When Art Trumps Taboo

Adi Nes, "The Last Supper"
Adi Nes, The Last Supper

These artists seem to have found in Jesus an anti-establishment figure; a portrait of suffering; a stranger in a strange land.

The new Israeli artists whose work is shown in the recent “Behold the Man” exhibit at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem all seem to recognize many truths about Jesus, and artists seek, paint, sculpt, exalt, deny, and search for expressions of truth through their creations. These artists seem to have found in Jesus an anti-establishment figure; a portrait of suffering; a stranger in a strange land; the Christian savior who was Jewish–who, unfortunately, had his life and mission (“gospel”) become an excuse for misinterpretation and misuse as an excuse to persecute Jews. As for using Jesus and Christian themes as inspiration for their work–sure, why not? Love, hope, patience, longsuffering, faith–these are all worthy and inspirational motifs. Recognize that and you will realize that anti-Semitism is a distortion of Christian thought and theology, as well as who Jesus really is. So the problem is not so much using Jesus or Christianity in Jewish art, but using them wrongly and misunderstanding their truth. To understand the person of Jesus, the savior with the yarmulke, is to understand, perhaps, the greatest evidence of truth.

The misunderstanding that Jesus ‘Jewish roots do not serve as a bridge between Judaism and Christianity is to misinterpret the very Jewish roots of Christianity themselves. It did not grow in a vacuum. It emerged from the Jewish milieu and the belief and desire for the Messiah to come, as understood in the Hebrew Scriptures. When Jesus appeared as the fulfillment of that Jewish thought, writings and belief, the greatest arguments against him had to do with how he spoke and taught with authority, as well as his claim to be God in the flesh. Yet, many Jews came to believe in him because he represented the love, hope, patience, longsuffering, faith and deliverance from Roman oppression that they were seeking. And many still find him to be their modern savior.

Are there other times in history that we have not recognized, misunderstood, or refused the hand of peace being extended to us? Yes, always. So the refusal to see Jesus as that figure of reconciliation is perhaps being re-interpreted and newly-recognized by Jewish artists who themselves are seeking a savior. We live in terribly confusing times. If not portraits of a MonaLisaMadonna, serenely smiling down on the world as the mother of all, then do not paintings of Jesus fill a similar longing?

From its dusty origins, the streets, hills and valleys of Israel brought a savior to the world where some recognized him for who he was, and some did not.

Israeli artists perhaps create from the greatest position, that of land. They live where the very stones cry out with the truth of Jewish history. God himself established a place, a palette and a purpose for the Land. And from its dusty origins, the streets, hills and valleys of Israel brought a savior to the world where some recognized him for who he was, and some did not. But for those who did accept him, he gave them the right to become children of God. Perhaps these Israeli artists are on to something, a forward moving towards a creative community of Jews that accepts Jesus as a worthy–and truthful–object of that which art always seeks: truth through the eyes of the beholder, and perhaps the heart as well.


Melissa Moskowitz has been a part of Jews for Jesus since 1976. She was born and raised in the Bronx and came to believe in Jesus while in college. She serves with Jews for Jesus in Los Angeles.

The Cup of Plagues: A curse or cure to the Egyptians?

by Stan Meyer

stan blog 2My parents scolded me for using my hands to eat at the dinner table. That’s what utensils are for. Would you stir your coffee with your finger? I don’t allow my daughter to stir her drink with her pinky. But on Passover we’re commanded to put our pinky in a cup of sugary wine and take ten drops out and put them on our plate.

The cup of plagues (the second cup) reminds us of the blood of the Egyptians who suffered ten plages because of the wickedness of their king who refused to obey God. Because Pharaoh was disobedient, the people suffered. (Remember that this November!) God punished the land of Egypt by turning the Nile River into blood, overrunning the land with green amphibians, being bitten with flies, nats, suffering cattle disease, experiencing boils, extended darkness, and finally grieving the death of their first born children. After the will of the king was broken, he finally relented, agreeing to liberate the Jewish people, only to change his mind again. Sadly, he paid for his executive mistake by losing his army in the Red Sea.

Does the cup of plagues point us toward a vengeful God who avenges those who offend his children? Is Passover an ethnocentric story about a privileged group, contrasted against the nations of the world? Perhaps not. The story goes on to tell us that when the Jewish people departed Egypt, “…a mixed multitude went with them” (Exodus 12:38, ESV). Who joined the Jews? Egyptians, who recognized that their pantheon was a powerless myth, put their faith in the God of Israel, and recognized that salvation is in Him alone. Each plague was in fact an attack on an Egyptian deity, from the god of the Nile, to Horus the Bull, to Ra the Sun God. In the words of Yul Brynner, in the production The Ten Commandments, “His god, is God”.

