Messianic Jews stir controversy in Jerusalem
Group's plan to open center in heart of secular Rehavia neighborhood enrages local residents, who threaten to launch bitter fight to prevent project from materializing
A request recently granted by the Jerusalem District Planning and Construction Committee for the restoration of a house in the well-to-do Rehavia neighborhood in the capital is threatening to lead to a violent conflict in this normally peaceful area of the city.
The reason: The request was submitted by Netivyah, an organization of Messianic Jews wishing to open "a new public center" at the heart of the mostly-secular neighborhood. Local residents, in response, pledged to do whatever was needed in order to thwart the project, including an appeal to the High Court of Justice and even rioting.
"This is like building a synagogue in the midst of Umm al-Fahm," said one of the outraged residents. "This is set to be the first institute in the country to be openly operated by Messianic Jews. This center will be erected over our dead bodies," he proclaimed.
Another resident warned of "an all-out war" should the construction of the center go ahead as planned. "We don't care if a mosque or a church are built here, but we won't tolerate the presence of missionary Messianic Jews," he stated.
The locals' greatest concern is that Messianic Jews would "infiltrate" their neighborhood and try influencing their children.
A group of residents, together with three city council members representing the National Religious Party, are now planning to file a petition against the project to the National Planning and Construction Committee.
Joseph Shulam, Netivyah chairman and one of the Jewish Messianic community's leaders in Israel, said he was already used to such threats. Ten years ago, two Molotov cocktails were thrown at his house. "I've paid a hefty price for my belief," he stated.
Shulam claimed that his organization has been operating in Rehavia for many years conducting charity activities and aiding the needy, with the cooperation of some of the neighborhood's residents.
"The people of Rehavia are being incited by haredi groups. Most of the opponents don't even live in the neighborhood… I don’t understand all this hassle, we are Jews as good as those who claim to be real Jews," he explained.
Nevertheless, you can sympathize with the concerns of the neighborhood's residents.
"We have never concealed out faith. Throughout the years we have operated in the neighborhood, everybody knew what we were doing. We don't preach or convert Jews to Christianity. All we do is help Jews by opening soup kitchens, giving alms, nothing more."
In the meantime the project, which has already received the required permits, is set to go ahead as planned. "We will go through all the committees and the center will be founded here," Shulam concluded.