Trial Brings Light to Treatment of Messianic Jews

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BEERSHEVA, Israel - A long-awaited trial is underway in Israel.

In 2005, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox protestors invaded a Messianic Jewish congregation, overturned furniture and harassed the members for hours.  

Now, the congregation is suing the chief rabbi of the town and a powerful anti-missionary organization for their alleged involvement in the fracas.

Congregation Nachalat Yeshua (Yeshua's Inheritance) in Beersheva planned a special baptismal service on Christmas eve in 2005, which that year coincided with the first night of Hanukkah (the Festival of Lights).

But before the celebration ever got underway, nearly 1,000 violent protestors, who opposed their faith in Yeshua (Jesus), invaded the premises.

"Christmas Eve in 2005, my wife and I and three sons came to the congregation in the morning and we saw many ultra-Orthodox people outside, and there were even more inside. They had already taken over the congregational time," said Michael Cederburg, a member of Nachalat Yeshua.  

Chairs were thrown and people knocked around as hundreds of protestors sang, danced and rioted. Despite a heavy police presence, the trouble continued for three hours. Cederburg's son captured some of the events on camera.

"People were trying to take the camera from his hand. It was a violent demonstration," he said.  "I was standing in the back next to the door here and my son and I and somebody came out of the crowd, a big guy and said 'I hate you, I hate you, go to Gaza' and he hauled off and hit me across the face and I was just stunned. Things like that happened that day," Cederberg said.

Pastor Howard Bass spent the time trying to calm and protect his congregants, but he also came under attack. 

"I was standing by the baptismal surrounded by these religious protestors and they kind of picked up and pushed me into the pool. Thankfully, I landed feet first and avoided all the other things they'd already thrown in [there]," he recalled.

But what came next upset Bass even more.  He says the chief sephardic rabbi of Beersheva, Rabbi Yehuda Deri, arrived at the scene and police turned over two of the handcuffed protesters to him without asking Bass if he wanted to press charges.

"They just said it was a police matter," he said. "But this is sort of the feeling we have as believers here in the country - that we have no voice when it comes to the legal system."

When the chief rabbi tried to whitewash the 2005 incident in a radio interview the next day, Bass said he felt something needed to be done. After much prayer and consultation with other Messianic leaders throughout Israel, they decided to go to court.

"We had a right to do what we were doing, which was to assemble together to worship our God, and what they were did was illegal," Bass said. 

"The police even admitted that the demonstration was illegal and they did other illegal acts and of course this is what we're trying to prove in the courts," he said.

The second day of the trial took place on Sunday, June 21. An additional hearing is scheduled to take place in November, with a verdict expected by the end of the year.

"It's not against Israel. It's not against the Jewish people. It's not to be taken by anybody to use it that way, but we do want the truth of Yeshua to be brought forward," Bass said. 

"We're not ashamed and [we're] hopeful that God by His own righteousness will do what He has to do in the verdict to accomplish His purposes, even more than we understand," he said.

"Whether it goes in our favor [or] against us, we don't know, but we want God's purposes to be fullfilled," Bass said.

*Originally aired June 22, 2009.

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