October 10, 1903 a young man named Leon Rosenberg arrived from Warsaw to Odessa. He was a representative of the British Mildma Mission, whose main task was to help spread the good news among the Jews of Europe and the Russian Empire.
He was met at the train station by a senior man, Chaim Gurland, a former chief pastor of Mitava, who had worked for his people for more than 30 years. Despite his advanced age and illness, he continued to serve as pastor and led a small group of Jews who believed in Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel. This meeting can be called symbolic, because the past and future of the messianic movement in the city of Odessa met on the station platform. Pastor Gurland, who founded this unique movement, and Leon Rosenberg, who founded the first Jewish community in southern Ukraine to believe in Messiah Yeshua.
Leon Rosenberg was born on February 15, 1875. In the city of Opole, in what is now Poland, which then belonged to the great Russian Empire. He was the firstborn son of his father Eleazar (mother Lazarus) and his mother Gali.
The Rosenberg family was respected by the townspeople because they followed all the traditions and rules of Orthodox Judaism. Therefore, Leon was cultivated according to the strict canons of Judaism, beginning with the study of the Hebrew language (then used only as a language of worship) and ending with studies in the yeshiva, where he studied the Torah, the Mishnah and the Gemara, the Talmud and its commentaries under the careful attention of wise mentors.
He was successful in his studies, but he had many questions. He sought answers from the mystical Kabbalah and the writings of famous rabbis, such as Nachman of Bretslav, who many believed in Hasidism to suffer from free thinking. One day he came across a book called Brit Hadasha. Leon read it with pleasure and studied it with a friend from Yeshiva on long winter evenings, admiring the depth of the book’s thought and spiritual truths. The leadership of Yeshiva soon became aware of this, the dangerous book was confiscated and destroyed, and the guilty students were severely punished.
This was Leon Rosenberg’s first meeting with the Jewish Messiah of Israel, who at that time appeared before him as the great Teacher and Reformer of his people. Contrary to his father’s wishes, Leon did not become a rabbi. He decided to acquire a secular education and soon was drawn into a new world without prohibitions. In a short time, Leon turned from an ardent believer to an antagonist and an atheist. He ridiculed what he had previously believed in and even marrying Fanny Wyman, a deeply religious girl from a decent Jewish family, did not change him.
He remained a frustrated young man and looking for answers to his questions. And one day he met a man named Zilberstein, a Jew who believed in Yeshua. He distributed in the streets of Warsaw tracts containing quotations from the Old Testament in Yiddish and Hebrew — prophecies that were fulfilled in the Messiah Yeshua and proclaimed the good news. For this he was repeatedly beaten by fanatical religious Jews, his literature was destroyed, but Zilberstein came to preach on the streets over and over again.
Leon wanted to know why Zilberstein was distributing literature, knowing that fanatics would destroy it. In a sad voice, Zilberstein replied, “If only our people knew they were trampling on the treasure by destroying the Word of Life, they would never do so. In spiritual darkness, they forsook the Messiah spoken of in my literature. I will cast my bread into the water, and in due time it will bear fruit. ”
Leon was amazed when Zilberstein, despite being persecuted and beaten, spoke of Jews as “our people”. He quoted a passage from the gospel in which the Messiah sympathized with His scattered Jewish people, the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and added, “The Lord Yeshua has commanded us to love our enemies and to pray for those who hate us for no reason.”
The sincerity of Zilberstein’s testimony left a deep impression on Leon. He continued to meet with the minister of the gospelnand soon accepted Yeshua as his personal Lord and Savior.
This resonated with Leon Rosenberg, he was abandoned by his family, they wanted to separate him from his wife, he lost his job and the Jewish community refused to associate with him as he was considered “a traitor to the fathers’ faith.” Despite these trials, Leon became stronger in the faith and a year later he was joined by his wife, Fanny, who also began to believe in Yeshua. She was a wonderful mother, a good wife and an invaluable partner to Leon Rosenberg, who dedicated his life to preaching the good message of Yeshua to his people.
