Getting Married, Seeking Truth, Embracing Lies and Finally Escaping the Messianic Movement
1993 - 2001
In July of 1993 we were married by Rabbi Bruce Goldman and Father Henry Fehrenbacher (from Catholic "Rent A Priest", for real), both obviously ultra-liberal
My spiritual quest was rekindled in February,1994 and took me quite by surprise. My wife and I had just come home from seeing the movie, Schindler's List, a deeply moving experience. As I was flicking through the cable channels I came across a show about the Holocaust. I had never seen the program before, nor heard of the host, Zola Levitt. I sent away for two books he offered: "Our Hands Are Stained With Blood" and "Meshumed", expecting them to be from a traditional Jewish viewpoint.
When I received them I was enraged to find that they were Christian books, posing as something Jewish. I was determined to send them back the next day, but instead, I actually began reading, as I grew a little curious at first. Then my curiosity became a deeply felt need to know more about this weird Jesus mixed with Jewish stuff. I began videotaping Zola's program and reading all kinds of materials from many sources, including the Christian Bible (NASB & KJV), Hebrew-Christian authors, as well as counter-missionary literature. I also sought out both Jews & Gentiles of various beliefs on-line. While the internet was still in its infancy, there was no shortage of newsgroups, chat rooms and people waiting to answer my inquiries.
I had a million questions and one of those people who made himself readily available was a staff worker with Jews for Jesus in San Francisco. While we never met face to face, we had a rapport, as it turned out he grew up in Canarsie, too. We went back and forth via email for months. Because of my lack of even basic Torah knowledge, his missionary training succeeded in reaching into my post-modern world view. The most interesting part of my dealings with Jews for Jesus (the organization)is that they STILL have my VERY OLD "testimony" on their main web page. They are either too blind or too stubborn to realize that it's the best evidence I have of me being involved with them.
Understand that I was receiving literature and email from traditional Jewish groups, counter-missionaries and other religious groups as well. I didn't want to meet them in person either. The counter-missionary material I was receiving was very mean & hateful: not what I wanted to hear. Some actually told me to divorce my wife immediately and become frum. "Yeah, right!" Not the best of advice to someone who had a huge anti-authority attitude, and quite full of himself.
After corresponding with some of these strange so-called Jewish Jesus-believers, I decided to finally meet some by visiting a few Hebrew-Christian congregations. I was very curious about knowing how someone could actually still identify as a Jew and yet believe in Jesus. I was pretty shocked that there were actually six local congregations, some more Jewish-flavored than others.
After New Year's of 1995, I had found a local congregation about twenty miles away on Long Island, called "Shuvah Yisrael". I began attending services there. At first, I was very uncomfortable, as they met in the East Rockaway Nazarene Church. I had a gnawing feeling that this was some kind of cult. I remembered that as a kid, the teenage son of one of my paper route customers started wearing a "Jews For Jesus" button, which seemed very bizarre to me. I crossed the street whenever I saw him, as I didn't want to speak to the weirdo.
I clearly remember the first Shabbas morning I attended the Shuvah Yisrael messianic church. There were about ninety people there, with all the men wearing yalmulkes & tallisim. There was an ark with an actual Torah scroll. There were the traditional Hebrew prayers that I remembered from my despised junior congregation & Bar Mitzvah preparatory days. However, there was also something there that was absent from my Hebrew school days..... joyful singing and some people dancing with tambourines. When the Torah was paraded around, there was a feeling of joy & fellowship that I had NEVER experienced. So many people came to greet and welcome me. I started attending regularly. The people were so nice. The food was plentiful. And the music & singing were inspiring.
The Pastor (he called himself "RabbI", but he had no degree from any normative Jewish organization whatsoever), David Rosenberg, was extremely charismatic, intelligent and a nice guy. He was different than the other messianic congregational leaders I'd recently met. Other leaders wore the Jewish accruements just during services, and some not at all. One place, called the "Messianic Jewish Center of Brooklyn", led (once a month) by the evangelist Sid Roth, even had a cross with a tallis wrapped around it. UGH! If all the messianic places were like that, I would have run for the hills. There's just something about seeing the cross, and Christian symbols that makes even the most far-away Jew's neshama want to get away FAST! The messianics and missionary organizations now understand this and take full advantage of it.
