Messianic Jewish Immigration to Israel

            You may or may not know that the nation of Israel blocks Messianic Jews from immigrating.  Israel was established as a safe haven for all Jews.  The only group prohibited by law are Messianics.  Now, that has changed.  In a huge case, the Israeli Supreme Court instructed the government to grant Israeli citizenship to a group of twelve Messianic Jews, whose Jewish heritage originated on their father’s side.  Included in that group was my oldest daughter, Amy. 

            Jewish immigration to Israel is controlled by the Law of Return.  The law, as passed in 1970, stated that anyone with one Jewish grandparent could automatically become a citizen of Israel.  This law was based upon the notorious Nuremberg laws from the Nazi era.  Hitler’s regime prohibited the intermarriage of Germans and anyone with one Jewish grandparent.  The ultimate goal of the Nuremberg laws was to define, isolate and destroy anyone with Jewish heritage.  A few years after passage of the Law of Return a Catholic priest, whose was born Jewish, attempted to immigrate to Israel.  The Supreme Court conceded that under Jewish religious law the priest remained a Jew, but for all intents and purposes relinquished his connections to the Jewish people by converting to Christianity.  The Court urged the Israeli parliament to amend the law.

            Later the law was amended to capture similar scenarios so that anyone with a Jewish grandparent could still become a citizen unless he or she converted to another religion.  In a huge case before the Court 15-20 years ago, Gary and Shirley Beresford, South African Messianic Jews, sought to immigrate under the Law of Return and were blocked by the government under the conversion exception.  Despite the fact that the Beresfords lived as Jews, the Court ruled against them, claiming they had converted to another religion.  This case set the precedent, enabling the government to proscribe Messianic Jewish immigration.  As a consequence, many Messianic Jews, who desired to immigrate, had to keep their faith quiet when immigrating.   If and when discovered, these Messianic Jews could not immigrate. 

            Approximately, three years ago my daughter, Amy, decided to immigrate to the land.  My middle daughter had successfully immigrated three years earlier.  In Amy’s case an anti-missionary organization discovered her application and put pressure on the government to block the case.  We hired an Israeli law firm who was already representing numerous families in similar situations.  A year ago she was added to an existing Supreme Court case.  The case was postponed numerous times, causing both financial and emotional stress on all of us.  She was in Israel since the summer of 2006, but could not work nor receive any government benefits. 

            Finally, the case was heard on April 16.  People were praying all over the world.  A group of us gathered at Tikvat Israel at 4 AM to pray while the case was being heard (seven hour time difference with Israel).  Just as we finished prayer my phone rang, and there was Amy announcing over a speaker phone that the Messianic Jewish families had won the case.  The roar from the group praying was so loud my ears were still ringing hours later.   Finally, the words of Israel’s national anthem are applicable to the Messianic Jewish community:

As long as in the heart, within,
A soul of a Jew is yearning,
And to the edges of the East, forward,
An eye gazes towards Zion,

Our hope is not yet lost,The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free nation in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

            I believe part of the reason behind this monumental decision is the incredible favor and generosity the Christian and Messianic Jewish world has shown to the nation of Israel over the past number of years. 

Jamie Cowen 2008