Remembering Jhan Moskowitz 1948-2012
In the early 1970s, Jews for Jesus Founder Moishe Rosen was blessed to invest in a core group of very special people. These men and women were fully committed to making the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people—even before our ministry was officially up and running. These were the cofounders of Jews for Jesus, and Jhan Moskowitz was among them.
Jhan was one of the most colorful, excitable and exciting people you could ever hope to meet. His flair for drama was not limited to the parabolic preaching he did on the streets, or even to his leadership of the New Jerusalem Players, a mobile evangelistic drama team he helped found, then led for many years.
Pretty much any conversation with Jhan was a total experience. The intensity of his eyes, his gestures, his voice—he definitely had a way of getting and keeping people’s attention.
Of course, Jhan was not raised as a Jew for Jesus. The son of Holocaust survivors, he was taught that Jesus was definitely not for Jews. One of his favorite stories about growing up in this mindset seems especially appropriate this month:
Right across the street from my father’s tailor shop was one of the largest churches I had ever seen (though in later years it turned out to be not nearly as big as I remembered it). One December, as I was walking to my father’s store, I saw a most unusual sight.
There on the lawn of the Catholic church stood three life-sized statues of turbaned men, each carrying a box. Several life-sized cow and goat statues “grazed” nearby. But the focal point was a small shed, wherein two more life-sized figures, obviously a mother and father, sat next to a wooden box filled with hay. Lying on top of the hay was a baby doll. Above this entire scene was a wooden sign that even a seven-year-old could read: “Born Is the King of Israel.”
I stopped dead in my tracks.
I might not have known much, but I did know that we (Jews) were “Israel” and they (Gentiles), who attended that church, were not. All I could think was, “The delivery people brought this stuff to the wrong address.” Our synagogue was just down the street and it seemed obvious to me that it was our lawn, not theirs, that should house the King of Israel.
I duly ran to my father’s shop as fast as my legs could carry me and yelled, “Daddy, Daddy! Somebody made a big mistake. OUR king is on THEIR lawn!” In a rush of words and emotions, I explained what I had seen. My father smiled and assured me that there had been no mistake, and that the baby in the manger did not belong in front of the synagogue. That king, he said, was not our king. From then on, I always wondered about this strange, strange baby whom Gentiles revered as the King of Israel while we Jews did not.
When Jhan finally came to recognize Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and King, he just had to tell everyone. His flair for drama was put to good use as he put Jesus front and center on the stage of his life.
For the last six years Jhan served as our North American director. He was “jazzed for Jesus”1 and we know that he still is, even more so as he is in the presence of his Lord.
It is impossible to remember Jhan without acknowledging and appreciating his wife, Melissa—not only as his wonderful life and ministry partner, but also as a missionary in her own right.
Melissa Moskowitz has been a part of Jews for Jesus since 1975. Like Jhan, she was born and raised in the Bronx, though they did not meet until their twenties. Throughout her 36 years of service with the ministry Melissa has used her gifting in youth work, publications, photography—and for the past 13 years in young adult ministry. Melissa has been one of the leaders of Jews for Jesus’ “Massah” program in Israel the past three years.
Melissa is really the Jews for Jesus East Coast Queen of Hospitality—much of her ministry flows from the sense of community and comfort that she has created in her home. Over the years, she and Jhan have opened their home for Friday night Shabbat dinners and often have hosted two dozen or more Jewish believers and seekers. She continues to hold Shabbat fellowships for young adult students and professionals, as well as other events that include food, fellowship and the Word.
With the holidays coming up, we thought this would be a great time to share with you some of Melissa’s thoughts on hospitality.
What is true hospitality? It is extending oneself and one’s home to welcome friends and strangers. It is extending the love of God in a practical and compassionate way. In Jewish life, hospitality is regarded as a sacred obligation.
In some corners of the Jewish community, students are still seen as the objects of hospitality. How much more should we, as Jews who know the Messiah, extend ourselves to young people?
It is easy to do well to those who can return the favor. It is another thing to invite in the struggling student who lives in a cramped dorm room; the widow [or widower] neighbor who lives on a small pension; a new family on the block; a visitor to our congregation. There is no assurance that your generosity will be returned, but that is the point: hospitality is a view outward, not inward
Nor is hospitality always convenient. [For example,] Shabbat dinner comes at the end of the week when we are the most tired (possibly cranky), and the least likely to want to prepare a multi-course dinner and be stuck with a stained tablecloth afterwards. So, [to paraphrase] the proverb… better a one-course meal of vegetables, than a houseful of feasting with strife. A simple meal served with gracious hospitality is more satisfying than the most sumptuous and perfectly presented fare.
Food plays such a significant role in Jewish life and customs that the word “food” itself is mentioned 256 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, and 306 times in the New Testament! [As] believers in Jesus, we are encouraged that “…whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).” Therefore, the eating of food becomes an occasion for us to recognize our Savior and share His goodness with others so they recognize Him, too, through the “altar” of our household table.
One Jewish custom that elevates the commonplace to something higher is that of salting our food. Traditionally, the Torah tells us to salt our offerings for two reasons: 1) to offer a completed offering, and 2) to symbolize that our offerings help preserve our relationship with God. Since our table is like the altar, keeping salt on the table echoes the Torah commandment. But even more so, when we share our table with friends and also with the needy, our heart reflects the spirit of our offering and we share our food as people who are “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13a).
Also, if you love to cook the way Melissa loves to cook, you might want to check out her cookbook.
1 Jazzed for Jesus is also the title of Jhan and Melissa’s story booklet.