We announced it in September 2006, it began in January 2007 and now it is one year old and toddling . . . our Brooklyn branch!
Brooklyn is home to approximately 500,000 Jewish people. Its neighborhoods include Borough Park and Williamsburg, centers for ultra- Orthodox or Hasidic Judaism. (“Hasid” refers to one Hasidic Jew; “Hasidim” is plural.) As you walk through these neighborhoods, most all of the men will be dressed in long dark coats and white shirts, with white fringes (tzit tzit) hanging down from the waist. Unshaven, their long beards and side locks might seem foreign to a visitor, but here they are not at all out of place. Hasidic women wear long skirts, and sleeves past the elbow. Yiddish, not English, is the primary language in these neighborhoods. Brooklyn is also home to many Russian-speaking Jews. Brighton Beach in particular has been referred to as “Little Odessa,” with many businesses with signs in Russian. The Jewish community there tends to be secular. Some of the grandmas and grandpas in these communities speak little English. Their children, and certainly their grandchildren, are more bilingual.
Walking in and out of the various neighborhoods is like walking in and out of different worlds. Of course Brooklyn also has its share of regular religious, semi-religious and just plain secular American Jews. With four missionaries working there, our Brooklyn staff reaches out to this diverse community. In addition, there is a growing outreach to young, collegeage adults, as well as evangelism to the general Jewish population of Brooklyn.
OUR BROOKLYN TEAM
Branch leader Karol Joseph grew up in a Jewish community in a Boston suburb, graduated from the University of Vermont with a B.A. in sociology and went on to do graduate-level studies in health policy at Brandeis University. Karol came to believe in Jesus in 1988 and joined our staff in 1990. Since then, Karol has directed the work of Jews for Jesus in Canada, served as a missionary in Los Angeles, and led the training program for the Jews for Jesus missionary trainees for eight years. She left Manhattan last January to settle in Brooklyn.
Before the move, Karol had begun a weekly discipleship Bible study in Brooklyn that included five “newish” believers in Jesus as well as one seeker. That group now averages 12- 15 people each week. Once a month Karol also hosts a “Shabbat Seminar” for Christians who are interested in learning how to witness to their Jewish friends. Each month the seminar has a different theme, be it one of the Jewish holidays or a particular passage of Scripture, but it always includes a teaching on how to tell Jewish people about Jesus.
Karol would particularly appreciate your prayers for:
- God’s wisdom in ministering to the Hasidic community, especially to those who believe but are afraid to move forward in their faith because of consequences (loss of family, home, job). In particular pray for “Harry” who is in that situation. Please also pray that God would raise up some men to partner in this ministry.
- The weekly Bible study and monthly Shabbat Seminar to grow, and that those who attend will be able and willing to bring the gospel to others.
- Karol to find the right office space for the branch.
- Karol’s witness to her unbelieving family. Her father passed away last spring. “Yet,” she says, “It seems this year I’ve had many more opportunities to relate to the family, and to speak to them about things that really matter.
Elizabeth T. and Petr Barbatunov handle our ministry to Russian-speakers.
Originally from Uzbekistan, Elizabeth T. has served with us since March 1988, beginning in Los Angeles. She relocated to Odessa in 1991, as one of the pioneers of our first branch of Jews for Jesus in the former Soviet Union. She later served in Moscow, helping to establish one of our most fruitful areas of ministry. Elizabeth has always loved the United States and can often be heard saying, “Thank God for America!”
Petr Barbatunov was born in Siberia, but attended university in Moscow, where he earned a degree in engineering. There he met and married his wife Olga. It was after he came to America in 1995 and settled in Brooklyn with his family that he actually came to faith in the Lord. Since then, Petr has been serving with Jews for Jesus among the large Russian Jewish community there.
Elizabeth and Petr had been working among New York’s Jewish community long before the final Behold Your God campaign in July 2006. However, the Russian-speaking component of that campaign has continued to keep them ministering to people who gave us their contact information during that time. They hold regular Shabbat services in Russian, which are usually attended by 10-12 people.
Elizabeth describes the mindset of many people she meets in the following way: “To many Russian Jews I say, ‘Why don’t you believe in God?’ They answer: ‘We used to live in Russia; the Russian government took away our God. The churches and synagogues were destroyed and movie theaters took their place. It was very cheap to go to the movies.’ You see, the government replaced houses of worship with cheap entertainment to encourage people to forget about God. They never saw a Bible; they never heard about Jesus. Now they are free to live in America, take our pamphlets and hear the gospel.”
Elizabeth and Petr would appreciate prayer for the following:
- More than 200,000 Russian Jewish immigrants live in the Brighton Beach area. Many are quite open to talk, but are not as spiritually open as they were five years ago. Please pray that God will do a work in the hearts of this community and give them ears to hear the truth and hearts to respond.
- Pray that God will raise up Russianspeaking missionaries to reach the younger people in the community.
MINISTRY TO YOUNG ADULTS
Melissa Moskowitz, who is heading this aspect of ministry in Brooklyn, first volunteered with Jews for Jesus in 1975. She and her husband Jhan were married in New York City in 1976; Jhan now serves as director for the North American branches of Jews for Jesus.
During the summers, Melissa finished her graduate degree in missiology from Fuller Seminary. For several years she edited a publication for Jewish believers called Havurah. She also directs Camp Gilgal and enjoys ministering to young adults. She works with us part time in that capacity, but her whole life is concerned with helping others know the Lord.
The Moskowitzes moved to New York from Chicago last year, where Melissa had hosted numerous dinners for young adults. Now, in Brooklyn, they continue to open their home to college-age adults on a regular basis. Melissa has just finished taking part in a New Year’s in New York outreach with Sara Friedman. She also meets regularly with various Jewish women who are at different levels in their spiritual maturity. She says of them, “I am learning to persevere with these young people. They need someone who will not give up on them. For them, learning to stick with and walk in the truth is a huge struggle!” Melissa asks prayer:
- that the ministry to the students in her home would deepen so that their understanding of what God wants them to be doing will grow.
- that her ministry to young adults in the New York City-wide area would grow, be strengthened, deepen and be more effective to the glory of God.