DID YOU KNOW that South Florida has the second largest Jewish population in the USA, outstripped only by the New York area? In fact, according to branch leader Greg Savitt, ten percent of the world’s Jewish population resides in South Florida. That’s approximately 750,000 Jewish people who need Jesus in Palm Beach, Broward County and Miami-Dade County.
The population fluctuates as snow birds” come down for the winter. They begin arriving after Thanksgiving and the region hits the height of activity in March. After Easter, most winter residents leave to avoid temperatures that will exceed 95 degrees.
Our branch has been located in the greater Fort Lauderdale area (which makes up most of Broward County) since 1991. Jesus said the harvest is plenty and the workers are few. Greg adds, “Well, here in Fort Lauderdale, the (Jews for Jesus) workers are really myself and my wife, Denise. Thankfully, we have some wonderful volunteers to help us.”
South Florida Staff
Greg Savitt was raised in a Conservative Jewish home. At age 16 he attended a church service and, to his surprise, experienced a sense of peace and joy he had never known. He dismissed his feelings as illogical, but years later at another church service, the same feelings were rekindled. Eager to understand what was happening, Greg began attending church regularly. He was drawn to the gospel, but could not come to terms with the idea that a Jewish person could actually believe in Jesus.
One autumn evening in 1991, Greg and his wife Denise attended a presentation by The Liberated Wailing Wall (Jews for Jesus’ mobile evangelist music team). Greg finally understood that nothing could be more Jewish than believing in the promised Messiah of Israel. He and his wife both received Jesus that night and have been walking with Yeshua (Jesus) ever since.
Greg never forgot how Jews for Jesus had touched his and Denise’s lives. In 1997 the Savitts left Chicago – where Greg was employed as a certified public accountant – to join our staff. (He is a graduate of the University of Illinois with a B.S. in accounting.) They moved to New York City where Greg trained as a missionary. He was deployed to serve with our South Florida branch in 1998.
Meanwhile, for more than a decade Greg did his best to help his own parents see that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. Finally in 2003 Greg’s dad, a Jewish doctor, attended a Liberated Wailing Wall concert. Greg says with a grin, “This Jewish doctor met the Great Physician after the concert.” South Florida is one of many Jews for Jesus branches that has a facility housing a bookstore as well as an office where inquirers who see the large “Jews for Jesus” sign out front can drop in to see who we are.
Greg loves leading the branch’s bi-monthly Bible study on the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. He says, “This type of Bible study is attracting new people who haven’t come to Jews for Jesus events before. Also, our annual Miami Passover banquet has been a wonderful surprise. Each year people are coming back and bringing new people to the seder – to the point where we’ve found the tickets sold out.” But Greg says his favorite thing is “opening the Word and showing an unsaved Jewish person how Jesus is in the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings of the Jewish Scriptures.”
Greg gives an example of one such opportunity:
Recently, I had some evangelistic visits at an interesting location. Ali, a 23-year-old single Jewish mom, was interested in the gospel. She was only available after school, when her kids were with her. As an alternative to costly childcare, we always met at McDonald’s Playland. That way, her children could be reasonably occupied during our conversations but still under Ali’s watchful eye. This was challenging because we still had frequent interruptions. But nothing is too impossible for the Lord because after a few months of meeting Ali gave her heart to the Lord. She has been faithfully attending a great church.
Denise Savitt is a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University with a degree in drama. Formerly a graphic artist, she works part-time as our Jews for Jesus office worker, which is a tremendous help. However, her great passion is working with inmates at the Broward County Jail. She teaches a Bible study attended by about 70 women on Tuesday nights, as well as a small group on Wednesday mornings. As people rotate in and out, she is always thrilled whenever she meets a Jewish woman.
Jewish inmates usually begin by telling Denise, “I am Jewish, so Jesus is not for me.” She replies “My husband is Jewish and he believes Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and there is nothing more Jewish than believing in Him.” One woman, Sharon, began by expressing a lot of resistance to the gospel. Denise brought in the Yeshua book written by our founder, Moishe Rosen, and challenged Sharon to read it with an open mind. A week before Sharon was released, she told Denise she believed that Jesus was her Savior. Denise has expanded her ministry to continue meeting with her.
As for family life, Greg is a proud husband and father. He says “Denise has read every Jane Austen book and between her knowledge of drama and literature, if we go to see a movie, it’s always Denise’s pick, and has been ever since we got married 19 years ago.”
The Savitts have four children: their daughter Dylan (21), Judah (16), Reuben (10), and Gabriella (7).
If you live in South Florida and would like to be a volunteer with this small but very significant Jews for Jesus branch, please e-mail or call Greg Savitt at Florida@jewsforjesus.org / (954) 616-5050
Three Things You May Not Know about South Florida’s Jewish Community
- The first Jewish senator was David Levy Yulee who became one of Florida’s first senators in 1845.
- South Florida is home to “King David Bikers,” the nation’s largest Jewish motorcycle riding association.
- Thirty-two percent of adults in Miami’s Jewish community are foreign-born.