Arad is a small city in Israel, near Beersheba. It has a diverse population: some are native-born Israelis (Sabras), some are American Jews who have immigrated, some are Jewish immigrants from Russia, and others are Bedouin Arab who are citizens and support the State of Israel. Among the Jews, most are non-religious, some are ultra Orthodox Hasidim, and about a hundred are Messianic Jews, followers of Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah. Until recently, most everyone ‘got along’, until some of the Ger Hasidim (Chasidei Gur), those who follow an extreme form of Orthodoxy, decided that the presence of Messianic Jews in Arad so offended them that they would stop at nothing to expel them, including death threats to leaders, violent harassment and stalking of Messianic Women & Children and the destruction of property.
“The believers in Arad ran a ‘Soup Kitchen’ where low-income retirees could have a hot meal. In Spring 2005, the [Ger] Hasidim started harassing those that went there, and screamed threats at the believers and their young children.
“In June 2005, one of the Ger Hasidim pushed into the Community Club run by the believers and trashed it.
“The [Ger] Hasidim filed a false report that several believers were illegally in Israel. The Police launched a ‘raid’ at 2 AM only to discover that they were Israeli citizens with all papers.”
The above are excerpts from an article posted on the website of “The Association of Messianic Congregations.” The article describes at length how the shop where believers had sponsored a chess club was burned by arsonists. Here is a description of the aftermath:
“The chess players began to arrive and were shocked to see the condition of the shop. Some had tears in their eyes. Eddie began to bring out the tables which barely survived in the fire—They are blackened and warped, but usable. The chess clocks are almost a total loss. The chess boards all have the touch of fire upon them. It is a sad picture, but the players are encouraged by our promise to renovate and continue on in the face of opposition.”
Tuvya Zaretsky, part of the leadership team of Jews for Jesus, is currently in Israel. He says:
“Yakim Figueras is an Israeli citizen, a social worker by training and the pastor of a small Christian, or Messianic, church known simply as the Arad Hebrew Speaking Congregation. Though their number is barely 40 adults and children, they have been the focus of an inordinate amount of attention, most of which is unwelcome.
“Members of this congregation have endured an increasing frequency of harassment and verbal abuse in their neighborhoods and public places like the food market. They have been systematically targeted for verbal abuse that includes profanity, vulgar slurs on their character and blasphemous comments against their faith. The inflammatory atmosphere is being created by an organized religious orthodox Jewish sect known as the Gur Hassidim. Their membership is obediently responding to the orders of their religious leaders in B’nai Barak and in Jerusalem. [For more details refer to the link provided for the article above.]
“In the spring of 2004 the Gur Hassidim held a demonstration in front of the home where a congregational member took in foster children. Now, under the instigation of outside Orthodox Jewish groups, they are petitioning the courts for a permit to triple the number of demonstrators to 750. As in America, free speech is protected in Israel, but the Israeli Supreme Court has voiced concern that a large demonstration in a quiet neighborhood could inflame bigotry and induce hateful acts.
“I spoke with Yakim by phone today. He is a warm and joyous believer in Jesus who is amazed by all the attention that is being directed at his small group. Their community has been reluctant to take legal action, except when the municipal officials have stepped forward to protect them. Until recently, that was unlikely. He is also committed to care for his opposition, in the hope that one day he might speak directly to them about the true Messiah of Israel.
“When asked how we could encourage his congregation, Yakim said, ‘Please pray for us.’ Specifically, he asks for ‘wisdom in how we shall react in the face of such constant harassment.’ The legal recourses are limited, costly and distracting, but he wants to follow the Lord’s path in the struggle. His desire is to show love for the persecutors and he asks others to join in prayer for the salvation of their opposition. So Yakim also asked for God’s strength in the midst of what he calls ‘the spiritual battle’ in Arad. As any caring pastor, he wants his members to be united and strong in the love of the Lord. They are under intense pressure, but this is one pastor who knows that the Good Shepherd will bring them through it to His glory.”