The Jewish Scriptures is not simply a collection of narratives about God’s election of one privileged group of people. It is the story of God’s effort to bring all nations into a relationship with Him. He sought to reach them through His miraculous intervention in human history. Passover is just one of many interventions in which God used miraculous signs and the history of a group of people to reveal Himself to every culture and ethnos. God is still interested in everyone experiencing a personal relationship with Him. Passover reminds us of His never ending campaign to touch people’s lives.

Stan Meyer is a missionary at the Los Angeles branch of Jews for Jesus. Stan received his theological training at Fuller Theological Seminary. Stan and his late wife adopted their daughter, Carrie-Fu, from China in 2005. Stan married Jacqui Hops, a Jewish believer in Jesus, in August 2014.

“You Just Want to Lure and Convert Jews!” – Addressing Common Arguments | Reblog

This post is a reblog from Jews for Jesus NYC

Throughout our 40 years in ministry, we at Jews for Jesus have heard a whole lot of objections about who we are, what we do, and what we believe. As it turns out, being Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah has not made us exceedingly popular with our fellow tribesmen.

One of the (numerous) complaints we hear is centered on our work as an organization (and contrary to what many believe, Jews for Jesus is the name of a nonprofit mission organization, not the name by which all Jewish believers wish to be known). It usually goes something like this.

The Argument:

“Jews for Jesus just wants to lure Jews and convert them to Christianity!”

Our Answer:

You already read it in the first paragraph: we’re a nonprofit mission organization. We’re Jewish missionaries. To our fellow Jewish people. So, do we want to tell Jewish people about Jesus, that he’s the Messiah our people were promised way back when, the one for whom we’ve all been waiting? Absolutely, 100%, no question. And really, Jewish people have been telling other Jewish people about the Messiah ever since Moses mentioned him in Deuteronomy 18:15-22.

Do we “just want to lure Jews…”?

Not at all.

There’s no lure, no bait, no trap. Just Jews talking with Jews about the Messiah God sent to our people 2,000 years ago. We’re not machines, we’re real people. These are our real beliefs and convictions. We truly believe what John wrote in his gospel (a word which means “good news,” which is what we’re trying to share): “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him would not perish, but have everlasting life.” And that’s why we want to share it with our brothers and sisters all over the world. We can’t change anyone’s mind, convince them of anything, or make anyone believe anything.

We just want to talk.

As for “convert them to Christianity…”:

Throughout much of history, our people have rightfully associated that kind of language with oppression and anti-Semitism. But Gentiles don’t own the rights to Jesus. We’re talking about something which at its very foundation is Jewish. Jewish prophets wrote about him for thousands of years. Jesus was born a Jew. Raised by Jewish parents. In Israel. All his first followers were Jews.

What, exactly, might be un-Jewish about believing in Jesus, given that pedigree? To what, exactly, might we by trying to convert other Jewish people? To a belief in the Jewish Messiah? Sorry, no conversion necessary.

When God sent Jesus to live and minister among the Jewish people, he was saying that he would be among us—that we wouldn’t have to think of him as being removed from our people, our lives, our pain, our joy. Jesus was God in the flesh, living among his chosen people, offering salvation to all who believed, to the Jew first and then the Gentile.

What we’re doing is making sure our people recognize what God is still offering. The truth about Jesus is good news—life changing news. That’s what we want to share with our brothers and sisters.

No lures.

No conversions.

No tricks.

Just talking. Just good news. Just the Messiah for whom we’ve been waiting.

Jesus is for the Jewish people. Always was, always will be.

We’re Jews for Jesus. We just want to talk. Honest.

Lost Angeles: The Story of Angels in Hollywood

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Hollywood has an interesting track record of portraying the supernatural. With the resurgence of spiritual, quasi bible-based content in film and television over the past year (aka “The Year of the Bible”), there have been serious attempts to recast the role of the supernatural within the industry. From the rock creatures in Aronofsky’s latest effort Noah to the humans imbued with angelic qualities in CW’s new The Messengers series, there is an obvious trend to revisit the “traditional” depiction of angels, demons, and the like.

