 hours that Rabin’s body had lain in state in the Knesset, more than one million Israelis visited the Knesset. Over the next seven days, another million would visit the grave—nearly half of the entire population of Israel at the time.1
Dignitaries from 86 nations arrived to honor a man esteemed by the rulers of the world as a great statesman. The images were surrealistic—King Hussein of Jordan and his queen weeping; the incredible pathos in President Clinton’s parting words of “Shalom, Haver” meaning “goodbye, friend.” The gesture did not go unnoticed by Israelis and even years later, cars could be seen driving through Israeli streets with “Shalom Haver” bumper stickers.
Singer Miri Aloni stands between Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres as they all sang the “Song of Peace” — minutes before the shots would be fired.
Heaven and Curses
It struck us as very strange that even though Yitzhak Rabin was not known to believe that there is a God, his widow, his granddaughter, and many public figures addressed Rabin as being in Heaven. It was as if this nation, of which a majority were professed atheists or agnostics, could not bring themselves in this moment of death to believe that’s all there is.
But many ultra-Orthodox had a different sentiment; many of them saw Rabin as a threat to the destiny of Israel because of his determination to give away land to grant a Palestinian state. The assassin was an Orthodox student from an Orthodox university with two other Orthodox accomplices.
A further representation of hatred was the casting of an ancient Orthodox curse made public two weeks before the death of Rabin. We quote:
“‘Yitzhak Rabin does not have long to live. The angels have their orders. Suffering and death await the prime minister,’ or so say the kabbalists who have cursed him with the pulse denura—Aramaic for ‘lashes of fire’—for his ‘heretical’ policies. ‘He’s inciting against Judaism,’ says the Jerusalem rabbi who, clad in tefillin,2 read out the most terrifying of curses in the tradition of Jewish mysticism—opposite Rabin’s residence on the eve of Yom Kippur.’”
“‘And on him, Yitzhak son of Rosa, known as Rabin,’” the Aramaic text stated, ‘we have permission … to demand from the angels of destruction that they take a sword to this wicked man … to kill him … for handing over the Land of Israel to our enemies, the sons of Ishmael.’”
“The rabbi, who wouldn’t have his name published but identified himself as a member of the far-right Kach movement, said the curse generally works within 30 days. This curse was made on October 3. Rabin was killed 32 days later.”3
For most Israelis, however, the murder was unthinkable. We Jews may fight and bicker amongst ourselves, but with so many enemies worldwide, we would never turn on our own. On the seventh day of mourning, Acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres stated, “I have never seen such mourning among our people, as I see now.”
Renewal Conference in Jerusalem
John and Carol Arnott from the Airport Vineyard Congregation in Toronto, landed in Tel Aviv just hours after Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated. The Arnotts, who have a deep love for Israel, had been invited by us and eight Israeli pastors and leaders to minister at a three-day conference in Jerusalem, November 6-8. Instead, they arrived to a nation in catastrophe.
The question was, should the conference be held at all? Much prayer and fasting in Israel, and around the world, had gone up for this conference. Hadn’t God known all these events from the beginning? How could we do anything except press on? What hope is there for Israel, except for God to pour out His Spirit?
The first service for pastors and leaders was scheduled for 1:00 p.m. Monday—the exact hour the body of Yitzhak Rabin was being taken to its final resting place. The hundred or so Messianic leaders who had managed to detour around the many closed roads of Jerusalem, came together, and we sat and watched the funeral on a television set the hotel provided. After listening to a number of the speeches by world leaders, we turned the sound off the TV, leaving only the faces of the mourners as they wept.
With heavy hearts we began to intercede for our nation with tears and petitions to God for mercy upon our government and our people. We prayed for revival and salvation to come to Israel—that they would receive hearts of flesh, and release from their spiritual prisons. We worshiped God in singing without musical instruments, as is the Jewish custom in times of mourning. As the casket was lowered into the grave, we again turned the TV sound up and witnessed the burial. And we said goodbye to Yitzhak Rabin, the leader of our nation.
Over 600 attended the conference each of the two nights when the services were open to the public. Somehow the news had gotten out. A good number came forward to accept Yeshua as their Messiah, and many received deep healing in their lives. The services lasted until midnight as people waited on God. Only because the hotel turned off the lights did the people go home.
Ari and Shira’s son Ayal Sorko-Ram and Chip Kendall (who now works with Maoz in the UK!) were among those on the worship team in this first national youth conference.
HaSharon Congregation Continues to Grow
We returned to our congregation with new fervor to reach our nation. And God was faithfully bringing His lost sheep to us.
Miriam, a young computer analyst, began visiting our services via her sister’s encouragement. She shared with us how she had searched far and wide for God: “I sought Him in all kinds of Orthodox groups. I took in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism); I attended services of Chabad and of the Breslev ultra-Orthodox sect for two years. But what they were teaching didn’t seem realistic. Mostly because I saw they talked one way and lived another. I was looking for something deeper.”
“My sister had gone to the U.S. and had had a life-changing experience. When she came back, she took me to the home of Yacov Damkani, an Israeli evangelist, who explained to me the way of salvation. When my sister told me about HaSharon Congregation, I decided to attend.”
