“Opening soon. You’re welcome to browse.”
So said the sign on our new London shop, days in advance of the July 1 grand opening.
Within two hours, six unbelieving people (three of whom were Jewish) came in to ask questions, and many more stopped outside to peer through the windows.
London branch leader Julia Pascoe welcomed the opportunity to get to know some of our new neighbors, as did Karol Joseph (who heads up our Brooklyn work, but was in London to lead the summer outreach).
One young Jewish man, Daniel,* had lots of questions and stayed to chat for about 30 minutes, during which time his mother happened to call. “I’m looking for a job, but I got distracted,” he told her, no less than three times. Apparently she wanted to know exactly where he was, because he eventually said, "I’m at the Jews for Jesus building at Hendon Central.” Before leaving, he accepted a Hebrew/English New Testament and a copy of Karol’s story, Nothing to Fear.
Finally it was opening day. Julia says, “It was a momentous occasion for us, as we officially opened our doors in the center of Jewish North London. We had planned a ribbon-cutting for midday, with Paddy Beresford, the chairman of our UK board, performing the ceremony and praying over the shop.** However, a Jewish woman came in earlier, having seen something that she was very keen to purchase. She apologized, knowing we had not actually opened yet, but she’d be off to Israel very soon to see her sister, who would just love the matzah-motif oven mitt. I was very happy to serve her.”
The “official” Jewish response has been very different from what we’ve seen and heard on the street. The Jewish News, which identifies itself as “Britain’s biggest Jewish newspaper online,” published an article by Tamara Ezekiel titled, “Disturbing and upsetting” Jews for Jesus shop opens in London.*** The beginning of the title is in quote marks because the writer was using words from her interview with a London rabbi. However, he and the other religious leaders who chimed in do not speak for the whole community.
For example, a few days after the shop opened, Natalie* (an Israeli who lives a few blocks away) came in. She asked Julia, “You’re Jewish and you believe in Jesus?” to which Julia replied, “Yes.”
“So you read both the Old and the New?”
“Yes!” That led to a conversation about Jews believing in Jesus. Natalie went on to say that that she’d heard about our battle with the local council (they tried to prevent us from leasing the building, from putting up our Jews for Jesus sign, etc.). In fact, she said, the whole street knew about it and had been talking about it for the past nine months! Natalie made a point of saying that she was delighted the council hadn’t won.
She excused herself to get home for dinner, but said she’d return the next day to buy candles. Julia offered her a B’rit Hadasha (New Testament) in Hebrew, which she gladly accepted.
Then there was Linda,* an Orthodox Jewish friend Julia hadn’t seen in five years. The two fell out of contact soon after Linda’s father warned her to have nothing to do with Jews for Jesus, describing us as a cult. Linda lives in the neighborhood and was delighted to reconnect with Julia at the shop. She, too, made a point of saying she was glad the local council had not prevailed, as she is against religious intolerance and bigotry!
Please pray that our shop will become a hub in the Jewish community and will be a place where Jewish people can feel comfortable about talking through spiritual matters.
* not their real names
** See videos and photos from the grand opening below