This is why David Rosenberg was different. He wore tzitzis and a yarmulke at all times. He came across as being sincere & honest. He truly believed what he preached (even though he was wrong). He was so convinced that Yeshua (also known as Jesus) was the messiah, so embracing of my questions & friendship, that I was spiritually manipulated by his training as a Christian missionary. After meeting with him weekly for two months that summer of 1995, I was hooked! David took me under his wing. He advised me to study the "messianic prophecies" that Christianity claims proves Jesus is the messiah. So I bought multiple versions of the Bible and laid them out side by side with an old English Jewish Tenach (Old Testament). Lo and behold, what David claimed was TRUE, as all the Christian translations showed me. The Jewish version was from the early 20th century and didn't contradict their prophecies. So I got down on my knees and asked G-d what I should do. Now obviously I had no intellectual knowledge of what the Tenach truly said. The Messianic congregation, beliefs, philosophy, congregants, the missionaries I was constantly in touch with and David all made me feel emotionally that this was was the way to go. So I accepted Jesus by verbally expressing so, and to everyone, I was now a born-again completed Jew, saved by the blood of Jesus the so-called messiah. I decided to commit myself to this movement as it seemed this was the perfect solution for my mixed marriage as well as the spiritual situation of the world at large.
The people at Shuvah Yisrael were quite warm and welcoming. The music was full of energy, and people were actually happy to be there. I got a "spiritual high" every time I went. Plus, what better way to combine my Jewish heritage with my wife's Christian faith system. The best of both worlds, I reasoned, with some help from my new friends. We never identified ourselves as Christians, but as completed “Messianic Jews”, as part of an “authentic alternative stream” of Judaism, just like the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist & Humanistic.
Subtle Differences Between Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Christianity
David explained many things including what he believed to be the differences between "Hebrew Christianity" and "Messianic Judaism". I hadn't known that there was even a difference, as the Christian testament taught that we were all simply "Jew & Gentile, one in Messiah". I was about to learn how Shuvah Yisrael & the so-called "messianic Jewish" movement differentiated between themselves and the traditional missionary groups like Jews for Jesus, Chosen People Ministries, and Jews who chose a church over a "messianic congregation".
For example, within the so-called "Messianic Jewish" movement, the terms "Jews for Jesus" & "Hebrew-Christians" are synonymous (as opposed to "Messianic Jews"). Our belief was that those in the Hebrew-Christian groups accepted Jesus as Messiah (converted to Christianity) and paid some lip-service to their Jewish heritage. They'd have some type of fellowship with other Jewish Believers, but they preferred attending churches. One of our missions was to get those "church Jews" into our messianic congregations.
On the other hand, according to our wing of the messianic movement, "Messianic Judaism" was truly Judaism, just with the added concept of Jesus as messiah (& G-d). We were to be "one with the Jewish people". If there was a disagreement between say the Southern Baptists & the Jewish community, us "Messianic Jews" (David's group and like-minded organizations like the MJAA & UMJC) would take the side of the Jewish community. The Hebrew-Christians would side with the Baptists. We messianics were to be the fifth branch of Judaism.
But no matter how hard the messianic groups try to distance themselves from the label of "Hebrew-Christian", they are truly one & the same. I now see that it was more of an ethnic pride and guilt issue, combined with "messianic Jews" wanting to distance themselves from the traditional church as to show the rest of the Jewish world that we weren't like THEM (the church), with their history of anti-Semitism, replacement theology, Inquisitions, Pogroms & forced conversions.
Here's an interesting story that shows the strong feelings we had regarding the differences between us & those "church Jews". Around midnight, David called me up to tell me about what was transpiring on the Larry King Show. The executive director of Jews for Jesus, David Brickner, was debating Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. How dare CNN have on an assimilated Hebrew Christian as a spokesperson for us true "messianic Jews"? We then frantically tried to call into the show to explain that David Brickner did not represent true Messianic Jews; that Larry King should have "Rabbi" Rosenberg on with some other local "Messianic Rabbis", to truly represent us as true Jews. But we couldn't get through, and nobody ever answered our faxes or emails.
I learned about the "The Great Commission". A brief explanation of that concept is as follows: within so-called "Messianic Judaism" and evangelical Christianity, there is a direct command from Jesus to his followers, to spread the message of Jesus in order for others to become believers as well. Since the Christian Testament teaches that unbelievers are going to hell, the "real Christians" take it quite seriously. One can't blame them, as they sincerely, honestly and truly believe what's in the their testament, even if it's wrong.
All in all, so-called "Messianic Judaism" is simply Christianity marketed to Jews. The core belief systems of "messianic Judaism", "Hebrew-Christianity" and born again evangelical Christianity are identical.
Within the "messianic Jewish" congregation, as much as possible is done to make Jews feel comfortable. The core message is the same as in every evangelical church, but the culture, language, ethnicity & historical flavors are quite different. But we did have some great monthly "kosher-style" Shabbos gatherings! Socialization is a very potent part of the entire process.
Pregnant and Should We Be Catholic, Evangelical, Messianic or Whatever?
In late 1995, my wife was pregnant with our daughter. I felt I understood this very interesting new messianic theology. It all made so much sense, to have my Jewish culture mixed with my wife's Christian background, the best of both worlds! But now I had to consider my previous promise to my wife to raise our children Catholic. I understood that this "Messianic Judaism" was theologically related to evangelical Christianity (which I had almost no personal exposure to), but it seemed very different from the few Catholic masses & wakes I attended over the years.
