I have been surprised, as I encounter various Jewish believers, that so many first encountered the Jews for Jesus ministry through the Liberated Wailing Wall (LWW). This mobile evangelistic team continues to present Jewish gospel music and drama in approximately 300 churches and Messianic congregations each year.
In a sense the team is an institution, but it is really an amazing and ongoing collection of people’s lives and stories, and I wanted to share some of those stories with you. You’ll hear from Jeff Millenson, who served with the Liberated Wailing Wall many years ago and now oversees the team. You’ll hear from David Abramsky, a member of our last LWW team, and then from Melissa Weinisch, a current member. They will tell you about the team’s beginnings, how it’s changed (or not changed) and how it can change people. I hope you will enjoy their stories.
AA: Jeff, What can you tell us about the LWW?
JM: Well, the team officially began in 1972, which predated the founding of Jews for Jesus in 1973. In fact, part of the reason we incorporated as a mission was to provide a foundation to support the LWW ministry. The name is from the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, which is a very Jewish place, and adding the word “Liberated” indicated that we have been set free through our faith in Y’shua.
AA: The LWW has been characterized by a “Fiddler on the Roof” sound—the team even uses shtetl costumes. Why that style?
JM: We wanted a sound that was recognizably Jewish. Many people have seen the movie “Fiddler on the Roof,” but even those who haven’t immediately respond to the music with the realization, “This is Jewish.” We put that sound together with the gospel message and called it “Jewish gospel music.”
AA: When did you first hear the LWW?
JM: It was 1974. Moishe Rosen came to Point Loma College, a Christian college I attended. He spoke in chapel about Jewish evangelism and in the afternoon he gave a seminar. He brought an LP called “Hineni” (the first recording by the LWW). I remember him placing it on the big turntable and playing the song, “For God So Loved the World.” It was the first time I’d heard the gospel sung in a Jewish way and it brought tears to my eyes. I didn’t get to see the LWW live until 1979, when I was in Seattle. The team was there and I went to see them four times in one week.
AA: Did you find that the Jewish sound of the music drew you?
JM: Definitely. I really love Jewish gospel music. That might not be true of everyone who serves on the team, but it definitely drew me. In 1979 the team was planning to go on a world tour. They were looking for a Jewish believer who could play the piano. I joined in June of 1980.
AA: So you had experience earlier with the LWW 25-plus years ago, and now as the music director, you oversee the team. What is different between then and now?
JM: (laughs) When I first joined the LWW, it was still in the “van era.” We didn’t travel as far because we had to get to our hosts’ homes at a decent hour. It was a little more cramped in the vans. I remember typing on a manual typewriter.
We got our first bus in late 1980, and it changed everything. We had much more room, plus we were able to sleep on the bus, which meant we could travel a lot farther and go more places.
Today, between cell phones and computers, as long as there’s a signal in the area, people can be in touch. That really makes things better for people on the team.
AA: What in your experience was one of the most difficult aspects of being on the LWW?
JM: Being in constant contact with other people on the team. You realize that other people have their issues, but I think that the hardest part for me was to realize my own shortcomings and have to deal with those. That’s the only way to make life possible when you are living with the same people 24/7.
AA: So what was the best part?
JM: Traveling around the entire country. I ended up being with the LWW in 49 of the 50 states. Somehow I missed North Dakota, but I was in all the other states, including Alaska and Hawaii because those were the last two stops on our world tour in 1981. Getting a chance to see the country, to meet believers in every kind of denomination and in Messianic congregations, and getting a sense of the Body of Messiah all together was just amazing.
AA: What can we expect for the current team?
JM: The current team has a couple of exciting things coming up. They will record an album this March, at the tail end of their road tour. This team has a number of good songwriters and they’ve contributed about half the songs that we’re planning to record. It should be available by the fall of ‘07.
AA: What kind of feel do you think the album is going to have?
JM: I think it’s going to be like a Psalm. Some songs are full of joy and other songs are more introspective. I think that together all the songs are going to be a real expression of what it’s like to have faith in Messiah and to walk with the Lord. I think people are really going to enjoy the album.
AA: As the music director of Jews for Jesus and having been involved with music over these years, how do you see Messianic or Jewish gospel music changing?
JM: I think Messianic or Jewish gospel music changes with the times. Maybe in the early ‘70s there was just one sound that people thought of as Jewish gospel; we sometimes called it “um-chick,” a very basic, rhythmic sound with minor chords. I think it’s really expanded. There’s klezmer, there’s Middle Eastern sounds, there’s rock, and so many different expressions of faith by Jewish believers.
