By Ellen Jaffe
To begin, I must share some of my own story so that you can understand the “mirky waters” that had to be navigated myself in order to have clarity about Jewish Evangelism.
Growing up in an Orthodox Jewish Ghetto in NY, one does not easily embrace new ideas about Judaism. That being said, there is an increasing curiosity and hunger amongst the Orthodox for more! This is evidenced in the hundreds of books on Kabala and courses on Jewish mysticism. There is a desire for the supernatural in every Jewish person…even before Moses ascended to Sinai it was clear that Abba spoiled our DNA with fascination for “Mystical encounters” with G-d, Angels, Miracles, etc.
In my little world of the Jewish “Shtetle” (neighborhood), we went to shul, kept kosher, celebrated Shabbat and all the feasts and festivals and held a sub-conscious mistrust for non-Jewish people. Fear of anti-semitism seemed to be an acceptable ally especially in families like mine, whose Bubbies (Grandmothers) and Zaydies (Grandfathers) survived persecution in Europe.
With that said, it was odd to watch my families acceptance and hospitality to many “strangers” (non-Jewish people), but the default button (mis-trust) would always be ready to spring at any moment!
After having a supernatural encounter in a dream as a young girl, I began to dialogue more with G-d, even though no apparent answers came until years later. After the death of my grandmother, my family jumped ship spiritually speaking and abandoned shul, kashrut, and retreated to cursory celebrations of Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Passover. The decline left a void in my heart, which triggered other explorations (men, rock music, philosophies of the world, etc) The bankruptcy of these journeys depleted my heart and hope. Deep in my Kishkes (the inner parts of ones body, but spiritually speaking (in Yiddish) the “Knower” of your soul), I knew the G-d of Israel was real…but I seemed to be tuning in to all the wrong “stations” to find Him.
One day I received a letter from a friend who had met Yeshua (but He called him Jesus and spoke of Him in language that I could not connect with). He shared his story of how G-d intervened in his life and delivered him from addictions and gave him a new outlook. Well, I dismissed the letter, but could not easily ignore the testimony of change in his life as a result from this new “encounter”. He also included a new testament which I held over the garbage pail and then suddenly reneged on tossing it…..Jewish guilt, mostly because we were taught not to disrespect holy books that way. It is the orthodox custom to bury bibles and siddurs (prayer books) at a Jewish cemetery so as not to defame the name of G-d.
I tucked that little bible away until one year later when misfortune struck me and I needed answers. Desperation has a way of dismantling all our walls of defense, so I retrieved that little new testament and began to read it. To my amazement and delight, it was a very Jewish book! The style of teaching, parables, stories, miracles, were familiar to me. The humble example of Yeshua and His heart for the poor and outcast began to melt my heart, especially the story of the woman caught in adultery about to be stoned. It said that He (Yeshua) leaned down and began to write in the sand and declared, “he who is without sin, let him cast the first stone” Wow, that was too wonderful…I felt like those self-righteous witnesses, all too eager to kill an obvious lawbreaker, while protecting my hidden sins which began to flash through my brain…the hypocrisy of my “religious” thinking ….as though Murder, Robbery, and heinous crimes were the true sins and deserved punishment, but everything else was okay!
I prayed, with reservation I must add, that if Yeshua truly is the Jewish Messiah, that He would show me and spare my life (from illness at that time)…which He did immediately! Well you would think that would be enough, but for this stubborn, rocky heart, it served as an attention getter which sparked a new spiritual journey. Of course I began by asking questions of a local Rabbi what he thought about Yeshua………are you laughing? Hee heee, I was quite earnest in my quest, so I wanted to hear what the Rabbi said…this is what good Jewish girls do….anyway, I realized very quickly that his understanding of G-d, was even more remote than my own! The next logical step was to find a representative of the “Christian faith”. Now remember, to a Jewish person, especially growing up Orthodox, I was clueless about distinctions between Protestants, Catholics, Jehovah’s witness, Mormons, etc. In our frame of reference, anyone who isn’t Jewish is Christian and the largest population of “Christians” that we were aware of were Catholics….so I introduced myself to a nice Priest and proceeded to ask him about Yeshua, faith, the kingdom of G-d, the miracles of the bible and my personal encounter. Wow, was I shocked when he didn’t seem to understand what I was talking about. For him, Jewish people did not need Yeshua and were already set with the Old Testament (his words)…he talked to me about Catholic customs, Mary, the rosary, confession, we were truly speaking to each other in separate languages! To conclude he suggested I speak with the Rabbi!
These two encounters would mark a long succession of dialogues with people who were spiritually lifeless, leaving me disappointed, confused, but not hopeless. Several years later, a born-again spirit-filled Christian introduced himself to me….I knew immediately he was different, especially when he asked if he and his family could accompany me to High Holiday services! Why? I asked with great suspicion (remember the fear de-fault button that I grew up with)…He said that he loved the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and wanted to know more about that part of his faith,,,,wow, what an answer….who could say no!
The Rabbi, in speaking about the Akidah (sacrifice of Isaac on the alter Abraham built) was jumping in to the parsha that always plagued me. Why? I always wondered…every year….would G-d ask Abraham to kill his only son of promise? Why after all those years of waiting for the covenant to become actualized would he take it away? It bothered me every year….and as though he could read my thoughts, my friend leaned over and whispered in my ear “Why do you suppose G-d would require Abraham to sacrifice his only son of promise”….YIKES, I thought, he is reading my mind and my body shuddered…I turned quickly and confessed that this question plagued me since childhood. He did not offer any answers (wise man!!!)….
Herein lies the first rule of good Jewish evangelism……ASK GOOD QUESTIONS, and then don’t jump in to supply answers!!! Pray and trust G-d to speak the truth to the person you are sharing with! Listen, with love to the person’s thought process and then ask more questions……allow the Ruach Hakodesh (Holy Spirit) to guide the trip!!!!
Now I was closing in on the truth, and like a private detective in pursuit, I could smell the trail of He who had eluded me, but at the same time was presenting clues from heaven. It was only a few weeks later that I found a gathering that had several “Jewish believers” in attendance……When I saw those beautiful Yiddisher punims (Jewish faces) I wept. This suggested to me that I was not the only one searching! One of them had been co-teaching with a Pastor about…who else “Moses”, my hero! By the end of the talk, I was caught up in a private meeting with G-d, who showed me a panoramic view of my own personal sin…for the first time, truly, I understood the concept of sin and how it separated me from intimacy/relationship with G-d…before that, I was clueless! Watching scenario after scenario of my ugliness and crying from a bottomless well, I experienced the most amazing truth….Yeshua on the cross declaring over me “FORGIVEN” It was as though a giant eraser permanently destroyed all those visuals given to me only moments prior, of all the corrupt deeds and attitudes I was guilty of and deserved punishment for, were gone…in a nano-second! To this day I cannot tell you how long this heavenly encounter lasted, but it is eternally etched in my being and has sustained a life of gratitude for the G-d who loved me while I was yet in Sin. I was Born Again and suddenly understood how it felt to be clean…from the inside out!