Read in the July Maoz Israel Report:
Kobi and Shani and their five Israeli-born children – Illit, Lahav, Navaeh, Sela and Nesher.
I was born and raised in Israel in the late 1970’s, a child to immigrant American Jewish parents. Those of us born in those decades were the first generation of Jews born in Israel and raised as believers in Yeshua in 2000 years. There were probably only a few dozen of us.
My parents had had a successful life back in the United States. Between college degrees, law enforcement and military service, a variety of athletic accomplishments including a stint in the NFL and a good bit of acting and film making – as young adults they had achieved what some spend a lifetime pursuing.
Then they moved to Israel and started all over.
For the record, my mom arrived first – almost a decade before my dad came. She lived in an apartment in Jerusalem and worked as a journalist and documentary film maker. A single pretty blonde in a sea of Middle Eastern men. It probably only took two minutes for those men to understand that my mom wasn’t the type to be trifled with – but there were still those first two minutes to deal with.
She got to meet all those famous people everyone only reads about nowadays like Ben Gurion (Israel’s first Prime Minister), and Ehud Ben Yehuda, (the son of Eliezer Ben Yehuda, father of the modern Hebrew language). She was even able to show a film she had produced called, “Dry Bones” to Golda Meir, Israel’s first female Prime Minister. The film is about the vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel and goes through much Scripture as it walks through the story of Israel’s physical and then spiritual restoration. At the conclusion of the film, Golda asked her, “Which verses in the film were from the Tanach (Old Testament) and which were from the Christian New Testament?” My mother responded, “Those verses were all from the Tanach.”
After years of searching throughout the land, my mother found only a handful of Jewish believers. But with the “Jesus movement” spreading like wildfire in the U.S. and changing the lives of many American Jews, my mother flew to the U.S. to call Jewish believers out of exile and back to their homeland. One of the people who heard the call was my dad, who promised only a year-long visit. They got engaged during the first six months.
Their upbringings couldn’t have been more different. My mom grew up the eldest of three children with ministry parents who traveled in a silver bullet RV doing tent meetings across America. Her parents, Gordon and Freda Lindsay would become best known for their founding of the Voice of Healing and Christ for the Nations Institute.
My dad on the other hand was separated from his 6 siblings and parents at the age of two. He would spend his entire childhood at a military style boarding school. At the age of 12 he had no memory of ever leaving the school property. Eventually, he would go to college, graduate with honors, play professional sports, serve in the U.S. military and as a deputy sheriff in Los Angeles. A chance meeting with a Hollywood director, and my dad would go on to play those very characters on TV. On weekends he would attend Jack Hayford’s congregation as well as a small Messianic Jewish Synagogue.
One fateful weekend my mother flew to speak about Israel at Jack Hayford’s congregation and met my dad. He thought the yellow dress she wore was ugly, but it would be only uphill from there. That was over 40 years ago.
My parents lived in an apartment north of Tel Aviv until one day they found $20,000 in Swiss bills stuffed into their mailbox with a note that read “To Ari and Shira, servants of the Most High God.” With that money they were able to rent a large house where they began a home group. Later they would buy a plot of land and build a ministry center and home in the middle of agriculture fields near Tel Aviv. They would go on to plant the first Hebrew speaking spirit-filled congregation in Israel in the basement of that building. Two floors above that basement was my bedroom growing up.
My earliest memories that aren’t fuzzy are from elementary school age. I remember my 2nd grade teacher taking me outside of class and sitting me on a table in the hallway so I could explain to her what I meant when I had told my friends I was born twice. Modern Hebrew being a fresh language for everyone, meant there was no widely known terminology to communicate spiritual things; there was no easy way to describe being “born-again.”
Our town was conservative secular. That meant the locals would pack the synagogues for the holidays and there was a general respect for the existence of God. But if you wanted to drive on the Sabbath or say, believe in aliens, that was okay too. And that’s how my friends viewed us Jews who believed Yeshua was our promised Messiah. To them, we believed in something crazy, like aliens. They didn’t understand it but they liked us so that was fine with them.
