"Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha-olem (Blessed are you, oh Lord our God, King of the universe)," sings Aaron Kasdan as dusk settles over Asheville, N.C. Guitar, bass and electric keyboard accompany the traditional Hebrew prayer. It's the twilight Shabbat, or Sabbath, celebration on a Friday in August, and Kasdan is playing for the more than 1,000 Messianic Jews gathered for the Asheville Music Festival (AMF).
At the three-day outdoor concert, entertainment ranged from reggae to Celtic music, acoustic to rap, Israeli music to dubstep. But despite the diverse sounds, they all have one common thread - the artists are Jewish and they believe in Jesus - Yeshua in Hebrew - as their Savior.
Kasdan, who helped put on the concert, and the other under-30 musicians and artists at the festival represent the new wave of the Messianic Jewish movement. Most grew up in the more than 400 Messianic congregations around the world. While their parents struggled in the 1960s to create a movement that embraced both their Jewish identity and faith in Yeshua, the younger generation is figuring out what it means to live out their Messianic Jewish identity in everyday life.
The Messianic Jewish movement came out of the Jesus movement in the mid-60s, a time of charismatic revival in response to the hippie movement. While Jewish believers had previously assimilated into the church, they now recognized the significance of Israel and the Jewish people in the new covenant.
"Jews wanted to recapture their identity," said Joseph Rosenfarb, who grewn up an orthodox Jew, but was one of the many who found Christ at the time. "It was apparent they wanted worship that befit their background. Many were not comfortable with church; they wanted something that pools from their backdrop."
Filled with zeal, the new believers reached out to Jews on the streets, in homes, and at campuses, spreading the message that Yeshua was the Messiah they had been waiting for. Part of the urgency was a belief at the time that Yeshua was coming back any day.
"Everyone thought they wouldn't live 'til they were 20, that Jesus was returning so there was no concern about jobs, or careers," Rosenfarb said. "We just wanted to get the message out quickly, rather than living a Messianic lifestyle like today."
Many of the new Messianic Jews, including Rosenfarb, went into ministry. But once they realized Jesus wasn't coming back immediately, they turned to practical matters: forming Messianic groups, training rabbis, building communities, and figuring out how to reach their Jewish brethren. They started Messianic congregations that kept some of the Jewish traditions but focused on New Testament fulfillment. The planners and many of the attendees of AMF grew up in that environment.
Unlike her parents' generation, Kasdan's sister Dvora said her Messianic Jewish identity isn't something she needs to define, since it has always been part of her life - going to her father's Messianic congregation, observing holidays, and keeping some Jewish customs.
"I personally keep biblically kosher - no shellfish or pork - and a big part of that is that I was raised that way...it reminds me of who I am," she said. She knows it isn't required since Yeshua had come to fulfill the law, but said that it represents abstaining from sin.
The younger generation also is expanding its career options. They no longer feel that all Messianic Jews should go into ministry. Rosenfarb believes they are "more concerned to wait on what God has to say, and they are savvy about living out their Messianic Jewish lifestyles in culture." They are pursuing the arts, media, business, politics and other secular workplaces.
"They have become part of the culture," Rosenfarb said. "So rather than speaking into it from the outside, the young people are in the culture impacting it."
On the grassy lawn at AMF, three 20-somethings wear matching shirts advertising Messianic Art Collective, a new website they plan to launch that would gather together the artistic talents in the community.
"In our generation, art is a huge part of who we are," said Danielah Blackburn, a writer who is working on a biography about how her Jewish grandmother came to Christ. "A lot of us minister through arts."
Jonathan Mahoney, a designer and illustrator who is not Jewish but has a love for Israel and joined the community, believes that the Messianic Jewish community is making its mark in culture. "Like Christianity, a lot of times [the older generation] sees art and media as a lost cause - it's so secular, so liberal - but it's not true as much anymore. We have a passion to invade that area."
As we spoke, teens trooped around reuniting with friends from past conferences, young people jammed on guitars and congo drums, and a folksy group performed music that would fit in at any outdoor concert.
"This is a new thing, it's exciting to see our generation step up," Blackburn said. "We don't want to just redo what our parents did...they had to prove themselves, they came out of an identity crisis. Now a new lot is raised, and we're confident about who we are."