As worldwide anti-Semitism inspires increasing numbers of Jews to make aliyah (return to Israel), the difficulties of Messianic aliyah are receiving more attention. I’m not an expert on this issue, but from firsthand experience and 30 years of observation, I can suggest what not to do.
- Determine that nothing is more important in your life than making aliyah.
Danger! Nothing is more important in your life than God Himself. Try this test: If Yeshua were to appear to you tonight and tell you to cancel your aliyah plans, would you obey? If you recoil from such a possibility, you may have made aliyah into an idol.
Make sure the LORD has the last word in your life. Everything must be surrendered to Him – even His callings and gifts that are legitimately yours. Otherwise you will not survive here (not in the ways that matter).
- View your aliyah as just a tricky bureaucratic challenge.
The aliyah procedure is bureaucracy on steroids, with individual clerks seemingly holding your future in their hands. Some are so enamored with their authority that they demand unnecessary documents just because they can. Others seem annoyed by your intrusion and grudgingly do the minimum. You may see the same office making decisions by the book one day and by personal whims the next. Moreover, Israel’s Interior Ministry (MoI, which handles aliyah applications in Israel) and the Jewish Agency (which handles them abroad) don’t always share the same “book” or “whims”. Sometimes even branches of the same organization have conflicting standards.
One rule, however, seems to unite them all: identify the Jews who believe in Yeshua and keep them from making aliyah. This effort is centralized in the Jerusalem MoI office, which can overrule decisions made elsewhere. Yet even on that score, some clerks routinely send files to Jerusalem for screening, some do it only when suspicions are aroused… and some don’t even bother.
No wonder many saints regard the aliyah bureaucracy as THE challenge: if you can successfully navigate through the paperwork minefield, you’ve won. Yet a remarkable number of believers threw in the towel and left in fear, disillusionment or resentment… after receiving Israeli citizenship. The reasons are varied, but suffice to say: if you think your aliyah battle is “not against flesh and blood but against the Ministry of Interior,” you will get blind-sided by the real enemy.
- Settle on a formula for successful aliyah.
This is a common reaction to the intimidation of No.2. But the various claims of what ‘works’ are contradictory and bewildering.
- Connect with Israeli believers before you come, so that you’ll have support from the Body.
- Avoid Israeli believers, so that you won’t draw attention to your faith.
- Study with a rabbi and/or attend a non-Messianic synagogue, so that the mainstream Jewish community will vouch for you.
- Avoid the mainstream Jewish community, because they might discover your faith in Yeshua.
- Start your aliyah process in Israel.
- Start your aliyah process abroad.
- Open your aliyah file in a big city, so you can blend into the crowd. Or in a small town, so you can become a familiar face.
- If asked whether you believe in Yeshua: be vague / use rabbinic terms / refuse to answer.
All of the above have succeeded… and failed. People do things “right” and get deported; people do things “wrong” and get citizenship. One Messianic friend was told point-blank by a hostile clerk, “I will see to it that you NEVER make aliyah…” and two weeks later she received her Israeli ID.
If there is any consistent road to success, it’s to trust God at every turn. This is not a cop-out; it’s an acknowledgement that He custom-designs the aliyah experience for your situation. If you have put Him first, and you are coming at the time He called you, you WILL get planted. If not, He loves you too much to plant you where you will sicken or die spiritually.
- Rely on the guidance of others who have made aliyah.
While it’s prudent to listen to advice, relying on it is just a shortcut to No. 3. And I’m afraid that we Israeli believers don’t always help. Our fleshly tendency is to feel sure that our personal aliyah experience (or among the native-born, our observation of someone else’s experience) will be the ideal model for all others.
Here’s the only advice from us that you should take seriously: “Make sure you get your directions from God.” We can pray for you to hear Him clearly and follow Him faithfully, and we can assist in details as He allows us. But we cannot – we dare not! – take His place in guiding you. If you persist, you can always find someone willing to pose as ‘the aliyah expert,’ but you will regret placing your trust in a human being.
- Assume that any opposition to your aliyah will come from religious Jews.
