Israel Harel

Israel Harel

Israel Harel

Four days before the end of the school year-I was fifteen and in the tenth grade-I decided that I had had enough of the orderly and hypocritical world that I was living in. I would leave school and parents and go out on my own into the wide world to live as a hippie. I needed to find for myself the true meaning of life and of my existence.

I was convinced that music and drugs were the real answer to the world’s ills. I was sick of school, studies and the discipline required there. I wanted to be free and independent and at peace with myself, not bound by tradition or by hypocritical social conventions.

I went to the Tel-Aviv flea market and bought myself an old shabby coat, which fitted the image I wanted to convey of myself. I packed a few things in a bag and set out to the north of Israel. Hitching a few rides I finally arrived a destination, Achziv on the Mediterranean beach north of Nahariya, where that strange fellow Eli Avivi had set up his hippie kingdom.

I first saw the light of day in Kibbutz Hulda where I was born in 1954. Both my parents were ‘Sabras’, born in Israel. My mother’s parents had come from Germany and Poland, and her father had become one of the leaders of Mapai, the workers’ party, and one of the founders of Kibbutz Beit-Hashita. My father’s parents had emigrated from Poland and had settled in Haifa where he was born and then moved Tel-Aviv. As a child, my father moved to a kibbutz where he grew up away from his parents.

My mother’s father died when she was only five years old. Her mother, who was a very strict and hard person, then brought her up. Actually both my parents grew up in difficult homes and never experienced a normal and loving family life. This was why they never succeeded in creating for me and for my sisters a warm family environment. They made many mistakes and we suffered the results of these mistakes for many years. When I was three we moved from the kibbutz to Moshav Sdeh-Moshe in the Lachish region (Moshav is like a village that is built as a cooperative, but not as much as a Kibbutz). Here I grew up and spent my childhood years. I attended nursery and first grade in our village, and from the second grade onwards we were all sent to school in neighboring Kiryat-Gat, the main town for the Lachish region.

A moshav is a small place with a closed society of its own. Everyone knows everything about everyone. It is great to play in the fields and enjoy country life but then everyone pokes his nose into your affairs and if you get stuck with a stigma you never get rid of it. I have always been rather plump and my friends would often poke fun at me on that account. Having no emotional support at home from my parents I grew up lacking in self-esteem and full of complexes. Because of my shyness I could not hit it off with the girls. I reacted to all of this by behaving in a wild and rebellious manner and became known as the boy who would never behave well either at home or at school.

I was always bothered by many questions such as: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? I couldn’t accept the world as it was. I often asked questions that embarrassed my parents and teachers and gave me a reputation for being somewhat crazy amongst my peers.

I saw a lot of hypocrisy at home and in society and I rebelled against it. Our parents would often forbid us things they allowed themselves to do. I couldn’t accept that the age difference was a sufficient excuse. My father had a pat answer to all my questions concerning social conventions. ‘This is what society has agreed on,’ he would say. This never satisfied me and I searched for real answers to my existential questions.

I had an easy life in primary school as I hardly needed to study and I always did well in the exams. I usually had a good report in all subjects-except for conduct. When I moved on to high school I was in for a shock! The requirements were much higher and I did not know how to do serious study. I did not have the patience to sit at home and read and do my homework. As a result I failed the ninth grade and had to do it all over again.

At home I had endless quarrels with my parents. They took me to see a neurologist and later a psychiatrist. They were sure I suffered from epilepsy because I had convulsions when I was angry and frustrated-which was much of the time! Actually a lot of it was put on as I tried to appear as crazy as possible so I wouldn’t owe them, or the world they represented, anything.

Because of my inner conflicts and disappointments at school coupled with bad relationships at home, I decided to register for tenth grade at an agricultural boarding school ‘Kannot’. I gladly left home at the start of the new school year and went to live at the boarding school with other children my age. At the new school there were also several kids from the States who had come for a year of studies in Israel. They opened up a new world to us by introducing us to contemporary music such as Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan, and also to the world of drugs. I enthusiastically accepted these new discoveries. Here were the real answers to all my questions. Music and drugs were the real solution to all the world’s problems. Their massage was about peace and love, all the things that I wanted.

