In our daily work among the Jewish people of New York City we spend a great deal of our time in Manhattan itself. There we usually encounter business people, college students and upscale” Yuppies. While these people comprise one segment of Jewish life, I recently had an opportunity to encounter another segment that we see less often.
Accompanied by two ministry friends who were visiting the New York area from their home in Pennsylvania, I made an excursion to the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn where many Russian Jews live. Our friend Max, himself Russian, is fluent in that language, and for several years I had been dabbling in Russian as a hobby. It worked out that Max, his wife Margy and I drove out to Brooklyn one chilly day.
At first we strolled along the shop-lined streets where the old “El”—the aboveground section of subway—still rumbled by every few minutes. We had brought along some gospel tracts in both English and Russian. As we began to distribute them to the passersby we inquired if they spoke Russian. If they said “yes,” we would refer them to Max. Inquiries of “Bi govoritye po-Russki?” (“Do you speak Russian?”) elicited a few answers of “Da” (yes) and a Russian conversation usually ensued.
After a few blocks we decided to head towards the beach. Lined as it was with brick walls that broke the harsh north wind, a good number of local residents were out there sunning themselves on deck chairs. We approached several of them. It turned out that many spoke Russian, and we were able to obtain a feeling for the people and the area.
From his conversations with some of the Russian people, Max detected their nostalgia for the old Russian homeland—at least among the older generation—even though they had set their faces toward a new life in the United States. Some listened with avid interest as Max spoke of his own life in Russia. But when the conversations turned to spiritual matters, it was often a different story.
We found a deep, ingrained cynicism in some of the people. One older man had no use for God, for study or anything in life. At least two residents, in two separate conversations with me and with Margy, mentioned the threat of nuclear war. One man was friendly and willing to converse; but the other was a seething cauldron of bitterness and cynicism. Even a benchful of friendly ladies exhibited a lack of serious interest in anything that had to do with God.
Yet here is a group of people who need to hear the joyful news of redemption in the Messiah. Many have undergone experiences in life that could tempt a saint to become embittered and hostile to God. Some have lived in a police state; some have been through the Holocaust, and most recently their area had reportedly been subjected to Christians who had come through the neighborhood urging the Jewish residents to “go to church.” That’s not exactly the best way to begin an outreach among Jewish people!
Now with Max’s help, Jews for Jesus has set up a special telephone message in Russian on our answering machine, using a special telephone number. As Max comes through New York City periodically from his Pennsylvania home, he will be able to be in touch with those Russian Jewish people who might call in, to tell them the good news of the Messiah. In addition, we will be placing small Russian gospel statements in two New York City Russian newspapers to act as a catalyst in generating some interest and response. Please pray for this basically experimental area of our Jews for Jesus outreach in New York City.
Scholar in Residence, Missionary
Rich Robinson is a veteran missionary and senior researcher at the San Francisco headquarters of Jews for Jesus. Rich has written several books on Jewishness and Jesus, and he received his Ph.D. in biblical studies and hermeneutics from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1993.