A Branch Grows in Brooklyn
Maybe you’ve heard of the classic film A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” For Jews for Jesus, it’s a branch that’s growing in this bustling borough that is home to half a million Jewish people. Two years ago we reported that the branch was a year old and toddling. Thanks to those of you who prayed for the fledgling work. The following should give you a feel for how things are going there now.
Branch leader Karol Joseph teaches Tuesday night Bible studies as part of our general ministry. Peter Blitshteyn conducts outreach to Russian-speaking Jews, leading Saturday afternoon Bible studies in Russian. And we have a burgeoning young adult ministry, led by Melissa Moskowitz. We continue to experiment with ways to reach out to the “ultra-Orthodox.” As with all our branches, sorties (tract-passing expeditions), phone calling and visits with Jewish seekers and new believers are a mainstay of the work.
The newest aspect of our Brooklyn work started up in September: an after school program for Jewish children, grades kindergarten through fifth. Every Thursday, from 4:30-6:00 p.m. we minister to children (as of September when this was written we had a dozen children enrolled). Elisheva R, one of our Manhattan staff, treks over twice a month to teach Bible lessons and lead games. On alternate Thursdays, one of our friends, a retired art teacher, leads the kids in a project based on the previous week’s lesson. Five of the participants are already involved in our Camp Gilgal program, and we hope that the others will want to become part of that community. Of course we hope that the parents will become more involved with the branch as well.
We’re also continuing to look for ways to help Chasidic seekers explore the claims of Jesus. They belong to a tightly knit, strict community that has zero tolerance for a New Testament based belief in Jesus. We have a new website to encourage those who are interested in exploring Jesus’ claims privately. The website is called whodoesitspeakof.com; it contains the text from Isaiah 53, as well as links to various other Messianic prophecies and articles we have published for Jewish seekers. This outreach includes a tract that reads, “Isaiah 53: so controversial that you have to read it yourself,” with the text of that chapter in Hebrew as well as English. The tract points people to the website, as does a banner that we display in highly trafficked areas during rush hour.
Now that you’ve had an overview, here are a few personal glimpses of our work in Brooklyn.
From Karol Joseph:
I was asked to officiate at a Jewish baby naming ceremony for some friends (Michelle is Jewish and believes in Jesus; her husband Joe is from an Italian-Catholic background and is also born again). I am always grateful for opportunities to officiate at Messianic Jewish ceremonies. Of course they are fun occasions, but they also provide opportunities to speak with family members and friends who don’t yet believe. Some avoid speaking to me or even glancing in my direction, but there are always at least one or two people who are curious and ask about my beliefs.
As with most Jewish celebrations, after the baby naming ceremony we had refreshments. I noticed a young couple sitting at a table by themselves, and invited them to join me and some others from Jews for Jesus. Dawn, a childhood friend of Michelle’s was Jewish; her boyfriend Anthony was from an Italian-Catholic background. After we chatted for a while I asked Dawn, “So, what do think about Michelle’s faith in Jesus?” Practically in stereo, she and Anthony replied, “We need something like that in our lives!”
Dawn and Anthony became regulars at our Tuesday night Bible study, asking great questions and showing lots of enthusiasm to learn. As they discovered more and more from the Bible they could see how it applies to their lives. They began to gain a greater sense of God’s reality. God has been answering Anthony’s prayers to find work, and the couple has seen, along with us, that their lives are changing.
One Tuesday night, right in the midst of the Bible study, Anthony began asking pointed questions about Jesus and what He did for us on the cross. As I answered his questions, it became clear that he really understood the Gospel message and that he believed it. So I asked him if he was ready to pray and receive Jesus as his Savior. He immediately responded, “Yes.” Dawn said that she was also ready. So surrounded by many witnesses, Dawn and Anthony prayed together.
After they prayed I took a few minutes to explain what it meant to be ‘born again,’ to which Anthony responded, “You mean I’m a ‘born again’?! I thought I was a Jew for Jesus!”
Please pray for Dawn and Anthony, that they will grow strong and mature in their new faith. Pray for many more opportunities to meet others and minister to others through Jewish lifecycle events that are part of our branch life.
