Rabbi A. D. De La O talks with Shelly Johnson of Clovis before services at B’nei Yisrael Messianic Synagogue. The Synagogue holds services on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The Wednesday service is the smallest. CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle
By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
Once an indoor roller skating rink at the corner of 10th and Sycamore streets, the B’Nei Yisrael synagogue is now emblazoned with blue paint on the front as well as the star of David.
The center was used last week for a celebration of the Jewish festival Rosh Hashanah — although members also held a symbolic ceremony at Greene Acres Lake.
Prior to getting into the new building, B’Nei Yisrael services were mostly conducted in Rabbi A.D. De La O’s home.
“We were in a little tiny place at first, but he had a vision of where he wanted to go. So we got this old building and renovated it — and it’s been exciting,” said synagogue member Rose Longley of Farwell.
The new home was attracting more attention to their group.
“More people would stop in and say, ‘Wow, we have a synagogue here?’” Longley said.
De La O, called “Rebbe” by B’Nei Yisrael members, said he and his son, Joshua, and church members James Robertson and Berle Johnson were primarily responsible for turning the old rink into a functioning place of worship.
Although the building was acquired in February, major renovation work couldn’t begin until April.
Longley characterizes most of the synagogue members — between 30 and 40 — as people who were not born into Judaism but rather have moved into the belief system from Christian circles.
“I was raised Pentecostal Christian. For me, I started studying my Hebraic roots about 15 years ago,” said Shelley Johnson of Clovis, recalling her reasons for seeking the Jewish roots of her faith. “I was struggling to keep it new. When you hear the scriptures over and over and over, it’s like any book where you start reading past what the story says.”
“I didn’t even know I was Jewish until I went over my family’s genealogy,” said Longley of the impetus for her move to B’Nei Yisrael. “It’s not so much that it’s straight Jewish, because we do believe in the messiah. And we are totally about both the first testament and the second testament.”
De La O admits that the Messianic Judaism practiced by his group, in which the Christian figure of Jesus is referred to as Yahoshue, puts itself squarely in between tradition forms of Judaism and Christianity. While the belief system shares many components of Christianity, the rituals at B’Nei Yisrael — such as Saturday being the Sabbath day — are mostly Jewish in character.
“We’re Messianic Jews. We know the messiah came and he is the central part of our belief,” De La O said. “But our orthodox brothers and conservative brothers and reform brothers (in Judaism) are upset with us because we profess to know that the messiah did come.”
The B’Nei Yisrael synagogue on Sycamore, according to De La O, will be the site of not only prayer services and Wednesday night Bible study but will also be a location for Hebrew language classes in the future.
“There’s 10 lost tribes, they say. But we were never lost. We were just placed here and there and now we’re finding our way back home,” De La O said.