Ari and Shira share at the first national leadership conference
Maoz Israel Report October 2021

Never Say Never

How it All Began (Part 9)

For years, as a nation, we would live day-to-day, in survival mode. PLO chief Yasser Arafat urged on his suicide bombers and creative killers—and you never knew where they would appear. It was a bit like the coronavirus of today. The danger was invisible—until it hit.


Shira Sorko-Ram
By Shira Sorko-Ram
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Israel was going through her First Intifada hell, infamous for its suicide bombings and killings. The Islamic uprising took center stage in 1987, and Israelis felt as if we were in the shadow of the Valley of Death. For years, as a nation, we would live day-to-day, in survival mode. PLO chief Yasser Arafat urged on his suicide bombers and creative killers—and you never knew where they would appear. It was a bit like the coronavirus of today. The danger was invisible—until it hit.

Just 15 years prior, the Israeli government signed the Jibril Agreement, freeing 1,150 Palestinian terrorists in exchange for three Israeli soldiers. Many of those terrorists morphed into the backbone of the leadership of this First Intifada.

For some unfathomable reason, history records that the First Intifada lasted seven years. The reality for those of us who lived through it was that terrorists attacked us with bombs and knives and cars and tractors for some 20 years. However, during this first seven-year period, 233 Israeli civilians and 60 IDF soldiers were killed by bombs alone. And 1,400 Israeli civilians and 1,700 soldiers were wounded.

That was only the beginning. Arafat’s goal was to make Israeli life intolerable. Terror could hit anywhere. Most people quit riding buses, which were particularly vulnerable. We drove our kids everywhere. Your home was the safest place you could be.

When Yitzhak Rabin was elected prime minister in 1992 at the height of the First Intifada, he began to put into place a plan to end violence and create a Palestinian state. His plan was based on making peace with Yasser Arafat. Rabin’s team secretly negotiated with him and Rabin signed the infamous 1993 Oslo I Accord. The violence was so withering that even Israelis who were strong Zionists began to think that if dividing the country would bring an end to the violence, maybe it was worthwhile.

But for the small Israeli body of believers, this was emotionally a difficult time. We who believed the Bible knew God had given this little piece of land to the Jewish people as an everlasting covenant. And now our own Prime Minister was determined to hand over “the mountains of Israel” to create an Islamic nation. He actually declared that the Bible is not Israel’s Title Deed.

In the end, all was for naught. The Oslo Accords was all give and no take. It slowly evaporated and we continued to suffer these attacks until our government finally built a wall separating the Palestinian populations from Israel proper. But that would come much later.

Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Yasser Arafat shake hands after signing the first Oslo Accord with President Bill Clinton in 1993. Credit: Shutterstock/Mark Reinstein

Finding Our Place

In 1991, after our two-year stint in the U.S., we began traveling each week to a congregation in Jerusalem, continuing our plan to move to the Jerusalem area (see April 2021 MIR The War, the Immigrants and the Training Center for the story). But when we realized we would be remaining in Ramat HaSharon, a suburb of Tel Aviv, we began looking for a place to worship in Tel Aviv. There were several great pioneer groups in our area, and we finally chose a spirit-filled congregation in Jaffa, led by David Lazarus.

There was a strong presence and a freedom to worship. The services had translation into several languages to accommodate the many new immigrants. David was also an enthusiastic encourager of our call to evangelize and to teach. Arni and Yonit Klein had recently immigrated to Israel and had become our close associates. Together we dreamed and planned of creative ways to reach the lost of Tel Aviv.

Leaders from all over the country enjoy fellowship and building new relationships

Serving Our Messianic Pioneers

Despite our ever-present burden for the lost, we could see there were needs within the local Messianic community. We knew many of the leaders and saw their passionate efforts to build the Kingdom. We were praying for opportunities to serve the Body in Israel when a wonderful surprise from California dropped in our laps.  In 1994, a visionary pastor, Tom Barkey, offered to teach at a three-day conference in Israel.  He asked us to invite every pastor and leader in Israel together with their spouses to a lovely hotel in Herziliya, just north of Tel Aviv, all expenses paid!

Some of the local leaders had never been to a hotel in their lives! Tom Barkey ministered from his heart to a hundred leaders and their wives, including a wonderful representation of leaders from the Arab Christian community. (This was the beginning of our close ties with many Arab pastors.)

From the feedback, the conference was a great success. The hunger we saw on the faces of our Israeli brothers and sisters caused us to realize that God’s pioneers in Israel, and especially the Messianic leadership who were often struggling against great odds, had little opportunity to receive encouragement and spiritual nourishment.