This was how I arrived at the decision to leave school and home and go to Achziv to live as a hippie. I imagined hippie life to be a wonderful blend of unlimited freedom in nature’s bosom with no social conventions and no strings attached.

In Achziv I joined a group of youngsters with similar ideas who had rebelled against normal conventions and believed hippie life to be the answer to all their quests. We sat around and smoked hash believing that drugs would open up a new world to us in which all was love and peace. We found that drugs would give us a good trip where we would be happy and be good friends with everyone. When under the influence of drugs there seemed to be no demands from the world and no requirements from anyone. Everything was fine and everybody was OK. We were sure that this world of music and drugs would lead us to the ultimate existential truths.

My life took on a certain routine. In summer I would live in Achziv and sometimes move to Tel-Aviv where I hanged around Dizengoff Square and slept in Meir Park. In winter when the weather turned cold and wet I would go down to Eilat to enjoy the warmth of the Red Sea beaches. Every now and again I would return home to my parents to try and lead a ‘normal’ life, but it never worked. The old tensions would invariably pop up again and the old wounds, which had seemingly healed as a result of the separation, would be reopened. It always ended with a violent explosion after which I would leave home and return to my traveler friends.

I finally decided that I had had enough of it and left home never to return. I went back to my friends in Achziv and in Eilat, back to the drugs and the music and the leisurely lifestyle.

When the time came for me to be called up to the army I decided that I didn’t want to serve, I didn’t want to have anything to do with fighting and with wars. After all I firmly believed in worldwide peace and in goodwill between all nations. Again I did my best to act as if I was crazy and after various examinations I was let off military service.

In 1972 I spent some time in Tel-Aviv with a group of five or six young people. We slept in the parks, and in the mornings we would beg for money for our food and drugs. In the evenings we would go to the cinema or would listen to rock concerts. At other times we would just get drunk or high on drugs. For some reason we then decided to try our luck in Jerusalem, so we moved there. We joined a commune living on the walls of the old city, a random gathering of travelers who came and went at will. We would often sit in the Jaffa Gate enclosure. We sold our blood to the blood bank to get the money we needed for this existence. Being in a group gave us a certain sense of security and strength. To some extent we were all searching for the truth and didn’t want to be satisfied with anything less. We searched and searched and never seemed to find anything. I tried the Guru Maharaji sect then turned to the Children of God and then to the orthodox Diaspora Yeshiva, but all to no avail.

The drug habit soon changed from being a new experience and meaning to being a basic necessity I couldn’t do without. Gradually I moved from softer to harder drugs, from hashish to LSD and on to intravenous injections of Opium. Drugs destroy your willpower. I remember a group of us sitting and discussing for hours and hours, who should get up and fetch some water to drink. Nobody wanted to move from his place. It was absurd, but everyone hoped someone else would do the job.

One day as we sat idly in the Jaffa Gate enclosure a woman approached us and asked: ‘Have you ever heard about Yeshua?’ I answered that I had but that I didn’t want to hear more. She invited us to her home and offered us some food. We were glad to go with her as it was starting to get cold outside and we were always hungry. We stayed at her place for a fortnight. Before meals she would always get out her Bible and teach us something from it. She told us that we must be born again and then God’s spirit would enter into our hearts and renew us from within. She was a somewhat odd character but we put up with her patiently as we enjoyed the warmth in her home and gladly ate all the food set before us. One day she asked us: ‘Well, do you now believe or don’t you?’ We were scared to say no because we feared that she would throw us out and we had nowhere else go. After all she provided us with food and her house was warm. So we all said: ‘Yes, we do believe.’ Although I didn’t really believe, I was astonished at the things she showed us from the Bible. She opened the Tanach and showed us prophecies about the Messiah which were all seemingly fulfilled by Yeshua in the New Testament. I checked whether her Tanach was the same as our Jewish Tanach, and it was. I started reading it in order to check out her claims. I discovered that there were many prophecies in the Tanach that only one person in history could have fulfilled, and that person was Yeshua of Nazareth.

