Rabbi Loren’s 2wordstory
Loren Jacobs is the senior rabbi and founder of “Congregation Shema Yisrael” (which means “Hear O Israel”). Congregation Shema Yisrael is a Messianic synagogue that was started in 1986 when Rabbi Loren and his wife Martha moved to Michigan to proclaim the Good News about the Messiah to the 70,000 – 80,000 Jewish people living in the metro Detroit area.
Rabbi Loren was raised in a Jewish home in the Chicago area and became a Messianic Jew in 1975. He graduated from Moody Bible Institute’s Jewish Studies program in 1979 and received a Bachelor degree in Biblical Literature from Northeastern Bible College in New Jersey in 1986. His wife Martha is a fifth-generation Messianic Jew, which is quite unusual. They have two adult children and two grandchildren.
Rabbi Loren’s Story
I’d like to begin my story at the time of my great-grandparents, most of whom lived near the city of Kiev in the Ukraine around 1900. At that time, life was becoming increasingly difficult for many of the Jewish families in Russia and the Ukraine, including my own. My family left the Ukraine and came to the United States during the first decade of the twentieth century. In the generations since we left Russia for America, my family never showed a deep faith in God or His Word. Consequently, growing up in the Chicago area in the 1960’s, I was immersed in a culturally Jewish but, otherwise, secular and materialistic worldview.
Few, if any, of my Jewish friends, family, or teachers at synagogue believed in a God who could create the universe in six days, intervene in human history, or perform miracles. The idea of having a personal relationship with God, like Abraham, Moses, and David had, was unheard of. The Holy Scriptures were regarded as good for teaching morals and ethics but not to be taken “literally.” Matters concerning the supernatural – such as heaven and hell, angels, demons, and the Messiah – were not acknowledged.
We celebrated the holidays as a part of our Jewish tradition, but the living God played a very little role in our day-to-day affairs. As I result, I sensed that something was missing from the Judaism to which I was exposed, and I began investigating other philosophies and religions. I started by reading some of the great Western philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. Then I began drifting toward Eastern philosophy. I took up Transcendental Meditation repeating my “mantra” over and over every morning and evening for more than a year.
During my first year at Northwestern University in Illinois, I took a course on Medieval Philosophy. Little did I know that the greatest minds during this thousand-year period in Western Civilization spent most of their intellectual labors attempting to prove the existence of God! The philosophers reasoned, “How else do we explain the evident order and design in nature? Why else do we all have an inward sense of right and wrong? And why, throughout all cultures and societies, has there been an intuitive awareness of God or gods?” As I studied their powerful and persuasive arguments, I became convinced that God had to exist.
Shortly after that, I began reading the Holy Scriptures for the very first time. After attending a seminar on Biblical prophecy, I read the entire New Testament portion of the Scriptures within a week! Then I began discovering prophecies in the Jewish Scriptures that predicted the coming Messiah, the Anointed Ruler and Savior sent by God. I was amazed to discover that the prophets of Israel had told us that a descendant of the tribe of Judah, from the royal family of King David, would be born in Bethlehem. According to these prophecies, He would come before the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD; accomplish miracles; then suffer, die, rise from the dead; and yet fail to be recognized by the majority of our people! Through the Messiah, God would also establish a New Covenant with the Jewish people. (See Jeremiah 31:31-34.) To me, the evidence was overwhelming – Yeshua was the promised Messiah of Israel who would reconcile us to God.
In coming to know the Messiah, I discovered a dimension of Jewish spirituality that I never dreamed possible! Messiah Yeshua enabled me to develop an intimate personal connection with the God of Israel that is still going strong 25 years later! When I came to believe in Yeshua, I began rediscovering my Jewish heritage. I transferred to Moody Bible Institute, changed my major to Jewish studies, worked with Jews for Jesus for eight years, and was ordained as a Messianic Rabbi by the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations. I married Martha Brickner, who is a fifth-generation Messianic Jew! Together we have drawn closer to our Messiah, our God, our Land, our Holy Scriptures, our people, and our heritage. God, in His mercy, has enabled us to start Congregation Shema Yisrael, which is about ten years old.
