Missionary of the Month: Joel Kleinbaum
Joel Kleinbaum is one of the missionaries in our Los Angeles branch. Six feet tall, with green eyes and brown hair, Joel is described by his friends as not as quiet as you might think.” Soft-spoken Joel has much to say, but he appears reserved until you get to know him.
Joel was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 2, 1957. His family belonged to a Conservative synagogue, and he continued to attend Hebrew school for three years following his bar mitzvah (Confirmation). That was more religious instruction than the average Jewish person receives. But if there was anything that came first in Joel’s life, it was music. Shortly before his bar mitzvah, Joel had begun to play the bassoon. By the time he was 15, he had decided to become a professional bassoonist.
When the time came for college, Joel chose Boston University because a famous bassoonist taught there. At first, everything seemed to be going according to Joel’s plans. He was studying music with the first chair bassoonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He was also playing in the Boston University Symphony, a position not usually given to freshmen. But in his sophomore year, Joel became depressed. He was not satisfied with his musical progress. Tension developed between him and his instructor. He was “demoted” to the second orchestra.
Joel contemplated transferring to another school, hoping that a fresh start would be the answer to his problems. It was about that time that he decided to become better acquainted with his roommate. The result was that he received a fresher start than he ever could have imagined!
Joel saw something special about his roommate. He was a talented musician, yet his life did not revolve around his clarinet. That was difficult for Joel to understand, in light of his own priorities. Bluntly, Joel asked, “How come you don’t get depressed like I do?”
Then in answer to his question, for the first time in his life, Joel heard the gospel. What his roommate told him seemed to strike a chord in Joel’s heart, but it was hard for him to believe that Jesus could be the Messiah. He decided that he had better investigate for himself.
First Joel read Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. Then he borrowed a Bible and read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John. He struggled with the truth for a couple of days. Could he accept Jesus? Should he? He knew that it would be difficult to explain to his family. Finally Joel committed his life to the Messiah.
Joel met other believers at Boston University. He even met a Jewish believer. Her name was Robin. Robin was doing volunteer work with the Boston branch of Jews for Jesus, and she kept inviting Joel to come along and hand out broadsides (gospel tracts). She confided to him that she wanted to be on staff with Jews for Jesus and sing with the Liberated Wailing Wall, one of our mobile evangelistic teams.
One Thursday evening Robin called Joel with her usual invitation to go broadsiding the following day and have dinner afterwards. But as the phone conversation drew to a close, it took a turn that Joel was not expecting.
“Mitch Glaser called to let me know that I have been accepted for the Liberated Wailing Wall,” Robin announced.
“Mazel tov!” Joel replied enthusiastically. (That’s the Yiddish equivalent of “Congratulations!”)
“But…uh…Joel,” Robin continued, “Mitch asked me if I knew any guys who might be interested in joining the team. I…uh…gave him your name. Is that alright, Joel? He’s going to call you.”
“Joel? I gave him your number. Was that alright? Joel? Are you speaking to me?”
Far from being an extrovert, Joel had never considered the possibility of becoming a missionary. When Mitch Glaser called to ask if he would be interested in joining the Liberated Wailing Wall, Joel had planned on saying, “No, thank you. I’m not interested.” To his amazement, however, he heard himself telling Mitch, “Yes, I would be very interested.”
What a victory it was for Joel to take the instrument that once had been the object of his worship and use it to worship the Lord instead! Through the ministry of the Liberated Wailing Wall, Joel was able to tell many people about Jesus. After his 18-month tour, Joel was stationed as a missionary in Los Angeles. His talents are utilized in our Los Angeles-based music team, as well as in arranging special programs as part of the branch’s outreach.
Besides music, Joel has a special ability in the area of ministering to elderly people. He visits older Jewish people in hospitals and homes, patiently listening and quietly building an effective story to those who are too often overlooked by society. Joel’s car gets quite a workout as he navigates the Los Angeles freeway system every day. Between visits to unbelieving Jewish people, Joel hands out broadsides at U.C.L.A. and the California State campus at Northridge. Joel says, “I’ve been broadsiding these schools for so many years now, feel I’m entitled to another diploma!”
