Modern Israel’s First Martyr
I think when I imagined the solemn day we would all hear about the first martyr in Israel’s Messianic community, the story would be something like a mob of angry Orthodox Jews throwing stones, or another crazy bomb-making guy. I never dreamed it would happen so deliberately and so unprovoked to someone as unobtrusive as Tom.
Tom* was the quintessential British gentleman. He was brilliant. He worked as an aircraft design engineer, but he never made you feel like you were any less intelligent than him. A few years after he and his Israeli wife Yaffa were married in England, Yaffa came to know the Lord. Tom was always supportive of her decisions and with his background in the Church, dove in with her. So there they were, a Christian and a Messianic Jew, one in Messiah.
Tom and Yaffa became a part of my life when they began attending my parent’s congregation, Tiferet Yeshua, in the late 1990’s–back when the congregation met in our basement. Tom always came early to help set up. “Bokers” (his take on the Hebrew morning greeting of “Boker Tov”) was his perfect blend of British quip and Israeli joy and still pops into my mind on a particularly bright morning. Upon retiring a few years ago, they moved to Modi’in, a city conveniently about halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Most importantly, however, it brought them closer to their grandkids.
They weren’t a spotlight type of couple. But Yaffa had a master’s degree in counseling, and they both loved to help people struggling with life issues, so they would often be called on to advise and encourage.
It was for this reason that a friend in their congregation encouraged Yaffa to spend some time with Ronit. Ronit is an American immigrant, married to an Israeli man and they attended couple of congregations over the period of a few years. Though he had a reputation of being slightly odd, congregants embraced him like any other believer who had struggles.
Yaffa and Tom had visited the couple before but Ronit had just had her third child and had invited Yaffa to come see them. What happened next is based off information we gathered from the family and eyewitnesses.
On election day this past March, Yaffa and Tom arrived at the home of this couple. Upon arrival Yaffa and Tom began chatting with Ronit while the husband went outside. By the time he came back, Yaffa was snuggling their newborn child while she continued talking to Ronit. Undeterred by the danger he would put his baby in, the husband lunged at Yaffa (72) and struck her in the head with a brick used to build sidewalks. Yaffa crumpled to the ground but protected the baby with her body as she fell. Seeing the danger, Tom (75) threw himself in front of his wife and absorbed the deadly blows that followed.
Reportedly, a neighbor saw the man beating Tom through a window and ran over screaming, “What are you doing?”
“They are missionaries!” yelled the killer.
“So what?! They’re still people!” responded the neighbor. At this, the killer raised his hands and walked off.
The funeral was delayed for days in hopes that Yaffa would be well enough to attend. But, in the end the doctors felt the danger of seizure was too great so she said her goodbyes in a letter that would be read by her son at the funeral. At the time this article is being written, Yaffa is in rehab and is recovering.
The situation was terrible, but how the authorities handled the situation made things worse. The suspected murderer’s lawyer gave a statement to the police–and the press–that his client acted due to feeling harassed by the victims and their “Messianic cult.” You should know that “cult” in Israel is a loaded term and is attributed to highly manipulative groups who prey on people for financial gains or carnal pleasure.
While the alleged murderer was immediately provided with a lawyer by the state, the police reportedly went straight to Yaffa at the hospital. She was barely conscious, had been given medication and her hearing aid had been broken in the attack. They demanded she sign permission papers for the police to search her home. Obviously, she was not in a position to understand what they were asking, but having been a law-abiding citizen her whole life, she wanted to help the police with anything they needed to prosecute the murderer. So of course, she signed.
Tom and Yaffa’s daughter, also assuming this was about helping her parents and wanting to cooperate fully with the police, let them into her parents’ apartment. When the detectives began seizing laptops, phones and documents, she questioned what they were doing. “We want you to help us find official documents related to your Messianic cult,” they responded as they rummaged through Yaffa’s journal and made snide remarks about its content. That was when she started realizing that something was wrong–that these detectives had taken the word of the murderer and were now investigating her parents as cult members.
At the time of this writing the police have returned some of the items. They still won’t give back the computer and seem to have lost Tom’s phone and wallet. We’re told they’ve also called in members of Tom and Yaffa’s Messianic congregation for questioning.
A few days after the murder, Tom’s family went to visit Ronit who was in shock. It was a very emotional time. Tom’s family expressed their forgiveness for what her husband had done. And the murderer has been ruled to be unfit for trial due to a diagnosis of mental illness.
I think when I imagined the solemn day we would all hear about the first martyr in Israel’s Messianic community, the story would be something like a mob of angry Orthodox Jews throwing stones, or another crazy bomb-making guy. And I was sure it would happen to one of our front-line evangelists who would end up “witnessing to the wrong guy.” I never dreamed it would happen to someone as unobtrusive as Tom.
We hope you will join us in honoring his ultimate sacrifice, supporting his family in this time of mourning, praying for God to bring good out of this tragedy, and taking this as an opportunity to stand up for the legitimacy of believers in Israel.
*Names have been changed to protect the family
In just 10 years, Maoz has poured $229,000(USD) into defending the rights and freedoms of Messianic Israeli citizens, and has won every single case! Many of these court cases took years to see a just verdict, but resulted in precedent-setting decisions in favor of the legitimate rights of Jewish believers!
You can also support persecuted believers in Israel when you pray. Especially if you sign up for the detailed and unique Maoz Israel Weekly Prayer Letter and share it with your prayer groups.