Back in October 2009, Jewish Israel covered the Waller family and their grape harvesting expeditions in Samaria. At that time, we reported that this wholesome, hardworking, devout and truly nice family had a messianic missionary agenda, considered Israel to be part of their inheritance, and were determined to break down the theological barriers between the Christian and Jewish communities. Well, things have intensified and deteriorated since then.
The Passion of christ
The Wallers have trashed their old web presence and now have a relatively gospel-free site at Hayovel.com. However they and their harvesters continue to share jesus and express an ever-more overt and fervent Christian end times message via YouTube, Facebook, blog sites, video productions, documentaries and newsletters.
Hayovel's original vision and mission can be viewed in this clip:
"…for us sharing the gospel is not only verbal, it has an action to it. It's based on relationships. As we're working with these people [the Jews], we'll be able to share with them this Jesus,that we know… Our family has begun a ministry called Hayovel. The vision of Hayovel is to develop a network of individuals, families and congregations who are ready to labor side by side with the people of Israel. To bless them, to stand with them, to share with them a passion for the soon coming jubilee in yeshua messiah."
In his most recent newsletter of January 10th 2011, Tommy Waller turned up the heat and issued an impassioned call for volunteers to help plant, prune and harvest the mountains of Israel in preparation for the "great restoration wedding feast" to take place in Jerusalem between Jesus the groom and his "people/bride". Because, according to Tommy, "Yeshua will not come to a wedding without wine!"(Stop the wine presses! This is one wedding the nation of Israel will pass up.)
It's important to remember that the very Christian Waller clan identifies itself as messianic. They worship with and are supportive of the very missionary "messianic" community in Israel. As intriguing and endearing as the Wallers’ use of Jewish symbolism may be, it's all about Jesus.
Despite their push towards a Christian restoration in Israel, the Wallers have, for the most part, taken a soft-sell, rather than aggressive approach, towards evangelizing Jews. While there is talk among the Waller family and their harvesting volunteers about the new testament concept of "provoking the Jew to jealousy", Tommy Waller frequently writes and speaks about being humble and encourages "all of those within the Christian community to walk in humility and to not get caught up in arrogant rhetoric that can flow in and out of our 'religious boxes'." In Hayovel's promotional pieces, Waller downplays the "vocal message" as something that can't "be yelled from the mountain tops". Others report that "Tommy said they go to Israel and they SHUT UP…He lets Yeshua introduce himself – His way."
However, the Wallers are neither camera shy nor silent. These humble folk are media hounds who frequently perform for the Christian and Israeli press and, beyond YouTube, have some polished video productions of their own.
Anti-Semitic Grapes of Wrath
One could very well get the impression that this moral and devoutly Christian family has chosen to share with the world their evolving theology and journey as they try to serve the Jewish people and see where they fit in to the prophetic scheme of things. So it was surprising, even for the Jewish Israel staff, to see the Waller family featured as active participants in a bombastic documentary that, from its current website promotion, can only be described as a work of classical Christian anti-Semitism.
The video previews of "Restoration", an award-winning Korean-produced documentary, are as chilling as the promotion. Excerpt:
"There are about 5 million people in Israel, and approximately 10% of them follow strict Jewish regulations and traditions. They are called Orthodox Jews or a religious people. Those people not only deny Jesus as the son of God, but also persecute Jewish people who believe in Jesus."
Not surprisingly, the film's acknowledgements read like a comprehensive guide to "who's who in the messianic missionary world". This film gives us an unadulterated and disturbing glimpse into the Christian world view of messianic restoration and blood libel.
Not only is the Waller family featured on the film's posters, which made the rounds at the Cannes and Monaco Film festivals, but their major role in the film's previews are mixed with scenes of in-your-face street proselytizing directed at Jews.
The Wallers’ role in this documentary is no fluke that the wholesome and humble harvesters inadvertently danced into. One member of the Waller's harvesting team plays the role of the housekeeper in a reenactment of the bombing which severely wounded Ami Ortiz, the son of Missionary Pastor David Ortiz. [Note: The Waller family is close with the Ortiz family and worships with their messianic congregation in Ariel].According to messianic bloggers, the Wallers appear in another documentary produced by the same film company, involving David Ortiz and his missionary activities.
Time to switch drinking buddies?
While there is nothing halachically wrong with utilizing non-Jewish volunteers to assist in grape harvesting, those Jews in Judea and Shomron who are encouraging the Wallers should ask themselves some sobering questions :
1) Is it appropriate to use workers who are directly affiliated with and actively supportive of messianic missionaries who actively target Jews in Israel for conversion?
2) Is it right to accept the services of volunteers who are prominently featured in at least one celebrated documentary with anti-Semitic and missionary content?
3) What are the spiritual and halachic ramifications involved in encouraging and arousing the Wallers’ inordinate, passionate, and Christian theological attachment to the land of Israel?
4) Should Jewish farmers, activists and community leaders allow themselves to be photographed, filmed and used in Christian media productions that could have a missionary or overtly Christian message?
Jewish Israelis can choose to work with people who are on fire for Jesus , but by encouraging manifestly messianic Christian labor and their attachment to the land, the Jews of Judea and Shomron should not, G-d forbid, indirectly facilitate in the destruction of Jewish souls.