Our house was always full of people. Friday night “Shabbat meals” seemed to always include a new person who was interested in this strange “new” belief – that the Christian god, Yeshua, was somehow Jewish, and that an infinite God could fit into a human body.
And then there were the people that stayed overnight with us – sometimes for a week, sometimes a few months. Those were the English speakers. They were mostly American Jews who were immigrating to Israel and needed a place to land, learn the local system and then step out on their own. Because my parents were active so early in the game, I could comfortably say most of anyone and anything that happens in the Messianic Jewish community in Israel today, was at some point helped out by my parents.
While my parents were busy pioneering what the budding Israeli Messianic community would look like, I was busy pioneering the art of growing up a native Messianic Israeli. My brother would also experience the pains of being a part of the early years of Israel as the public school system mistook his dyslexia and ADHD for low IQ. (Today, he runs a nano-biotechnology company. Just sayin’.)
By the summer of 1988 the congregation in our basement was one of the most vibrant things happening in the Tel Aviv area. It was growing, and services were so full the people would spill out from the basement into the yard. But my parents, who come from a line of doctors, writers and inventors, could no longer ignore my brother’s learning issues. They would prioritize family, pass the congregation on to new leadership and fly our family to the U.S. to seek help for my brother.
Up until that point I had only ever studied in Hebrew. I learned how to read and write English over that summer when we moved to the United States. I would be going into the fourth grade with two months of reading and writing education. I quickly lost my Israeli accent in English and sounded like any other American. This was mostly bad since to Americans my American accent meant I should have known better when it came to cultural norms. I heard the “you should know better” line a lot in the two years we lived there. I think I spent at least half of my recesses standing against the fence for committing the “shoulda known better” crimes, though I only occasionally figured out what I had done wrong.
We returned to Israel in time for our concurrent Bar and Bat Mitzvahs which were both slightly delayed because of the missiles Saddam Hussein was lobbying over Tel Aviv during the Gulf War. I can’t say the teen years that followed were easy, but we survived.
I met Kobi in Bible College. We married two years later and moved to Israel.
Kobi was born in Dallas, Texas while his dad, Jay, was getting his PhD at the Dallas Theological Seminary. At the time they were warned against having anything to do with those people down the road – you know, the Christ for the Nations people. Jay thought it hilarious years later when his son married the founders’ granddaughter.
Kobi’s family spent most of his childhood in Selma, Alabama, where his dad planted the first interracial congregation in that city. It wasn’t an easy experience, but it gave Kobi a deep love and affinity for Black Americans.
Kobi went through college playing jazz trumpet, though he played drums in his after-school rock band. His band was just gaining notoriety and his construction company was just getting going when he answered the call to go to Bible college. He sold everything to pay for the school. That decision would change his destiny from laying roof tiles and floors in the hot Alabama sun – to, well, ministering in the scorching Middle Eastern sun.
All things considered, Kobi did well adapting to a culture – where women are fierce and manners are few – that was polar opposite to his own southern upbringing.
The locals in Israel quickly took to Kobi and despite his not holding any official position of congregational leadership, people would come to him for prayer and advice in difficult situations. While the women are usually more active in the congregation, Kobi had a way of inspiring the men around him to come to early morning prayer meetings before work and seek God. He also developed a faithful team of people who would stay after the services to pray for people and see miracles. And since we always saw across ministry lines so Kobi was often recruited by other ministries to head up their projects.
MAOZ & ME
I had spent my entire childhood involved with Maoz Israel. Early on we used to mail the Maoz Israel Report directly from Israel, so I helped stuff envelopes with the folded newsletters and mail them out. I sat in the office, tagged along on ministry trips, and danced in the meetings. When I got older I helped with the graphics and sang in the worship team in the congregation.
