In August of 1979, I was just under 32 years old and we had moved to Baltimore from Long Island, New York, where we had been part of a Messianic ministry for three years. In Baltimore I was to take over the leadership of a small Messianic congregation that paid me $50 a month for my services, obviously not enough to live on. Within a couple of weeks I found a job working for a man who owned many old houses throughout the city. He would call me every morning and give me my assignment for the day. (Your mission, Mr. Morrison, should you choose to accept it ...) I would be sent to a house, sometimes vacant, sometimes occupied, and would repair whatever needed to be fixed. It might be to shore up a sagging porch, tile a floor, repair a broken window, or any number of other things.

The majority of the neighborhoods in which I worked were formerly 98% Jewish; now they were 98% Afro-American. Consequently, the many buildings that were once synagogues had been sold to churches. One of the synagogues that was now a Pentecostal church, was the synagogue my family attended for several years when I was growing up, the same synagogue in which I had become a bar mitzvah nearly 20 years before.

Visiting My Past

From the outside, with the exception of the name alongside the door, the building looked exactly the same. So one Sunday morning, I thought it might be an interesting adventure to attend services there at the former Quantico Avenue shul. I walked into the entryway just a few minutes before the service was to begin. It seemed that little or no changes had been made in that area and I stood and let the sight of it sink in. The double doors to the sanctuary were on hinges that would allow them to swing in or out. Each one was covered in red leather, and each one had a little window as a precaution against collisions with those coming in and out. On each door below the window was a big Star of David made with large decorative tacks. Each tack was textured, about an inch across, about a half-inch high, and they were stuck in the door about an inch apart from each other, forming the pattern of the star.

The only person still in the hallway was a little black girl, maybe seven or eight years old, standing in front of the doors. She was running her hand over the bumpy tacks, enjoying the feel of them under her fingers. What was so striking to me was that I could remember doing the exact same thing when I was a young boy. She entered the sanctuary and I quickly ran my fingers over the Star of David before I too opened the door and went in. I slipped into a seat in the back, the same pews that I had sat on as a child.

The ark that held the Torah scrolls was gone, as was the "ner tamid" (everlasting light) that had hung above it. Gone too was the railing enclosed reader's desk, which had stood in the center of the sanctuary, and from which the scrolls were read. Everything else seemed unchanged. Of course, the Hammond organ and drums (sounding a bit like Booker T. and the MGs) and a 30 voice, white-robed choir singing gospel songs were not exactly in the style of the former Beth Isaac Congregation, Lubawitz Nusach Ari Synagogue.

Chabad and the True Messiah

The term, Nusach Ari refers to any liturgical prayer rite following the usages of Rabbi Isaac Luria, the AriZal, (1534 - July 25, 1572) a mystic whose name today is attached to all of the mystic thought emanating from the town of Safed in 16th century Ottoman Palestine. But more specifically, Nusach Ari is the version of that liturgy used by the Lubawitz Chabad Hasidim. Founded in the late 18th century, by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Lubawitz takes its name from Lyubavichi, the Russian town that served as the movement's headquarters for over a century. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, who arrived in New York in March 1940, planted the seeds of the movement in the United States, and his son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, began turning the movement into a powerful force in Jewish life worldwide. Rabbi Menachem Mendel, succeeded his father-in-law as the 7th Chabad Rebbe in 1950 and served until his death in 1994.

While Chabad is known for its outreach activities and service to the broader Jewish community, in many ways these things have been overshadowed by the fervor which gripped the movement, proclaiming with ever-increasing intensity that their rebbe was soon to reveal himself to the world as the long awaited Messiah, King of Israel. Of course, he wasn't and he didn't. Instead, he died like any other man. Many of his disciples pray and maintain a watch at his gravesite in Brooklyn, New York, awaiting his iminent resurrection. (They're still waiting after 15 years.)

When I became a bar mitzvah in this Chabad synagogue, Menachem Schneerson had been the rebbe leading this movement from his headquarters in Brooklyn for 10 years and all the messianic fervor was still in the future. Almost 20 years later, it was picking up momentum among his followers as I was sitting and reminising in what had been the synagogue of my childhood. Here I was, thinking about the past from a future that I never could possibly have imagined. I also had been gripped by a Messianic movement, but one that long predated the founding of Chabad. One whose origins were not in Russia, but in Jerusalem. (Actually, according to Micah 5:2, my Messiah's "goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.") And the Messiah who had come into my life had only been in the grave for three days and nights before He arose.

Happy New Year!

We are now entering this season of the fall festivals. Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Rosh Hashanah is called the head of the year, because it is the anniversary of the creation of the world. Like most birthdays it tends to bring a heightened awareness of the passage of time. Another year has passed, a new one begins. The sound of the shofar grips our consciousness and calls us to prepare ourselves for what lies ahead.

The Day of Atonement is a day of fasting and reflection. Sitting in that little former shul I remembered the strong odor of smelling salts. Many of the older men carried little bottles of smelling salts in case the fasting on Yom Kippur caused them to become faint. The water fountain was disconnected on that day lest someone should forget and mistakenly take a drink. The long services stretched into the afternoon; when we could take a break for a couple hours we would go home and take a nap, then return to the services until they ended after sundown. In my mind I saw the sukkah that was built outside of the synagogue, where we could gather for wine and honey cake after services and then a pleasant little walk back home.

I'm still a Jew who worships in a congregation with an ark and a Torah scroll. I still follow the same yearly cycle of celebration as a Jewish disciple in Yeshua but the familiar pattern is invigorated with the life giving witness of the Holy Spirit.

The Amazing Journey

My experience in the Pentecostal church demonstrated again to me, how God was leading me on an amazing journey. I filled out a visitor's card and mentioned that I was the leader of a small Messianic congregation. I was invited up front to sit on the raised area along side of the pastor. They asked me to share a word of testimony. I told the people that I had been there nearly 20 years before as a 13-year-old boy, becoming a bar mitzvah (son of the commandments). Now, I was a 32-year-old man, and a follower of Yeshua. Yet much that I had absorbed in my younger years was and still is precious to me. And by the hand of God's Spirit, these foundations are woven into who I am.

During the fall festival season, someone would always come to our Baltimore synagogue and make a strong appeal for purchasing Israel Development Bonds. Now I contribute to the development of Israel, not by buying bonds, but by investing my life and the life of my family in this land. (Ironically, I never would have considered moving to Israel before Yeshua got a hold of me and showed me my destiny was here.)

Here in Israel we also look back and remember, all that the Lord has done. We also press on with confident expectation for the future because we know that Israel will yet hear the sound of the heavenly shofar, they will embrace the atonement of Yeshua. Then He, the rightful king of Israel will come and take up His throne in Jerusalem and the Tabernacle of God will be in the midst of His people.

By Moshe Morrison

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Let us know what you think - why not comment to this article. The authors of these articles are often involved in intense ministry and are thus unable to respond to most comments. As is normal with print and online magazines, Tikkun reserves the right to publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.
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12:04 10Sep09 Donna Diorio -
You are a gifted story teller, Moshe. Weaving the past to the present to speak a subtle truth. Really enjoyed this.

20:01 01Oct15 Andrea Jackson -
My sister, Rachel, friend Claudette, became a part of Moshe's (Marvin) congregation before we moved into the synagogue on Walnut Avenue. I remained there for over 20 years. I learned so much. Our father asked me this question. "Andrea. How can you know and understand the new covenant when you do not know and understand the old?" A teacher friend of Claudette invited us to Tosh Pins. We attended and I began to know. Our one God is the same today - I thank God for walking through this with me. I loved it. I truly learned how to worship. Thank you Marvin for this nicely written article. Give my love to all .I attended the Conference this year. It was WONDERFUL!

  -- Moshe Morrison replies: Those were precious days. The Lord was teaching all of us; and I'm grateful that He still is doing so today.

Also in this issue of the newsletter:

Daniel Juster: The Family Foundation
Eitan Shishkoff: Friendship is Forever
Asher Intrater: Death & Ressurection in all Things
I'm Loving It!