The Jews are Dependent on Us
Taking his cue from Jewish famers and vintners, Tommy Waller's recent video appearances and newsletters place an emphasis on Jewish dependency on Christian labor. Here are several relevant quotations:
· “It's very simple, without the work of these friends it would be impossible for us to harvest so many vineyards” ---Jewish vineyard owner in Hayovel film
· “I deeply believe G-d sent you here…I really don't know how I could finish picking those grapes on time” ---Jewish vineyard owner in HaYovel film, "the dance"
· “Israelis are saying, 'If you don't come, we're in trouble. If you don't
come, these vines don't get harvested.'” – Tommy Waller in the video "Christians Harvest Jewish Grapes", Acts News Network
· "A vineyard owner told Tommy a few days ago that the vineyards are now DEPENDENT on help from HaYovel - that they are COUNTING on us". ---Hayovel October 2010 Newsletter
· "The vineyard owners have become dependent on us to help…" ---Tommy Waller, Hayovel Newsletter, January 2011
Last summer this writer unexpectedly met Tommy Waller in a friend's store in the Old City of Jerusalem. Waller's a very nice guy and the meeting was polite, but I gave him more than an earful about those who try and share their belief in Jesus with Jews in Israel. Waller gave his version of why he does what he does and why devout Christian volunteers, who are attached to their bible and the land of Israel, are preferable to Thailandese laborers. My initial, but unexpressed thought at the time was, "at least the Thai workers do their work and leave the country when they're finished, without laying claim to any spiritual or physical inheritance to the land of Israel."
In lieu of the new and disturbing information disclosed in this report and the apparent dearth of Jewish labor, Jewish Israel decided to ask a sampling of Jewish farmers if they a) used laborers from Thailand, b) were satisfied and c) would switch their Thai workers for devout Christian volunteers.
We received some very honest and thoughtful replies.
Anita Tucker, who serves on the board of Jewish Israel as Community Affairs Advisor, is a pioneer and leader of the Gush Katif settlement and agricultural enterprise. She had this to say regarding her experiences with Thai workers in Israel: "All [the Thais] were respectful people towards the land and towards those they worked for and worked with, and only wanted to make money to send back to their families."
Dr. Ari Levine, from a moshav in the Southern Golan Heights, grows organic grapes which are used in production at the Golan Heights Winery. Levine told us that he and his partner harvest the grapes mechanically and that they retain a couple of Thai workers who oversee the work and machinery. Dr. Levine said that his laborers work hard and are dedicated and nice to their Jewish employers. He mentioned that he thought Jewish employers might want to consider treating their Thai workers a bit better. He felt that use of pious Christian laborers could be problematic because, like Arabs, they claim an attachment to the land.
The Schreiber Family are dairy farmers on a moshav in the Southern Golan Heights. They are "very satisfied" with their Thai workers who the Schreibers described as being "respectful, hard-working and private". Zahava Schreiber mentioned that some of the volunteers previously used by the moshav had to have scheduled activities and be entertained by the community. This would, at times, be a burden for busy moshav farmers, whereas the Thai workers keep to themselves and form their own independent and private social circle.
A Jewish farmhand who plants and maintains olive trees for a moshav in the Southern Golan Heights expressed utter amazement at how respectfully the Thai workers treat the land and the trees that they plant and care for. He called them "hard-working, helpful and fun to work with". When asked about Christian labor, he replied, "they may want a piece of who we are and what we have.”
A Jewish tractor driver and fruit harvester on a kibbutz in the Golan Heights said:
"I've worked with Jews, Druze, Arab, Bedouin and Thai workers. I don't care how much someone loves this land or their bible! No one can work as hard, as quick or as efficiently as a worker from Thailand."
Getting back to grapes, we asked Rabbi Sholom Aronson, the Kashrut supervisor of the Golan Heights Winery (he is also in charge of the tourist center for the winery), about the use of machinery to harvest grapes. Rabbi Aronson said that the overwhelming majority of the high quality, award winning wines produced in the Golan are made from grapes that were picked mechanically. He acknowledged that certain exclusive boutique wineries, producing premium wines or champagnes, may still rely on hand-picked grapes, because the machinery can bruise the clusters. He said that the older vineyards in the Shomron require handpicking because, in order for mechanization to work, the vineyards have to be preplanned for mechanization. However, it was his understanding that the newer vineyards in the Shomron have all been planned for mechanized harvesting. Rabbi Aronson emphasized that it is important to remember that timing and efficiency is a major factor in wine production, because you don't want the grapes to start fermenting. Overall, Rabbi Aronson said the Golan vintners were pleased with the mechanization process and that it seemed to be the future, even for finest of wines.
So it appears that there are indeed very viable alternatives to dependency on fervent Christian fundamentalist labor. Those Jewish farmers who choose to throw caution to the wind and continue their relationship with the Waller family should lay down the law and some ground rules. They should at a minimum tell the Wallers to choose between working on anti-Jewish propaganda to be presented at international film festivals, or earnest work on the mountains of Samaria. The Wallers need to be made to choose between their promoting a proselytizing messianic Christian community in Israel, or accepting and respecting our Jewish obligation to keep the nation of Israel a clear distance from Christian beliefs. It really can't be both.
"You have made Your people to see hard things; You have made us to drink the wine of staggering" (Tehillim 60:5)
(hat tip to Geula Girl for contributing information for this article)