I now realized that there was some truth in what she had been telling us and became convinced that Yeshua was the promised Messiah. This conclusion sparked off an internal struggle. If he really was the Messiah then I ought to submit my whole being to him, my heart, thoughts, time and money. I did not have any money so that did not present a problem, I also had loads of time on my hands, and so that was no problem either. My real problem was that I was not ready to let anyone tell me what to do with myself. I wasn’t ready to submit to anyone. I still wanted to be my own boss. I hesitated and struggled and delayed my decision. Finally like Jonah I ran away from God and kept running away from him for six whole years.

I carried a Bible around with me and claimed to be a believer, but I only knew about God; I didn’t know him personally.

When I ran away from Yeshua I started to sink ever deeper into the morass of sin and drugs. Drugs did not give me the same satisfaction as before. I now learned that they were not the answer to life’s mysteries. I now learned that only God in Yeshua was the real answer but I didn’t want him to rule my life, and as a result I deteriorated and became odd and weird.

I moved back to Tel-Aviv where I would sleep in the city parks. At night I would gather empty bottles, which I would then sell in the morning to obtain money for food and drugs. I spent my time in the parks aimlessly looking into space, out of touch with society and cut off from my family and friends who didn’t want to know me any more.

In 1974 I traveled to Europe and visited Amsterdam, which seemed to be paradise for us travelers. I walked around the park moving from group to group using and selling drugs. Later I visited Britain and then went on to France where I worked for a while in the grape harvest. When that ended I returned to Amsterdam. It was now autumn, the weather was cold and gray and everyone had disappeared from the parks. My money ran out and when I tried to travel on a train with a ticket that was not mine I was caught, arrested and deported to Israel with ten shekels in my pocket.

On my return to Israel I went to Eilat where I became totally immersed in the drug scene again. Finally I was caught by the police with fifty grams of Hashish on me and given a date to appear in court. I was on probation for previous offense and I knew that this time it had to be a prison sentence. But then a miracle took place. First the judge forgot to call my case and later when I was taken to his chamber where the prosecutor demanded the full penalty, the judge merely said: ‘Probation for another term and supervision by a probation officer.’ It was a real miracle!

My condition however did not improve. On the contrary, I became weirder than ever. The probation officer I had to see regularly suggested that I let myself be admitted to a psychiatric ward but I consistently refused. I finally despaired of life. I knew that no one cared about me any more, no one wanted me and I had no hope of improvement. I decided to end it all by taking my life. I went into a pharmacy and bought a lot of non-prescription drugs, which I intended to swallow. I said to myself that if I died as a result it would be great, but if I survived I would phone my probation officer and ask her to admit me to a psychiatric ward. I took the medicine and swallowed the lot but I didn’t die. Compared to my high intake of drugs these pills must have been relatively weak. So I got in touch with the probation officer who arranged for me to be admitted to the psychiatric hospital in Ashkelon and from there I was moved to the ‘Eitanim’ psychiatric institute in the Jerusalem hills. After observation and examination I was classified as a schizophrenic paranoid. I spent two and a half years there and they treated me with drugs. I had so many drugs that they finally stopped having any effect on me.

Conditions in the hospital were actually quite comfortable compared to what I had on the road. I had a warm bed and plenty of food. The staff did what they could to help but it was all to no avail. I was very miserable and behaved like a mentally ill person. I was very violent and would occasionally try to commit suicide.

A psychiatric hospital is a terrible place to be, riddled with demons. There is no rest and no peace and no quiet. You just can’t get any real sleep. Whenever I needed some hours of deep sleep I would break some windows or attack someone. They would then give me Valium intravenously and I could get a few hours of really deep and nightmare free sleep. That was the best thing I could hope for in that place. There was one psychologist there who abused his position and humiliated the patients. He had a position of power and with one pen stroke he could determine a patient’s destiny for good or for ill. One day he lied about me. It made me so furious that I went into the kitchen and grabbed the first implement I saw which happened to be a fork and threw it at him with all my strength. It struck him on the head and caused a deep gash which needed stitching. Usually in such situations they would tie me up and leave me alone for a while in a secluded ward. This time however they decided that they had had enough of me and simply discharged me from hospital, which was against all regulations.

No one wanted to take me in. My parents and friends were afraid of me. I tried returning to Eitanim but they refused to take me back. I then lived alone in the forests of the Jerusalem hills. I thought to myself: ‘this is it. I have no more hope. I must commit suicide and be done with all my troubles.’ I took off my belt and tied it to a tree but then I felt a real physical force preventing me from going ahead with my plan. I decided instead to starve myself to death and so I started to fast.

I sat there all alone in the forest and waited for death to release me from my misery. It was rather boring just sitting there doing nothing. Not thinking much I took out the Bible I always carried in my pack and started reading it again for the first time in many years. I read and read and whilst reading the Bible out there amongst the trees something happened to me. I was still confused from the effects of the drugs and my heart was still black with sin, but I felt as though a ray of light had penetrated right into me and shed some light into the darkness of my soul. Eight days I spent there alone in the woods and then suddenly I had inner peace. All my confused thoughts and all my internal struggles were suddenly removed and I felt a peace I had never had before. I felt that I ought to go to Nueiba in the Sinai and look up John, a Dutch believer I had met before in Eilat, we were hippies together before he became a believer. When I got to Nueiba John wasn’t there as he had left for Jerusalem. I waited for him and he returned after two days. I then joined a group of people who slept in his tent and studied the Bible with him.

In spite of the experience I had been through I was not yet completely healed. I had been freed from my drug habit but was still smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. I was still hurting inside and very bitter; it wasn’t pleasant for anyone to be in my company. I couldn’t forgive others, still needed a loving hand to touch me and heal me completely. I heard about God who had performed miracles in the past and would yet act wonderfully in the future, but I needed a God who would perform a miracle in me today!

I thought that maybe the last days would be my solution. When the Messiah returned he would heal me. So I started a serious study of the end-time prophecies. Finally I gave it all up. I couldn’t take it any more.

I had just received some compensation for disability and decided to use the money to sail to the island of Patmos in Greece where the Apostle John had received the revelation of the last day events. I would live there in a cave and maybe I too would be granted a revelation of the time of Messiah’s return.

Before leaving Eilat I sat together with John and his friend Johan in a car and we prayed. I prayed too, not out of conviction but rather to impress on the others that I was OK too. I said: ‘Lord, not my will but yours be done.’ I did not really mean it, but the fact that I said it and maybe meant it in some little part changed my life. I had opened a door for God to work in me.

I went to Haifa where I bought a ferry ticket to Cyprus as the first stage of my trip to Patmos. I was placed in a four-berth cabin with three other young men. We started talking and I discovered that they were believers too. We spoke a lot about our faith and they explained that we should not limit God by our own finite human mind or box him in by our own ideas and rules. God is sovereign and does what he wants to do with mighty power. Miracles can happen today even in our own lives.

Early in the morning we reached Limassol. I stood alone on the deck. I wasn’t a nice sight: a lonely figure with long, disheveled hair, an earring in one ear, a long black coat and high boots, a typical traveler. Suddenly I heard a loud voice -say: ‘Go and tell your cabin-mates that you want to join them’ I said: ‘But they won’t want me. No one ever wants me.’ Again I heard the clear and authoritative voice say: ‘Go and travel with them.’ I knew that I had to obey otherwise I would go completely mad. I went up to them and ask if I could join them on their way. They immediately agreed without any hesitation and said that they intended going to a Christian Youth Center some two hours drive from Limassol. For some reason we kept losing our way and finally got to the place after nine hours.

