An Interview with Paul Liberman
An Interview with Paul Liberman
An Interview with Paul Liberman
To what do you attribute your success in business?
All along I had something of a deal with God, whereby I would take care of His business, and He would take care of my business. That may sound trite, but it was very real to me.
When did you make that deal?
I was a new believer in Yeshua in 1971. I had begun employment in Washington, DC, in the U.S. Commerce Department. I had recently moved from Chicago, where I had been active in campaign politics for the Republican Party. I was in a somewhat insecure position, and the man who hired me got fired. I was hanging on by my fingernails with no resources. So I wrote a letter to God and sent it out to all my friends. The letter basically said, “If You help me in my economic situation, I’ll serve You all the days of my life.” People said, “Why did you have to say that prayer in writing?” The idea was so I wouldn’t be able to back away from it. Later, as things began to succeed business-wise, I thought, Did I make a covenant? And if I did, dare I break a covenant with God? If I did make a covenant, I should not walk away from a deal I made.
As I learned more about the Scriptures, I took very seriously the promise, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4), and also, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). So as I ventured into things, I felt in the beginning as a believer, Wow, with God as my partner, how can we lose?
Explain the title of your new book, Don’t Call Me Christian: A Jewish Story.
The title was to try to draw out the essence of the movement. There has been a 2,000-year-old mistake. The prophet Jeremiah said that as long as there are the sun, the moon and the stars fixed in their ordinances, there will always be an identifiable Jewish people (Jeremiah 31:35–37). And God has kept that promise. Now Christianity has made an error, somewhat inadvertently, in saying to Jewish people to renounce their Jewishness and to go against what Jeremiah said—a mistake that has continued for 2,000 years! But it’s finally being corrected. And it’s time for the Jewish people to examine these things for ourselves rather than letting some ancient or current rabbi decide for us what we think.
You wrote your first book, The Fig Tree Blossoms: Messianic Judaism Emerges, in 1976, and that has had quite an impact. How did that book come about?
It’s still utilized by many Messianic congregations around the country, and it’s available in six languages now. There are over 100,000 copies in distribution. I never expected that to be the case. At the time, the traditional Jewish community was saying a lot of things about us that were really not true. Christianity didn’t understand us either, and a few Jewish believers who were in various churches also were misperceiving and misquoting us. So something needed to be written. Everyone else was saying what we believed, but we weren’t. As a layperson, I wrote the book as a primer, an initial exploration, until some theological treatise could be written. And I guess because it’s simply written—because I’m not a scholar—it has remained popular.
In your new book, you refer to yourself as a “deal maker.” What is the art of making a deal?
The Scriptures say that he who would be great among you, let him be as a servant. It seems as though seeking advantage would gain you the prize. But the Scriptures say, “Look, the real competition here is who can be of the greatest service.” So if you can provide the greater service, that’s where success will be. The people in business who seek to exploit their advantage usually, in the long run, don’t succeed. Everybody knows, “Let’s not deal with him. It’s all one way.” Whereas if your mindset is, Look, where’s our mutual advantage? and you do that over the long haul, a lot of people are going to want to do business with you.
You served in politics both locally and in Washington, DC. Did you experience any anti-Semitism in your political life?
No. If it was there, I was not really aware of it. I was in conservative Republican politics before that was popular. My mentor said that being a Jewish guy could be advantageous, that I was potentially valuable because here’s a Jewish person who could express to other Jewish people that the conservative values were really more in their interest. Jewish people, starting at the time of President Roosevelt, were classically, overwhelmingly in the Democratic Party. But so many Jewish people are small businessmen, and I wanted to explain why the conservative values of the Republican Party were good for small businessmen and for the professions. I really wanted to express myself in these ways and be persuasive. So being Jewish and having that commonality with that segment of voters was thought to be advantageous.
How did your faith affect your political service?
I had a quick elevator up in life. It got me to thinking about destiny and how does it work? That’s really what prompted my interest in spiritual things. When I did receive Yeshua as my Messiah, naturally I wanted to tell my mentor about this. He was not buying into what I was explaining. So at a certain juncture he said, “Listen, Paul, you have a real future in politics. But you can’t be a ‘Christer’ and be in politics. You have to decide which you’re going to be.” I told him that out there in spiritual space, there’s a two-party system. And I wanted to play in the big game, because that lasts forever. So I chose my way, and I continued to be friends with my mentor, but I set off with my life to pursue a Messianic vision. I’ve never regretted that. And interestingly enough, the politics, although I’ve never since sought it, sometimes seeks me in various roles.