From Melissa Moskowitz:
In ministry, sometimes the very things that make you smile can also bring tears to your eyes and a sense of astonishment or awe. God may choose to use you or your family or your home in ways that far exceed the realm of anything you could have imagined. That is because ministry is about a God who cannot be contained within the boxes of even our most clever construct.
Each week my husband Jhan [our North American Director] and I hold a Shabbat fellowship for young adults in our home. After the Sabbath meal Jhan gives a brief message from the same weekly portions of scripture that are traditionally read in the synagogues. Then we have a time of fellowship that often goes past midnight.
One of our regulars brought “Menachem,” an Israeli who was curious about our belief in Jesus. Menachem is a gregarious, talented photographer with many contacts in the New York art scene. He also worked in a kosher pizza shop where he made many friends. He enjoyed our Shabbat fellowship, was open to the gospel and kept in contact with us. Several months ago, I mustered the courage to invite Menachem to pray with me to receive the Messiah into his life.
Menachem prayed with me a prayer of faith and became a child of God. That made me smile, but the events that followed have left me astonished and a bit awed at how God is opening a path to our door for more Israelis to come and hear the message of Yeshua.
Menachem’s well-established network of Israeli friends and co-workers knew the “before-Yeshua” Menachem, and it’s been very interesting for them to see him transformed into a young man who is becoming more and more vocal about his faith in Yeshua. Many of his friends have been curious and open to hear more.
Since Menachem found fellowship, food, and-more importantly-the Messiah though our Shabbat meetings, he found it very natural to start bringing his friends as well. He wants them to hear the Truth in Messiah.
In a hundred million years I could not have arranged a way to bring so many Israeli seekers to our Shabbat table. I have seen that no matter how secular Israelis may be, Shabbat is a common language, an event that is meant to be shared. Almost every week we have been graced with the presence of Menachem’s friends, who are now becoming our friends.
Pray for us as we seek to introduce these friends to the Messiah. Pray with us, that the Moskowitz home will continue to be a place of comfort and truth for many Israelis and other Jewish seekers here in Brooklyn. I am sure that God has many more smiles, tears of astonishment and moments of awe in store for us as we witness the unique work that is His clearly from His hand.
From Peter Blitshteyn:
During our 2004 Behold Your God/NYC outreach, I met a woman named Galina in Brighton Beach, where Brooklyn’s largest population of Russian Jews reside.
Galina told me that I was the first Russian Jewish believer in Jesus that she had ever met. We remained in contact by phone and by mail for four years and to be honest, I can’t say that she showed any great interest in knowing Jesus during those years.
One day when I called, she told me with many tears of the recent death of her newly married, twenty year old grandson. I did my best to comfort her, and I asked if we could have a deeper discussion about spiritual matters, but more importantly about Jesus; she promised that we would “at some point.”
It wasn’t until a year later that Galina agreed to meet in person again. When we did meet, she had many questions, mostly having to do with why God had allowed such terrible things to happen to people. Through this door of questioning, God allowed me to enter and share with Galina from His Word.
Our visits became more regular and we took a deeper look together into the Bible and how God calls us to be His people. Galina wanted to hear more about God, His Word and His promises for her life. Eventually she said to me, “Peter, this area (Brighton Beach) is very Orthodox, and I see their [the Orthodox] example of Jewish life and faith, but I like your faith and your style of Jewish life better.” I was excited because I felt that Galina was drawing closer to Jesus.
In March, during our study of Numbers 11:6, I explained how the manna relates to Jesus as God’s provision and as the bread of life. I told her how we should partake of this “bread.” I asked her if she wanted to claim the promises of Jesus and have a life with God. Her response was “yes!”
Looking back, I wonder what would have happened if I had not stayed in contact with Galina. Five years ago she did not want to hear about Jesus. However, her brokenness allowed her to open her heart to Jesus. As a gift to her, I gave her a Bible, much like my own. It has a menorah on the front cover and a Star of David on the back. She told me, “Peter I feel strange and a little confused for believing in Jesus, but I also feel more Jewish than I ever did before.” Many new Jewish believers feel the same way, having grown up with the idea that Jesus is not for Jews. Yet they slowly but surely find that embracing Him as the Jewish Messiah not only brings them into a relationship with God, but into a greater understanding of their Jewishness.