“I arrived in Odessa, this beautiful Black Sea port city, in 1903, right after the wild bloody pogroms in Chisinau. Then a quarter of a million Jews lived in Odessa and they were subject to a general, government-authorized hatred and restrictions. The conditions I found myself in were extremely oppressive. Anti-Semitism was rampant, although Jews were not at the forefront of trade or politics at the time. They were despised and hated, and this persecution was dominated by the religious element of the country. In schools, teachers and priests instilled in the souls of young and old the revenge for the crucifixion of Christ. “Jews killed our God” was a widespread expression in Russia at the time, and therefore Jews became not only objects of revenge, but also scapegoats for all the disasters in the country. No wonder the Jews were anti-Christian and hostile to the person of Christ in whose name they were so terribly treated. It was very difficult for us to spread the gospel because the Russian government, strongly supported by the official Orthodox Church, strictly forbade the proclamation and dissemination of the gospel… ”
Excerpt from Leon Rosenberg’s presentation in 1931. At a conference in England.
Leon Rosenberg’s service in Odessa lasted 18 years. During this time, a Jewish community was established in Yeshua, which was officially recognized by the state and registered with the Ministry of the Interior. The community opened an orphanage and nursing home, a craft workshop, and a free tea shop where food could be provided to needy Jews. The community established several similar communities in other cities and the students of Pastor Leon became pastors of these communities in Kyiv and Yekaterinoslav (Dnepropetrovsk).
The community had its own prayer hall and published brochures describing their creed, as well as their songbook, which contained songs written for worship. But it was later, years later, first of all Leon Rosenberg and Chaim Gurland opened a shop selling Hebrew and Yiddish Scriptures. This store was called the “Bible Book Store” and was located on Kuznetshnaya Street.
Excerpt from Vera Kushnir’s book “There Is Only One Life”:
“The display had a huge open Bible (both Testaments) with underlined passages and other spiritual literature was scattered around it — and above it was a Yiddish inscription explaining the nature of the material on display. The underlined places changed every day and the passing Jews stopped to read them from time to time. Such an innovation attracted the attention of many in the city. ”
For many Jews, this was the beginning of a journey with Yeshua. They met in a small group at the home of Leon and Fanny Rosenberg to study the New Testament and pray. Over time, this group became the foundation of a community that became known as the first Jewish Christian community.
This community was also unique in that it did not join any of the denominations that existed at the time, as Leon believed that the main purpose of the community was to be home to Christian Jews.
In his message to the faithful brethren of the Odessa churches, he wrote:
“I am saddened that not everyone understood our position as Jewish Christians, not even pastors and other clergymen, who often confused the religious point of view with the national one and said, Jew cannot be a Jew, forgetting that although a Jew belongs primarily to his own nation or race, all nations and races can be Christians. Realizing in Scripture that the New Testament is the fulfillment of the aspirations and hopes of the Jewish people in Jesus Christ, we realized that we were absolutely right to emphasize with the apostle Paul that we were Jewish and Christian by faith, through death ”
In 1913, the first Christian-Jewish community decided to celebrate its tenth anniversary, from the day of the formation of a small congregation in the house of Leon and Fanny Rosenberg before the Odessa pogrom in 1905 and the official registration of this congregation as the first Christian Jewish evangelical community.
Excerpt from the book “Life is Only One”:
“The celebration of the anniversary was opened by the assistant pastor, who gave a brief overview of the blessed years of the senior presbyter’s missionary service after prayer. Bishop Albert, a personal friend from a nearby city, gave an inspiring speech in which he emphasized the importance of working among Jews. He praised God for His obvious blessings in this unique Christian Jewish community, saying, “I am an old preacher of the gospel and have traveled many ways, visited many churches, but have never met anything else like this. Not only because it is the first Judeo-Christian community in our country, but because all its members are the fruit of the proclamation of the faithful gospel that is heard right here by the pastor Leon Rosenberg and his assistants.
The welcome speeches of several other prominent preachers and friends ended with the rich testimonies and musical numbers of the young people and children of the rural school. The community choir sang in Russian, Hebrew, Yiddish and other languages. All the county colonies of the German Mennonites and Baptists were friends of the church, and they also took part in the celebration. In his closing remarks, Pastor Rosenberg recalled some difficult moments from the past, from which the Lord brought the community out in complete victory and called all those present to stand up and glorify God and His Son Yeshua / Jesus Messiah for His salvation in a truly powerful and inspired manner.
