Understanding legal documents is a challenge when they are written in one's mother tongue. So it comes as no surprise that U.S.-born Calev Myers considers it miraculous that he rose to the top of his class at Hebrew University law school, where his texts were written in Hebrew. Today he is the "go-to" attorney for Messianic Jewish and Christian minorities whose rights have been violated in Israel.
Myers never intended to become an advocate for Messianic rights. He was 18 when his family immigrated to Israel from Pennsylvania and was instantly drafted into the army. When he later entered law school, he specialized in business law and quickly became a partner at a prestigious Jerusalem firm, Yehuda Raveh & Co.
However, in 2004 when Israel's Ministry of Interior moved to revoke the citizenship of a Messianic Jew who had served in an elite military unit, Myers stepped in. "This case brought [civil rights abuses] to light," says Myers, 33. "I called up every Judeo-Christian congregation [in Israel], and I investigated whether others were suffering. I found 40 cases of blatant illegal treatment of Judeo-Christian believers."
He won the case, but Myers' legal campaign was far from over. He found that the Interior Ministry, which is responsible for granting visas and citizenship, systematically discriminated against, and was proactively targeting, leaders in Israel's Judeo-Christian community. He was determined to stop that.
The problem, Myers says, is that the government has believed a few radical, ultra-religious Jews who "initiate slanderous, vicious propaganda by saying we're a missionary cult whose sole aim is to convert Jews to a foreign religion."
Since it was formed in 2004, Myers' Jerusalem Institute of Justice has taken on more than 182 cases of discrimination against believers, successfully completing roughly 90 so far. Cases range from instances of blocking immigration, illegal termination of employment, zoning discrimination for congregational facilities and confiscation of passports to outright revocation of citizenship.
"It was God's grace to put me in a good law firm and set the standard of what level of quality work believers should practice," Myers says.
Myers' family also leads an evangelical congregation, Shemen Sasson ("Oil of Joy"), which started as a living room Bible study and now draws approximately 300.
While praying one day for Jews from the former Soviet Union to immigrate to Israel, Eitan Shishkoff was interrupted by a vision of a desert oasis surrounded by tents. "This is what the Lord wanted to do: Fill the tents of this oasis with every kind of assistance that new immigrants would need in coming back to Israel," he says.
While Shishkoff mulled over the vision, he and his family relocated to Israel from the United States. "I was 45 years old when I got here," he says. "My wife and I just sort of looked at each other, and I said, 'Maybe we'll pick oranges on a kibbutz,'" Shishkoff recalls. "I had 17 years of experience in a ministry, but we didn't assume anything."
When he shared his vision for the first time five years later, leaders of his Messianic congregation immediately blessed Shishkoff to begin his own work. Thus in 1995 began Tents of Mercy, a congregation in the Haifa area that has since planted four more ministries in northern Israel and founded an aid organization focusing on needs specific to new immigrants.
It came right in time. An immigration wave in the 1990s added 1.25 million new Israelis, mostly from the former Soviet Union, to the population-an approximate 20 percent increase. Economic and lingual challenges topped their list of troubles.
"A person, in order to come anywhere near their previous level of education, has to go through a lengthy process of mastering the language, then the culture," Shishkoff explains. "It's an incredible struggle for the new immigrant. Many of them are still sweeping streets and mopping floors after years of being here, and they came with high [academic] degrees."
In addition to contributing to city welfare funds, Tents of Mercy provides financial aid, food and clothing to new immigrants, and scholarships to retrain them for employment in Israel. In framing Tents of Mercy, Shishkoff looked to the book of Acts in order to model the original Messianic Jewish community. He has a passion to train leaders and "to equip Israel's Messianic youth to be the workers and leaders in the final harvest."
"What God is doing in Israel right now is historic," he says.
Ari and Shira Sorko-Ram
Ari Sorko-Ram's storied career includes years of acting in Hollywood, working in the Los Angeles County sheriff's office and in the National Football League, and performing military service in Israel, to name but a few endeavors.
His wife's background includes directing award-winning films, recruiting American Messianic Jews to live in Israel, working as a journalist and imbibing a rich spiritual heritage from her parents, Gordon and Freda Lindsay, who founded Christ for the Nations Institute based in Dallas.
Together, Ari and Shira Sorko-Ram put their imprint on Israel's Messianic landscape. Shira was encouraging Messianic Jews to repatriate to Israel in the 1970s when Ari, heeding the call, became one of them. "The Messianic sabras [native Israelis] at the time, well, you could count them on one hand," Ari says. "There was no Messianic Jewish movement whatsoever, and it was quite a challenge."
Within his first year in Israel, he married Shira, settled in the nation and set to work establishing a congregation that operated within a Jewish context and was conducted in Hebrew. "At that time people were worshiping on Easter, not Passover, Sunday and not Shabbat," he recalls. "If you were a believer, you weren't really connected with the Jewish biblical calendar. After several years believers began to change to a Jewish biblical calendar and expression."
In 1995, Tiferet Yeshua ("Glory of Jesus") congregation in Tel Aviv, still celebrating Jewish feasts, cut off all service translations to encourage fellowship in Hebrew. The result today is a native Israeli congregation with a Jewish brand of worship and open evangelism.
The Sorko-Rams also established I Stand With Israel, an organization that assists Jewish and Arab Israeli believers, including those persecuted for their faith. Their organization, Maoz, filled another gaping need in Israel-Hebrew books. "The only believers maturing fast were those who could read another language," Ari says. "There was a dearth of discipleship books in Hebrew."
Today there are approximately 85 discipleship and teaching books in Hebrew, including the first modern translation of the New Testament. Now, says Ari, through the efforts of many, "Messianic Judaism is on the map."