So I started investigating the ideas and claims of Catholicism. I went into Catholic & Protestant chat rooms & newsgroups on America Online, asking very deep questions about their beliefs. Again, I read many books on the pro & con side of everything. It was after this time of study that I had the intense desire to do everything possible to not raise my future children Catholic (for reasons that I shall not delve into here).
Being a new dyed-in-the-wool "believer", I wanted nothing more than to bring my wife to "believe" and have "eternal life", as promised by Jesus & his church. My new messianic/evangelical theology taught me that, as a typical, lukewarm Catholic, she wasn't truly "saved" as were almost all misled Catholics & Protestants.
Maria came with me numerous times to Shuvah Yisrael, but she wasn't comfortable there, as she was unfamiliar with the prayers and the sprinkling of Hebrew thrown in to give the place a satisfactory Jewish flavor. So, I went on a hunt for a non-messianic Jesus-believing congregation (aka a church) that she would feel comfortable in and be "saved". In the spring of 1997, I found a very Italian-oriented Church of the Nazarene. She liked it. We went to weekly services, attended Bible studies for a year, and after a while, she said the magical "sinner's prayer" & became a "believer".
In the meanwhile, I was also meeting with (and being taught by) Mitch Forman of Jews For Jesus & Mitch Glaser of Chosen People Ministries (with whom we shared a messianic Pesach seder at his home two years in a row). Later on, Mitch Glaser actually offered me a full-time position with Chosen People Ministries, but I declined the offer.
In early 1998, the Nazarene Church was preparing for the Lent season (where Christians become introspective for forty days and try to clean out the bad from inside, up to Easter day, sort of like the Jewish ten days of awe (lehavdil). At the Lent service, the Pastors made crosses of oil on the foreheads of those who wanted it (I didn't). It was at that point that I knew I couldn't stay there any more. My neshama (soul) started screaming for me to "GET OUT". I felt like I was going to throw up and thus rationalized that I had to get back to the messianic world once again. I verbalized my feelings to my wife. She wasn't too happy, as she had gotten very comfortable there.
But, once again, we started attending Shuvah Yisrael. I needed to know more and more about "Messianic Judaism" so we attended the 1998 Union of Messianic Jewish Congregation's conference in Washington DC. I also went to two separate UMJC intensive "yeshiva" weekend classes in Connecticut, with the goal of eventually becoming a messianic "rabbi" myself.
In May of 1999, my son, Daniel, was born. He had a brit milah by an Orthodox Mohel from Boro Park alongside messianic "rabbi" David Rosenberg.
The next summer, I took the whole family to the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America's "Messiah 2000" conference in Grantham, PA. It was a truly a motivating experience, literally a messianic week-long pep rally, geared to strengthen our faith in "Yeshua" and "messianic Judaism". I met hundreds of "Jewish believers" in Jesus, which strengthened my resolve to help grow the messianic movement. After returning from Pennsylvania that July, I felt compelled to truly commit myself to Jesus & Shuvah Yisrael.
During that time, I aggressively became more involved in the messianic movement as I was training to eventually become a "messianic rabbi" myself. I attended the 6th International Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism at Hofstra University on Long Island. This is where I met all the machers (big shots) of the Messianic movement, including the leadership of the major Missions to the Jews such as Moishe (Martin) Rosen, the founder of Jews for Jesus. Check out this picture of me with David Rosenberg (speaking with the now deceased Jhan Moskowitz of Jews for Jesus, with Jim Sibley, former coordinator of Jewish ministries with the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board, in the background) from an LCJE bulletin.
At the conferences and "yeshivas" I attended, the "Messianic Jewish" leaders & scholars stress that we should become more Jewishly knowledgeable, so I began to read basic traditional Jewish books by those within the different branches of Judaism. For the next ten months, we attended Shuvah Yisrael almost weekly. I loved going there, singing, worshipping and learning with David Rosenberg. I was being groomed for leadership, and we had great fellowship with many of the regular attendees there. We attended weekly Bible studies, and there were monthly couples club gatherings where we would socialize with our new family. Maria was a childcare volunteer, and she even liked going. Life remained status quo for about eight months until all the conflicting information I was learning from the Torah books and audio files started to really bother me. Also, I noticed that out of the 100+ in attendance on a regular Shabbos, maybe 6 or 7 were halachichly Jewish. Why weren’t more Jews streaming in, especially the Orthodox who should have been seeing things as clearly as I did about Yeshua and the messianic movement. I realized that I really didn't know much whatsoever about Torah or Judaism. It suddenly dawned on me that all I was learning about Judaism was from the messianic and Christian worlds. Shouldn't I perhaps learn about Judaism from Jews who realize we are here today because our ancestors rejected the theology I was now embracing? Hmmmm.....
Click on the FINALE..... "Finding Truth".