By Shira Sorko-Ram
A young Tunisian Jew who lost his father in the Holocaust was given a Bible by a Christian friend and was challenged to search the Scriptures to see if Yeshua was indeed the Messiah promised by the prophets. This young man, Victor Smadja, with the horrors of World War II still fresh, took the challenge very seriously and poured over the Scriptures for two solid years. Finally he knew in his heart that Yeshua, the Son of God, was sent to bring him salvation. As far as is known, he became the only male bornagain Jew in all of Tunisia. In 1956, Victor brought his fiancée Suzy to faith and three days after they were married, they moved to Israel.
Samuel Smadja, the youngest of their four children, was born in Jerusalem when the city was still divided (the Old City was under Jordanian occupation) and when there were only about 2,200,000 Jewish citizens in all of Israel.
Early on, his parents noticed Samuel was having a very difficult time in school because of what today is known as a severe case of dyslexia. He simply couldn’t spell. They enrolled him in a vocational school where he could get extra help. Nevertheless, he wasn’t able to receive a high school diploma even though he attended a full 12 years.
However, in his school, he was captivated by a course in tourism, and immediately knew that some day he wanted to work in the tourism business.
His father, Victor, began the first congregation for Israelis in Jerusalem and is known as one of the early pioneers for what is now the Messianic Jewish movement in Israel. Victor was, of course, very bold about his faith. But Samuel, being the only believer in his school at the time, admits he denied his faith many times.
However, when as a soldier he found himself in the middle of the Lebanese War, he heard a voice ask a question inside, the same question Elijah had challenged Israel with some 3,000 years earlier: “How long will you falter between two opinions?”
Then Samuel, feeling a tremendous peace inside and around him on the battlefield, made his peace with God. He immediately began to work with his father, focusing on teenage camps and services for young adults, which he continued for many years.
After finishing the army, he began searching for work in a tourist company, but no one wanted him because he couldn’t spell. Finally he went to one company and said, “I’ll work for you for free. And then if I bring you business you can pay me a commission.” The owner agreed.
Meanwhile, Samuel’s father told him, “If you want to work in tourism, you need added value to your skills. You need another language.” So Victor sent Samuel to Germany to study German. In six months he returned with an astounding grasp of German – even though he couldn’t spell! But everyone realized God had given him a gift for languages. He now has a professional level of Hebrew, English, French and German.
Samuel, always the visionary, realized there are many Christians in India, and so in 1988 went there to see if he could generate some tourism to Israel. He wasn’t able to develop much business at that time, but did meet a famous Indian pastor and evangelist who began to prophesy over him, telling him God was going to use him mightily in the tourism business in a way that would impact Israel. At that time, there was nothing to confirm such a prophecy, but Samuel returned to Israel greatly encouraged. Soon, with his commission, he was making more money than his boss!
In 1993, Samuel felt it was time to open up his own tour company, but he needed $200,000 to get started. He went to his father and asked him to co-sign with him at the bank. Victor, known for his no-nonsense demeanor, replied “Who did you say gave you this vision?” When Samuel answered, “God!” Victor then replied, “Good. So go ask Him!”
Samuel was soon on a plane to Germany to offer 49% of his new company to a Christian investor. Armed with a business plan, he sat with the German man for two hours. The investor never asked to see the business plan, and simply gave Samuel the letter of credit for $200,000 for a small amount of interest – which Samuel paid back in a year and a half.
As he began his new company, Sar-El Tours, many competitors actually tried to get his business blacklisted by all the Jerusalem hotels. The Orthodox published newspaper stories, demanding people boycott his business because of his faith.
But Christian leaders like the late Pastor Chuck Smith began to use Sar-El. The late Dr. Paul Crouch also began using Sar- El Tours for TBN trips to Israel. We at Maoz immediately understood the significance of an Israeli tour company owned and operated by a Messianic Jew, and for several years carried a banner on our website advertising Sar-El Tours. It was clear to us that Christian tourists coming to Israel should use businesses owned by Israel’s Messianic Jews.
But then the Arab Intifadas took place in Israel, with suicide bombers and murderers killing over 1,000 Israelis. Even many Jews stopped touring Israel and tour company after tour company folded. However, Christian volunteers came through Sar-El to assist the nation on ministry trips during this horrific period. And amazingly, Christians continued to come in spite of everything. Sar-El went through difficult times, but survived.
Today, Sar-El Tours & Conferences is one of the largest tour agencies in Israel, serving about 50,000 tourists a year. And the Sar-El Group, consisting of a number of businesses, is now the largest employer of Israeli believers in the country.
As one of many examples of how God is using Samuel, he was invited to a special event of Who’s Who of Israelis with former politicians, military generals, and significant businessmen and women. Samuel used his invitation to share the Gospel with dozens of the most influential people in Israel. David had beaten Goliath. To God be the glory.
When Victor Smadja recently went to his reward, his son, Samuel, with all he has on his plate, decided he would also take up the leadership of the Jerusalem congregation “Messianic Assembly” that his father founded.