Contrary to popular opinion, individual religious Jews, even those processing aliyah applicants, are not necessarily hostile to Jewish believers in Yeshua. They are suspicious of Jewish believers who seem to lack transparency. After all, they’ve been taught that the “Messianic MO” is to deceive. The occasional brother who gets caught in a lie is enough to reinforce the stereotype, and a visit to websites dedicated to publishing these incidents illustrates how individual sins can impact our entire community.
My own aliyah was actively supported by an Orthodox rebbetsin (rabbi’s wife) who knew about my faith in Yeshua but understood that my aliyah was motivated by genuine love for the God of Israel. When another Orthodox woman complained to the Jewish Agency that I was a “missionary,” this lady opposed her and urged the Agency to approve my husband and me for aliyah.
But that’s not the only reason the religious shaliach (Agency representative) decided in our favor. Some months before, the same adversary had tried to sabotage our aliyah by revealing something from our background that she assumed we had withheld when applying. She was wrong; we had made full disclosure. Because of our previous honesty, our denial of her later accusation was accepted.
- Count on the secular Jewish community to support your aliyah.
My family was totally assimilated, and proof of my mother’s Jewishness was elusive. My uncle (her brother) was so secular he made a point of doing yardwork on Yom Kippur. But he belonged to a Reform synagogue, so I asked him to aid my aliyah process with a letter from his rabbi confirming that our family is Jewish. Nothing doing! He declared himself “a Jew until I die” who could not in good conscience help a Jew who had “left the faith.” Not even family.
Israel’s secular community has behaved likewise. The ultra-secular political party Shinui briefly controlled the MoI (feb/2003–dec/2004). Its transfer from ultra-Orthodox Shas control was hailed as “a revolution” that would bring “a humanistic and enlightened policy” to the Ministry. Numerous Israeli believers had voted for Shinui, and an Israeli pastor had been among its founders, so many expected new liberality towards Messianic aliyah.
Wrong! On Shinui’s watch, a family was stripped of their citizenship nine years after the fact, based on accusations from the anti-missionary group Yad L’Achim. (Shinui’s cooperation with Yad L’Achim was not unusual; secular Israelis are actively recruited by the group, for example, through a paid ad in the leftwing secular paper Ha’Aretz.)
Not only was that decision unprecedented in Israel’s history, it was enacted so suddenly that the father (on a trip abroad) was stranded in Europe with an invalid passport. His family in Israel fought deportation for 18 months, during which time they had no means of support. After testifying that they had embraced Yeshua after aliyah (and not before, as alleged), the Supreme Court ruling still didn’t restore their citizenship; it gave the mother permanent residency and the children citizenship.
There was no media outrage. I know the story because our fellowship helped raise funds to support the destitute family during those 18 months.
- Insist on your legal right as a Jew to make aliyah.
Since the above incident, various believers who were refused aliyah have won their citizenship in court. But it was achieved by requesting to immigrate under the Law of Return as non-Jewish relatives of Jews. This development is the result of a legal case from 30 years ago, which tried to force the Interior Ministry to publicly legitimize Messianic Jewish identity for aliyah.
In 1989 Israel’s Supreme Court published a landmark decision known as the Beresford Case. Three Messianic families had sued the MoI for denying them citizenship despite their proven status as Jews who had never joined a church. In this ruling, the Court rejected the rabbinic definition of a Jew (a lifelong identity), dismissed Jewish history (in which Jews periodically disowned rival Jewish sects), and ignored a professional survey showing that nearly 80% of Israelis viewed Messianic Jews as Jews. Justice Aharon Barak, a leading humanist, replaced all these with his own “nationalist-liberal-secular definition,” rendering irrelevant Torah observance, Jewish consensus, and even the Nazi definition that sent Jewish Christians to the camps as Jews. Personal belief in Yeshua as Messiah, wrote Barak, cancels Jewish identity.
Ironically, although the parents were stripped of Jewishness, their children received citizenship as Jews, based on the Court’s assumption that second-generation believers do not “voluntarily” choose Messianic belief (Law of Return, 1970 amendment, section 4A-a).
