A Ministry Grows in Brooklyn
Earlier this year, Chosen People Ministries, a Messianic Jewish organization, purchased an 11,000-square-foot building in the heart of Orthodox Brooklyn.
"If you walk out the door and turn left, you are in an Orthodox Jewish community," says president Mitch Glaser. "And if you turn right, you will be able to buy the best borscht you have ever tasted."
Once rehabbed, the building will allow the organization to provide substance-abuse counseling and to teach English as a second language. It will house a library for Messianic research and a 150-seat sanctuary. It will also host an accredited pastoral training program in partnership with an evangelical seminary.
The institutional changes are in many ways symbolic of new opportunities—and lasting tensions—in the modern-day Messianic movement.
Jesus Movement Roots
In 1970, Glaser and Jhan Moskowitz shared a ramshackle houseboat in Sausalito, near San Francisco, selling drugs to help pay their bills. At the time, the two Jews from New York City were reveling in the hippie lifestyle, with no idea they would soon face the spiritual crisis of a lifetime.
One evening, a lucrative drug deal involving 22 pounds of high-grade marijuana unraveled. Gun-toting rip-off artists showed up. One of them placed a sawed-off shotgun at the back of Glaser's neck as others scooped up the cash and pot. Glaser recalled, "I was just 18 and thought, How stupid have I been to throw my life away! I was scared, hopeless, and had no one to pray to."
That night, Glaser and Moskowitz escaped with their lives, and Glaser swore off drug-dealing. Later, their lives took a different path.
At the invitation of a friend who had become a Christian, Glaser visited an evangelical commune in Oregon. Glaser, raised in an Orthodox family, was active in the Young Israel movement (also Orthodox) and hostile to Christianity. "When I passed a church, I walked to the other side of the street," he once told an interviewer. But he was moved by the intimate prayers of commune members.
Returning to California, Glaser began reading the New Testament and, after a few months of struggle, gave his life to Jesus. He was barely 19, thousands of miles from his Brooklyn home, and a new believer. One day, he walked to Sausalito's shoreline and prayed that God would introduce him to another Jewish believer. "Just then, a gospel tract floated onto the rocky shore, right next to where I was sitting and praying," he told Christianity Today. "Since I was such a new believer, I assumed this was normal and, though surprised, I picked up the waterlogged tract and hitchhiked over to the address on it. This was my first involvement with what would become Jews for Jesus."
Glaser, Moskowitz (who also became a believer), and other Jews followed the charismatic Moishe Rosen when he left Chosen People Ministries to found Jews for Jesus, now the largest Messianic Jewish organization in North America. In 2008, the San Francisco-based ministry had gifts and other income of $18.6 million. Rosen died this May at 78.
Over the years, the Messianic Jewish movement solidified its organizational ties to evangelicals while trying to preserve its Jewish identity and culture. The number of Messianic believers in Messianic congregations has grown slowly but steadily despite opposition from all major branches of Judaism.
After 25 years of national ministry with Jews for Jesus, Glaser realized it was time to resign. During his years with the group, he had helped to open a Los Angeles branch, toured with Messianic singing groups (including the Liberated Wailing Wall), and trained outreach volunteers in Manhattan.