This past December 2008 my wife Stacy and I approached Israeli passport control, appreciating the absence of a line unlike the past summer when we waited for an hour in long lines. The clerk took our passports, scanned them and then placed a telephone call. We knew something was up when the clerk told us to go with the approaching person, and then were alarmed when she said in Hebrew - Misrad Hapanim - Ministry of Interior. This meant trouble. We were escorted to a room in the airport, and Stacy was called in by herself. I moved as close to the door as possible to overhear the conversation. The officer began to interrogate Stacy as to why we wanted to enter Israel. She told him to visit our children. He then accused her of being a missionary. I jumped up and went in and confronted the officer. I said, “I’m an American immigration lawyer, and we are here to visit our children.” He replied, “the Ministry of Interior has barred your entry due to missionizing activity when you were here this past summer.” I said that’s ridiculous.
So began an eight hour ordeal where we were trucked to a detention center outside the airport for the purpose of deportation. Fortunately, I have an Israeli phone, and prior to detention was able to make numerous phone calls to our Israeli lawyers and political connections. When we arrived at the detention center, all of our possessions were confiscated, including the phone and a tape recorder I was using to record everything. Stacy and I were placed in a cell together. Two hours later our lawyer, Calev Myers, and head of the Jerusalem Institute for Justice arrived, and we were permitted to confer with him in a waiting area. He told us our daughter, Jennifer, was now on the radio on Israel’s major morning news show being interviewed about what was happening to her parents. He also informed us that they were using both political and legal means to extricate us from jail and to halt the deportation.
Possibly due to his visit, the guards retaliated against us and would no longer allow Stacy and me to be in the same cell. She was moved to the women’s cell, and I to the men’s. For the first time I became worried about what would happen to her, although she was perfectly fine. In my cell there were five or six guys from different countries. They all wanted to know why I was detained. I explained that I’m a Messianic Jew. A man from Holland interrupted and said, “You’re a Jew! What are you doing in here? You should be a citizen.” I explained the dilemma. He continued by saying the craziest thing would be if I were a Cohen (from the priestly class). I said I am. At first he wouldn’t believe it, but then declared this was insane. I agreed.
Two hours later I was called by the guards to take a phone call from the Ministry of Interior who told me if we signed a document saying we wouldn’t seek to convert minors or bribe people into conversion, the government would permit our entry into the country. I argued with her for a while, but on the advice of counsel, I signed it. We were then driven back to the airport and released into the country.
While our situation was temporarily traumatic, it is only the tip of the ice berg for what Messianic Jews in Israel deal with. Probably because of extensive publicity regarding Messianic Jews in the past year, small ultra-Orthodox factions who have connections to the government have begun a campaign against Messianic Jews. Some Messianic leaders are now being subjected to attempts to revoke their citizenship. Applications for building permits for Messianic Jewish congregations are blocked. But we do have some recourse. Stacy and I are suing the Ministry of Interior for both violations of international protocols and unlawful detainer. In addition, we are getting some Congressional assistance to begin to pressure the Israeli government. We see the whole experience like Joseph’s who saw that what the enemy meant for evil, God will turn into good.