As Jews in their millions were being murdered in concentration camps, seeds of new life were being sown elsewhere, including the London beauty spot of Hampstead Heath. This was where a Jewish believer in Jesus was soon to introduce a fellow Jew to his Messiah, paving the way for the fulfilment of Ezekiel’s Valley of Dry Bones prophecy of the Jewish people’s resurrection (Ezek 37).
The modern state of Israel was being re-born, with the Messianic movement of Jewish followers of Jesus gaining momentum in succeeding years.
Something significant had indeed been stirring on the edges of London’s 900-acre ‘breathing space’ during and immediately after the war years.
Rev Dr Jakob Jocz was parish priest of St John’s, Downshire Hill, an evangelical Anglican church just a stone’s throw from the heath’s perimeter who also worked for CMJ (the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people), a British-based international society already reaping a plentiful harvest throughout Europe and North Africa by the 1930s.
Jocz was a Lithuanian-born third generation follower of Yeshua (Jesus) who became an evangelist to the Jews of Poland under the auspices of CMJ. He shouldn’t have been in London, but had inadvertently managed to escape the Nazis by being stranded at a conference in England to which he had been invited to speak just as war was about to break out.
He duly became a blessing to many, including one Eric Lipson. With an Orthodox Jewish background, Eric was experiencing a period of disruption and unhappiness in his personal life which led him to question his foundations and to search for truth, help and answers.
He took a walk across Hampstead Heath and soon got into conversation with Jakob after being surprised to discover a Christian clergyman who was Jewish. So began a lifelong friendship and, in time, Eric too yielded his life to Jesus the Jew through the ministry of Jakob the Jew.
It was no doubt a highly significant milestone in Jewish evangelism as Eric himself was to pioneer new avenues for the movement and eventually became president of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance as he reached out tirelessly to other Jews. The incident is recorded for posterity by Rev Alex Jacob as part of a newly published occasional paper from the Lausanne Movement which faithfully explores the vital issues surrounding Jewish evangelism today.
It resonates particularly with me as I am very familiar with the heath and have attended the church in question, located just a short distance from our family home of 85 years where I lived with my half-Jewish grandmother when I first came to England over 50 years ago and where I too found the Messiah. Little did I then know that I too would be reaching out to Jews as Rev Jocz had done.
His pre-war evangelistic work in Warsaw had been very successful with much openness to the gospel from fellow Jews in spite of anti-Semitism and increasing hatred. He wrote at the time: “Today when the cross is being twisted into a swastika…Jewish men and women flock into the mission halls to hear and to learn about the wonderful Saviour.”1
In May 1939, he received an urgent call to England to replace the main speaker of the Church Missionary Society’s annual summer conference, who was unavailable due to illness. It was to prove a miraculous deliverance as members of his family died at the hands of the Nazis soon afterwards – Jakob’s father Bazyli was betrayed to the Gestapo and shot.
The family’s story has something of a Fiddler on the Roof ring to it2. Jakob’s grandfather, Johanan Don, was the local milkman in his shtetl (village) who first encountered the good news of Jesus when seeking medical help for his teenage daughter Hannah (Jakob’s mother) who had been crippled in a fall. The doctor was a Jewish believer and gave Johanan a Hebrew New Testament. He subsequently became a disciple, but died soon afterwards.
In order to make ends meet, his widow Sarah took in a boarder, a young rabbinic student named Bazyli Jocz. When he read Isaiah 53, he asked his teacher, ‘Who is the prophet speaking about?’ It was of course a situation very reminiscent of the Ethiopian eunuch’s conversion in the Book of Acts (chapter 8). But the teacher was no evangelist, instead hitting him over the head and calling him a ‘detestable Gentile’ for asking such a ‘foolish’ question.
Bazyli was shocked, but undeterred, and after consulting the same doctor who had pointed Johanan in the right direction, he too became a believer. He duly married Hannah, and Jakob was born in 1906, in time becoming a noted evangelist and theologian.
As the Third Reich stormed across Europe, he wrote a booklet appealing to churches to speak out against the persecution of his people and also challenged the church to become ‘missional’ as its raison d’etre and to remember the call in that mission is “to the Jew first” (Romans 1.16). If the church has no gospel for the Jews, he believed, it has no gospel for the world.
He was highly critical of Rabbinic Judaism, lamenting that “making Torah into a religion robbed it of life” and saying that the removal of the sacrificial system (following the destruction of the Temple in AD 70) without their acceptance of the “once and for all times sacrifice” of Jesus led Judaism to a preoccupation with the study of the law. The irony of this, of course, is that the law was anchored in the fact that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin” (Leviticus 17.11).
One of his theses was that the early church was much closer to the Old Testament than Rabbinic Judaism is today. And he urged Jewish believers to fulfil the prophetic call to take the gospel to all nations.
Jakob certainly practiced what he preached. It is estimated that, through outreach efforts like his, there were well over 200,000 Jewish believers in Yeshua by the time war broke out in 1939, many of whom would no doubt have shared the fate of their brethren in the concentration camps but who would also no doubt have shared the life-giving gospel of their Saviour.3
1The Rev Dr Jakob Jocz (Olive Press Research Paper – obtainable from email@example.com) by Dr Theresa Newell.
2The musical about Jewish survival amidst the oppression of early 20th century Tsarist Russia starring a poor milkman famously played by Topol.
3To the Jew First, Darrell L Bock and Mitch Glaser, published by Kregel.
For further background, see Kelvin Crombie’s Bazyli and Anna Jocz: Jewish Christian victims of the Holocaust published by Heritage Resources Pty Ltd, Perth, Australia, in conjunction with the Conrad Schick Library and Archive, Christ Church, Jerusalem.
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