Jews follow Jesus between worlds

‘He Is The Messiah’, Nov. 30, 2002
By Jacinthia Jones

They are avoided by most Jews and misunderstood by many Christians.

Though they share beliefs with both faiths, they don’t belong to either.

They are Messianic Jews – Jews who believe Jesus is the Messiah.

Twenty years after Memphis’s first Messianic congregation moved from a private home into a converted bungalow in East Memphis, B’rit Hadasha Messianic Jewish Synagogue is still a bit of a mystery to most.

“A lot of times we feel isolated, like we’re between two worlds,” says Rabbi Gary Shansky.

“Christians are hungry to hear more about us, but they don’t understand why we hold on to those (Jewish) things. But the Jewish world is totally against us. They look at us as being dangerous, like a cult trying to convert Jews to Christianity.”

B’rit Hadasha belongs to Tikkun Ministries International – a family of 20 or so like-minded congregations scattered throughout the United States – and to the 23-year-old Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, a supporting group for 90 congregations in the United States, Canada and elsewhere.

Messianic Jewish congregations have been accused of being Christians masquerading as Jews. “That’s why we make sure that our congregations have some Jews among their members,” said Evelyn Hamilton with the union in Albuquerque.

B’rit Hadasha considers itself more Jewish than not.

Fifty-five families belong, with 80 to 100 people attending weekly services, Shansky said. The congregation is about 30 percent Jewish and 70 percent non-Jewish – members with no Jewish bloodline.

“I’m Jewish by birth,” Shansky says, but he doesn’t advocate that those who are not call themselves Jews.

Those with non-Jewish backgrounds are called simply Messianic believers.

They follow the Jewish calendar, embrace Jewish traditions, celebrate the Jewish feasts and honor the Torah. They love and support Israel.

Their services are a mixture of English and Hebrew. They have prayer shawls and yarmulkes or skull caps. They use siddurims or Jewish prayer books. They observe the Sabbath on Saturday. And their Torah scrolls are held and protected in a huge ark.

“We feel our faith is very Jewish,” Shansky says. “We seek to recapture the Jewishness of First Century believers.”

He added, “The only area we differ (from other Jews) is over the birth of the Messiah, His coming and His Resurrection.”

But the difference is one of Biblical proportions.

During services, members read from the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Covenant (New Testament). In fact, B’rit Hadasha is Hebrew for New Covenant.

Unlike other synagogues, B’rit Hadasha uses the piano, drums and tambourines in worship. They don’t sing hymns, but they do sing and perform choreographed spiritual dances, known in the Messianic Jewish world as “Davidic dance.” The Israeli flag is prominently displayed as well as a large banner bearing the name Yeshua, or Jesus.

Many Messianic Jews are estranged from their Jewish families, who reject their beliefs that Jesus is the son of God.

Anne Leviton grew up in a strict Orthodox Jewish home in Memphis. She already had accepted Jesus and was attending Broadway Baptist Church when she went to a Christmas/Hanukkah party in December 1981 and met other Jews who believed in Jesus.

“The church doesn’t keep the Jewish feasts or the Sabbath. I loved Broadway, but I felt like I was missing my background. My heritage was missing.”

The 72-year-old grandmother, who is one of the founding members of B’rit Hadasha, worshiped with others in a private home for a couple years before they purchased their current house of worship at Quail Hollow and Massey in 1983.

One of her daughters also attends B’rit Hadasha, and her two other adult children attend local churches. But she said relatives who do not share her beliefs consider her dead.

Shansky said he too was estranged from his family for a time because of his beliefs.

“I have no regrets about my faith,” Shansky said.

“I believe Yeshua is the fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures. He is the Messiah, the son of God and the salvation for all mankind.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday November 30, 2002.
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