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Read Leon (Moshe) Fundo's Story Below
Adventist Preacher Truly Finds God
It all began in Russia in 1959 when Leon Fundo was born to Jewish parents. Little Leon received a full Russian education replete with the communist ideals and liberal doses of Atheism. Yet, despite his "good" education, Fundo as an adult began to have doubts about the "utopian" society. This was the time to start thinking about a career, but the motivation wasn't there. After all, why become a professional when his parents, both professionals, had the same salary as a factory worker. With everyone receiving a guaranteed salary and medical care, there was little incentive to succeed.
Soon, Fundo became seriously depressed. "I withdrew from society and lost all zest for life. My mother was distraught. She sent me for psychiatric evaluations, but to no avail. My problem was an emptyness in my soul." Leon decided to try filling his void by looking into religious belief. He began by reading all the Soviet brainwashing material he could find on "science and religion." Cleary this literature was intended to convince the reader that a diety does not exist, but it had the opposite effect on Fundo. "It was axiomatic to us, the young intellectuals, that anything criticized by the communists was probably true."
Meanwhile the International Olympics came to Moscow. It was 1980 and the first time since the beginning of communism that so many foreigners descended on the country. Leon was fascinated! He saw in these faces affluence and self-respect so unlike the dreariness of Soviet society. A better life did exist and he was determined to find it!
Fundo began to take classes at the Lenin Teachers College where he was introduced to the works of the great philosophers. He was particularly inspired by the philosopher's words, "The ultimate goal of life is to reunite with the Divine source of existence." Soon he was obsessed with the possiblity of the existence of G-d. He became so absorbed with his own spiritual quest that a fellow student recommended that he check out the underground branch of the Seventh Day Adventists.
Gorbachev came to power and ushered in the era of glastnost. Religions long persecuted could now receive the much needed funds and other support from abroad. The Adventists were eager to put to use the linguistic skills Fundo had acquired in college. They appointed him as Assistant Pastor of Foreign Affairs and his job was to translate the sermons sent by his leaders who were based in Washington, DC. Soon he was broadcasting the "word of G-d" on radio and television. This was truly a great time for Leon, and his life wouldn't have been complete if not for one nagging problem. It had to do with the Church sermons. When the elders of the Church preached they implied that "All judgements were given to the 'son' and all prophesies belonged to the Adventists," Leon Fundo questioned why the Jews were not mentioned. "There seemed to be no place for Jews. No place for good people who rejected their philosophy," he proclaimed.
At first Fundo dealt with his ideological differences by deleting all questionable references and began "concentrating" on "G-d's overwhelming love." Eventually, though, his inner conflict became too great. He combed the 'New Testament' looking for the answers, but there were none to be found. He realized, instead, that "they didn't really believe in the Ten Commandments; they didn't really believe in one G-d!" Fundo despaired, and lost his belief in G-d.
By now Leon was married and had a family to support. He took a job in a foundry. Each day was pretty much like the last until one fateful day. That day he arrived at work and found chaos. His negligent and unmotivated co-worker had caused the entire area to become flooded! Fundo could do nothing but sink to his knees in despair.
Then with water and debris floating all around him, he began to recite all the Psalms he had learned as an Adventist. "Suddenly, I felt a warm light in my soul and the warmth and tenderness of G-d. I hurried greatly exited and my wife Marina asked, "What happened? Did you get a big raise?" I shouted back, "No! I found G-d!"
Leon returned to the Church but many of his original doubts remained. When the First International Russian Book Fair came to Moscow in 1989, he knew that this was the opportunity that he had been waiting for. Now religious books would be available to research the beliefs of the 'New Testament'. At the Israeli Pavilion, he met a "black beard" and Fundo immediately asked, "Can we talk about the prophesies of Daniel?" The representative understood the implication and recommended a book by Berl Haskelevich dealing with the discrepancies between the 'Old Testament' and the 'New Testament'. Leon took the book home and read it cover to cover. He found it fascinating. Still, he was unwilling to break his ties to the church and this new knowledge only added to his confusion and inner turmoil.
Dissatisfied with his life, Leon developed a strong desire to leave Russia. He appealed to the Evangelists in the United States to invite him to come preach, and an invitation was sent. Fundo enjoyed his stay in California, where he met thousands of evangelical Christians who preached to Jews. He was introduced to a Jew involved in the Church, who taught Leon how to use Jewish song to proselytize to Jews. He was also instrumental in linking Fundo to the funds of a wealthy formerly Jewish evangelical who provided Leon with the funding to be a preacher in New York for eighteen months.
He began preaching to Russian Jews in a Brooklyn, New York Adventist Church. There, wearing a yarmulka and talith, he sang Hebrew songs with his congregation. Fundo found his work invigorating. Russian Jews starved for religion flocked to hear his dynamic sermons. As he had done in the past, he preached about G-d's overwhelming love of mankind. He made no mention of the controversial teachings which still bothered him and threatened his beliefs. His congregants were presented with teachings based on Jewish commentaries.
One day, while traveling to an Evangelical conference, Fundo met a "black-beard." Wasting no time, he asked, "Can you help me understand the prophecies of Daniel? These prophesies are of great importance to Christian theology." He was told to speak with a man named Haskelevich. "I said to myself, 'oh boy, how do I know this name'? Then it came to me, the Book Fair, and the Book of Jewish commentary which I had been using in my sermons. The same name twice!" Only an act of Divine Providence could explain such an uncanny coincidence. He had to meet this man as soon as possible.
Leon's first meeting with Rabbi Haskelevich was an eye opener for him and it lasted throughout the night. Subsequent meetings were equally revealing yet Fundo was still reluctant to relinquish all that he had worked so hard to accomplish. He continued to preach every Saturday only now he was using the Old Testament as a basis for his sermons. It wasn't long before the sermons were a closer resemblance to a Parsha lesson than Evangelical teachings. He had made up a 30 page booklet which he had distributed to his congregants. This pamphlet criticized all of the Christian "Messianic prophecies." All 300 of their misinterpretations of the Tanach were included. Interestingly, most of his congregants didn't seem to mind. But there were protestors.
"I had to make a final decision about my ministry." One Saturday it all came to a head. One ex-communist stood up and said, "Who is for Christianity? Let's vote comrades!" But the Jews said "Lets not be stupid, we have to do something!" The end result: All the Jewish congregants, together with their pastor, decided that they wanted to learn more about their own religion. They filed out of the church and into their cars, driving straight to the home of Rabbi Haskelevich. He welcomed them into his home enthusiastically, ignoring the fact that they had come by car on Shabbos.
Their meeting that Shabbos was very productive. All of the participants left the Haskelevich home with a commitment to join an outreach center in their neighborhood to learn more about Jewish observance. In time they all became committed Jews.
And what became of their charismatic leader Leon Fundo? No longer receiving a salary from the Adventists, Leon, now known as Moshe, works as a job counselor and vocational education teacher at Rabbi Waldman's Mercaz B'nos School, in Brooklyn, New York for students from the former Soviet Union. His wife Marina, now known as Miriam, works as a para-professional teacher at the Christopher Columbus High School. Their two children, Menachem, 14, and Chana, 8, are enrolled at the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, New York. The Fundo family currently resides in West Hempstead.
Moshe's leadership skills have also found a new direction. He is involved with outreach programs for Russian Jews in Brighton Beach and Rabbi Algazi's shul in Queens, New York.
How ironic! A Jew once leading other Jews astray, now a kiruv (outreach) professional. There can only be one explanation; a Divine Hand guiding us all. "To those who love you, you show the right path."