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Photo by Janina Gallert
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Photo by Janina Gallert
Name of Group: Beit Schomer Israel, part of the larger Beit Sar Shalom organization Started in Berlin: 1996 Members in Berlin: ca. 250 Meetings: Saturdays (11:00 to 14:00) at Gardeschützenweg 96A, Steglitz (S-Bhf Botanischer Garten) Holy Book: the Torah and the Gospels
At first glance, the Messianic Synagogue in the quiet Berlin suburb of Steglitz looks like any ordinary modern synagogue. It has white walls, blue curtains and windows decorated with a menorah, the Star of David and Moses. In the front hall Hebrew letters read: “Remember before whom you stand.”
Inside, about 50 people have convened on this rainy Saturday. After a seven-minute silent prayer, the service reaches a climax as the nobly wrapped Torah is carried throughout the sanctuary. An ordinary Shabbat service, one might think. But this is clearly no ordinary Jewish congregation.
Some do not wear a tallit (a prayer shawl), and others do not have a kippah (a cap). The liturgy, although similar to traditional Jewish ceremonies, includes a prayer in the name of Jesus. It also includes guitar accompaniment – something unusual in a synagogue, particularly when the songs are aimed at praising the Christian savior. People stand up and sing with their palms raised towards the sky. The phrase, “Shabbat Shalom, Jesus!” can be heard among the congregants.
“We believe that Jesus is the Jewish messiah; there is no evidence in the Old Testament indicating the opposite,” says Wladimir Pikman, the leader of the congregation, joined by worshipers who identify as Jews while affirming their faith in ‘Yehoshua’, Hebrew for Jesus.
JESUS WITHOUT CHRISTMAS
To many, Jews for Jesus sounds confusing. Despite following Jesus, the Jews here do not celebrate Christmas unless they are invited to a traditional Christian home. Instead, they observe the traditional Jewish holidays, like Hanukkah, which begins this year on the first of December. The second part of today’s Shabbat service contains a sermon based on the Gospels. The preaching is in Russian, with German translation. The topic is the belief in God.
“In the beginning we had the ceremonies only in Russian,” remembers Pikman. This comes as little surprise – 80 percent of the Jewish population in Germany comes from the former Soviet Union.
PRIEST, PASTOR OR RABBI?
With a naughty twinkle in his eyes, Pikman seems to be the happiest man in the world. Born in communist-era Ukraine, he was raised as an atheist Jew. As a Zionist, his dream was to go to Israel. It was in Jerusalem in 1991 at the Wailing Wall (where else?) that he felt a strike of electricity. In an instant, he became a believer… in God, of course, since Jewish people cannot believe in Jesus. Why? The reason is very Jewish: “because Jewish people cannot believe in Jesus!”
On his return to Kiev, fierce arguments followed, upon which his old Jewish friend convinced him that Yehoshua is the Jewish messiah. Dark days of inner struggles followed: doubts gnawed at him, worries that he was making a mistake. Finally, his own personal Jesus spoke to him and sent him to minister in Germany. When asked if he considers himself a rabbi or a priest, Pikman laughs the question away: “this is something my daughters also find hard to answer every time they are asked at school”.
After surviving the three-hour ceremony, the congregation is invited to a brunch buffet, where they sit around discussing the day’s service as rain beats against the windows. As is usually the case with this crowd, the food is kosher, but the topic is Jesus.