When Joel is not busy with evangelism, he enjoys gourmet cooking—anything from Japanese food to Moroccan, not to mention French, and, of course, Chinese. He also likes listening to Italian opera and visiting art galleries. Writing is a hobby that he hopes to see integrated into his ministry. He has written several parables and fiction pieces for this Newsletter, as well as reports about some of his evangelistic contacts. He finds languages fascinating, and would like to be able to speak several fluently some day.
Mostly, Joel finds satisfaction in seeing Jewish people come to know Jesus. He also takes much pleasure in achieving short-term goals, like arranging a piece of music well, or successfully presenting a Purim play (a dramatic presentation about the Book of Esther).
If you would like to pray for something specific in Joel’s life, he is seeking God’s guidance in balancing the creative aspects of his ministry (music and writing) with regular missionary work. He takes the work of an evangelist very seriously, and he also gravitates toward creative projects. It takes quite a bit of organization to do both!
You might also remember to pray for his ministry to the elderly. Joel feels a tremendous responsibility in telling the gospel to those who may not have the opportunity to hear it again. If you do feel led to pray for Joel, you might want to send him a postcard to let him know that your thoughts are with him.
The following is a report Joel wrote out one of his evangelistic experiences:
It was a most unusual letter. Doug (not his real name) had enclosed a handwritten, hand-illustrated letter along with his coupon requesting the book Yeshua, the Jewish Way to Say Jesus. The letter’s homemade cartoon flavor made it look something like a broadside as to why Jews should not believe in Jesus.
The Messiah, the letter said, would “bring an end to war.” Here there was a picture of a broken sword. He would bring love between human beings and nations, and even resurrect the dead. (That phrase was followed by a picture of a smiling face.) Doug continued in large letters, “He (Jesus) didn’t do it!” The letter went on to say that Jews are not Christians, and Christians are not Jews, and he even listed a couple of references from rabbinic sources. Stapled to the letter was a printed piece of anti-missionary literature. Doug ended by saying, “I’ll read your book, but I seriously doubt you’ll ever convert me.” If nothing else, Doug certainly seemed to have made up his mind. He needed a different approach. I was more than half-convinced that if he were a talkative person, he might even try to talk me out of my faith because I am soft-spoken and some mistakenly think that soft-spokenness indicates indecisiveness and lack of certainty. In preparation to calling Doug, I reviewed some anti-missionary arguments and then I picked up the phone.
“Usually,” I began, “I just ask people what they thought of the Yeshua book, but since I received a copy of your letter, I want to know why you requested the book in the first place, feeling as strongly as you do.”
“I have a friend at work, and he’s a Christian, and we’ve been having some discussions,” Doug said. “I wanted to see what you had to say.” He actually seemed grateful that I had called.
“I was also curious about one of the references you cited,” I continued. “Was it from one of the codes of Halakhah (Jewish Law) ?” Doug replied that he thought it was from the Talmud, but he was not sure. As we talked, it was soon obvious to me that I knew the anti-missionary literature better than Doug did. I felt Doug had written his blustery letter in part to conceal the fact that deep down inside he was struggling with several important issues: whether or not a Jewish person could believe in Jesus; whether the Hebrew Scriptures spoke of one coming of the Messiah or two; who Yeshua was and what having a personal relationship with God through Yeshua was all about.
I chatted briefly with Doug, talking about our respective religious backgrounds and some concerns that we shared. I was hoping that he would let me keep in touch (he was one of the many who lived far away from our branch office in the sprawling suburbia of Southern California). I didn’t even have to ask.
“Listen,” he said. “I have to go to school for a class now. Could you call me again some time soon?” he asked. We had talked long enough that I knew he was not trying to get rid of me.
“Certainly,” I said. I gave him a rough idea of when I would be calling back. For the first time that night, I hung up the phone encouraged.
Oftentimes we run across people who seem to have their minds made up. They come across as being defensive, argumentative, or just politely desirous of telling us why we should not believe in Jesus. But more than occasionally, this kind of response is a clue that the person understands the issue and may even be dealing with it at a gut level. Please pray for “Doug” that he would be open to what God has for him, and that he would come to know Yeshua. But also pray with us for the many like him in this world—people who are perhaps not so friendly or polite, but who are, nonetheless, dealing with the question: “Who is Yeshua, and what does he mean for me?”