Maoz was always about reaching Israelis. My parents were stubborn about it. If you were going for the English speakers you could fill meetings easily as there was always a steady flow of visitors and volunteers staying for a year or two. But when you looked back a decade later, when the visitors had come and gone, you’d have little impact on the local population in the land. So, in keeping with what I had always known to be important, when we Kobi and I founded our own ministry, Yeshua Israel, we chose to take on the difficult yet ultimately fruitful approach of focusing on the local Israelis.
We founded Yeshua Israel in the early 2000’s when Maoz Israel was focused on printing books, congregational activities and national unity conferences etc. Kobi and I had a deep burden to see young Israeli musicians develop within and outside of the framework of the weekly worship services. As our own family grew, requests grew for us to share how we ministered and discipled our kids at the same time. That is how the two main focuses of Yeshua Israel became worship and family. However, I must say the best part of founding Yeshua Israel was finding people who had the same passion we did for Israel – and who enjoyed our genuinely Israeli, often raw and less formal approach to ministry.
We spent almost two decades developing Yeshua Israel. We wrote music, helped others write and recorded any quality song we could find. We helped families in dire situations and saw people through to the other side of trials. We traveled and met people from all over and of course brought our kids along for the ride. We found our kids had as much or more impact on the places we would visit than Kobi and I did. Grown men would cry as our young children prayed and spoke over their lives. Testimonies of healings and babies being born to barren couples would be shared months later as our kid’s prayers were answered. Best of all was watching people catch the vision of building a legacy for their own family – one that would continue, if the Messiah tarried, for many generations to come.
MAOZ & US
As the years went by and I watched my parents build a ministry that impacted so much of the Body across Israel and even secretly in areas of the the Middle East, my thoughts would wander to the future. I watched multi-million dollar international ministries come here, and fruitlessly throw money into trying to build their brand of whatever. It would crumble within a year or two because there is no long term success in Israel without the help of the local body and the prayer backing of the worldwide Body of believers.
Kobi and I had watched my parents outlast tidal waves of opposition and survive the swirl of challenges that come with success. They spent decades building something solid and stable and I wanted to see their hard work bear fruit decades from now.
To be honest, I don’t know anyone in my extended family who has ever retired. We are too inherently driven by a sense of purpose to enjoy spending their latter years on a lounge chair. My grandmother was in her 90’s when she officially retired. In reality, that simply meant she would live off of social security and do all her work from home. She still had piles of books and papers to go through on her desk when she passed into eternity.
Still, the Scriptures speak of a time when those who minister transition in their role to assisting the younger generation of ministers (Numbers 8:24-26). And so, with much prayer, consideration and unanimous consensus from all the Maoz Israel leadership, board of elders, and our own Yeshua Israel board and accountability partners, Kobi and I will be transitioning into the future leaders of Maoz Israel. In this process we will be merging all of Yeshua Israel’s activities and team members with the Maoz Israel team. This means you are now part of a larger family of people who love and support Israel.
This process is proving to be incredibly seamless and is making all of our projects go forward quicker. The Fellowship of Artists will now include not only the development of modern Israeli worship but also Maoz Israel’s Music Making for Kids that develops young children in their vocal training and musicianship. Our own Israel Family Initiative will join with IstandwithIsrael.com to have an entire financial committee and greater resources to better reach and help struggling families and individuals.
We will continue developing Israeli worship and will be traveling to as many places as possible to minister together with our family.
The Maoz Israel/Yeshua Israel team, now includes a staff of 16 local Israelis as well as staff from six branches in Ireland, Canada, Germany, UK, Brazil and US.
From now on, we will continue to communicate with you as Maoz Israel. Rest assured we will still be very much involved in the things that have been dear to your heart and ours.
Our tents are expanding and we look forward to continuing together with you on this adventure to see all Israel saved!
Reaching Israel together
A part of life is passing the reigns to the next generation, and then helping them succeed. Shani and Kobi share the same vision that has guided Maoz Israel for over 40 years – to see ALL ISRAEL saved.
We know this is what you desire, too! Whatever God has in store next, we know that the day of Israel’s salvation is coming. Let’s continue together on this journey of reaching Israel with the Good News of Messiah Yeshua.
Other articles in the July Maoz Israel Report: