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Hebrew roots group welcomes all for Hanukkah

Megan Hix

By Megan Hix
Dec. 15, 2017 at 11:23 p.m.


For centuries, Jewish people all over the world have gotten together to celebrate the eight-day festival of Hanukkah.

But the congregation of Ami Yisrael in Longview believes that Hanukkah should not just be celebrated by Jews, but also Christians. The Hebrew roots fellowship will welcome anyone interested in learning about the history of the holiday today, the fifth day of Hanukkah, for a Sabbath service and Hanukkah celebration, Ami Yisrael founder Tim Kelley said.

"Jesus observed Hanukkah, and we have proof of that in the Bible," Kelley said. "I believe that if Jesus did it, we should do it, too."

The daylong event kicks off at 10:30 a.m. at Calvary Baptist Church with coffee, doughnuts and Torah study. In the afternoon, they will have speakers, a children's skit, Hanukkah-themed "Jeopardy!" and a latke cookoff.

Event organizer Scott Hagler said there also will be time set aside to sing and dance.

"Dance is not considered in the mainstream church as something they normally do, but King David was always dancing joyously to the Lord," Hagler said. "It's a way of expressing our appreciation before God."

Hagler was raised in the Baptist church, he said, but found Ami Yisrael about two years ago when he was searching for something "deeper." He said there are two other Hebrew roots groups in East Texas, in Lufkin and Tyler, but Longview's felt like home.

While members of Ami Yisrael's fellowship celebrate Jewish holidays and observe the Sabbath, Kelley said they are "nontraditional" in that their belief system doesn't fall into typical Jewish or Christian categories.

"A Hebrew roots groups basically takes and believes all the Bible is 100 percent applicable," Kelley said. "We believe that Jesus is the Messiah, absolutely, but we also believe that the Sabbath hasn't been changed and the food laws have not been changed. God is the same yesterday, today and forever."

He said even for those of a traditional Christian faith, celebrating Hanukkah can be educational.

Hanukkah, also referred to as the "festival of lights," marks the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and is traditionally celebrated with food, gifts and lighting the menorah.

Joseph Good, who Hagler said is one of the leading temple scholars in the U.S., will be a guest speaker at the event and will lecture on the temple's significance.

Kelley said the Maccabean Revolt against the Greeks in Jerusalem was essential to maintain the Hebrew culture in the Middle East.

"If it hadn't been for Hanukkah, Jesus wouldn't have had the culture he needed to do his job and the apostles would not have had the culture they needed to do their jobs," Kelley said. "It's a historical thing. We teach the history of Hanukkah and how it impacted the Jewish culture."

Rusty Milstein, administrator for Temple Emanu-El, a Longview synagogue, said its doors are always open, as well. Growing up, Milstein said he would visit friends' churches and bring them to Temple Emanu-El so they could learn about each other's religions.

"All faiths should now about other peoples' faiths," Milstein said. "The world would be a whole different place if they knew more about each other."

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