Some might find my status as a “typical Israeli” debatable. On the one hand, I’ve spent my last several years in much the same way as my peers. On the other, I’ve done things that very few Israelis have done or would do.
After my army service, I started traveling around the world (typical) but during my travels I had many opportunities to share my (not typical) faith in Y’shua with other Israeli backpackers. At times I just wanted to see the world and my witnessing was “incidental.” At other times, I chose purposefully evangelistic trips. I’ve been asked to reflect on the nature of these experiences.
The “typical Israeli experience”—what is it? Well, picture this. After high school you are drafted into the army, which, like any good “total institution” takes away every indication of individuality and prepares you to fit in and do your best with the task at hand. As a teenage soldier, you face serious choices, serious consequences and serious situations unlike any you have experienced. You may be among the many who are faced with life and death decisions.
Your goal is to reach the day when you will once again be free. That doesn’t mean you do not want to defend your country. But it is impossible to calculate how much time you spend dreaming, talking, fantasizing and planning what to do after the army. After finally being reborn into society three years later, you start working and saving money to fulfill your dreams. Then, you head out to places like Brazil or Thailand or India and backpack for 6-12 months.
Why do Israelis travel after the army? Many want to go someplace to forget all that happened in the past few years. This is part of what we mean when we say lenakot et harosh (to clear the head). Another saying that helps explain why we travel is lechapes et atzmecha (to search for your self). People go away to try and forget, but also to learn new things, see new cultures, better themselves and maybe learn to deal with some of the problems that they left back home in Israel. If one Israeli backpacker were to ask another backpacker why he decided to travel, the answer would be a puzzled look, because travel is just what so many of us do, even if we’re not quite sure why. Of course, those of us who are believers have a different perspective from those who are without purpose and hope, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have some of the same dreams and desires to see the world, or that we don’t need a time of reflection and reorientation after the army.
This traveling trend is growing. In 2002 about 3.2 million Israelis departed the country to travel (some did not return). 2007 will end with nearly 4 million Israelis having left the country.1 The Central Bureau of Statistics reported that in July alone, 487,000 Israelis left the country! An estimated 200,000 visas were given to Israelis by the Indian Embassy in Tel- Aviv in the past year.
“Typical” Israeli journeys can lead people around the world, but often lead them worlds away from what they really need. The amount of drugs consumed is staggering as many try to smoke their problems away. Another way to avoid reality is the party scene, where some hope to “hook up” with as many guys or girls as possible. Still others search for spirituality and study yoga or Buddhism for weeks or months. They don’t know what or who they are looking for, but for many, it’s a good time of life to hear about Y’shua.
During the summer of 2006 I was involved in part of a Jews for Jesus outreach in New York City to share the gospel with the 200,000 Israelis in the area. Many were surprised to see big Hebrew signs offering Hebrew New Testaments in Times Square. They wondered why those of us from Israel came all the way to New York to talk to them. Some were willing to discuss Y’shua and take New Testaments. However, I would not characterize most we met as especially spiritually-minded. Many told us they came to New York to have a good time and, they hoped, to make a lot of money.
This summer I went with a group of young Jewish believers on a Massah (a journey) to Israel and then to India to travel around and proclaim the gospel. There we found many Israelis who seemed to be searching for something different than those in New York. They were much more willing to discuss spiritual matters and much less hesitant to read the New Testament and talk about Y’shua.
Israelis go to different places seeking different things, but anywhere they go is a great place to meet them with the gospel. Traveling opens people’s minds and maybe their hearts to different cultures and beliefs, and so, this idea of Y’shua being the Jewish Messiah suddenly seems a little more possible than it did at home. Outside of Israel, travelers can immediately feel the release of pressure from friends and family who would be angry to see them reading the New Testament. Since they are already crossing various boundaries it’s not such a stretch to cross one more and check out Y’shua—especially if encouraged to do so by a fellow traveler.
I believe that as this trend of traveling around the world continues to grow, so will this trend of traveling to share Y’shua’s love with others. We encountered many backpackers from Australia, England, Germany, France and other countries. They were just as curious and open to hearing about Y’shua as Israelis.
This summer I saw God work in amazing ways in my life and in the lives of those who were willing to step out with me in Israel and India to preach the gospel. As we joined the community of backpackers and shared their travels, we had amazing opportunities to touch lives and share our faith.
I believe this moving mission field needs hundreds of young people traveling in different places around the world simultaneously to reach Israelis and others. We need more coffee shops run by believers who will share Y’shua with every cup of coffee sold! But we need people who are willing to step out of the comfort of their lives and go—even if they don’t know exactly where. I see programs like Massah and other traveling outreaches as a crucial part of reaching my generation. I envision hundreds of backpackers hearing about Y’shua and receiving Him, then bringing His message back home with them. Please pray for those of us who want to have a part in this kind of ministry, and if you are interested yourself, please let us know or go to http://www.jewsforjesus.org/join/massah_israel
1. Figures taken from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics