1988: FIRST MESSIANIC JEWISH CONFERENCE IN JERUSALEM IN 1900 YEARS

Paul Wilbur Ministries

Exactly forty years after David Ben Gurion declared Israel’s independence, a group of Messianic Jewish pioneers organized a conference in Jerusalem over the Shavuot (Pentecost holiday) weekend of May 20-22, 1988.

The 40th anniversary of Israel’s independence had been celebrated a week earlier, and it seemed like this was certainly a historic moment to celebrate God’s incredible power and faithfulness to recreate the State of Israel after 1900 years.

Ari and I put our heads together with Sid Roth, now host of It’s Supernatural, and he organized a tour for 476 Messianic Jews and Christians who loved Israel. It would turn out to be the largest tour group in all Israel at that time. The first Intifada had begun five months earlier and was now in full fury. The violence was so great that even most Jewish tourists stayed away from the country—even though it was Israel’s 40th birthday!

In those days we did not yet have Internet. So, our Maoz staff scoured the country for every Messianic Jew and Christian living in Israel that we could think of, inviting them to the conference.

WHERE’S THE HOTEL?

Meanwhile, we were searching for a suitable hotel that could accommodate up to 1000 people. We went from hotel to hotel, but we came up against an incredible wall. Not a single hotel was interested in a conference of Messianic Jews. Besides, they told us, it was against the law for any hotel in Israel to use electrical equipment—like microphones and loudspeakers—on Biblical holidays. And certainly, there could be no singing (worship) with musical instruments.

May 20 was Erev Shabbat (the evening of the Sabbath, as holidays begin the evening before), May 21 was the Sabbath, and May 22 was the Biblical holiday of Shavuot. There would be no conference at any hotel. We prayed.

Someone suggested the Diplomat Hotel in the most eastern section of Jerusalem. We talked to the owner of the hotel, and he told us, “You can have all the music you want! All the speakers you want! You can do whatever you want! I don’t care what the authorities say!”

We were shocked! We soon learned that the hotel had filed for bankruptcy, and therefore the owner had enough lawsuits on his hands that, as he said, he couldn’t care less what anyone did. What’s more, the hotel had 500 rooms!

WE ACTUALLY TURNED PEOPLE AWAY!

On May 20, the hotel was full. Sadly, we had to turn some away who arrived at the last moment. And then we received news that a group of 50 Hondurans had arrived to take part in our conference! We couldn’t believe our eyes! But they said they felt they were to come and join us in this first International Messianic Jewish Conference in 1900 years!

We found a boutique hotel called the Eden Hotel, just down the street, and, if memory serves, the Hondurans were some of the overflow tourists we booked into the Eden Hotel.

Among the 472 people on Sid Roth’s tour was a group of leaders who came from the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, and yet another group from the Union of Messianic Congregations. At that time, there was quite a divide between these two largest Messianic organizations in the U.S., but we in Israel were close friends with both groups. So we were overjoyed when leaders from both organizations decided to attend.

We had an amazing variety of speakers from both the United States and Israel. Sid Roth, who is one of the most incredible witnesses to every person he meets wherever he is, inspired us with a spirit of boldness to witness to our lost people.

THE NIGHT I REMEMBER

What stands out in my mind most of all was Saturday night—the beginning of Shavuot—when Dr. Michael Brown preached a passionate message about this being the time for revival. He said that as the fire of God’s Spirit fell on the Jewish people on Pentecost in Acts 2, now again it is time for another historic Pentecost—exactly forty years after the physical rebirth of Israel.

We all began to pray, really crying out to God, many praying in tongues. Then one local leader stood up and began to shout about tongues being no longer for this age, and left with a number of others. A hush came over the people, and then an oppressive atmosphere. Obviously, we were not in unity.

But again, we began to pray—hour after hour—until 3:30 in the morning! Hundreds of us. Clearly, a powerful anointing fell on those who stayed and were pushing through in the Spirit. But, to be truthful, there was not any notable physical sign that night. Nevertheless, we who stayed felt we had somehow touched heaven. Seriously.

After the conference, one brother who basically tended to be critical—especially when it came to gifts of the Spirit—said to me, “You know what the best thing about this conference was?” I said, “What?” He said, “That it happened.”

In truth, I would agree that the fact it actually happened is a miracle. And perhaps most meaningful to the future of the Messianic Jewish movement was that it was a meeting place for the start of reconciliation between some important groups and individuals, and ultimately, organizations.

It is also true many observed a change in the openness to the Good News in Israel, as Sid Roth’s tour group witnessed wherever they went. And for months after the conference, there were people receiving salvation in every single service of our own congregation in our town of Ramat HaSharon. I remember a large U.S. ministry sent someone to our congregation to see if what we were saying was actually true! And they sent back word—it was true. Israelis were coming to faith in every service.

“Shavuot 88” conference with 1200 attendees. Dr. Michael Brown speaks on the Holy Spirit.

STUNNING DEVELOPMENT

But I must admit, I haven’t thought about that conference in a long time. A lot has happened in these thirty years. Now there is a whole new generation of strong, talented and committed young Israeli believers. So why write about this now? I am so glad you asked!

In May of this year, all of Israel’s media concentrated on the new U.S. Embassy that was going to be moved to Jerusalem on May 14, 2018, the 70th year of Israel’s independence. As the TV news covered the story about a small attractive building that would become a temporary Jerusalem embassy, the reporter went on to say that the U.S. administration had purchased a couple of buildings nearby for added space. The camera scanned over to a large building a few hundred feet away. It was the old Diplomat Hotel that the U.S. had purchased! We were more than stunned!

