Israeli society is quite the melting pot—a ’salad', to use a popular phrase here in Hebrew.
There are Arab Muslims, Arabic-speaking Christians (Catholic, Baptist, Greek Orthodox), Haredi Jews (an enormous variety), ‘national religious’ or ‘knitted kipa’ sector (not exactly like Modern Orthodox outside of Israel), Russian-speaking immigrants, Ethiopian immigrants, ‘traditional’ Jews (typically of North African and Middle Eastern heritage), secular Israelis (many with socialist roots), migrant workers (from Thailand, Philippines, Sudan, Romania, China, Eritrea, Sri Lanka). Where does the Messianic community fit on this social-religious map?
First of all, the Messianic community does not really fit in anywhere on the social-religious map. We are not a big enough group on our own to make a mark on the map. I would guess that there are about five to seven thousand of us. Most of us are not what could be termed secular, traditional, or religious. Members of the community have different worldviews, some are quite minimalistic regarding Jewish tradition while others practice more, some dress modestly and others less so. The community is composed of a diverse variety of people including international Christians on tourist visas and permanent resident status, Ethiopian immigrants, English-speaking immigrants, Russian-speaking immigrants, native Israelis of secular and traditional background and more. In other words, the community is not homogenous. In that way, it reflects the rest of Israeli society.
But I want to narrow the focus a little bit to speak about what you might call the typical Messianic Israeli. I’m thinking of young men and women, typically second-generation Yeshua-followers, Hebrew-speaking, Israeli citizens or permanent residents. This group is not more than a few thousand people. They represent a mixture of ethnic backgrounds and social-economic status. They attend secular public schools and appear, on the surface, to be non-religious, though most of the young women would not dress in an overtly immodest fashion. They have a respectable amount of biblical literacy, but they are mostly ignorant about traditional Judaism. They are usually high-performance soldiers in the military, whether in routine or combat-oriented positions.
What happens when these friendly Messianics meet other young people in the military? How do others see and identify them? My own children have experienced a mixed bag of reactions from fellow soldiers, some positive, others not so positive.
The Israel Defense Force is the ideal melting pot that forces members from all over the map of Israeli society to meet and work together. Some Messianic soldiers simply keep entirely to themselves and just come across as weird loners. Most young Messianic Israelis, however, find their niche with the secular crowd. They might be seen as an enigma if they steer clear of the sexual debauchery and foul speech that characterize army life, but on the surface, they appear to have affinity with secular values. On the other hand, I know of one young man who was open about his faith in Yeshua but identified with the religious. He prayed with the religious soldiers in the mornings, laying tefillin with them. He was definitely regarded as an enigma, but somehow he was seen as part of the religious gang. A Messianic soldier like that, however, is an exception to the rule.
The army is just one example of Messianic Israelis self-identifying with secular society rather than with religious Jews. Should the Messianic community have a uniform attitude toward our social-religious identification? Are we most like secular people or most like religious people? Or are we just a loosely affiliated spiritual association and each individual has to align himself wherever he will? I do not have answers to these questions, but I find it ironic that, as a rule, Messianic Israeli families seem closer on the map to the secular stratum than they do to the religious. Instead of identifying with the national religious sector, with whom we share similar concepts of family, godliness, and biblical heritage, we feel more comfortably aligned with a culture that embraces materialism, practical agnosticism, and godless values. Can that be right?
May God show us the right path to walk on in this land at this time.