“After a number of months, I seriously considered that I was hearing the truth. One day during that time period I was standing in front of the bank downtown [Tel Aviv], withdrawing money out of the automatic bank window, when I saw a friend. We started to talk. And then I found myself saying, “Oh, I’ve got to run,” and I started walking very fast though I wasn’t really going anywhere in a hurry. Two minutes later I arrived at the corner of Chernokovsky Street when a huge explosion thundered behind me. The force of the blast hit my back and I started running, too afraid to look back. I think 12 people were killed and 100 wounded in that terrorist attack. Nothing was left of the automatic bank window. I knew then that God was taking care of me. I knew deep in my heart that Yeshua was my Messiah.”
Miriam came to our Saturday morning service after the explosion and gave thanks to Yeshua for saving her life and publicly accepted His free gift of salvation that day.
A Flock without its Shepherd
About a year before, Ari and I had met Ed and Cathi Basler from Chicago, IL. Their youth ministry had begun by chance when their teenage kids began bringing their friends over. Their home became a sort of refuge for hurting kids and a youth outreach developed from there. By chance—or destiny—they had brought some of their youth group to Israel and were in the country when Rabin was shot.
Of all the demographics in Israel, surprisingly it was the youth who seemed to take Rabin’s assassination the hardest. Cathi and I walked through the plaza among thousands of youth where the assassination had taken place, stunned at what we saw. Night after night, in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the people of Israel came from every corner of the land spending the nights at the grave and at the plaza where he was killed; crying, singing mournful folk songs of life and death, lighting thousands upon thousands of candles, and just sitting Shiva.4
No Israeli prime minister had ever been assassinated before. The Jerusalem Post observed, “[The assassination] has turned their [the teens’] world upside down, destroyed, in one violent explosion of hatred; the foundations of their sense of security—someone they thought would always be there to protect them—was torn away without warning.” The countless letters and poems were wrenchingly personal, as if written to a beloved grandfather rather than a political leader.5
The messages were plaintive: “How could you leave us?” “I thought you’d always be here,” “Who will watch over us now?” Children sat on the floors of their schools, staring at their lit candles. It was bewildering since in life, we had not sensed that Yitzhak Rabin was seen as a father by the youth of the nation. Somehow his death had ripped open the deep emptiness of a lost nation and the children were giving expression to it.
Afternoon conference activity building trust and demonstrating the strength that comes with unity.
We Have to Reach Our Youth
We ourselves were overcome with grief for these lost kids. “We have to reach these youth,” we kept saying over and over as we walked between the clusters of memorial candles and groups of teenagers with guitars. The burden was doubly heavy as Ari and I were also grappling with the struggles of our own two kids who were teenagers trying to stand against the wave of atheistic and hedonistic culture in Israel.
Especially in those early days of the Messianic movement, children of believing families in Israel often found it a continuous struggle to serve God. Their feelings of isolation as a tiny minority tended to make them fearful and even ashamed to speak of their faith. Addressing the issue of isolation was a great place to start. So, we put all our strength, faith and passion into preparing for our first national Messianic conference for youth!
It took a few months for Maoz partners and members of our congregation to raise the funds for the event…including providing transportation and covering costs for children who could not pay to attend.
A total of 120 teens gathered in a kibbutz in northern Israel for three days and two nights during the Passover school break. A couple dozen leaders from six local congregations and several youth groups served as a committee overseeing the conference. We would all sit under the intense, dynamic, and anointed ministry of Youth Pastor Scott Wilson whom we had invited from Dallas, Texas.
For the teenagers, it was a fantastic time to meet other believing kids their own age—as most of these youths were the only Messianic believer in their schools. To be with 120 kids who also follow Yeshua, was really a spiritual banquet for them all and many testified the conference helped them understand that God had not forgotten them.
120 kids and youth at the first national Messianic conference.
The experience set the kids on fire! We all knew we were granted a glimpse of what God was ready to do with our youth. We received phone calls from around the country from pastors and parents who told us that their children had been radically changed. All the congregational leaders who had been involved were in agreement—we were elated! But what next? The seeds sown were fresh. They needed to be cultivated. The immediate answer was already at the door as Ed and Cathi’s youth ministry called “Souled Out” were already making arrangements to come back during the summer break to spend time with the believing Israeli youth! It would be the beginning of a movement.
We said 120 Messianic teens attended the conference. But in truth there were only 114, because six of them were still unbelieving teens who had been attending our congregation including our weekly youth Bible studies. These were literally kids off the street. They wanted to attend this conference because we told them they would meet many believing youth their own age. One of those six teenagers would become a national Messianic youth leader, and continues to serve today as an elder in Tiferet Yeshua, the congregation we founded.
During the youth conference, we met a Tel Aviv journalist who heard from her brother living on the kibbutz that an interesting group called Messianics were holding a conference there. She asked to sit in on some of the meetings, and told us she was overwhelmed with the stories these youth were telling her. She was deeply impressed to see these Israeli young people joyfully and deeply living their faith in God through Yeshua. In short, God’s anointing and favor was strongly present in this wonderful youth conference. It was a tiny spark of hope during a dark season of brokenness in Israel’s young generation.
But by reaching the next generation, we had touched an area that caused great fear to the ruler of this earth. And we had no idea of the backlash we were about to face.