A week or so ago I was contacted by someone, whom I will call Sasha, who wanted to meet with me. When I arrived at the office, the guy looked marginally familiar. He greeted me by name, and after a brief discussion, I realized he was someone whom I had met in Odessa, Ukraine in 1997. That year I was invited to teach Jewish history at the brand new Messianic Jewish Bible Institute. I remember at the time him telling me I possibly could speak at a traditional synagogue in another Ukrainian city. I responded that I would be happy to do so as long as the synagogue knew I was a Messianic Jewish rabbi. After checking with them, the synagogue agreed.
When I arrived there, the synagogue board wanted to meet with me. The rabbi was apparently in Israel at the time. I joined them in a board room adorned with pictures of Rabbi Schneerson, the former rebbi (leader) of the Chabad movement (a branch of ultra-Orthodoxy). I thought – uh-oh; the ultra-Orthodox are the Messianic Jews leading opponents. The board grilled me for about 45 minutes about who I was and what I was planning to say. I honestly explained everything – I was both a Messianic rabbi (I explained that) and an immigration lawyer, and I would share with the group my spiritual journey. The board agreed, but the president of the synagogue also wanted me to raise money in the US for them to build a mikvah (ritual bath) in their synagogue. I agreed. The experience was incredible. I shared with about 60 folks my life growing up in a Jewish home in the US, finding the Messiah – Yeshua and later becoming a rabbi. Afterwards, they asked a bunch of questions. I left with the promise we would send them funds to build the mikvah.
We left our car in the synagogue parking lot, and walked to a local restaurant for lunch. When we returned to the synagogue to pick up our car, the rabbi, who had been in Israel, was suddenly at the synagogue door entrance, and he didn’t look happy. We drove back to Odessa, and I continued the course I was teaching for another week. When I returned to the US, I shared the story of the synagogue with our congregation and raised significant funds to build the Ukrainian synagogue’s mikvah. I sent the money to Sasha, my contact there and the person now in my office. He tried to give the money to the synagogue, but the rabbi refused to receive it. The president of the synagogue was mortified, but there was nothing to be done. We instead donated the money to another Ukrainian project.
I’ve always wondered about that experience, and how the people finally responded to my visit. Now, here was Sasha in my office in Petach Tikvah, Israel, 18 years to almost the day I was in that synagogue in the Ukraine. Sasha has a heart of gold and served the Jewish communities in the Ukraine for years. He and his family had adopted disabled Ukrainian Jewish children who were stuck in decrepit group homes. He had raised many of them, and most of them successfully made Aliyah (immigration) to Israel. Now, he was here to try and get status himself as the adoptive parent of two other Ukrainian children. His problem was he was a known believer in Yeshua and had been stopped. He had heard from others in Israel that I was practicing law here and came to seek assistance. Of course, I don’t handle immigration to Israel matters, but one of my partners does.
Before he related his legal problems, he said he wanted to tell me two things. He asked if I remembered the president of the synagogue. I said absolutely – he was the one who wanted money for the mikvah. Sasha told me he became a follower of Yeshua a few years later. The second thing was that another person present at my presentation also became a Messianic Jew many years later. When he did so, he said he was very frustrated that the rabbi of the synagogue had taught them that a Jew cannot remain a Jew and believe in Yeshua.
All I can say is wow. I always wonder what impact my life has had on other people. When I hear stories like this, I realize that God is faithful. As it says in the Scriptures: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in the Messiah and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.” II Cor. 2:14