AA: Are you looking for music for future albums and teams, and if so, what kind of music?
JM: Absolutely. I’m on the lookout for music that in some way has a Jewish feel to it. But that could be in a variety of musical genres. I think when people hear the next album they will see there is a variety of what the LWW does and is interested in doing. If someone has written a song that they would like us to hear, I’d be happy to listen to it. They could do that on sheet music or MP3 or whatever they like and I’d be glad to receive that. E-mail them to me at [email protected] or pop the songs in the mail to me, Jeff Millenson at Jews for Jesus, 60 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA 94102.
AA: What happens after this team records the upcoming album?
JM: This team is going to be going on a European tour in early April and that will take them through the end of May. They’ll definitely be going to the UK, and they will also be going to France, Switzerland, possibly Germany and Poland.
AA: When will the new team begin training?
JM: The new team will begin training in June 2007, and they will go on the road in mid-August. Their tour will continue through the end of November 2008.
AA: How can people be praying for the LWW?
JM: Please pray that God would sustain the current team and that He would keep things new for them. Also for the logistics of the album and the European tour, that both of these will glorify God. For the new team, we have some in the application process and are still looking. We are especially looking for the next team leader, as well as the person who is going to be the next bus driver/sound engineer. Pray that God will bring the right people and the right combination of people to be the next team so they can carry on the LWW tradition and also carry it forward.
AA: Thanks, Jeff, for the history and the update and telling us a little of your story. Now we’ll move on to a more recent member of the LWW, David Abramsky.
AA: David, tell us a little about your upbringing.
DA: I grew up in a loving Jewish family. We started off Conservative but moved to a Reform synagogue where I was bar mitzvah and all that—but heard very little if anything about God. This left me confused. While I was proud of my heritage, I had to look elsewhere to try and figure out what was going on. I ended up in the sciences, hoping that they could explain the world around me.
AA: So what was the turning point for you toward Y’shua?
DA: I had heard about Jesus and dismissed Him, but then I realized that as a scientist, I should test things. I had to admit that I had concluded that the New Testament wasn’t for me, without ever testing or reading it for myself. That was not the scientific method. So I had to pick it up and read it. I discovered that, contrary to what I had been told, it was a very Jewish book. I was very attracted to Jesus’ character and teachings. As I read the New Testament I felt “at home” and somewhere deep within I knew it was true.
AA: What’s your background in music?
DA: I have a very musical family. Classical on my dad’s side and jazz on my mom’s side, lots of musicians. I played the piano from an early age. Later I picked up the cello.
AA: Have you worked professionally with music?
DA: A little bit. I was with a band when I started to pick up the New Testament.
AA: When did you first hear the Liberated Wailing Wall?
DA: Shortly after I became a believer in 1997, I went with some friends to see the LWW. I loved it. People said, “You could do that,” and I said, “I would never do that. I have my life and plans. Anyway I couldn’t live on a bus for a year and half in such close quarters.”
AA: Then what made you decide to join the Liberated Wailing Wall?
DA: Andrew Barron, who leads Jews for Jesus in Canada, asked me to pray every year when they were looking for new team members. For five years I would pray and then come back to him and say that I’m not getting any sense that this is God’s leading. But the sixth year I prayed, I got a very clear sense that this was for me. It was about the clearest calling I had ever gotten. It’s like I woke up and wanted to do it. I waited a couple of weeks, and it stayed with me.
AA: How were you stretched in terms of working in close proximity with other people?
DA: Some people say, “How could you do that?”, but with the Lord you can do anything. That great clear call allowed me to rise above my fears. I learned that I could live with total strangers and get to know them as a family. I could give to them and they could give to me. And the Lord could use us as a team. Wasn’t always easy, but the rewards were great.
AA: What was the high point of your tour?
DA: Well, one high point was meeting my fianc?e (actually my bride by the time this is in print. We were married November 12, 2006.) She was on the team before me, actually she had done two tours, so I met her at the beginning of my tour, which was the end of her time with the LWW. God had arranged for me to wait six years so that I could meet her. We began seeing each other during my training, and once I was on the road, Joanie was a great support, by phone, the whole time.
Of course praying with someone to receive the Lord right in a Messianic synagogue after one of our presentations was also a high point. I had never done that before. Just to feel that the Lord was using me.
AA: I understand that your family does not share your views about Jesus, and yet your mother and brother attended one of your presentations in Toronto. What happened?