These faithful leaders soaked it in, rested, received the Word, and had wonderful fellowship. They were from many different persuasions and theological perspectives, and many made new and lasting friendships at this conference.

In subsequent conferences we hosted, Pastor Jack Hayford, also from California, was the keynote speaker two years in a row. Pastor Jack sponsored half the costs, and Maoz raised the other half. After the heartbreaking loss of our own congregation while we were in the U.S. because of our son’s need for special education, we were greatly encouraged to see the unifying influence these conferences were generating.

Ayal Frieden mimes the role of the “Seeker” in Tel Aviv outreach

To Russia with Love

In the autumn of 1994, we were invited to Russia where Jonathan Bernis was conducting massive Messianic outreach concerts with tens of thousands of Jews and non-Jews coming to the Lord. Hosting concerts in many Russian cities, he saw at least 250,000 respond to invitations to stand publically and pray. From the followup cards, 50% were Jewish or had at least one Jewish grandparent.  Jonathan understood that to sustain this incredible awakening, he had to create discipleship models.

His first Bible school opened in St. Petersburg with 108 students. (Many of these new Jewish believers later made aliyah to Israel and became leaders in the Messianic movement.)

Jonathan invited us to teach in his brand-new Bible school. We spent a week there and poured into them everything we could. We taught them foundational truths of the Bible—from Abraham to Moses to Yeshua the Messiah! When my mother (Freda Lindsay) heard about what was happening, she called us insisting that we move to Russia for a while to help disciple the huge number of new believers because of the massive harvest taking place in that moment.

Section of the packed stairs in Dizengoff where Israelis sat riveted for the entire presentation

The Lost City of Tel Aviv

But our passion for the lost always turned our hearts to ask the Lord, how can we reach the lost sheep of Tel Aviv? When we returned to Israel, we began planning a music and street drama presentation with our partners Arni and Yonit. We would shoot for the biggest outreach we knew how to implement—on the famous Dizengoff Square.

The first night arrived. We set up our “stage” on the sidewalk. Speakers, mixers, lights, instruments. The backdrop was hung between two trees. The steps in front of us formed a natural amphitheater leading up to a fountain. Buses and cars belched smoke and blared horns. Around this large city plaza in the heart of Tel Aviv, the little stores sold falafel, pizza on Arab bread, smoothies and shwarma—lamb on the rack. As we turned on the stage lights, a crowd began to gather.

Meanwhile, two blocks away at Avi Mizrachi’s Dugit Messianic Bookstore and Outreach Center, he and a group of volunteers—ready to witness and share—gathered from 5-7:00 p.m. to pray for the outreach that evening. At 7:00 p.m., they came to the plaza where they would pray until time to start. Intercessors had come from all over the country.

At 8:00 p.m. our band began to play and within minutes the steps were full. Even above, along the railing, people were standing as far as possible for them to still see the “show.” Not a spot was left. In fact, people were trying to push in, but could not.

As Arni began to play his saxophone, Who is like thee O Lord”, the air became electrified. Our ad hoc band played a few more songs. Pioneer leader, Eitan Shishkoff was on the drums and I was on the keyboard. With bandannas and baseball caps, we didn’t radiate “religion.” The crowd did not know we were offering this music as worship to our King, but they loved it.

For our last number, Arni, with his Bob Dylan-type voice closed out the final chorus with(translation from Hebrew):

–They died in the wilderness,

–They died in the exile,

–We are dying in our country,

–We are dying in our soul.

Immediately, the drama kicked in featuring Ayal Frieden, a Messianic leader who was also a professional dancer. He mimed the story of a “seeker” who tries everything the world has to offer before finally, on the verge of giving up entirely, he turns to God. At the end of the drama, the “seeker” held up a large mirror to the crowd of everyone from everyday shoppers to drug addicts and drunkards, to soldiers, homeless yuppies and even holocaust survivors. Ari then got up and spoke about how God brings freedom from bondage to the hopeless.

Believers from all over the country came to witness the event and be available to share the Bread of Life with the hungry. They sat among the crowd, and after the drama ended, initiated conversations with the people on the steps. The second night we invited those interested to go to Dugit Coffee House a couple of blocks away. Twenty-five Israelis arrived with Avi Mizrachi waiting to seat the people and give them materials to read. The third night there was a complete flood of people trying to get into Dugit. Over the three nights, more than 300 Tel Avivians came to Dugit to hear more about Yeshua.