The explanation was that they would use that building—for now—as an extension of the embassy. They are considering in the future tearing down the Diplomat Hotel and building a large modern structure in its place. (Incidentally, the Diplomat Hotel was built exactly on the 1949 Armistice line, and the Palestinians are saying that the land belongs to them, even though Israel has been using it since 1949. They are being ignored.)

But that’s not all!!

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THE EDEN HOTEL

The Israeli reporters continued by saying that the U.S. had purchased a little boutique hotel by the name of the Eden Hotel, down the street. If my memory serves me, we put the overflow crowd including some of the Hondurans in that hotel! And guess who is the third country which is moving their embassy to Jerusalem—Honduras!

Could our prayers have had anything to do with God’s purposes to restore the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by the United States? Could God have placed the Hondurans in that hotel? Just so you know, Hondurans know how to pray! I, for one, believe God orchestrated that entire conference—in spite of all the weaknesses and tiny size of the Messianic movement in 1988.

One more observation: Is this a political statement I am making? Absolutely not. God Himself promised the land of Israel to His Jewish people—hundreds of times. He promised Jerusalem would be the city where the King of the Jews dwells when He returns to earth. Over 200 times, God calls Himself the God of Israel. Throughout the Bible it is He who says that in the last days He would bring his people back to the Land of Israel and to the God of Israel.

Seventy years ago on May 14, President Harry Truman recognized Israel as the Jewish state. This year on May 14, President Donald Truman recognized Jerusalem as the capital of this Jewish state. It’s in the Bible!


Left: Welcome banner at entrance of Diplomat Hotel. Right: Diplomat hotel today, purchased by President Trump’s administration as part of the new American Embassy in Jerusalem.

DO YOU KNOW THESE GREAT PIONEERS OF THE MESSIANIC MOVEMENT?

Those of you who are involved in the Messianic Jewish movement will recognize many of the real giants of the faith in this movement who attended the 1988 Shavuot conference. Just some from the MJAA: David and Joel Chernoff, Manny and Sandra Brotman, Paul Liberman, Jonathan Bernis, Dotti Solomon, and the first Messianic musical group Lamb, all of whom pioneered the establishment of the Messianic Jewish movement in the twentieth century.

Likewise from the Union came luminaries like Dan Juster, Rich Nichols, Eitan Shishkoff with daughter Hannah (who first met other young believing Israelis, and soon decided to make aliyah with her parents), the marvelous Israel’s Hope with Paul Wilbur, Marc Chopinsky and Rene Bloch. Some from both organizations have gone on to be with the Lord, while the rest are still highly respected “movers and shakers” in the Messianic movement.

In Israel, we, too, had our own pioneers in attendance. Just about every Messianic Jewish leader and lay person in the country was there, along with Arab Israeli Christian pastors. Several hundred Christians living and serving God in Israel also attended.

Just a few of the Israeli pioneers in attendance I can remember are Peter Tsukahira and wife Rita, who have taught throughout Asia God’s purposes for Israel; David and Martha Stern of the ground-breaking Complete Jewish Bible. There was David Loden, the father of Israel’s Messianic music, and his wife Lisa; Israel Harel, who together with Arab brothers, travels in Arab countries preaching the Gospel to Muslims; Arieh Bar David from one of the very first Messianic families in Israel’s modern history. So many more—Rami and Gabriela Danieli, Tom Hess, the opera singer Etti Horesh—all born with a purpose to breathe life into the people of Israel.

Danny Yahav, an IDF major (now in the reserve) and leader of one of the largest congregations in the country; Barry and Batya Segal, of the Millennium Center in Modi’in who spoke about making aliya (immigration) to Israel, and for years after that, immigrants told how that conference set their faces towards Zion. Each one of these local Israelis has done spectacular works of God, in obedience to their own callings.

There were still other “giants” at the conference: Lance Lambert, a great prophetic voice; Yacov Damkani, Israel’s evangelist; Ray and Sharon Sanders of Christian Friends of Israel and Halvor Ronnig, the world-renowned scholar of the Jerusalem Center for Bible Translators. There is not enough space to mention each of the great pioneers who were there!

It is all these who began with a tiny flickering light to NOW see a multitude of Jewish believers around the world laying the foundation for God’s second part of His promise after Israel’s return to her Land. That promise—“All Israel Shall Be Saved!”


Lamb concert with Joel Chernoff (right) and Rick Coghill

A NOTE FROM DR. MICHAEL BROWN

A conflict arose at the conference when Michael Brown preached that this 40th anniversary was the time for another Acts 2 outpouring of God’s Spirit. While many experienced a deep spiritual revitalization, others viewed the evening from a conservative theological background.  Dr. Brown sent us a letter recounting his personal experiences from the conference.

A Note from Dr. Michael Brown

Months before the conference, God spoke to me that I would be bringing one of the keynote messages, which seemed highly unlikely at that point, given that other, more senior speakers would be there. Then, He called me to a 21-day fast—water only. I was desperate to see God’s glory in the Land!

The Saturday night I spoke, about 700 believers stayed until 3:30 A.M. praying for the fire to fall, and many had deep encounters with God. (Over the years, I met people who were there that night, and they told me what happened to them personally.)

Ari said it was the greatest outpouring in the modern history of Israel—and many testified to the spiritual atmosphere being changed on the streets when they were sharing their faith the next day. The Lord met us!

But He also used that time to purge me deeply, revealing pride and flesh in my life. He told me that, like Yeshua, I would die in Jerusalem at the age of 33, which happened in a profound spiritual way—and so I can attest firsthand that the fire of God fell that night. It certainly fell on me!

You, Ari and Shira were a great help to me at that time as we talked through the events of the conference and my message.

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