DA: It was very difficult for them. My brother had to get up and walk out; he was very upset. My mother stayed through the whole thing. But it gave me a chance to have an extended conversation with them later and really to explain my beliefs to them for the first time. Now they are starting to ask little questions. It’s a slow process.
AA: Looking back, what did you learn through your experience with the LWW?
DA: That the Lord still calls people to do things, and you can do anything through the Lord once you’re called. I’ve learned how to stay close to the Word. When there was tension and stress and a grinding schedule, I’d get up in the morning and get out of the bus, and I walked and read my Bible. I stayed as close as I could to the Word.
AA: What would you tell someone who was thinking about joining the LWW and asked for your advice?
DA: First I would say, “That’s great!” If there are fears, look beyond them to what the Lord might want for you. It’s something you will be glad that you did, or perhaps you might regret not doing if you feel a tug but don’t do it because of fears. Sure there are difficulties. But there are great joys. Talk with other LWW people. Listen to the music. Pray and see where you’re called.
AA: Thanks, David, and mazel tov on your marriage! Yours isn’t the first and I’m sure it won’t be the last marriage between former LWW members.
AA: Okay, last but not least we have current team member, Melissa Weinisch. Melissa, tell us a little about yourself.
MW: I was raised in a Messianic home. My mom was with Jews for Jesus when she met my dad, who was with Chosen People. By the time I came along, my father was a Messianic pastor, still on staff with CP. We moved all up and down the East Coast, planting congregations and doing Jewish evangelism. I had my bat mitzvah when I was 13. When I was 12 or 13 my father left CP and he specifically focused on being a Messianic pastor.
AA: When did you first hear the Liberated Wailing Wall?
MW: The first time actually I heard them, I was a sophomore in high school. I heard about them long before. My godparents, Sam and Miriam Nadler, were both on the original team. So I heard about it growing up. Anyway the LWW came to my father’s congregation in South Carolina in 2002 or 2003. My parents went crazy and they were very excited about the idea of me going on the team. I really wasn’t interested. I kind of felt like I was already a missionary just by living with my family. He (God) had different plans. And here I am.
AA: What did you think of Messianic music initially?
MW: I was never too excited about it. All these songs that I had grown up with are great for dancing and worship but I never chose to listen to it outside of the congregation. That’s where it was, it stayed at the congregation and then I’d go home and listen to other things.
AA: Did you know any of the LWW songs before you came on the team?
MW: Well, when I first applied my mother told me, “You know a lot of these songs. You don’t know you know them, but you do.” She was right.
AA: You sang them at your congregation?
MW: Right. Like “Behold, God Is My Salvation,” that’s, you know, timeless. (Laughs) It’s been around forever. “Trees of the field” I’ve known my entire life. They were among the Messianic standards that you do in congregations.
AA: So what kind of music do you keep on your iPod?
MW: (Laughs) I have an insanely wide range. I love drama so I have tons of musicals and sound tracks. I love very acoustic stuff, like Alanis Morissette, mellow, not too crazy. But then I also like a lot of alternative kind of hyper bands. So a little bit of everything. My dad is a huge jazz fan and I’ve grown up listening to jazz with him.
AA: Do you have any LWW music on your iPod?
MW: I do. I had to trick myself into listening to it. When I was applying for the team, I put the “Behold Your God” album on my worship play list. So I started listening to it. As I’ve learned more of the songs from other albums, I slowly but surely started putting my favorites of the other albums on there. I have my LWW selection.
AA: Has your appreciation of Messianic music grown?
MW: Yes it has. I love it now. I don’t necessarily listen to it in my free time, just ’cause I’m doing it so much. But I appreciate it a lot more now that I realize the complexity of all the different harmonies and instruments. I mean sixpart, ten-part harmonies and all the klezmer. Very well rounded. AA: The LWW style is not on everybody’s top ten list of albums, yet somehow a lot of people still feel connected to it. Why do you think that is?
MW: Yeah, I think it’s—I’m not even necessarily sure that it’s the music that has stuck with me so much as what it represents. It’s like every time we sing in Messianic congregations, it’s like going home to me. The same with Messianic music. It’s like when you go to the synagogue and they sing all the traditional prayers and a part of you is feeling, “Oh that’s me and I’m here at home.” It’s a comfort thing.
AA: What is your current role on the team?
MW: I sing alto, and tenor sometimes. I play guitar, tambourine, finger chimes. I’ve been doing drama with the team. I’m the youngest, the hyper one who is always going nonstop.
AA: How do you feel you fit in to the team, and how have you grown during your time with them?
