(This post by Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz originally appeared on 365IsraelNews.com.)
An entirely unprecedented event is taking place this weekend in Florida. The modest gathering of B’ney Yosef (Sons of Joseph) could signal the beginning of a new relationship between Jews and Christians, transforming a millennium of mistrust into brotherhood and friendship.
The stated goal of the B’ney Yosef North American summit in Tampa, running from March 4 – 6, 2016, is to “to focus the efforts of awakening Ephraimites in North America toward a long-expected reunion with other Ephraimites and with Judah”. The group defines Judah as “the part of that nation which we know now as the Jewish people, which retained knowledge of its identity, and in 1948 returned to life as the State of Israel”. Ephraimites are the “non-Jewish Israelites descended spiritually from the Northern Kingdom of Israel”.
At this summit, they will choose a twelve-member Council of Elders, and a seven-member Executive Committee, based on the first-century congregation in Jerusalem composed of twelve Apostles and seven Deacons. This summit follows the First B’ney Yosef National Congress conference held last May, in which over 130 delegates from 12 nations gathered in Ariel, Israel. European Ephraimites held a similar conference in Memmingen, Germany in January with a total of 60 representatives from 10 nations, indicating that the movement is slowly gaining momentum around the world.
Breaking Israel News spoke with Albert McCarn, Interim Executive Director and nominee for Executive Council, and Pete Rambo, nominee for Operations Director, about this new phenomenon of Christians joining Israel.
“We believe that we have heard Hashem’s (God’s) call, that the time has come for Him to restore our people,” McCarn said. “It is a matter of faith, but then our mutual father Abraham operated on faith just as Moshe said, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
“The truth is, we have no proof of physical or biological heritage, and there is no hope of tracing our genealogies back to the Ten Tribes,” McCarn admitted. “But that is consistent with prophecies such as that by Hosea which says Ephraim will be assimilated among the nations.”
Throughout history, Christian relations with Jews have been overshadowed by the Church’s efforts to convert Jews and force them to accept Jesus as the Messiah. McCarn stated that this is absolutely not on their agenda, and actually contradicts their purpose.
“If by ‘proselytize’ you mean ‘leave Judaism and become Christians’, then the answer is ‘no’. We have no intent of targeting Jews, or anyone else, for conversion,” he told Breaking Israel News.
Rambo added, “I just want to walk in peace with Judah as a brother.”
In fact, their new path is challenging to their traditional Christian beliefs, and they have had to struggle with some very basic tenets of their faith.
“We have left traditional Christianity,” McCarn explained. “The Jesus we grew up knowing was the Christian Jesus, not the very Jewish Yeshua we have come to know since we embraced the Torah he taught and lived. Most churches do not understand us. In many, many cases, we have been kicked out of church, out of families, and out of communities.”
As a result, Rambo calls himself a “recovering Christian pastor”. “My denomination opened the door and sent me out after I began teaching Torah from the pulpit. Then area pastors forbade their congregants from having contact with me or my family. Those relations have been very strained for years now,” he said.
McCarn mentioned other difficulties they face from Christians. “The simple fact is that the traditional Christian has a hard time understanding how a follower of Yeshua can also follow Torah. Many think we are converting to Judaism, which is definitely not the case,” McCarn stated.
“The age-old Christian understanding is that Jesus came to free people from the Law, as Torah is called. That misunderstanding is at the root of the division between Christians and Jews; both do not realize that Yeshua kept the Torah and taught his disciples to do the same.”
Their desire to do mitzvot – or Torah commandments – is challenging to Christians but perhaps even more so to Orthodox Jews since it is the mitzvot that have made Judaism unique out of all the Abrahamic religions.
“We all observe the written mitzvot to the best our abilities. Most begin with Shabbat and the Holy Days, and then progress to eating clean, wearing tzitzit (four-corner fringed garment), and then move forward, discarding the Christianized traditions,” said McCarn.
“What Moshe received from Hashem at Sinai is the Torah of God for all mankind for all time, and it was entrusted to Israel to bring to the nations.”
McCarn understands that while he sees himself as part of the Nation of Israel, the concept of Jesus is unacceptable to the Jews he now sees as brothers.
“We cannot hide the fact that we consider Yeshua as our Messiah,” McCarn said, adding, “We also understand that our primary focus is to be about living the Torah and walking in righteousness. This is what motivates us to love and serve the people and land of Israel. Our desire is to please the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through obedient living.”
McCarn sourced both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible for his beliefs. “The gospel of Matthew records Yeshua as saying he had come for the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel, something we have come to understand as meaning a large part of his mission was to open the way for regathering the Lost Tribes of Yosef.”
He then pointed to Isaiah 56, which says that this reunion precedes the Messiah. “We believe this is directly connected to the promise of Isaiah that foreigners who join themselves to Hashem, keep Shabbat, and hold to His covenant become part of His people.”