The Messengers follows a group of strangers in the state of Texas who become connected by an event in which they inherit different angel-like abilities; hearing thoughts, healing, etc. Although they appear to be normal to the naked eye, they are shown as possessing wings by security cameras, bathroom mirrors, and reflections of car windows. The pilot episode begins to connect their destinies with a common purpose to warn the world and intervene with the insidious plot of an incarnate Lucifer character, played by Diogo Morgado. In fact, the term angelos in Greek as well as its Hebrew equivalent, malach, both mean “messenger.”

The focus on the humanity of these angel characters is what makes the story appealing, learning with them as they discover their abilities and interconnected purpose, a la NBC’s Heroes. However, this emphasis is not new. It is truly par for the course when considering how humanity has historically endeavored to wrestle with the unknown in spiritual imagery. One of the late founders of Jews for Jesus, Jhan Moskowitz, wrote a timely reflection on this issue back in 1997 that still poignantly speaks today. He stated, “What is missing from the screen is a portrayal of the special love that God has for us…Hollywood has rarely depicted an angel as one who was sent as a messenger from God to his creation to tell us that he loves us and expects something from us.” Take some time to read it here.

Hate Is Not That Complicated

Hate is not that complicated

Written by North American Director Stephen Katz

I live in a pretty sleepy suburb of Washington, DC. Every now and then a bicycle might get stolen or the morning buses might seem too loud, but that’s about it. So how is it that a couple nights ago some nefarious character sprayed swastikas on the walls of a local synagogue not far from me? Am I in America? Is this 2015? Of course it’s no coincidence that this happened a few days before Holocaust Remembrance Day. Anyone with a point to make knows it’s all in the timing.

My first exposure to the Holocaust came when I was a kid in the 1960’s. They showed us some pretty raw concentration camp film footage in the basement of our synagogue. I’m not sure that would pass today’s best practices for childhood education, but it sure left an impression on this young mind. My entire Jewish experience is colored by the Holocaust, but unlike many friends I never knew of any family members who perished in its flames. Until Luba.

Luba Shtein was my father’s first cousin and lived in Zoludek, Poland. My dad is the youngest of four boys and he never asked his Lithuanian-born father about the family he had left behind in Europe. When my grandfather died in 1945 all chance of that was gone. It wasn’t until I started poking around into family genealogy that I learned about Luba and the rest of the family in Europe.

Luba and Meier Shtein had a young daughter named Hannah–my second cousin. She, along with her parents and 6,000,000 others, was murdered in the Holocaust because of being Jewish. As I kept digging into my family roots I learned about other family members that perished at the hands of the Nazis. Israel Smoletz, his wife Sara and their daughter Feiga were killed in the liquidation of the Kovno ghetto. It appears likely that my great-grandparents were marched into a Lithuanian forest and gunned down with all the other Jews in town.

So I ask myself, “Why are Jewish supermarkets and schools in France becoming targets of violence? Why on this 70th anniversary of the Holocaust is someone still spray painting swastikas on synagogues in my neighborhood?” On the TV news, one synagogue member said, “I just don’t understand hate.”

The truth is that hate is not that complicated. Though a 2009 Scientific American article describes efforts to uncover the neurological root of hatred, the Bible points to our heart as the problem. It says that “…hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions… and the like” all emanate from our corrupted human nature. (Galatians 5:20-21, NIV)

Jesus disagreed with the word on the street, that we should “love our neighbors and hate our enemies.” (Matthew 5:43, NIV). In our dangerous times that sounds so very sensible. But can we justify it? Hating our enemies has often led to genocides—Armenia, Nazi Germany, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Darfur to name just a few. Hatred takes our humanity and leaves us cold and merciless.

Instead of nurturing our hatreds–whether personal or political–we should listen to Jesus’ words:

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:44-45, NIV)

Are Jesus’ instructions possible? Only with God’s strength.

How Do We Find Common Ground? – Reflections on Recent Events at UCLA

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by Isaac Brickner

“If we cannot disagree without disrespect, we have a serious problem.”

Antisemitism has been a hotly discussed issue these past few weeks at UCLA. A handful of student representatives expressed hesitation about electing Rachel Beyda to the Judicial Board of USAC (Undergraduate Students Association Council) because of a potential “conflict of interest” due to her Jewish identity. After she was unanimously elected, outspoken members of the Jewish community on campus decried these statements as overt discrimination. The Daily Bruin, UCLA’s newspaper, published an article expressing various viewpoints of students — including the students who made those initial remarks, claiming they were misunderstood.