Rebbitzin Martha’s Story
One of the arguments against the Messianic Jewish movement is based on assimilation. It goes something like this: “We Jewish people shouldn’t believe in Yeshua because the second generation of Messianic Jews assimilate into the dominant Christian culture. They marry Christians and become part of the Church. And, if the second generation doesn’t assimilate, then the third generation will certainly be lost to the Jewish community.”
Frankly, assimilation has been a problem for Jewish people in general as well as for those who have come to know the Messiah; but I know that assimilation is not inevitable because I am a fifth-generation Messianic Jew! For more than 120 years, my Jewish family members have known that Yeshua is the Messiah and passed their Messianic Faith and Jewish identity to the succeeding generations.
The Second Generation
My story begins with Julius Finestein. Julius was born into a Chassidic family in 1859 and grew up in Zhitomir, Russia. He became a Messianic Jew around 1881. He married my great-grandmother Esther, his second cousin, who was also from a Chassidic family. Shortly after their marriage, Esther also became a Messianic Jew. Together, Julius and Esther brought the Good News of the Messiah to the Jewish people in Odessa and Constantinople. They saw much opposition and persecution, but they also helped many other Jewish people come to know Israel’s Messiah. They had two sons who later carried on the work of bringing the truth to our people – Isaac and Daniel Finestone. Julius died in 1898; and Esther married Wolfe Kendal, another Messianic Jew. They had two children, my great-aunt Emma (who is 98 years old) and my grandfather Fred.
Esther and Wolfe moved to London, where Esther worked with a Jewish ministry for seven years. From London, the family moved to Toronto. In Toronto, Esther served with several Jewish ministries from 1910 to 1927.
The First Generation
Although Julius and Esther were the first to believe in Messiah Yeshua, Esther’s mother Pearl, my great-great grandmother, also welcomed Yeshua into her life in her later years and became a Messianic Jew herself. That makes her the first generation of Messianic Jews in our family lineage.
The Third Generation
Isaac Finestone communicated the Message about the Messiah in Toronto, Ottawa, and New Jersey.
Daniel Finestone started a Messianic Jewish group in Philadelphia that continues to this day.
Fred Kendal, my grandfather, moved to the United States and started Israel’s Remnant, which was active in Detroit and Boston. It later merged with Friends of Israel.
Emma Kendal married Arthur Glass, and they became the first couple sent out by the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America. They brought the Good News about the Messiah to the Jewish people of Buenos Aires. They moved to Detroit and in the 1950s served as the spiritual leaders of the First Hebrew Christian Church.
The Fourth Generation
My uncle Daniel and aunt Beverly Kendal have brought the truth about Israel’s Messiah to the Spanish-speaking peoples in Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States. My uncle Harold and aunt Grace Brickner are leading a Messianic Congregation in the Detroit area. My parents, Avi and Leah Brickner, have brought the Message of the Messiah to the Jewish communities of Detroit, Boston, San Francisco, and Jerusalem.
The Fifth Generation
Howard and Ann Burgoyne are leading a church in Washington. Stephen and Deborah Galiley are leading a Messianic Synagogue in New York. Susan and Irving Salzman are bringing the Messiah to the Jewish community in Montreal. My brother, David Brickner, is the director of Jews for Jesus, which has a worldwide impact. Ted and Priscilla Clark and Scott and Ruth Yingling are bringing the Messiah to the peoples of Mexico. James and Terri Wilson are teaching the Holy Scriptures in Arkansas.
I have only mentioned those members of the family who have gone into full-time ministry. There are many others in my family who have served in various other capacities the God of Israel and the wonderful Messiah whom He sent to save us.
Growing up Messianic
My parents took great pride in their Jewish heritage and wanted their children to embrace their Jewish roots as well. When the children were old enough to sit still at the table, each dinner ended with a reading from the Bible. As each of us learned to read, each evening we were allowed to take turns reading aloud from the Holy Scriptures. Then each night, as my parents tucked us in bed, we would end each day with a story from the Bible and with prayer.
