Passover began this weekend, and among the small group of Jewish households celebrating the annual feast with unleavened bread in Ashland was an even smaller group &

those who call themselves Messianics.

They may be ethnically Jewish or Christians who have returned to the roots of their tradition, but Messianics are united in their belief that "Yeshua," the Hebrew word for Jesus, is the Messiah. Like the local Jewish synagogues, Messianics also celebrate traditional Hebrew festivals.

"We have a fairly traditional seder except that in addition to celebrating that God set the Israelites free thousands of years ago, we also celebrate that Yeshua set us free from our sin," said Lenny Goldberg, who leads a weekly Bible study from a Jewish Messianic perspective.

Goldberg himself is Jewish, although most people attending his study are not.

"There's a smattering of Messianic Jewish believers in the valley," he said. "A lot of them are content just to go to a church; others want to continue to observe their Jewishness and keep the holidays."

Goldberg grew up attending Hebrew school and his family kept kosher. As a young adult, he went through a period of searching before becoming a Christian and only later decided to re-examine the traditions with which he had grown up.

Ron Timen, a pastor at Rivergate and Messianic Jew, incorporates Jewish elements into the church life, including their support for Israel and a congregation-wide seder on Sunday. He is not aware of other Jewish members of his congregation, but that is not a requirement for sharing the Messianic beliefs.

Glenn Miller, who came to the practice after being raised a Christian, prefers to call himself a Messianic Gentile.

"I grew up having a Christmas tree and the Easter bunny, but I don't think it's what the creator of the universe wants, so I don't do that anymore" Miller said. "I shy away from even calling myself a Christian. I'd rather call myself a Messianic and let people figure out what that is on their own."

Miller was drawn to the Messianic beliefs while living in Alaska in the 1970s, when he began reading to understand the conflict between Israel and Palestine and continued reading about atrocities committed by Christians throughout history. However, there were even fewer Messianics in Alaska than there are in the Rogue Valley, and it wasn't until 2001 that he attended his first seder. He has visited Israel twice since then, observes the Sabbath, and keeps a flexible version of kosher that allows for the occasional cheeseburger, but not pork or shellfish.

"I think the Jews have it right, although most of them don't believe that Yeshua is the savior," he said. "I just have a love for the Jewish people and for Israel and trying to do what is right."

Messianics are careful not to offend either Jews or Christians, groups with whom they share many similarities, and many, like Goldberg, call themselves Christians in addition to Messianic.

"We're not trying to make new religions and separate people," Goldberg said.

Roxanne Arkie, who grew up Christian but became Messianic eight years ago as she studied the roots of her faith, said she is especially careful in her interactions with Jewish people.

"I wouldn't come down on Judaism for doing anything that they do, and I would hope that they wouldn't condemn us for trying to observe God's laws the way that we are reading them in the Bible,"she said. "I wouldn't want to offend them. They are my brethren, we do worship the same God &

we just see things a little differently right now."

— — Nastassia Goldberg, 19, uses a book to explain the different types of seder plates used for Passover while Lenny Goldberg, background, sets the table Sunday night.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .