An Unusual Synagogue Visit
One of my responsibilities in Jews for Jesus has been to head up our missionary training program, and one assignment all of our new missionaries complete is to visit a variety of synagogues in order to learn about different expressions of Judaism.
We hope that our missionaries will be able to effectively reach out with the gospel to Jewish people from all walks of life, so we have visited all kinds of synagogues. We are not there to evangelize during worship services, but to learn about the diversity within the Jewish community. This year, for the first time, our group had the opportunity to visit a synagogue that tries to meet the spiritual needs of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Jewish community. I called the synagogue in advance to ask if the service is open to non-LGBT people; they assured me that the service was open to anyone who wanted to attend. I also told them that while we were all Jewish (or married to someone Jewish), we are also believers in Jesus. They thanked me for letting them know, and said that we were welcome.
I didn’t have any idea what to expect at the service, but I prayed that we would see and learn things that would better equip us to talk with people from this community. When we arrived the leader of the service very warmly welcomed us, and spent a few minutes explaining how and why certain aspects of their service might be different than what we might experience at other synagogues. He encouraged us to explore their Siddur (prayer book) that was specially developed with the unique needs of their community in mind, and did all he could to make us feel comfortable.
I don’t think our team will soon forget our time and experience there. The service began with the leader inviting the congregation to stand and link arms, and to sing a traditional Jewish song taken from Psalm 133, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.” Later in the service, where a more traditional Jewish congregation might observe a moment of remembrance for those who were killed in the Holocaust or in serving and defending the nation of Israel, this community observed a moment to remember those who were killed or attacked because of who they were as LGBT.
I could see the sincerity of their desire to worship God. I realized that this community of people has often been ostracized by their families and the larger Jewish community. I’m not saying that is the same as being rejected for one’s faith in Jesus, only that these are people who were born Jews and still identify as Jews, though many in the Jewish community would exclude them. Here we stood, arm in arm, a room full of broken people in desperate need of saving, as they sought a spiritual connection to the God of Israel. To be among them sharing our common history and culture was a unique opportunity. Many of us left there feeling a little more understanding of what Jesus meant when He spoke to the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, concerning the woman caught in adultery, in John 8:7, saying “If any one of you is without sin let him be the first to thrown a stone at her.” Our hope and prayer is that we will have many opportunities to share the love of Christ with those who, by His grace and power, might ‘go and sin no more.’
Editor’s note: This is a delicate topic and we do not want this article to be misunderstood as an affirmation of homosexual lifestyles. As Karol said, we minister to a diverse range of Jewish people, so our trainees need to develop an overview of cultures within the Jewish culture in order to communicate grace and truth sensitively. Of course, understanding and explaining the problem of sin is a key element of evangelism (though trainees’ visits to synagogues are not evangelistic in nature). I hope you’ll check out this month’s “so what” column, as it deals with that very issue!
Find out more about Karol.
Missionary, NYC Leadership Team
Karol Joseph is part of the leadership team in New York City; but also works alongside of the South Florida branch of Jews for Jesus during the winter months. Karol is also on the leadership team for the 2018 Behold Your God campaign in Jerusalem, Israel. Karol holds a master’s of arts degree in missiology with a concentration in Jewish studies from the School of World Missions at Fuller Theological Seminary. Jews for Jesus is a missions organization on the forefront of Jewish evangelism. The ministry is reaching Jewish people for their Messiah in 14 countries and 26 cities.