The spiritual rise of all present was so high that it seemed as if the roof was rising from the building and flying away so that prayers and singing could rush straight to heaven. ”
A year after the outbreak of World War I, Pastor Rosenberg was exiled to Siberia because of his ties to Germany, Russia’s main enemy in that war. This seemed to end his service in Odessa, but he was supported by religious friends from the highest districts of St. Petersburg. They began to speak up for him seriously before the government of the Russian Empire. Among them were Count Palin, a senator, and a true Christian. Senator Palin wrote a letter of recommendation about Pastor Rosenberg and asked the Governor-General of Odessa to return the pastor to the family as a matter of urgency.
Despite restrictions on Protestant churches, Leon Rosenberg continued to serve the Jews of Odessa and Bessarabia and achieved considerable success, bringing many to the knowledge of the Messiah Yeshua.
His service continued during the Revolution and the Civil War. Despite the threat of death, he preached good news to the Jews. His family was in danger of death during the pogroms and abductions, but the Rosenberg family did not leave Odessa. Pastor Leon could not leave the spiritual children in order to save their own lives, but decided to be with them until the end.
In 1921, he was arrested by the VCK and sentenced to death for religious agitation among the population. His life was saved only by the guardian intervention of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Communists agreed to exchange him for two valuable prisoners detained by the Germans and pastor Rosenberg was ordered to leave the country.
Letter of thanks from the first Jewish Christian community to pastor Leon Rosenberg:
Thank you letter
to the spiritual father and pastor of our community
Circumstances force you to leave Odessa and go abroad, leaving us orphaned.
For twenty-two years you have stood before us, serving our beloved Savior as pastor of the evangelical Jewish Christian church and as a mission and school leader. You were the spiritual father of our entire community and fully deserved the title of both presbyter and pastor.
The years of our existence as a church were truly a remembrance of God’s grace and mercy for our people (Psalm 72: 1 and Romans 11: 1).
With the Lord at your right hand, you were the captain of our little boat in the stormy waves of the storms around us. When He opened the doors, no one could close them. The testimony was accompanied by the power of God, and the Lord added more and more faithful souls to our church. Many of our brothers and sisters who belong to scattered Israel and are forced to leave their families because of their faith in Jesus are standing here today and those who have left Odessa are preaching the gospel elsewhere and even beyond our borders. Many branches of our church have risen here and there to confirm the blessing that has come from your ministry and many brothers and sisters have remained faithful for years until death.
You also served small children. Your care for them led to the opening of a school where they could be raised in a purely evangelical spirit under the direction of the Lord.
“How about now?” we ask ourselves. “What are we going to do without you?” And yet we are sure it is God’s will that you leave and we hope that you will return to us again. Therefore, we wish you and all of your loved ones God’s blessings on the road that He will open to you from now on.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your wonderful service and may the Lord reward you for everything. ”
With His love
your faithful brothers and sisters in Him,
(Signatures of all community members)
Odessa, May 1922.
The first Jewish Christian community was destroyed in 1931, during a period of mass persecution of the USSR.
Pastor Leon Rosenberg lived for another 43 long years and remained in the service to which he dedicated his life until his death. After Odessa, he had jobs in Poland and the United States, in Israel, but wherever he was, he remembered his Odessa period. What he brought with him from Odessa was a revelation to many believers around the world – Jews will remain Jews even after receiving Yeshua. They do not have to change their lives to assimilate with other cultures, they are created by God to fulfill the mission entrusted to them, namely to witness about God on Earth.
I would like to end this article with a commentary by Leon Rosenberg on Numbers 6: 24-26: “Through Moses, God commanded Aron the high priest and his sons to proclaim these blessings over the Israelites as they served in the Holy of Holies. And I will proclaim these blessings upon you, your fathers and your grandfathers, in the hope that the Lord will cause these blessings to fall upon you.
I would very much like to see you all, but let the Lord decide if this is still possible or if it is my hour to appear before Him in heaven. I dedicate you all to His care. I have much to thank Him for. Glory to Him for all my years, days and hours that He has given me by His grace to serve Him. His name be honored forever, for His goodness and mercy endures forever. Amen ”