Jewish ritual celebrates Resurrection
By EILEEN SCHULTE
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 14, 2001
Every Easter morning for the past 18 years, Messianic Jews from Congregation Ohr Chadash have gathered at Philippe Park to pray and sing.
The setting, a small hill with towering oak trees that overlooks the bay, is beautiful -- and appropriate, said Rabbi John Fischer.
"Jesus did his teachings on top of a mountain and by the sea," Fischer said.
Fischer will read from Psalms and ask the 40 or 50 members of his congregation who usually attend -- and even some curious people who happen to join in -- to worship with him.
They will be observing Hag Hat'khiyah, a Messianic Jewish celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, who is known to Jews by his Hebrew name, Yeshua. According to Fischer, the 45-minute meeting stresses the Jewish significance and history of the Resurrection.
Unlike Orthodox Jews, Messianic Jews believe Jesus was the messiah, so they celebrate every holiday in the Christian and Jewish faiths, Fischer said.
They are committed to Jewish traditions, yet subscribe to biblical and historical evidence that supports the idea that Yeshua was the Jewish messiah.
"It's a celebration of Jesus in conjunction with Passover," said Fischer. "People need to realize that when Jesus was on earth, he lived as a devout, pious Jew. He lived and died as a Jew. His followers were Jews. All the writers of the New Testament were Jewish."
All Messianic Jews, Fischer said, see Easter and the Resurrection as part of Passover.
"He was dying as the first lambs were being sacrificed as a part of the Passover celebration," Fischer said.
Fischer, 54, didn't start out life as a Messianic Jew. He was born in Budapest, Hungary, as an Orthodox Jew, just like his parents, who endured the Holocaust. Several of his cousins, also Orthodox Jews, perished there. His grandfather was a kosher butcher.
When his parents brought the family to the United States in 1948, they began taking English lessons from a young woman who was a Messianic Jew, Fischer said.
"They entered into discussions with her," he said.
Eventually, they began to share her belief that Jesus was the son of God, and they became Messianic Jews.
For 18 years, Fischer, who once helped start a Messianic synagogue in Chicago, has served as rabbi at Congregation Ohr Chadash, one of only a handful of Messianic synagogues in Pinellas County. He also heads up Netzer David Yeshiva, which is run in conjunction with the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary. He teaches classes like "The Jewish Background of Gospels" there.
Fischer thinks Messianic Judaism is growing more popular. He once read that "more Jews have accepted Jesus in the last 15 years than in the last 15 centuries," and he believes it.
Messianic Jews and Gentiles who will be at Philippe Park at 10:30 a.m. Sunday for the Hag Hat'khiyah share a belief in the messiah and the God who raised him from the dead, Fischer said.
When asked about Judaism and Easter, Fischer likes to quote a Jewish scholar named Pinhas Lapide, who said in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective that "his resurrection was a Jewish affair . . . he is a dead Jew revived by the will of God."
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