Raising Yeshua-Followers in the West Bank
"It's ironic, but I feel that my kids are safer here than living in the U.S.," said Ariella B. I met Ariella nearly two decades ago when we were attending the same Chicago-area congregation. Recently I had a chance to visit her on a recent trip to Israel. She is now a vivacious 40-something wife and mother of four elementary-aged children living in the West Bank.
"Safe" is probably not the word that comes to mind when most of us think about raising a family in a Jewish settlement on the far side of the Green Line. But Ariella insists that her family's rhythms would be familiar to most American parents: school activities, piano lessons, chores and outings shape their day-to-day life.
"We don't have too many fears of child abduction or mugging. There are the usual safety measures - areas you know to stay away from, and where pickpockets are in the Old City. But normally, kids stay out late here with no problem. Everyone here is required to serve in the army, so everyone knows how to take care."
Ariella, who emigrated to Israel from the U.S. nearly 15 years ago, is a Messianic Jew. "Our town of about 40,000 is a short distance from Jerusalem. Most living here hold to some form of religious Zionism, otherwise they would not feel comfortable living here.
"When I was 13 and had my Bat Mitzvah - my coming of age ceremony - the Torah portion for that week was Ezekiel 36:24-39. This set of verses turned out to have incredible impact for me in my 20s as I came to faith in Yeshua (Jesus), and again a few years later when I became part of the community of returning exiles." She married another Jewish believer she met after moving to Israel.
Though the number of believing Israelis is growing (current estimates place the Israeli Messianic population at around 10,000 out of a population of more than 7 million), Ariella and her family have long been accustomed to living as a sometimes-persecuted minority in the country. They attend a small Hebrew-language Messianic congregation, but have friends in many other congregations as well. This network of relationships provides support as they live their lives among those who don't share their faith in the Messiah.
"We have a lot in common in terms of morals and lifestyle with our neighbors," Ariella noted. "My husband and I believe God brought our family to this community. The move here was attractive as well because rents are sky-high in Jerusalem. We can afford to live here."
There is a cost to that affordability: bars on every window of their one-story home, an armed security guard at the entrance to her community, and the gauntlet of checkpoints, concrete barriers, armed soldiers, and United Nations monitors, all ever-present reminders of the tensions that exist in her region of the world.
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