Ex-gangster’s amazing story screened in Israeli cinemas
The spiritual restoration of the Jewish people, for which evangelical Christians have been praying for centuries, has taken a decisive step forward, in my view.
And the timing could not have been more apt – with Israel’s imminent 70th anniversary, now expected to be accompanied by the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem along with the visit of Prince William, marking a watershed in their physical restoration.
As we learn from anecdotal evidence, and from a recent survey which found that 20% of Jewish millennials believe Jesus is the Son of God1, it is quite clear that the new generation of Jews are taking Jesus seriously and are open as never before to claims of his being their Messiah.
They are now responding in droves to hi-tech evangelistic efforts from within their own state, with an organization called One for Israel (among others) reportedly making huge strides in reaching their people – their website is filled with testimonies of Jews who are now following Yeshua, and their various videos have attracted a staggering 55 million views, 15 million of them from Israelis!2
Indeed, Jesus is even now the focus of an award-winning Israeli movie! Sadly, I understand it has met with failure at the box office and been pulled from theatres after just two weeks. It nevertheless represents a major shift as, for the first time in the history of modern Israel, a faith-based film on Yeshua the Messiah has been produced and premiered in the land.
A New Spirit was first shown in December 2017 at the famous Tel Aviv Cinematheque to an audience of hundreds of enthusiastic moviegoers. Billboards and posters advertising the film were also plastered on the streets of Jerusalem and surrounding cities.
It tells the story of former gangster Yacov Damkani, who fled to America where he was introduced to Yeshua as his Messiah and discipled in singer Keith Green’s community. His life was turned completely upside down and, three years ago, his testimony came to the attention of acclaimed film-maker Doron Eran while producing a documentary on the Messianic community. Doron felt it had the makings of a Hollywood movie, as he shared with Shira Sorko-Ram (as featured in February’s Maoz Israel Report).
He did not, however, anticipate the controversial nature of his subject – he has since been accused of being a missionary and betraying his people. He does admit to being a “student” (of the New Testament) and the actors have clearly also been impacted.
Imri Biton, who plays the lead, responds to criticism by saying: “Look what Yeshua did for Yacov. He was a gangster. When he believed in Yeshua, he became a new person. These Messianic Jews are telling their own truth. As a professional actor, I can join them.”
Doron believes the government has unwisely allowed the Haredim (Ultra-Orthodox) to take control of the nation’s soul. “It is a religious dictatorship,” he says. “They are brainwashing our nation.”
He knew nothing of Yeshua before he met Yacov. “I didn’t know that he lived as a Jew and died as a Jew. I was told he was a Christian…”
Yes, it is tragic that both religious Jews and their Christian counterparts (who believe more in form than faith) have conspired to spread such misinformation.
The inspiration for the movie, Yacov’s book Why Me? has been distributed free of charge to young Israeli tourists in New Zealand for the past 16 years as part of a programme called HIT (Hosting Israeli Travellers) which encourages Christians to host young Jewish tourists at little or no cost. HIT has now been extended to Australia and several other countries.
Commenting on the poor box office take-up, a Jewish friend explained: “I am not surprised Israelis didn’t venture into theatres showing a movie that would have been anathema to their parents and society in general. The audience for this movie would have been largely young people who would have been greatly influenced by comments from parents and other relatives the pre-advertising would have provoked. I believe it will have a greater market audience outside of Israel, even with subtitles, and many Israelis might later watch it in private. I know Israel is the only place where I have experienced feeling intimidated. And as soon as my friends knew I believed in Jesus, I was no longer welcome in their homes, nor would they speak to me. It is okay to be a Gentile believer, but a Jewish believer is looked upon as a traitor. For the movie, I believe that if they will put it up for free on YouTube, asking for donations only to cover production costs, it might still make an impact.”
Many Old Testament prophecies speak of a twofold return of God’s chosen race – first to the land and then to their Lord. The first stage, though far from complete, has been witnessed before the eyes of the world as exiled Jews from every corner of the globe have resettled in Israel, especially since the rebirth of the modern state 70 years ago.
The second stage began, significantly, around the time of the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War of 1967 as so-called Messianics recognized that Yeshua was indeed their Messiah and started meeting together in congregations all over the country. The movement has since grown substantially and they have made an impact on the nation out of all proportion to their still relatively low numbers.
Even some Arabs are recognizing what is happening. Saleem Shalash, an Arab pastor in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth, is reported as saying: “The Bible says God will bring the tribes of Israel back together in this place, and suddenly revival will spring from here.”3
Indeed, the small spring in the desert that bubbled up around 50 years ago is threatening to turn into a fast-flowing stream. The prophet Zechariah, quoting the Lord and speaking of things to come with respect to the Messiah’s reign, wrote: “I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.” (Zechariah 3.9) This suggests a sudden large-scale awakening.
Surely we are not far from that blessed day when they look upon the One they have pierced (Zech 12.10) and welcome him back in the name of the Lord (Matthew 23.39). Certainly, it seems that many will have already looked upon the transforming Spirit of Yeshua depicted on screen (whether online or at the movies) – perhaps a foretaste of greater things to come!
1 A Jews for Jesus survey featured in the Jerusalem Post, 1 November 2017. The study surveyed 599 Jews born between 1984 and 1999.
2 This figure includes only Facebook and YouTube views, not TV etc (Source: One for Israel) 3Israel Today magazine, December 2017