From Exile to Ingathering: Christian Efraimites Return to Hebrew Bible

Yosef could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone withdraw from me!” So there was no one else about when Yosef made himself known to his brothers. Genesis 45:1 (The Israel Bible™)

Sitting beneath the shade of a Jerusalem Sukkah, Pastor Pete Rambo spoke of the prophetic mission of Christians all around the world who are “awakening” from their traditional religious perspectives and embracing the roots of the Christian faith in the Hebrew Bible.  

Rambo’s group of 55 internationals, which calls itself B’nei Efraim (children of Efraim, or Efraimites), visited Israel during Sukkot, a Jewish festival in which Jews and non-Jews alike would, in Temple Times, bring offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Ranging from ages 13-79, the group hailed from the US, Australia, South Africa, Germany and the Netherlands – visiting Israel from September 16-October 2 to celebrate Sukkot, while participating in acts of civil service – picking up city trash as a service to their “Jewish brothers” and “to make the holidays even holier.”

Bnei Efraim volunteering in Jerusalem. (Credit: Gil Lewinsky)

Back in their respective countries, each share a love for Israel, are Shabbat and festival observant and “eat clean” similar to the strict Kashrut standards by which Orthodox Jews hold. But they did not grow up observing these traditions – many began as traditional Christians only to stumble on a Bible passage that sparked their interest in returning to the roots of the Christian tradition – the Hebrew Bible.

Now, “very few of us would describe ourselves as Christians, but rather I identify as a lover of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who displays this love through following God and his commandments and desiring restoration,” posed Rambo.

Dorothe Waidelich, an Efraimite from Germany, recalled stumbling on a scripture expressing that “one day for God is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day” and connecting this to other scriptures that said “after the 6000thyear, God will reign in his kingdom for the 7000thyear.”

“I connected this idea to the Jewish calendar and days of creation where God told the Israelites to work for six days and rest on the seventh,” she told Breaking Israel News.

After reading this, other scriptures began to make sense as Waidelich came to understand that Shabbat must be remembered and kept holy according to Exodus 20:8.

Likewise, she said, “I realized that the feasts are still God’s feasts and should be celebrated by all of humanity. I realized that Yehuda are Jews, and Christians are a part of the people of Israel who will come together as brothers,” declared Waidelich, who began to attend “Hebrew roots” conferences, eventually meeting Rambo.

Waidelich additionally stressed the importance of supporting Jews and Israel as a German and she has become an ambassador in conversation with colleagues “to show them a different picture of Israel than what is shown in the media.”

Similarly, Ingrid Marais of South Africa began to question why Christians changed Shabbat from Saturday to Sunday and why the festivals as described in the Bible are no longer adhered to.

“God said this is my house, my rules and the Torah is for all of Israel – we see a lot of what is happening as prophecy coming to fruition and are repenting for those who reject the ways of the Torah,” she said, adding that Efraimites reject replacement theology, the idea that God’s covenant with the Jewish people has been replaced with Christians.

“God’s promise for restoration does not mean replacing anyone – as the house of Israel, we come alongside the Jewish people,” Marais maintained.

Efraimite identity is rooted in the prophecies of 1 Kings, concerning ten lost tribes who will forget their original language, culture, history and religion, as well as Ezekiel 37, concerning the ingathering of the exiles of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel:

And you, O mortal, take a stick and write on it, “Of Yehuda and the Israelites associated with him”; and take another stick and write on it, “Of Yosef—the stick of Efraim—and all the House of Yisrael associated with him.” Bring them close to each other, so that they become one stick, joined together in your hand.” (Ezekiel 16-17)

Thus said Hashem: I am going to take the stick of Yosef—which is in the hand of Efraim—and of the tribes of Yisrael associated with him, and I will place the stick of Yehuda upon it and make them into one stick; they shall be joined in My hand.” (Ezekiel 19)

“We were dispersed and forgot Torah and Shabbat,” said Rambo, “so we believe that we are Israel, a lost tribe that, during the final redemption, will return to the Promised Land to reunite under one leader as prophesied in Ezekiel. We all feel the Geula (redemption) coming,” he said.

Together, Rambo’s groups come to Israel for the feasts “to bless Israel and be blessed in return,” according to Genesis 12:3:

“I will bless those who bless you And curse him that curses you; And all the families of the earth Shall bless themselves by you.”

But not everyone agrees with this reciprocal blessing.

As Marais also took on Hebrew traditions, she found that “in South Africa, a very Christian country, it was hard for our families to accept our new practices. They believe we are rejecting our Christian faith,” she said.

Bnei Efraim prepare food ahead of eating in a Sukkah. (Credit: Pete Rambo)

“Taking on the traditions has come at a heavy cost.”

In the absence of support of some of their Christian family and friends back home, each maintained that they have found great support among Jews and Israelis. Throughout the visit, the group stayed in a Yemenite Jewish moshav (settlement) Givat Ye’arim for the third time since Rambo began bringing groups – aided by facilitator Tzemach, a Givat Ye’arim resident.

On the moshav, they celebrate Shabbat together, learn Israeli folk dancing, sit together in the Sukkah and dance with the Torah for the holiday of Simchat Torah, celebrating the finishing and new beginning of the cycle of Torah readings.

However according to Rambo, this trip’s importance is even greater than a way to celebrate together and build bridges – it’s prophecy. “Prophecy tells us that in the last days, there will be a time when nations will come up for Sukkot.”

All who survive of all those nations that came up against Yerushalayim shall make a pilgrimage year by year to bow low to the King lord of Hosts and to observe the festival of Sukkot.” (Zechariah 14:16)

Rambo imagines a day when “millions will come, every moshav hosting them like we have been hosted.”

According to Rambo, we are not far off from that reality – he maintained that there are Efraimites everywhere, some of whom, because they are not Jewish and cannot become citizens of Israel, have even moved to Aqaba, Jordan to live inexpensively and be closer to the land for the festivals.

“Around the world there are thousands of us, maybe millions. It’s a growing movement,” he said, encouraging more Jewish people to “understand that we come with no dangerous hidden agenda and to build bridges with us as our hosts of Givat Ye’arim did.”

“Times are changing and we are all a part of it,” he exclaimed.

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