Owings Mills Times
  January 17, 2006    


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Spreading 'word' difficult for Messianic Jews
Louis Llovio

By Louis Llovio

No matter how the leaders of two Messianic Jewish congregations try to spread their message to local Jews, the Jewish community is erecting a wall of resistance.

Both Rabbi David A. Finkelstein, the rabbi at Am Yeshua in Reisterstown and Congregation Leader Peter Koziar, of B'nai Avraham Messianic Congregation in Pikesville, say they, as Messianic Jews, are the only true Jews.

Messianic Jews believe Jesus Christ is the Jewish Messiah. While they recognize the Christian New Testament as part of their Bible, they keep the Jewish traditions, such as all the Jewish holidays and the practice of keeping kosher.

They believe it is their duty to spread their message to members of the Orthodox, Reform and Conservative Jewish faiths.

They've distributed fliers and requested meetings. They've even gone door-to-door.

But Jews in local synagogues don't want to hear their explanations.

Rabbi Bradd Boxman of Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills says that messianic congregations are trying to "convert" Jews in their own homes. To him, this is "offensive and insulting."

He calls what they do mere proselytizing.

"They have the freedom to believe whatever they want," says Boxman. "But their freedom ends where my nose begins."

Finkelstein, a thick-set man with broad, powerful shoulders, sits in Field's Pharmacy, the heart of Pikesville's Jewish social world, wearing a baseball cap with "Jesus Makes Me Kosher" across the front. His confrontational style rattles people, he says, but gets them thinking about his message.

Koziar, a soft-spoken man, says he believes conversation and patience are the keys to his ministry's success.

Differing styles

Although their styles differ, both men, who were raised in northwest Baltimore County, say they have made it their life's mission to challenge the area's Jewish establishment.

Their message is not popular.

"Jews believe that when the Messiah comes, the world will be perfected," says Boxman of Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills. "That hasn't happened."

To Finkelstein's way of thinking, modern Jews have lost their way and forgotten the scriptures.

He says Rabbinical Judaism - what he calls modern day Judaism - is a rejection of the word of God.

"One of the major tenets of the scriptures is the coming of the Messiah," Finkelstein says. "You start looking at scripture and He (Christ) has been there the whole time."

Boxman says when Christ was crucified and died, that was the "end of the story."

Penina Taylor of Baltimore, a spokeswoman for Jews for Judaism, says that is not true. According to the brochure, Jews for Judaism was founded in 1985 in "response to the multi-million-dollar efforts of cults and evangelical Christians who target Jews for conversion."

"The majority of scripture they (Messianic Jews) say points to Jesus being the Messiah are taken out of context, mistranslated or just fabricated," Taylor says.

It's an argument Finkelstein shrugs off.

"For the last 2,000 years, our people have been misled," he says. He says following Christ, whom he calls Yeshua, is the logical extension of Judaism.

But Taylor says Messianic Jews are "taking Christianity and dressing it up in Jewish clothing and calling it Judaism."

Finkelstein, who was raised in Pikesville and attended temple at Oheb Shalom in his youth, says, "I'm still a Jew. I'll always be a Jew. Why should I change?"

For Finkelstein, who calls himself a "boat rocker" with a shrug and the hint of a smile, becoming a Christian is not an option he'll even consider. He is rabbi to a congregation of about 30.

"Christ came to unite gentiles and Jews," Finkelstein says. "But he was primarily a Jew. His first converts were Jews. And I am a Jew."

Committed to 'the light'

Finkelstein is a man committed to leading Jews to what he calls "the light."

"The greatest anti-Semitism imaginable is to not tell a Jew about Yeshua," he says. "I just spread the truth."

Koziar, more mild mannered than Finkelstein, says, "There is a place for confrontation and a place for reasoning."

Raised as a Catholic in Randallstown, Koziar became "born again" in 1978 and joined the Messianic movement in Lockhearn almost 20 years ago.

He said he was drawn to the Messianic movement because it connected with his "Jewish heritage." His grandparents were eastern European Jews who converted to Christianity to avoid persecution in the late 19th century, he says.

Koziar says ministering in Pikesville is difficult, but he says the biggest problem he faces is the major misconception in the community that Messianic Jews are trying to turn Jews into gentiles.

"They think we're trying to pull Jews out of Judaism," he says. "What we're trying to do is tell Jews about the Jewish Messiah."

Koziar says if they could get past the "slammed doors" and just talk, the community would understand the message of the Messianic congregations.

"If we just get the time to talk to them, and explain to them what we're all about, what Jesus was all about, I think they'd understand."

Koziar knows that his message is not well received.

"This (Pikesville) can be a very tough nut to crack," he says. "We're trying to get in as strangers with a message that's not appreciated. Our message is incomprehensible to some."

He says his congregation of about 15 hasn't received much attention in the nine years since it began. To change that, earlier this year Koziar partnered with Jews for Jesus to go door- to-door and to distribute fliers at community events.

"I don't think we've communicated our message effectively yet," he says.

But the difficulties they have encountered in delivering their message, both say, is well worth the fight - whether the fight comes in the form of a confrontation or a well- reasoned discussion.



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