Changing My Garments
"You won’t be wearing that to the prayer breakfast tomorrow, will you?" the man asked. As we Jews for Jesus often do when we participate in a conference we have not sponsored, I was wearing a shirt and tie and a Jews for Jesus windbreaker. (Ordinarily I wear a suit, but we do like to make ourselves available to the Christian community, and wearing a windbreaker or a T-shirt is one way to let people know who we are.) "That" was my windbreaker with the large "Jews for Jesus" emblem, and I found his comment most curious. He was an out-of-town organizer for the group who was sponsoring the convention in the Washington, D.C. area.
I had seen him throughout the day. He seemed very cordial and even desirous of my attendance at the prayer breakfast the next day. I was not sure I wanted to spend the substantial amount it would cost, and in fact wondered if my time might be better spent doing other things. Still, the man did seem rather pleasant and almost longing for my participation. That was why I found his remark so strange.
I had met several participants in the prayer breakfast who would be bringing music or a word or two about their perspectives, but even though I would count some of them as personal friends, I was unsure as to my commitment for the next morning. Suddenly that question that was really a comment helped me decide.
Why would he care about my wardrobe? Certainly he must be a Christian. This was, after all, a Christian conference, and the planned breakfast related to the Jewish people and the State of Israel. So what could possibly be wrong?
"Well, I wasn’t planning to wear it or not wear it," I responded. "Frankly I hadn’t thought that far ahead."
He replied, "Please do us a favor and don’t wear that jacket. Don’t you know it would offend some Jewish people?"
Of course I knew it would offend some Jewish people. Didn’t this man realize that I spend my days handing out tracts on street corners and college campuses? Didn’t he know that many things we Jews for Jesus do are not appreciated in the Jewish community? I wondered if something else was going on in his mind about which I was unaware.
"Are you telling me I cannot wear this jacket?" I asked.
"That’s right. You people are offensive to them, and we have spent a lot of time building bridges in order to reach them. So come, but don’t wear that jacket!" he said.
He was telling me that he preferred to cater to the unbelieving Jewish community and seek to win their friendship in a devious manner against his brothers and sisters in Christ with whom he would spend eternity. My shock turned to annoyance.
"No one tells me I have to change my clothes to come to their meeting, especially if they are charging me an exorbitant amount just to eat," I responded.
Ordinarily I would have worn a suit to attend a hotel prayer breakfast, but the sad thing was that here I was at a large Christian convention and I was being told that I could not wear on my person the identification of some Jewish people with Jesus Christ.
No, we Jews for Jesus don’t fit into anybody’s regular package. Some people feel very comfortable with Jews on one side of the fence and Gentiles on the other. Then they identify all Gentiles as Christians, and what are Jewish believers in Jesus supposed to do? On which side of the fence do we line up?
In order to acquiesce to that man’s edict, I would have had to conceal my story of my "Christian-ness" along with my Jewishness. I wish I could fit into everyone’s idea of what a true Christian is, but I don’t. I am a Jew. And my Jewishness and my faith in Christ must be expressed together, or you really don’t have me.
Isn’t it strange that so many Christians want everyone else to be exactly like them? Why can’t we let each other be who we are in Christ? Let’s not approve what we cannot approve, nor allow anyone to expect or ask us to approve what we cannot. We are who we are in Christ, and it is that to which we have been called!
Bob Mendelsohn is the leader of Jews for Jesus' work in Sydney, Australia. He grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Kansas City, but became a college drop-out when he decided to look for the meaning of life in the counterculture of the '60s. He found meaning and relevance in Jesus which caused him much trouble at home. But he says, "it was worth the cost." Bob has worked for Jews for Jesus since 1979, and served as the leader of our work in Washington DC and New York City before moving to Sydney in 1998. Bob and his wife Patty both graduated from the University of Kansas and Fuller Seminary. The Mendelsohns live in Sydney near their son. Their two daughters and two grandsons live in the US. Their son has a son and is expecting another in 2019.