I was acquainted with the plaintiffs. At one stage the MoI offered an out-of-court settlement: permanent residency, if they agreed to drop the public pressure for recognition. They chose to proceed with the lawsuit, hoping to establish a legal precedent validating Jewish believers for aliyah. It backfired, and the Court underlined the point by publishing their decision on December 25. In the 1990s, after years of subsisting on temporary visas, the families were threatened with deportation and they relocated to the USA.
Claiming your legal right to privacy is not an option either. An American Messianic friend who worked in the legal field, and was able to prove her eligibility, opened a file with the Jewish Agency. When she saw a question in her aliyah application asking her views on Yeshua, she left it blank. The Agency office called her about the “incomplete” application, and she reminded them that this question was illegal; they were only entitled to request documentation of her Jewish identity, which she had supplied. They didn’t argue about legalities; they simply said, “Answer the question, or we’ll reject your application.” She asked about the Jewish-relative option; they refused her. She appealed to a higher-level Agency official. The response: “Sorry, there’s nothing I can do.” Eventually she married an Israeli and received citizenship as his Jewish-but-not-Jewish spouse.
Bottom line: if God wants you here, He will plant you here lawfully. He might lead you through a legal fight, or bring you in without incident. But He could ask you to waive some of your legal rights in order to get planted. If your Jewish identity is wrongfully denied, and you suffer “outside the camp” (Heb.13:13) for Messiah’s sake, He will compensate you in other ways.
- Expect to continue life in Israel as you lived it abroad.
Aliyah challenges your comfort zones in radical ways. The best-known shock is economic. Even those with humble ambitions to live within an average Israeli budget may not realize that Israel’s “average salary” is a statistical myth, since 60% of Israel’s workers earn less than that. The published average (NIS 9592 or $2525/month in 2016) ranges from the minimum wage (NIS 4650) to the earnings of executives in Tel Aviv’s top 100 corporations (average: NIS 139,000). And that six-figure salary is peanuts compared to their CEOs, who rake in 425K every month – 44 times the “average salary” and 91 times the “minimum wage”! (Source: Avda 2016) This obscene gap hides the 20% of Israelis living below the poverty line.
Moreover, the (fictitious) average Israeli salary is around half that of the USA and Australia, and 3/4 that of the UK and Canada. Yet Israel’s cost of living is substantially higher compared to the USA and the UK. That’s why most Israelis live in permanent debt without apologies.
Add to this burden the new immigrant’s disadvantage in language, cultural integration and social connections (all of which help Israelis secure good jobs), and you can see why 30% of immigrants leave Israel within three to six years because of economic hardship.
Take-away lesson: God has arranged Israeli life so that you will need to trust Him for economic provision. Having endured this crucible for over 30 years while raising a family, I can testify that He is absolutely faithful, and endlessly creative, in meeting those needs.
What’s the secret? See Num. 14:8: “If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us—a land which flows with milk and honey.” That’s a variation of Matt. 6:33: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Make it your priority to please Him in your aliyah process, and He promises to carry you through.
- Believe that citizenship, connections and economic stability guarantee successful aliyah.
Finances were no problem for my American friend who made aliyah a decade ago. Israelis will understand his enviable position when they hear that his first transaction as a new immigrant was to buy a brand-new car (roughly NIS 200,000) … paying cash. He had no difficulty with citizenship either, having received it through his Israeli parents. Upon arrival, he was surrounded by a supportive Messianic network. Yet after three years he packed up his family and returned to America.
Another believer, an American millionaire, had an even softer landing with the support of his well-established relative and an Israeli government eager to help him relocate his successful business. He lasted around six months.
A third family brought considerable assets from Europe. When we met them, they had already opened an international business, and their children were integrated into Israeli schools. These believers vanished so suddenly that we didn’t know exactly when they left. They disconnected their phone, liquidated their business and were never seen again. We later heard of a crisis with their teenage daughter.
All these saints were well-prepared in earthly terms. None were prepared for the intensity of spiritual opposition, which used depression, unfounded fears, sickness, marital problems, attacks on their children and spiritual confusion, to feed the notion that “coming here was a terrible mistake.”