The next morning I sat down and talked to a staff member for some hours. I realized that though I knew much about God I still didn’t know him personally. They then invited me to attend a prayer meeting. During that time of prayer one of them turned to me and said that he felt led to lay hands on me and pray for me. I was rather frightened at his suggestion but thought that as I was in such a bad state I really had nothing to lose. Who knows, it might even help me! He placed his hands on my head and started to pray. Suddenly I saw the Messiah with his arms outstretched to embrace me. I realized that for six whole years I had been running away from him. He said to me: ‘I love you.’ I said: ‘Leave me alone to live my own life.’ He didn’t give up. He turned to me again and again declaring: ‘I love you.’ Finally I broke down and wept. I said: ‘for many years I have tried to manage my life on my own and have finally reached the gutter. Take my life and do with me as you will but please help me!’

I asked if I could stay at the center for a while and they agreed. I would work during the day and study in the evenings. I tried to imitate those around me and lead as ‘good’ a life as they did, but I didn’t succeed.

One day as I was reading my Bible I suddenly saw myself standing underneath a waterfall of streaming light. The water of light fell on me, swept over me and washed me inside out. It purified me. Again I saw the Messiah and I ran towards him. He picked me up in his arms and embraced me. I felt I had that finally returned to my Father and that now I was complete.

All that day I sang and praised Him with great joy. I thanked Him for all He had done in my life and for His love for me. From that day on my life was truly changed for the better.

I spent a year in Cyprus at that Christian Youth Center. There I learned the basis of the life of faith and God cleansed me from all the vile things that had stuck to me during the many years of darkness and sin. I needed the discipline of regular Bible study, prayer and work that I found there. God also taught me how to make the right decisions; it wasn’t easy after so many years of always making the wrong ones. I also received lots of love and support from the staff, and lots of counseling too. I desperately needed all that I could get!

After a year spent there I returned to Israel as a new and changed person. God directed me to Tel-Aviv where I worked for a while at the Messianic center ‘Beit Immanuel’. Whilst working there I met my future wife Shlomit from Switzerland, who was a volunteer there. We have three boys.

On my return to Israel I decided to visit the psychiatrist who had treated me in Eitanim. He couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw me sane and healthy in front of him. ‘What a miracle, what a miracle!’ he kept muttering. I agreed with him and told him that I was a drowning man in deep water and he tried to help by standing at the water edge trying to give me good advice, but Yeshua jumped into the water and saved me.

On my return to Israel I tried to re-establish contact with my parents. I could now forgive them and love them. My father didn’t want to talk to me; he had wiped me out of his life. However gradually our relationship was renewed and slowly improved, and eventually he also gave his life to Yeshua, just days before he died. One of my sisters is also a believer. Today we have very good relationship with the whole family.

The moment I believed, I began to understand the world around me. Questions that had bothered me since I was a child now received satisfactory answers. Above all I now have a living relationship with my Creator. Faith isn’t a legal code; it is a living relationship between man and God based on love. I don’t want my behavior to hurt God because I love him. If I inadvertently do hurt him I am quick to confess my sin and be His forgiveness so that our relationship can be restored.

Anyone who honestly examines the Bible will see that the only one who ever fulfilled the messianic prophecies of the Tanach was Yeshua. Whoever believes in Him returns to true biblical Judaism, to the real roots of our people Israel. The way to God is clearly revealed in the Tanach and in the New Testament, and it leads through the atoning death of Yeshua the Messiah for our sins. The sacrifice has been offered, the blood has been shed and my sins are forgiven. In His death Yeshua took my old life of sin and gave me His holy life in exchange for it.

As I look back on my years of wandering in the darkness, I thank God for saving me from slavery to drugs and from a confused mind and for giving me new life in Yeshua.