The First Impressions of Israel, As Told By a Jewish Christian
The wings of the TWA jetliner lifted and dipped as we made our final approach over the coast of Israel. I could see a mixture of sand dunes, scrub oak and faded cement structures. Houses quickly gave way to massive apartment buildings, which in turn blended into the city center.
The ground streaked by as the wheels touched down and the weight of the aircraft began to settle. In the cabin, people began to applaud. A sense of identification swept over me: This is my homeland!” In ancient days my ancestors on camelback had to withstand the desert heat and months of travel to come here. What would Abraham think if he saw that jet?
Ben Gurion Airport is an awesome experience for any first-time arrival. Uniformed men and women, security personnel, are seen everywhere. As my American passport passed from my hands, my sense of security and acceptance began to dissolve. “How would they receive me if they knew what I believe?” The question flashed across my mind and the uncertainty of the response made my legs weak.
Five months earlier I had come to believe in Jesus. Now for the first time, I realized I was a minority within a minority group, here in the only place in the world where my people were a majority.
Yet experiencing Israel taught me vividly that we are a nation of people, ordained and preserved by God. I saw that whether we are from Yemen or Rumania, Iran or Cuba, we have a common heritage; and together our destiny will be guided by the Almighty.
I eagerly explored the Land. It was one thing as a child to hear the story of how God held the sun in the sky as Joshua fought in the Valley of Aijalon but Bible history and historical geography came alive before my eyes. I traveled down the Beth-Horon road, following the course of the battle described in Joshua, chapter ten. Daydream met reality and the child’s Bible story encountered the physical evidence—God lives!
During the first visit to Israel, I began to read the Bible all the way through. I saw repeatedly how God desired His people to honor and love Him alone. When I read of the revival in King Josiah’s heart, I rejoiced in my own heart. I could identify now, through my faith in Jesus, with this ancient king of my people, who with a heart broken at the specter of sin, turned toward the living God in response to His goodness and grace.
It is now, through Jesus, that I can identify with our people, our land and our God. I know in my heart and from God’s own word, the Bible, that I am part of a people, God’s chosen people, and a land, Israel, God’s promise to my ancestor Abraham. As for my identifications with the God of Israel, I now experience, through His Holy One, Jesus, a daily relationship with Him. It is my hope that more of my people have an opportunity to know the one who provides identity and purpose.
Tuvya Zaretsky is one of the founders of the Jews for Jesus ministry. He was the first field missionary beginning his service in February 1974. Tuvya continues to serve the Lord, now as the Director of Staff Development internationally, based out of the Los Angeles office. He also chairs the Board for the Jews for Jesus branch in Tel Aviv, Israel. Tuvya was raised in Northern California in the institutions of American Judaism. During his bar mitzvah at age thirteen, Tuvya read from Isaiah 6:1-8 and declared with the prophet, Hineni-Here I am, send me!" However, his search for God and spiritual truth didn't come into focus until ten years later, when a Christian colleague encouraged him to seek God in the pursuit of truth. Tuvya came to believe in Y'shua (Jesus) on December 7, 1970. Ever since, he has been joyfully saying to God, "Hineni-Here am I." The full story is available by that title, in a booklet form here. Tuvya has provided the leadership of Jews for Jesus branches and evangelistic campaigns in major cities of the US and in Israel. He headed up the Las Vegas Behold Your God (BYG) campaign in 2005 and co-led the 2006 BYG outreach in New Jersey. He is now also an administrator for the website www.JewishGentileCouples.com. In April, 1989, Zaretsky was present at the Willowbank Consultation on the Christian Gospel and the Jewish people, that produced the watershed Willowbank Declaration. Tuvya has presented missiology papers at the Evangelical Theological Society, the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE) and at the Global Diaspora Missiology Consultation in 2006. He currently serves as president for the International Coordinating Committee of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, a networking body of Jewish mission agencies. He was editor of the Lausanne Occasional Paper 60, Jewish Evangelism" A Call to the Church in 2004. He was a contributing author of Israel the Land and People edited by H. Wayne House (Kregel Publishers, 1998). His doctoral dissertation, co-authored with Dr. Enoch Wan, was published as Jewish-Gentile Couples: Trends, Challenges and Hopes (William Carey Library Publishers, 2004). He authored or edited articles for the June 2006 issue of MISHKAN themed, "The Gospel and Jewish-Gentile Couples" (Jerusalem) . And in 2008 he was coordinator and contributor for the World Evangelical Alliance Consultation that produced "The Berlin Declaration on the Uniqueness of Christ and Jewish Evangelism in Europe Today". In 2013 Zaretsky was appointed to serve as the Senior Associate for Jewish Evangelism by the International Lausanne Movement. Tuvya has an M.A. in Missiology concentrating in Judaic Studies from Fuller Seminary's School of Intercultural Studies and the Doctor of Missiology degree from the Division of Intercultural Studies at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is married to Ellen, who is also a Jewish Believer in Jesus. They have three young adult children: Jesse, Abbie and Kaile.