According to the Jewish Daily Forward, this is not an isolated incident. A study by the JTA shows that antisemitism is resurgent on many college campuses across the country — 54% of students have experienced some form of antisemitism in the past year. Interestingly enough, “Those who said they were always open about their Jewishness on campus were roughly as likely to have encountered anti-Semitism as those who said they were never open about their Jewishness.” As usual, prejudice does not discriminate between kinds.

Within just a few days, the outspoken members of USAC issued a public apology to the Jewish community in the Daily Bruin, claiming, “Our intentions were never to attack, insult or delegitimize the identity of an individual or people.”

Whatever the motivation of their statements, this issue poignantly represents an often unstated fallacy within society — those without a stated religious affiliation are more unbiased, and therefore exercise greater restraint in government in a way that benefits society more generally. The irony of course is that the merits of representative democracy are precisely expressed when multiple, albeit competing viewpoints are adequately represented. What’s more, it assumes that the bias of the religious is less tolerable than the bias of the irreligious. Recent history has demonstrated what happens in societies when those with religious perspectives are no longer tolerated in the public sphere, and it does not bode well for the general public. If we cannot disagree without disrespect, we have a serious problem.

“Unity at the expense of truth is not unity at all — it is culturally narrow.”

Despite what some might think, the Bible, and specifically the New Testament, provides a framework for loving disagreement between two parties without either abandoning their convictions. The solution is not to abandon convictions of truth in the interest of getting along; this is dishonest to both parties. It may look loving on the surface, but does more harm than good. Similarly, most within our society love the idea of diversity, until things get messy. Yay diversity! …but only on the condition that we not publicly express the ideas that make us different. The fact is that no one is a clean slate — those who were raised without a faith tradition have just as much of a commitment to their set of beliefs as those who were. The question is, does your belief system leave room for loving disagreement?

In a related yet unconnected incident, anonymously placed offensive posters appeared on the campus that labeled the pro-Palestinian group SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) “Jew Haters,” and likened the group to Hamas. Jewish campus groups were unified in denouncing the posters, stating, “While we do not know the perpetrators who created and distributed these flyers, we are firm in our stance that there is no room for these actions or this language on our campus.” These two incidents have been capped off by a formal address by UCLA chancellor Gene Block, imploring the campus to be an intellectual community of tolerance and mutual respect. Okay…how do we do that?

How does any society maintain unity in the midst of diversity? Both are upheld as virtues, yet at times they can seem mutually exclusive. True diversity exists only when conflicting ideas are able to coexist in mutual respect, without minimizing the importance of claims to truth. Unity at the expense of truth is not unity at all — it is culturally narrow. If a culture’s beliefs or traditions contain claims to moral absolutes, it is viewed as intolerant and ignorant. However, what is intolerant is to stipulate that a culture must adapt to a western, rationalistic value of mere tolerance without the right to judge truth from falsehood, or right from wrong. This is cultural bigotry.

Coexistence touts tolerance without respect. If we cannot say “I both tolerate and respect your belief,” then we do not have diversity, and we cannot achieve unity. Instead, we settle for “I respect your right to have a belief, so long as it doesn’t affect me negatively.” True diversity means tolerance with respect, even in the face of fundamental disagreement. But on what grounds can we respect those we disagree with? Is it a human right to adhere to a harmful ideology?

“We cannot claim the right to be treated with respect if our society has no foundation by which to uphold our ability to be wrong.”

The influential French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once quoted Fyodor Dostoevsky, “If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.” Sartre went on, “There can no longer be any good a priori, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it…everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist.” If we are consistent, we must say that there is no basis for a person to impose an idea on another in the public arena — religious or not. If it is a wrongheaded or dangerous belief, it must die off, because humans have no innate rights other than those assigned by a given society…right?

Ironically, it’s not the moral progress of our society that enables humans to have basic rights, but the belief that humans have intrinsic worth due to their being “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” We cannot claim the right to be treated with respect if our society has no foundation by which to uphold our ability to be wrong. If and only if we as humans possess an intrinsic value that cannot be foiled by our function in society, or lack thereof, can we then begin to agree to disagree on matters of real importance, without having to oppress those whose views are unpopular, in the minority, or foreign to our understanding.

And in light of this common ground, being made in the image of our Creator, we can have unity — not uniformity, as it is for those who preach tolerance sans truth, but true unity in the midst of diversity.