MW: At first I really didn’t fit in. When I got to San Francisco for training, probably about the first month and a half, I did not want to be there. I was really fighting God about it. That started to change on Thanksgiving, when the old team returned to San Francisco. They threw a big Thanksgiving bash in the house where we were staying. I was so homesick. I didn’t want to be there and I felt like, “These people are excited about this, I’m not.” I just wanted to go home. Then God reminded me He had me here for a reason. It was like He was saying, “Right now you don’t feel like there is anything here for you, but there is a reason that you’re here.”
After that I started to see what God was doing. I had no clue of how much I was going to be stretched. Having been raised a pastor’s kid, I always had this mentality, without realizing it, that I knew everything, I was fine with God, I knew all the stories, I believed everything. And then God showed me that I really had a lot of work to do and this was the only way I was going to see it.
AA: So it was a maturing experience?
MW: Absolutely. God started meeting me and pushing me and pulling me and stretching me. When the old team came in they told us, “It’s going to be hard, but you’re going to grow so much.” And Sabra, one of the younger members of that team, specifically told me that she was a different person than when she started her tour. As she was talking, I was thinking, “That’s not going to happen to me; I’m mature, I don’t need any of that.” And now, I feel like I’m a completely different person than I was when I left training. Friends have told me I’m different too.
AA: You have traveled all over the U.S. What are some memorable towns or places that you’ve been?
MW: In August we went though Utah and stopped in Arches National Park. It’s huge and there are no trees. There are just rock formations. We pulled over and just went crazy. I went climbing and found myself overlooking the whole park. And it was so breathtaking. Eventually the whole team got up there and we looked over these peaks and it was so gorgeous. We spent the whole day going through the park. It was great to see there is a world outside the bus.
AA: As a mobile evangelistic team, the LWW does do evangelism on the road. Was that hard?
MW: I had passed out tracts with my dad as a kid, but when the team started doing sorties (tract-passing expeditions) I was a little scared. It’s gotten easier. It’s still hard, but I have an excitement for it and I usually find joy in it.
AA: Can you tell us about an unexpected witnessing encounter?
MW: In Nashville, we were at a mall and I stopped at a “Dead Sea Lotion” booth where I met two Israeli girls. They asked what I was doing in Nashville. When I told them I work with Jews for Jesus one said, “OH!” and her friend said, “I’m a Jew for Jesus!” I asked the non-believer if she wanted to talk. She said that she felt something was missing and that there was something the rabbis weren’t telling her, but she didn’t know what it was. I convinced her to take her break and walk to Barnes and Noble with me. I opened a Bible with her and watched her read Isaiah 53. She was floored! I asked her what she thought and she said, “That sounds like Jesus.” She wanted to read it in Hebrew and said she would call me and tell me what happened. We exchanged numbers and e-mails. I asked if I could pray with her before she left. I was so excited. We prayed and I asked God to show her who the Messiah was and if He was real. I never heard from her, but I know that God used that time and I was there for a reason.
AA: I also know you worked on some new music that is being considered for the upcoming CD.
MW: I submitted six songs, which either I wrote or cowrote, and four were chosen for the album. I am thrilled! I didn’t think they would be chosen.
AA: What other innovations has your team brought to the LWW?
MW: Michelle Gold, our music director, is a huge fan of mixing things up and making them fresh. Almost all of the songs we do have something that has changed from the way we were taught them. Not drastically, but added solos and changed instruments. We’ve added energy and are having fun with it and enjoying it.
AA: So your team will be heading to Europe after the album. What are your expectations?
MW: I have no clue! We hear that Europe is a totally different “ball game.” I am looking forward to seeing other countries. I hope God will just prepare the way for us. Aaron says: In many ways, the people you just read about are ordinary Jewish believers with a desire to serve Y’shua. But each had a willingness to learn, to be challenged, to be stretched in order to serve God in a bigger way than they had previously imagined possible. I hope that this edition of Havurah will help you to be praying for the current and future Liberated Wailing Wall teams, as well as for those they meet and minister to on a regular basis. You can find out more about our current Liberated Wailing Wall team at http://www.myspace.com/liberatedwailingwall.
Maybe you can relate to parts of these stories. Maybe you have similar skills and gifts that God has been developing in your life. I want to urge you to consider how God could use you on such a team—because we are currently looking for new team members and this may be the opportunity of your life. Would you pray, like David did, and ask God if this is for you?
If this is something that you desire to be part of, or even if you are just a little curious, please feel free to send an e-mail to me, Aaron Abramson at: [email protected]. I would love to tell you more about this opportunity and to hear about what God is doing in your life. Because I am confident “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion unto the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).