Fellow-believers planning aliyah, listen up: You are targets for an enemy who is desperate to turn you back.
Indeed, all Israelis are targets. By fulfilling the first part of Ezekiel’s “dry bones” prophecy (Ezek. 37:7-9), they have reversed Satan’s efforts to prevent Israel’s rebirth and make God a liar. But you are far worse! You’re fulfilling the second part (v. 9-10), bringing the Lord back to Israel within you. He plans to fill all our people with His Spirit, making us “an exceedingly great army” to set right all the moral and spiritual wrongs afflicting our Land for millennia:
“When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it. And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.” (Ezek. 11:18-20)
Let God prepare you for the spiritual battles of aliyah. He will not leave you defenseless. But do NOT underestimate our foe. Believers can rationalize “small” rebellions and “harmless” idols in the Diaspora and still keep functioning… sort of. Here, where the stakes are higher, all conscious disobedience becomes crippling or fatal. God in His wisdom may short-circuit your aliyah for your own protection, until these vulnerabilities are removed.
- Believe those who blame their failed aliyah on Israel.
The ten scouts sent by Moses poisoned the people’s motivation to follow God by claiming that possessing their inheritance was impossible. It wasn’t just the current inhabitants, who they described as huge and related to the semi-divine Nephilim. They blamed the Land itself, which they described as a predator. “They gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, ‘The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants….'” (Num. 13:32)
Their message: “Even if we could somehow defeat the invincible Canaanites, in the end the Land itself will drain the life from us.”
Since this Land was God’s gift to them, He took the slander personally. All ten promptly died in a plague (Num. 14:37), and those who believed the slander died later. Their belated, temporary repentance was not accepted; having falsely accused YHVH of abandoning them, they discovered what it meant to really meet the enemy without Him (v. 41–45). But their children, for whose sake they had refused (v. 3-4), accepted the challenge and saw God’s faithfulness.
Did the LORD expect the scouts to hide the truth, or downplay the strength of the enemy? No, Joshua and Caleb faced the reality head-on. These two acknowledged the fear inspired by the giants and their occult “protection” (v. 9). They simply added YHVH to the equation, a factor glaringly absent from the majority report.
A clarifying note: In Israel complaining is something of a national sport, with a well-documented gap between mouths and feet. For example, in 2012 when it was reported that “almost 40% of Israelis are thinking of emigrating” (implying a stampede of some 300,000 citizens!), actual emigration that year was the lowest ever: a net loss of 2400 individuals. Moreover, in the 2012 global “Happiness Index” Israel ranked 14 out of 155 countries (rising in later years to no.11).
So this is not the everyday kvetching; it’s the reports of believers who came here intending to stay and failed. Some allow the Lord to show them why, and they try again. Others avoid self-examination, choosing instead to badmouth the Land – speaking as though God is not even here. “Even if you get past the Interior Ministry, it’s impossible to survive daily life in Israel.” Don’t listen to them!
Learn from ancient Israel’s example. Once you know God is calling you here, refusing that call because of reported dangers is slander against His goodness and power. Don’t risk losing that chance permanently, with the gift passing to your children. For your sake and theirs, bank on His faithfulness. “Do not rebel… do not fear… the LORD is with us.” (Num. 14:9)
God is bringing His people home. If you’re Jewish, it’s extremely likely that sooner or later He will include you. Ezek. 39:28 contains a promise that He will not leave a single Jew in exile; v. 29 explicitly mentions those on whom He has poured out His Spirit.
But like the first call to our people to enter the Promised Land, the condition is complete trust in Him. There are still giants to conquer. If you rely on circumstances, self-sufficiency, or the consensus of others, you will either refuse to take the risk, or you will take it too lightly.
You’ll know you’re ready when, like Caleb and Joshua, you can look with clear-eyed realism at the difficulties, and declare that YHVH’s Spirit in you tips the scales irreversibly in your favor. Then He will be pleased with you, and you will succeed.
Note: Article was updated July 26.7.17.