Every chair and table (that had only been delivered hours before) was filled with hungry people who spoke of their own heartbreak and listened to the Good News about the redeeming blood of Yeshua the Messiah. Between 800-900 people sat through the 30-minute music drama and appeal and call to repentance, explaining how our Messiah brings us back to God.

Over a dozen pastors and leaders from Tel Aviv, Netanya, Haifa and Jerusalem participated in the outreach. This was a turning point for us. Besides the outreaches we were planning ourselves, we collaborated on outreaches in concert with other members of the Body in Israel. What we all understood and became painfully evident, is that there were not enough laborers to take in this harvest.

In October 1994, six months after our initial outreach, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus passing where we had been on Dizengoff Street. Twenty-one Israelis and one foreigner were killed.

We knew we needed divine help if we were going to be doing street outreach in this dangerous environment. So we decided to fast three days a month, for six months starting in December 1994. We called on our Maoz readers and anyone in our country who wished to join us. Many wrote they would pray and fast with us.

The Dugit coffee house was crowded to overflowing for hours with Israelis asking questions about the drama they had just seen

Decisions to be Made

In the month of May 1995, we, together with seven congregations, staged two performances in Jerusalem, under slightly different circumstances. That these performances were done at all was a great miracle in hostile Jerusalem. But we knew that many of our readers had been fasting and praying for both our conferences and the outreaches.

The security situation was deteriorating in the land. You never knew where the next attack would be. In one Maoz Israel Report of 1994 I wrote, “Israelis are becoming more desperate, more broken and more open to turning back to God. It is the Time.” Great unity had begun to blossom from the time spent together by leaders in the leadership conferences. Now it was time for fruit to come from these street outreaches.

In the summer we held another three-night music drama outreach in the heart of Tel Aviv. It was even more effective than the year before. But we were not seeing how all these interested people—some really seeking—could be taken care of. There needed to be an Israeli congregation that was totally in the Hebrew language, geared to bringing lost Israelis to faith, and then working with them to get them solidly in the Word of God and ready to multiply themselves. But we had promised ourselves to never pastor a congregation again.

Ari and Shira hosted Jack Hayford at two of their national leaders conferences

You Are Pioneers—So Pioneer!

One night Ari and I were sitting in our living room. I looked at him and said, “Ari, have you ever thought of starting another congregation?” He looked straight ahead and said, “I’ve been thinking about it.”

We spoke with Paul Liberman, a friend of several decades and board member of Maoz. Besides being a Messianic leader of a congregation in the States and later in Israel, he was a very successful businessman and strategist.

He said to us, You guys have pioneered a number of assignments from the Lord. For example, you pioneered helping many Messianic Jews to make aliyah, knowing that the government was very much against believing immigration.

You brought together Israeli leaders throughout the country to sit under ministers who have much experience and wisdom in hearing from God. You also worked to promote unity among our pioneer leaders, spread thinly around the country, by helping them get to know one another.”

He continued, Today in Israel, there are congregations in languages of Russian, English, Ethiopian, Arabic and even Spanish. But there are very few solely in the Hebrew language.

Youve always wanted to participate in breaking through the Israeli cultural barrier that Jews who believe in Yeshua is a completely foreign western phenomenon. And I know your greatest passion has always been to reach Sabra (native-born) Israelis. So your assignment should be to raise up a Spirit-filled Hebrew speaking congregation, practicing the gifts of the Spirit and celebrating the Biblical Jewish holidays so that when new believers and seekers come to your services, they will feel completely at home with the language and the culture.”

The Elephant in the Room

When Paul said these words to us, we instantly knew he had given us a revelation. A reality check. We were used to doing a bunch of stuff at the same time. Our hearts were continually thinking about multiple ways to help build God’s kingdom in Israel. But Paul shined a laser beam on our deepest desire, to focus on the elephant in the room! We had our marching orders and our Kingdom assignment.

We spoke to pastors of the congregations in the Tel Aviv area, letting them know we felt we were to start a new “Hebrew language only” congregation in Ramat HaSharon, with a heart for evangelism and training new believers. They all blessed us and encouraged us to begin.

Together with our little team, Arni and Yonit, and one other Israeli believer, pharmacist Hannah, Ramat Hasharon Congregation would have its first meeting on Sept 24, 1995, the eve of the  Feast of Trumpets, also known as the Israeli New Year 5756.  That congregation would eventually be renamed Tiferet Yeshua (the Glory of Yeshua).

The day our congregation was born, Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and Arafat met in Egypt and signed the Oslo II Accords, solidifying for the first time on paper the Israeli intent for a future Palestinian State. The next few months would quickly prove what a mistake that signing was.

To be continued next month…

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