Prior to 1970 there were various fledgling Jewish expressions of faith in Yeshua on several continents. This included Edward Brotsky, the Jewish Baptist in Toronto and many others. But it was shortly before 1970 that a Jewish Evangelist, Manny Brotman, anointed by the Spirit in passionate evangelism, won Jewish people to Yeshua through his preaching and witness and fostered the concept of Messianic Jewish congregations as compared with Hebrew Christian Churches.
In Cincinnati, Ohio, the Chernoff family also began to entertain similar ideas. Marty Chernoff had been a Baptist missionary who was “baptized in the Spirit.” He then had a vision to build a congregation on the basis of “Messianic Judaism” as the key term. There was an outpouring of the Spirit on the young people, which they describe as waves and waves of the Spirit upon them. There was much Holy Spirit laughter. Then there was Joe Finklestein, in Philadelphia, a chemist who attracted Jewish young people to his home, and the same power of the Spirit was experienced. His group was affectionately called “the Fink’s zoo.” These men – together with Herb Links, a Presbyterian Jewish leader – connected to what was happening in Cincinnati, and began to influence the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America (later renamed the Messianic Jewish Alliance).
Unbeknownst to those mentioned above, two young Assemblies of God ministers, Ray Gannon and Phil Goble, experienced a mighty anointing of the Spirit in evangelism and saw scores of Jewish people come to know Yeshua. They planted Temple Beth Immanuel in Southern California, and it soon grew to 150 people, a very large number in those days. (Today this congregation still exists as Ahavat Tzion). David Stern, who later became famous for his Jewish New Testament and Commentary, was its cantor.
I personally came to know these people in the early 1970s. Parallel with these historic breakthroughs, through systematic study, I became convinced that Jewish believers in Yeshua are called to identity and live as Jews.
Around the same time Manny Brotman had his sharing seminars in Washington, DC (1973), and Paul Liberman and Sid Roth began Beth Messiah Congregation nearby. Shortly after that, Manny became its first Rabbi. By 1976 I had my first experience of Messianic congregational leadership at Adat HaTikvah Congregation in Chicago. Through spiritual healing ministry at Adat, many lives including mine were transformed by the power of God. Then, in 1978 I became the leader of Beth Messiah Synagogue. That year we immersed 26 new Jewish believers in the name of Yeshua.
This is why the Chernoff family speaks about the Messianic Jewish Movement as the Jewish revival. It was a supernatural move of the Holy Spirit that tracked with the Jesus movement of those days. Today many Messianic Jewish Diaspora congregations have only a small minority of Jewish members. Back in those days we had a generous representation of Jewish members in the congregations along with a wonderful minority of Gentiles who were called to the movement. We were in the middle of a Holy Spirit power move that was winning Jewish people left and right. That took care of the “demographics.”
Today we spend much time on theological debate and questions of authenticity, and I have also been involved in this, even writing several books on such issues. However, in the beginning we did not have so much theology, nor so much Rabbinic understanding and orientation. Yet there was power and effectiveness.
Acts 2 at Shavuot-Pentecost is the template for the move of God among the Jewish people and Acts 13-15 applies the same Holy Spirit power to the mission to the Gentiles. I am convinced that the problems of the Messianic Jewish movement in the Diaspora will not be solved by getting the “rules” right for Jews and Gentiles. These things will not fall into proper order until we have a new outpouring of the Spirit for the successful reaching of our people. Then thousands of our people will come to Yeshua in the Diaspora and thousands more in Israel. And then our perspective on all these issues will be different. We will have the wonderful and massive challenge of making disciples.
The origins of a successful movement often tell us about the founding principles that must be recovered to see this success continue into the future in new generations. The Messianic Jewish Movement began as a mighty move of the Spirit. It was a fully charismatic movement, and nothing else will enable us to solve the problems we face today. I believe it is better to spend much more energy praying and seeking God for such an outpouring, than debating the theological issues. And everyone who knows me is aware that I am theologically oriented! But this is my view after almost 45 years in this movement.