You worked in politics in Israel, including lobbying the Knesset on religious rights issues. Tell us about that.
I had made aliyah to Israel in 1994, and after a year or so I was raised up into the leadership at Beit Asaph Messianic Congregation in Netanya. When adverse legislation was proposed that would essentially make Messianic Jews illegal in Israel, so that we wouldn’t be able to meet or own a New Testament, there was a meeting of 100 congregational leaders. I was the newest, so I was very quiet at the meeting. They decided to form a political action committee. Wayne Hilsden [lead pastor of King of Kings Community in Jerusalem since 1983] recalled that I had served as Director of Congressional Relations in the U.S. Department of Commerce, and he said, “We should really get Paul in on this.” So I was put on the committee. Months later the chairman had to leave, and suddenly I was the head. The discussion was, “Well, we’ll fight them till they win,” meaning the Orthodox Haredi community, because they always win. I just thought this was terrible. What a defeatist attitude. The Scriptures say that the redeemed of the Lord shall return to Zion (Isaiah 51:11). To return to Zion means you had to be there in the first place; this could only be Jews. And we [the Messianic Jews] were the only Jews claiming to be redeemed! So how could we lose?
The common thinking was to fight this within the Land. But I said, “No, for sure we’re going to lose if we try to fight them on their ground. Let’s fight them where we are strong, and let’s bring the world community of believers to pressure from the outside.” We lobbied the U.S. Congress, various European parliaments, and the European Union, finding those members who were born-again Christians, asking them to write a letter of inquiry on their stationery and send it to the prime minister’s office.
Also, I knew a man by the name of Marvin Weinraub, a Messianic Jew who had worked with Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. I asked Marvin, “Do you think we could get the senator to write a confidential and specific letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu?” He said, “Yes, of course.” I asked, “Do you think we could write that letter and ask Senator Helms to sign it?” He said, “Sure thing.” So Marvin and I wrote a letter, asked Senator Helms to sign it, and it was sent by diplomatic courier to Prime Minister Netanyahu [personally]. The letter basically said, “As long as there is active legislation against the Messianic Jews, my committee will not look with favor on any Israel-related issues.” That was just one of many evidences that God was with us and caused us to prevail against both pieces of adverse legislation in 1998 and 1999.
Your son Joel is a CPA, has a rabbinical ordination, and leads a Messianic congregation in San Diego. Your son Evan is an Israeli citizen and has been successful in both high tech and in the financial arena. Both have retained a strong faith and a strong sense of their Jewish identity. How did you and your wife, Susan, instill these values in your children, in an age where both faith and Jewish identity have been eroding?
Being Jewish believers during a time when there was such a scarcity of fellow travelers, we were a very close community. We explained to our sons, “Our views are not the same as what you’re going to run into in school, and as issues come up, let’s talk about them.” In our household, faith was a living, breathing thing. As decisions came up, Yeshua was going to be the head of our household. So that just carried forward throughout their lives, that the Messiah was going to speak into situations in ways that were understandable to us. None of us heard voices or anything like that, but God did let us know intuitively what it was that He would want us to do, the way that He would want us to go.
What would you say to someone who questions your motives when it comes to expressing your Jewish identity so boldly?
I understand that we are misperceived by many in the Jewish community as cloaking ourselves in Judaism for the purpose of evangelism. That’s a misperception. The reality is that inwardly there is a God-instilled desire to be Jewish no matter what. Now sometimes Jewish people will squelch it and just go off and be in a church and become a classical Christian. But even then, it’s a troubling thing, very often, what to do with this sense of Jewishness. It’s an inner resolve that seems to be implanted there by God. And anything that tries to squash or eliminate that is pretty much rejected.
At the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, we take on some of the burdens of our people, in Israel especially, but also in Ethiopia and other places, to foster their welfare. It is evidence of the fact that we’re not just Jews for evangelism, we’re Jewish people because we are glad to have a relationship with the God of Israel. We tell people, “Look, it is possible, even today, to have a personal relationship with God the way Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did.” That’s important, that’s a very valuable thing. We have a wonderful gift, if people will listen. It’s with a desire to help our people, and the beginnings of that are to accept the Messiah. If we really want the welfare of our people, if we want them to be successful, if we want them to lead happier lives, the very first thing that needs to be done is to settle up on this decision of the Messiahship of Yeshua.
Matt Sieger is the editor of ISSUES: A Messianic Jewish Perspective. ISSUES is our publication for Jewish people who are willing to consider the question, Who is Jesus? Matt also writes blogs, articles, and reviews for our publications and has edited the book, Stories of Jews for Jesus.