Listen: Bob Mendelsohn tells Clare Chate about his amazing journey of faith.
Did you know the humble light bulb is a very underestimated piece of technology?
Not only does it have the power to turn darkness to light — it can also send people on a spiritual search that leads them to their Saviour. At least, that was the case for Bob Mendelsohn.
A Boy More Religious Than His Own Jewish Parents
Bob is the founder of Jews For Jesus Australasia, a Sydney-based organisation that exists to help teach Jewish people about Jesus. When he came to Hope Media’s studios to explain the meaning of the Jewish High Holidays recently, he also shared the fascinating story of his faith.
It all began in the late 1960s, on a quiet Friday night in a university dorm, at Washington University, St Louis, Missouri, USA.
“I was an orthodox Jew, and actually had gone beyond the orthopraxy of my own family,” Bob explained.
“So I was learning with Rabbis, I was in Synagogue four days a week, I was very enthused about my religion, in such a way that I would even gather other jewish fellas from my dormitory to practice our religion more than they had practiced at their homes.”
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The Restrictive Rules Of The Jewish Scriptures
“On Friday night and Saturday [the Jewish Sabbath], Jews aren’t allowed to create or turn off “fire”, including switches on a light, or the pedestrian crosswalks.
“There are Sabbath lifts that stop on every floor, so you don’t actually have to push the button.”
Bob explained that the ancient Jewish scriptures list 39 types of work that are not allowed on the Sabbath, including making a fire. Modern day Jews interpret this to include the use of electricity.
“One Friday night I’d gone to synagogue and returned, to find that my Sabbath Gentile, Neil, had not turned off my light.”
Wait A Minute – What Is A ‘Sabbath Gentile’?
At this point the term “Sabbath Gentile” needs some explanation.
“There are so many loopholes,” Bob said. “There’s this idea within Judaism that “I can’t do certain things on the Sabbath, but if a Gentile just happened to come by and do it, I’m not going to say no”.
“So basically [if I am a Jew], I contract a Gentile to do some things for me, like turning on lights or turning off lights, or the sound system at the synagogue, or moving tables around, because I can’t carry on the Sabbath.
“So it’s a contracted thing. And Neil, from Winnetka, Illinois, my Sabbath Gentile, had failed me that night.”
How A Light Bulb Changed A Young Man’s Life Forever
“So here I was, lying on my bed, 10 o’clock or so at night, staring at this glaring light bulb, and it was as if it were yelling at me.
“And I had such an internal conflict because “I can’t turn off that light!” And I couldn’t sleep. What do I do?”
Bob said after a long internal conflict, his religious resolve cracked.
“I got up and flipped off that switch,” he said. “And the moment I did, I knew it would be like floodwaters breaking through a wall, like a dam breaking. Because, “now what religion do I maintain?”
“All my religion had been focussed on every little tiny law and rule that I could keep, by which I measured myself.
“It wasn’t so that I could get to heaven, like some Christians think it might be. It wasn’t so that I could earn God’s favour. It was merely that I could be a good Jew. Now I was a bad Jew, I thought, “Oh no, now what?”
“I Took Off My Skull Cap And Had A Cheeseburger”
Bob said that he felt lost, didn’t return to Synagogue the next morning, felt ashamed for breaking the Torah law, and then began to question how much of the law he should have to maintain.
“Pretty soon, everything was gone,” he said, “and I had a cheeseburger! (Orthodox Jews don’t eat meat and milk together).
“I took off my kippah, my skull cap, and I began a journey that led me to faith in Jesus.”
“I’ve Never Converted From Being A Jew”
In explaining his journey to faith in Jesus, Bob explained that he doesn’t use the term “conversion”. He also doesn’t consider himself to have walked away from Judaism, because his Jewishness is about history, culture, family heritage, and most importantly, a faith in the very same God that Christians worship.
“Being a Jew is being a member of the people with whom God made the covenants,” he said. “We don’t convert.”
“When a Jew comes to Jesus, he’s still very much a Jew. So I’ve never converted from being a Jew.”
He said the term “Christian” is also a problem label for many Jewish followers of Christ.
“Some won’t even use the term Christian of themselves,” he said, “because so many Jewish people identify the word Christian with the word “Gentile” [meaning non-Jew].
“And that never changed, never will change. I’m going to die a Jew. So it’s an identity thing.”
“I’m A Follower Of Jesus, The Messiah”
He said while it may sound like semantics, to many Jewish people who follow Jesus, the label is very important.
Instead of calling themselves “Christian”, they often use terms such as “Messianic Jew”, or “Fulfilled Jew”.
“I’m a follower of Jesus the Messiah,” Bob explained. “By following Jesus, I’ve found the consummate Jew, the man of peace and love and meaning and relevance, Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah, foretold by Jewish prophets, in the Jewish scriptures.
“That’s the most Jewish thing a Jew could do.”
A Long Search For Fulfilment
Before accepting Jesus as the Messiah, Bob said he was “empty” and “missing something”.
“My story is rife with longing to find a satisfaction,” he said.
While the holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day Of Atonement, is meant to enable a Jewish person to be forgiven by God, it often leaves them dissatisfied, according to Bob.
“It leaves a Jewish person scratching his head, [thinking] “I wonder if I’m forgiven”,” he said. “But to a Messianic Jew, we know that we know that we’re forgiven. Not because of what we’ve done, or the earnestness with which we pray, but because God, in Yeshua, has forgiven me.
The Work Of Jews For Jesus
Bob is a devoted husband, a family man, a Sydney Swans supporter and evidently quite the sartorialist, with a number of selfies in his Instagram feed of his classy outfits. He also describes himself, unashamedly, as “nothing less than an evangelist”.
“I want to share good news with people,” he said.
As the head of Jews For Jesus Australasia, Bob said his organisation exists “to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide.”
They operate in Singapore, Auckland, Melbourne, Sydney and around the world, with a book store in Oxford Street, Bondi Junction. They share their faith with people on the street, and create advertising campaigns and materials with clever slogans like “Jesus Made Me Kosher”, and “Be More Jewish; Believe In Jesus”.
Bob said there are “Jewish people who are hostile, Jewish people who are receptive”, and that he talks with Jews about their faith “every day”.
He recently returned from a conference in Jerusalem, where he had many fascinating conversations about the significance of Jesus with local Jewish people.