My growing knowledge and understanding of my heritage was a Jewishness based on the Holy Scriptures. My parents taught me that the God of Israel should come first in my life. He was the One I should seek to please above all else. This was the kind of Jewish woman they wanted me to be. The holidays were an especially fun time for me as well as a time of learning. In addition to the historical significance of each celebration, my father would teach us how each holiday pointed us to the Messiah. For example, at Passover, we celebrated not only God’s salvation of our people out of Egypt, but the greater salvation made possible through Messiah, our Passover Lamb, who died on Passover, so that God could pass over the sins of the world. Through these celebrations, I was able to understand the most important facet of my Jewishness – the need for a personal relationship with God. My godly parents challenged me to desire that relationship above all else in life.
However, being born in a Messianic Jewish home does not automatically make one a Messianic Jew! I had to decide for myself whether or not I was going to follow God and the wonderful Messiah whom He sent. I wasn’t satisfied to simply accept everything my parents taught me, especially during my teenage years. While I respected my parents and their faith, I decided I needed to do some searching on my own. I began to seek and was able to find the God who cared enough to send the Messiah to bring us back into a close relationship with Himself. I was 15 years old when I made my own personal commitment to follow the God of Israel.
When I made that commitment, I had the assurance that my need for atonement was met and that my own personal relationship with God had begun. Suddenly, the Bible became alive as I realized that it was much more than a bunch of facts – it was more like a love letter from God to me as well as my guide and way of life! I also understood that my Jewish identity was not an accident of birth but a gift from God to be embraced and a purpose to be fulfilled. I wanted to identify with my Jewish people the way my parents had wanted me to all along.
I pursued a career in nursing. Becoming a Registered Nurse was certainly fulfilling, but my growing urge to learn more about my heritage influenced me to enroll in Moody Bible Institute’s Jewish and Modern Israel Studies program. With my nursing career established and with a nice amount of Jewish education under my belt, one might think my parents would be happy. But they also wanted a different kind of nachas – the kind you find under a wedding canopy! Their wishes for a good husband for me were fulfilled when I met Loren. Like me, he believed in Yeshua and had a love for his Jewish people and a great appreciation for his heritage. One year later we were married under the chuppah; and, for the past 22 years, we have given our lives to tell our Jewish people about the Messiah.
Must Messianic Jews assimilate? Even though it may be difficult to maintain a Messianic Jewish identity and transmit it to the next generation, my 120-year-long story and I are living proof that the answer to this question is “No!”
Rabbi Loren’s Challenge
Like me, there are many Jewish people dissatisfied with the Judaism to which they have been exposed. They sense that something is missing and are longing for a deeper sense of spirituality. Perhaps you are searching for something more. I know that Messiah Yeshua is the answer to your spiritual need. Yeshua is the key that removes the barriers to peace, joy, a personal relationship with God, and eternal life.
Believing in Messiah Yeshua doesn’t mean departing from our Jewish heritage. Rather, faith in Yeshua is the fulfillment of true Biblical Judaism! Many people don’t know that the first followers of Yeshua were Messianic Jews, that the New Testament was written by Messianic Jews, or that there were Messianic synagogues in Israel until 500-700 AD. In the past 25 years, there has been a rebirth of Messianic Judaism; and today there are over 400 Messianic Synagogues in the U.S. and another 100 in Israel!
Why do I believe that Yeshua is the Messiah? Because God clearly communicated to the prophets of Israel what the first and second comings of the Messiah would be like. Scattered throughout the pages of the Jewish Bible are ancient predictions about the Messiah. Let me quote just one messianic prophecy found in the 53rd chapter of the prophet Isaiah who lived around 700 BC. This prophecy describes the sufferings and rejection that the Messiah would endure from His own people to reconcile us to the God from whom we have been estranged:
He was despised and forsaken by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised and we did not esteem Him. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.
Remember that this amazing prophecy was written 700 years before Yeshua came!
I believe this one incredible prophecy (and there are many more like it) is talking about Yeshua and the sufferings that He endured to make full and final atonement for us and to bring us into an intimate, personal relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the One who the Jewish prophets foretold would come – fi