Edited by Ronda Chervin. New Hope, KY: Remnant of Israel, 1994. xii, 189 pages. $10.00, paper.
When people come to faith in Jesus, it is always greeted with great rejoicing both here on earth and in the heavens. It is a particular joy to Jewish believers in Jesus to hear of God’s working to bring fellow Jews to faith in Him. Ronda Chervin, a Jewish woman and devout Roman Catholic, has a deep love for Jewish people and a longing to see them come to know Jesus as their Savior. She has collected 23 stories of Jewish people, how they found Yeshua to be the Messiah and how they came to be Roman Catholics, including Rabbi Israel Zolli of Rome, Edith Stein and Cardinal Lustiger, the present cardinal of Paris. It is apparent from the opening pages that Mrs. Chervin is promoting the Catholic Church, from her point of view the only true Church, as she relates these stories. In spite of this, the book has value in the stories it tells, whether the reader is Catholic or an evangelical Protestant. Non-Catholics may feel uneasy as they read parts of this book, but the story of Jews and Jesus would not be complete without biographies such as these.
The book is divided into two sections: those baptized before 1950, whom the author calls Trailblazers,” and those baptized after 1950, called “Contemporaries.” There is an inconsistency in the accounts in terms of length, voice and the stories themselves, which makes the book somewhat uncomfortable to read. The biographies range from just over a page to as many as 14 pages in length. Some are told in the first person and some in the third. Some are very theological while others give detailed descriptions of the thoughts and deep inner feelings of the person at each stage in his or her journey of faith. Mrs. Chervin repeatedly uses Catholic terms that are not explained or defined and would be lost on those outside of the Catholic Church. The book appears to be written for those already in the Roman Catholic community or those who may yet be drawn to the Catholic Church.
There are several themes that are found throughout the book. The first is drawn from the Scripture quoted by Mrs. Chervin, “The Jews demand signs” (1 Corinthians 1:22). In each story there seems to be some unusual circumstance that is mystical or somewhat miraculous that draws the Jewish person to encounter Jesus personally. There are often visions or dreams or overwhelming feelings of awe described that bring the seeker in touch with the Divine.
The second theme is a fascination with the historic, majestic, orthodox spirituality as it is found in Orthodox Judaism and Catholicism. There is a genuine respect for traditional Judaism that allows for a comfortable attitude toward the observance of Jewish Law. The accounts offer insight into the individuals’ perception of and compliance with the Law. This positive attitude is carried over into their devotion to and observance of Catholic traditions, such as in the keeping of the Sacraments. Baptism and the receiving of Holy Communion are vital parts of these biographies, as is intercession by Mary and the saints. Lives of continuing Catholic devotion and personal spiritual pursuits are honored throughout the book.
The third theme involves family relationships, specifically the rejection of, or anticipated rejection of, the believer by unbelieving family members. There are repeated references to the pain experienced when the person’s faith is revealed and a negative reaction occurs. Perhaps this is so often mentioned because it is of particular concern for the individual telling the story. In one case more than two pages of text were spent relating how and why this person was not able to bring himself to tell his family of his faith. In a confession-like manner Steve Block tells how he was baptized in 1978 but as of 1993 was afraid of the reaction that might occur if his family were to learn of his conversion. He considers it “a sort of kindness” to spare them the anxiety and upset it would cause, though he admits to suffering the “anguish of my own deception” (p. 124). His story reminds us of the high cost of following Jesus, who addressed the issue of family rejection in Matthew 10:37, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”
There is always the risk that the reaction of family, friends, and others may be one of rejection. But how much greater is the risk that they may never hear about the love of God through His Son and come to faith in Him?
This leads to a fourth common thread, which is the witness or encouragement extended to these individuals by other Jewish believers. Certainly we hear about priests willing to offer instruction, roommates extending invitations to Bible studies, friends and acquaintances sharing Scripture passages. But in numerous cases it was through the encouragement, instruction or story of a Jewish believer that these people came to inquire further into the messiahship of Jesus. Although I do not think this book is appropriate for a Jewish person who is not already quite comfortable in a Roman Catholic setting, it does speak to the need for Jewish believers to be bold in their witness to other Jews.
As Mrs. Chervin notes, Catholics “often don’t seek you out unless you seek them out” (p. 135). So those Jewish people who have come to faith and become immersed in the Catholic Church may be considered an unseen, though present minority. Bread from Heaven offers a glimpse not only into how 23 different Jews came to faith but also into how they live and worship within the context of Catholicism. Though many believers may take issue with the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, that should not prevent them from listening to the stories of these Jewish people. The book is laced with Catholic doctrines and theology that will be difficult for most unbelieving Jewish people to understand or accept. It is hoped, however, that one would be inspired from a book of this kind to witness all the more for “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37).
Patty Mendelsohn is the wife of Sydney, Australia Jews for Jesus branch leader Bob Mendelsohn.