Police and sappers were once again dispatched to Ariel’s IDF Street during the Purim holiday Friday morning. A few minutes earlier, a man had knocked on the door of the Leibovitz family home and left a cardboard box with the boy who answered the door. “It’s mishloach manot, a Purim gift basket,” explained the visitor before disappearing.
The boy and his older brother trembled with fear. Their parents, who were out of town, ordered the boys by phone to get away from the package and call the police. In another residential building, 50 meters away, a bomb planted in a Purim gift basket had exploded the day before.
“This is not hysteria; it is alertness,” police told the two boys after they finally opened the box to reveal candy and other treats from the ultra-Orthodox Chabad movement in honor of the holiday.
This is only one example of the tension that has gripped city residents after the booby-trapped gift basket injured a boy on Thursday. Those who were most frightened were members of a tiny, almost secretive community that operates in that Ariel building, among other sites in Israel; the “Messianic Jews.” The group had experienced occasional harassment in the form of hostile fliers and demonstrations against Christian missionary groups. But the police investigation into the explosion indicates that they now must also fear religious-based terror.
While sappers dismantled the Chabad package in the neighboring building, several members of the Messianic Jewish community were cleaning up the apartment where the bomb had gone off a day earlier: shattered windows, a splintered dining room table, holes in the walls and the ceiling, and dried blood stains. They refused to speak to the press, and only one person agreed, despite his friends’ protests, to permit Haaretz to enter the scene of a crime motivated by untold loathing.
“The same people who hounded that family might find me tomorrow,” one man said, describing his fear and reluctance to be identified. He comes to this home weekly to meet and pray with about 20 other men and women. Most are from the United States, but some are from the former Soviet Union and others, like the man who spoke to us, are native Israelis. He said he was a member of several religious cults before he “saw the light” while reading the New Testament seven years ago.
Only half of the local community is from Ariel, he said, adding that there are a few thousand Messianic Jews in Israel who “believe in the Torah of Israel and the God of Israel, and that Jesus, who was a Jew, had no intention of creating a new religion. We accept Jesus as the Messiah. We accept the Old Testament and the New Testament as its continuation.”
The parents of the boy who was wounded in the explosion immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return; as Jews; before they founded the congregation in Ariel. The congregation meets weekly on the two upper floors of a typical residential building. But surveillance cameras, installed two years ago after antagonistic fliers were distributed in the area, bear witness to the threat the members feel. The family that received the bomb in a gift basket lives in one wing of the complex. Another wing, which has a wooden floor, plastic chairs and tables, and locked shutters, is dedicated to the group’s weekly meetings. A wall hanging embroidered with the phrase “Peace in Israel” is flanked by a bulletin board and a schedule of events.
“The events that take place here are not underground; it’s an open thing,” the speaker explained.
Is it a mission?
“That depends on the nature of the people involved. Some tend to tell others about their beliefs, and others don’t. I think it’s very positive to tell, but I can’t persuade you to accept our belief. This is an intimate, family place.”
“As a congregation, it was nice to remain anonymous until now. But here you can see how many people hate and fear us,” he said. “We are not a cult. We see ourselves as law-observing Jews and Israelis. One of our most important values is loyalty to the state of Israel, obeying the law and serving in the army. Many congregation members, including the brother of the boy who was hurt, serve in elite combat units.”
The Ariel congregation had intended to celebrate Purim on Saturday, the day of their weekly meeting. Instead, they held a prayer service at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center, where the wounded boy is hospitalized. “People from other congregations came and brought food. We sang and prayed together. While this is very difficult and unpleasant, hardships strengthen and unite people. It strengthens the parents to continue fearlessly. We told them that hate is vanquished by love.”