Erez Soref, a native-born Israeli, wandered the world studying Buddhism and Eastern religions searching for “truth.”
What he found, after receiving a Hebrew-language copy of the New Testament, was a life-changing faith experience that led him back home to Israel – the land of Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus.
Today he heads an organization called One for Israel that produces compelling video testimonies of Jews (and Arabs) who don’t see any contradiction between their ethnic and cultural roots and a fervent faith in the most famous Jew in world history – Jesus, or as He is known in Hebrew, Yeshua. Soref is also the president of the Israel College of the Bible, training both Arabs and Jews as ministers of their faith in the land of the Bible.
Under his direction, the most recent survey of messianic believers and congregations shows what he calls “exponential” growth of a movement that in 1948 numbered just 23 people in all of Israel skyrocketing now to some 30,000 with at least 300 congregations throughout the land – 20 in Jerusalem alone.
But while messianic Jews in Israel often describe their belief and faith in Jesus-Yeshua as “the most Jewish and Israeli thing” about them, there is increasing pushback from Orthodox Jews who see them as traitors to their Jewish faith, in league with Jewish persecutors of the past. Many Orthodox believers don’t think you can be both Jewish and a follower of Jesus-Yeshua.
Just last month, the Israeli Knesset narrowly passed what is called the “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People,” formal legislation that officially makes Israel a Jewish state.
“Very little of Israel’s new Nation-State Law is actually new,” says Robert Nicholson, executive director of the Philos Project. “The mere statement that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people is hardly novel; it’s what Israelis have been saying since 1948. In fact, the best critique of the law may be that it doesn’t really do anything besides stir up unnecessary trouble.”
First proposed in 2011, the basic law draft was contested strongly by left-wing Jewish groups. But with its passage, sponsoring Knesset member Avi Dichter celebrated within his original vision.
“We are enshrining this important bill into a law today,” he said, “to prevent even the slightest thought, let alone attempt, to transform Israel to a country of all its citizens.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasized the reality of Israel – including equality.
“We enshrined in law the basic principle of our existence,” he said. “Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, that respects the individual rights of all its citizens.”
But what about the rights of messianic Jews?
It’s more difficult for messianic Jews to become citizens in the country – something that is a basic right of other Jews, even those who follow other messiahs, such as Lubavitchers who believe the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson was. Some Jewish followers of Jesus-Yeshua have even been deported. Israeli couples who are messianic believers cannot marry in a traditional Jewish ceremony, despite Israel’s laws proclaiming religious freedom for all.
Also, last month, another survey was published on Jewish millennials found 21 percent believe Jesus-Yeshua was “God in human form who lived among people in the 1st century.” And 28 percent “see him as a rabbi or spiritual leader, but not God.” Forty-two percent said they celebrate Christmas. A majority says one can hold other faiths and still be Jewish. And the survey found that one-third of Jewish millennials believe “God desires a personal relationship with us.”
This is the confusing and complex reality in which One for Israel and Israel College of the Bible operate.
The Bible College was originally founded in 1990. But it is the media evangelism work of One for Israel, established in 2009, that has become the group’s very public face. Israelis are the most plugged-in Internet users in the world, and the compelling videos produced by the group have been viewed in Israel by more than 15 million in the country, though they are also popular around the world.
The video outreach is also key to the group’s very survival financially, as One for Israel raises a significant part of its annual budget with fundraisers in the U.S., attended mostly by Christians moved by the group’s work.
In September and October, One for Israel will be hosting six regional benefit dinners in the U.S. Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Chicago, San Antonio, Tampa and Metro D.C. Soref will be the featured speaker at all of them and they are open to the public for registration now.