I made aliyah with my family when I was fifteen and have lived in Israel for seventeen years now. My brother Dan and I serve with an elite unit of combat engineers in the Israel Defense Forces. Given some of the battles we have been involved in, I consider it a miracle we are still alive.
My five siblings and I were born in the United States. I’m the second born and Dan the third. My dad, Eli, was born in San Francisco. He studied the Talmud in yeshiva, but didn’t find personal peace through his studies. He checked out the hippie scene, did drugs, and then one day heard a young woman singing on the street. The songs intrigued him, so he asked her, “What is this?” The woman, Joan, replied, “It’s called worship to God.” My dad said, “It connects with my heart. It feels like what I’ve been looking for.”
The “Jesus People” and the Jew
Joan, an actress who had become disillusioned with the Hollywood scene, had become a “Jesus person” in the 1970s and journeyed to San Francisco. As she and her brother told my dad more about Jesus, he too became a believer—a Jewish one.
Eli and Joan decided to travel together. My dad took a cap off a Coke can, fashioned a ring out of it, and said to Joan (my mom), “Let’s be married.” They didn’t get a marriage certificate until years later. They spray painted “holy graffiti” wherever they went, which got a lot of attention at the time.
Over the years, they became a part of a few Christian communities rather than traditional churches, and all of us kids were raised in that environment. The one I enjoyed the most was in Cookeville, Tennessee, a community of “plain people,” similar to the Amish. We used horses and buggies, kerosene lanterns (no electricity), and pumped water from the well. We had so much fun, horse riding through the rivers, swimming in the summer, rope swinging.
In terms of a relationship with God, I knew I was Jewish, so I was bit uncomfortable with gentile Christianity. My parents believed in Jesus, but I knew about the horrible things that have been done in his name. I also found pew-sitting, hymn-singing worship boring. But then I read in the New Testament that Jewish people were the first believers in Jesus and that gentiles had been “grafted in” to what the Bible referred to as an olive tree:
But if some of the branches [the Jewish people] were broken off, and you [the gentiles], although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. (Romans 11:17-18)
Can a Jew follow Jesus?
That really resonated with me. I could follow Jesus as a Jew. I didn’t need to take on all the customs of traditional Christianity. So I gave my heart to Yeshua (Jesus). I was fifteen.
Around that same time, my dad saw a video by another Jewish believer in Jesus, talking about how God would bring the Jewish people from all over the world back to Israel. (We had snuck a TV and VCR into our home!) We started rereading the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures on this subject and had a strong desire to make aliyah. But we felt we needed a sign from God.
Soon afterwards, we went to church and a man with a long white beard and long white hair came in. We had never seen him before. He approached us and said, “I’ve heard that you’re interested in going to Israel. My inheritance is now yours, which is the Promised Land.” Then he opened a little leather satchel and poured out all these gold coins and said, “These are yours!”
We sold everything and my dad bought eight one-way tickets to Israel. Eventually, our entire family was granted Israeli citizenship.
Life and Death in the IDF
I joined the army in 2005 and was recruited into an elite unit which undertakes very dangerous missions—similar to the U.S. Navy Seals. My brother is also in that unit, although we have never gone on a mission together. I had just finished my training, when the 2006 Lebanon (Israeli-Hezbollah) War broke out. We were cutting through fences, going through landmine fields, facing missiles and machine gun fire. Suddenly everything became very real!
I am a machine gunner. I lay down cover fire, get up and move ahead and lay down more cover fire while our guys advance to take a hilltop or a bunker. Our missions are usually at night, so it is all very intense. But I thought, “God is watching over me. Whom shall I fear? He who watches over Israel never slumbers nor sleeps” (Psalm 121:4). One time the enemy blew up an entire mountain—moments after our company had left that location. In Gaza, seven people died in the building right next to us.
During Operation Protective Edge in Gaza (2014), our unit had to deal with a tunnel threat, something we are specially trained for. As five of us approached the tunnel, Hamas fired on us from behind a wall. There was nowhere to hide. And the guns of my commander and our three other soldiers all jammed! Mine was the only gun. Somehow I was able to fire enough to keep the enemy from getting locked onto us, and we escaped. I feel that if God weren’t protecting us, we would all be dead.
During Operation Cast Lead in Gaza (2008-2009), my brother Dan was on a mission with the Diamond Unit when a missile hit the center of his company, right on top of his unit, sending shrapnel everywhere and killing people. But Dan and his team were not even touched.
But this whole subject of God’s protection is a very difficult one. I had a close friend in the IDF who was also a Messianic Jew, a believer in Yeshua. We used to meet in a small group and study the Bible and worship together. He was one of the first killed when we went into Gaza. So I don’t take it lightly when I speak of God protecting me. I just know that God is in control. He decided to take my friend home, and He decided to leave me here.
How to Fulfill Prophecy
When I was on leave one time, we held an outdoor worship night with a bonfire, and I met a young woman who was volunteering at a Messianic congregation in Tel Aviv. I asked her about her interests.
She said, “I like to fulfill prophecy and live a life that is helping to restore Israel.”
“You must be Jewish,” I replied.
“No, actually I’m not.”
“Who even talks like that? None of my Israeli friends even talk like that!”
It turns out that Kate is from Australia and her father has spent much of his life helping my people make aliyah. She has the same burden.
Kate and I were married in 2011, a stone’s throw from Ramallah, in Judea-Samaria (the West Bank), on a hilltop with an army on patrol. You could hear gunshots in the distance! My Orthodox Jewish friends from the army were scratching their heads as they took in our Messianic Jewish ceremony. We now have two children, Efraim, who is three, and Rivkah, a year old.
I am still in the army reserves, called up a month each year to serve. But my full-time work now is helping my people make aliyah and integrate into Israeli society. Getting here is only half the journey; it’s so much harder to stay and find a job. Acculturation can be a difficult journey, but as one who has made it, I want to help others succeed as well.
I believe that God will bring all the Jewish people back home one day, as it says in the Hebrew Scriptures: “Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God, because I sent them into exile among the nations and then assembled them into their own land. I will leave none of them remaining among the nations anymore” (Ezekiel 39:28).
So we’ve got a lot of work to do!
This article originally appeared in the Jews for Jesus publication Issues 22:01 and reposted with permission.