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Group founds a Jewish synagogue in Ozona Community

The last place a person might think of finding a Jewish synagogue is in this community,  where it is surrounded by Pentecostal and Baptist churches, but there’s one on Terry Lane. It’s a Messianic synagogue whose members believe, like Christians, that Jesus is the Son of God, or that he is the long-looked-for Jewish Messiah. They call Jesus his Hebrew name, Yeshua.

Ozona Community is about five miles north of Picayune on U.S. Highway 11, and the head of the synagogue, Dirk van Iterson, says that the first time he visited the church and property, which he bought from Pentecostal minister Edward Pullens, “I felt a presence of God, and I said to my friend who was with me, ‘This is Holy Ground on which we will establish our synagogue’.”

Although the congregation is small, they hold Jewish services each Saturday. Services begin at 11 a.m. They observe the Jewish Sabbath, or “Shabbat,” on Saturday.

The congregation actually began before Katrina in the First Baptist Church of Slidell, La., and after Katrina, moved to a church in Abita Springs, La. About three years ago, the congregation purchased the church site here. Many Messianic Jewish congregations either meet in or were started in Baptist churches, says Iterson.

The congregation calls itself the “Beyt Kol Yisrael,” or the “House of All Israel.” The members welcome Christians to their services, and indicate that, as Messianic Jews, they are closer to the first-century followers of Yeshua than the manner in which traditional Christians view first-century Christians. “Yeshua (Jesus) was a practicing Jew and fulfilled, did not destroy, the law,” said Iterson.

Pullens had a large, arching sign over the front door of the church reading, “The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ,” the Pentecostal designation of a church, and Iterson told Pullens he would leave it up. “We view those words as being true and appropriate over the entrance to the synagogue,” he said. “While our congregation is ‘Beyt Kol Yisrael,’ our building is ‘The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ’.

“After all, the first-century Christians were actually Jewish followers of Christ, and Paul was sent to the Gentiles, who were grafted into the Jewish line,” said Iterson, 58, who works in software support for a radiation oncology company in Slidell.

He believes that the Bible prophesies the appearance of Christ in the End Times, when the times of the Gentiles end, and there will be a movement just like the Messianic Jewish movement when the Jewish and Christian lines will be merged  into one people and will end up in Jerusalem to meet Christ in his Second Coming.

He says Messianic Jewry is the fastest growing segment of all Jewish movements. There are now an estimated 6,000 Messianic Jews living as citizens in the State of Israel. When Israel was founded in 1948, there were only an estimated 100 in the Jewish state.

The Messianic Jewish movement is not a denomination, says Iterson. “It’s more like a movement,” he says. Each synagogue is independent. The movement re-emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, and now Messianic Jewish believers can apply and be accepted as citizens of Israel, following a recent Israeli Supreme Court ruling.

Iterson was reared a Roman Catholic, left the church, became a practicing pagan and agnostic, joined the Seventh Day Adventist movement because they celebrated Saturday as the Sabbath, discovered he was half Jewish and then discovered the Messianic movement. He walked into a Messianic synagogue in Las Vegas and the music and ceremonies sent chills up and down his spine. “I knew I had come home,” he said of the experience. He went home and told his wife he had found what he had been searching for all his life.

“What you find out,” says Iterson, “is that if you come at Christianity from the Messianic Jewish viewpoint, you understand what happened much better, and things pop into proper relationship, and a light bulb goes off in your head, and you say to yourself, ‘Well, this is what really happened’.”

Iterson is the son of a Dutch military attaché to the Dutch embassy in Ottawa, Canada. He was born in Canada. His father was recalled to Holland, but later became an American citizen and moved the family to Fresno, Calif., in 1958.

Iterson describes a typical service as beginning with hymn singing and readings in first Hebrew, then English. It’s Jewish praise and worship with original Hebrew praise verses from the Bible. Then there is a preaching service, more like a teaching service, says Iterson, who is officially known as the Torah teacher. He taught himself the Hebrew language. It’s a very difficult language and reads from right-to-left rather than left-to-right like English.

He says Yeshua (Jesus Christ) attended and preached in Jewish synagogues his entire life and ministry. Yeshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus, the English version. Christ is the Greek name for Jesus, meaning king.

Jesus never heard himself called Jesus during his lifetime. He heard only Yeshua, Hebrew for “The Lord is Our Salvation.” When missionaries came to convert England about 500 A.D., they used the word Yesu, which later became the English version Jesus.

“No one will ever take over the Jewish nation. Israel will win,” said Iterson.

“The last thing that the prophet Malachi says in the Old Testament is that there will be a return to the book of Moses, the Torah, and the statutes and ordinances therein before the great and terrible Day of the Lord. That has not happened yet. It’s in the book of Revelation. . .And I firmly believe that the movement of Messianic Judaism is bringing the Christians and Jews together where they can keep Torah,” says Iterson.

“The Jews will one day realize that Yeshua is Messiah, and we are part of that movement,” said Iterson.

There are an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Messianic Jews in the United States, one source said. Iterson said the local synagogue is independent. “There are several organizations in the movement, like the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, but we are independent as a congregation,” he said.

Iterson said that the synagogue does not have a formal membership. He said nothing is required of a Christian wanting to join their fellowship, other than he or she is encouraged to experience baptism or re-baptism, which requires immersion.

He said the synagogue does not require a tithe. “We have a little collection box in the front entrance, and you just drop in what Yeshua leads you to give,” he said. “We support a lot of flights to Jerusalem, and we support a lot of orphanages in Jerusalem.”

“We observe all the Biblical festivals. In fact, Passover is coming up in April,” said Iterson.

“We believe Yeshua will return very soon,” he added.

Messianic Judaism is an End Time revival movement, a spiritual awakening of God’s chosen people, and the first fruits of Israel’s salvation, or spiritual restoration, said Iterson.