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Searching for the Messiah in New York City

A chrononological sidebar to “Jesus the New York Jew” in series “Jesus the New Yorker”

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Sabbath Day at Hester & Essex Streets. Photo from 1890s by Christian Herald.

Sabbath Day at Hester & Essex Streets. Photo from 1890s by Christian Herald.

1817 June

Joseph Samuel Fray

Joseph Samuel Frey


Joseph Levi Samuel Christian Frederick Frey came from London and preached at a fellowship that was meeting in a school on Mulberry Street. After fast growth, the fellowship soon became a church.

1820    Frey received a state charter for the Society for the Ameliorating the Condition of the Jews.


The first American missionaries arrived in Palestine support by a “Concert of Prayer.” The idea of a concert of prayer was transmitted in the 1980s to Mac Pier who founded the Concerts of Prayer Greater New York.



Mordecai Manuel Noah, the first important Jewish writer in the United States, wanted to found a national home called “Ararat” on Grand Island in the Niagara River New York as a way station for Jews on the way to the holy land. He won widespread Christian backing for his project. See the graphic novel The Jew of New York on this obscure event by Ben Katchor.


George Bush, 1796

George Bush, 1796

George Bush, a professor of Hebrew at New York University and the cousin of an ancestor of the Presidents Bush, published a book titled The Valley of Vision; or, The Dry Bones of Israel Revived. In it he denounced “the thralldom and oppression which has so long ground them (the Jews) to the dust,” and called for “elevating” Jews “to a rank of honorable repute among the nations of the earth” by allowing the restoration of Jews to the land of Israel.

1845    Baptist Society for the Evangelization of the Jews founded by Hungarian Jew Gideon R. Lederer.

The first person to whom Lederer gave a New Testament was Rabbi Joseph Schererschewski at the Rabbinical School at Zhitomir. In the summer of 1854 Schererschewski emigrated to New York City where he was rescued penniless from the New York City streets.


Rabbi Joseph Schereschewski

Brilliant and dynamic, Schererschewski eventually became ordained at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan and went onto become an Anglican bishop. He founded St. John’s University in Shanghai and translated the Bible into Mandarin. His first translation was putting the Psalms into a Shanghai way of phrasing Chinese.

From 1855 to 1876 Lederer worked in New York with the American Society for Ameliorating the Condition of the Jews and passed away in 1879.

Lederer co-organizes the American Hebrew Christian Association.

1859    The Episcopal Church Mission to the Jews established (re-named Church Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews in America in 1878).


The First International Prophecy Conference was held at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Manhattan. The conference gave powerful impetus behind the idea that Jews would return, ought to return, to re-found the state of Israel. In 1890 a similar conference was held at Brooklyn Tabernacle and in 1918. New York evangelical Christians lobbied the United States government to protect Jews by supporting the re-establishment of Israel.

1881    Jacob Freshman, son of a Hungarian Rabbi, followed his father into the Methodist church in Quebec, Canada.

1880s   Freshman and a small wave of Jews who had converted to Christianity in Montreal moved to New York City.


The highly influential Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah by Alfred Edersheim, a Viennese Jew resident in England, was published in New York City.  His daughter Ella recorded that her father’s first introduction to the New Testament changed his life. He recalled, “’I shall never forget the first impression of “the Sermon on the Mount.’”


On October 1885 Freshman founded the first Jewish Christian church in the United States, the Hebrew Christian Mission at 17 St. Mark’s Place. The congregation sang Isaac Watt’s “Delight in Worship” at the church dedication. “The Only One in America: A Hebrew-Christian Church Dedicated Yesterday,” New York Times, October 12, 1885. p. 2.

Reverend Doctor A. F. Schauffler started to lead the New York City Missions and Tract Society with a meeting room at 287 Fourth Avenue and a reading room at 152 East 7th Street.

1886    Methodist Dr. Harry Zeckhausen directed the New York Church Extension and Missionary Society on 92nd Street.


At the Hope of Israel Methodist mission on the Lower East Side Arnold Gaebelein and Ernest Stroeter developed a missionary theory that encouraged Jewish Christians to continue observation of Jewish rites and customs and to meet as Jewish congregations. Their support for “Messianic Judaism” sparked a lively debate that was parallel to a simultaneous debate between Reform and Orthodox Judaism.

These famous theologians were influenced by Rabbi Joseph Rabinowitz in  Kishinev, Russia. Gaebelin translated Rabinowitz’s Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.


Herman Wasrzawiak

Herman Warszawiak, who was born in Poland in 1865, started as missionary for New York Mission and Tract Society and then succeeded Fishman as director of the Hebrew Christian Mission which was renamed The American Hebrew-Christian Mission. A pamphlet emphasized his work among refugees from persecution: Herman Warszawiak “The Little Messianic Prophet” or Two Years of Labour among the Refugee Jews of New York. He influenced Leopold Cohn and Benjamin Schapiro toward Christianity.


William Blackstone, founder of Chicago Hebrew Mission, presented “The Blackstone Memorial” asking President Benjamin Harrison to work to secure the return of the Jews to Palestine. A large number of NYC church and newspaper leaders signed the petition.

1891    Belle Chisakofsky directed the Mariners’ Temple social services for immigrant Jews at 1 Henry Street.

1894 220px-Cohn

Leopold Cohn established a storefront church called Brownsville Mission to the Jews on Rockaway Avenue. With a move he changed the name to Williamsburg Mission to the Jews.

The storefront changes location in Brooklyn at least five or six times: 201 Van Buren Street; 331 Rockaway; 13 Manhattan; 235 S 4th Street; and 141 Hewes Street (as the Home for Jewish Believers).

The mission eventually expanded its scope and became the American Board of Missions to the Jews. Today, it continues under the moniker Chosen People Ministries.

Born in 1862 in Berezna, Hungary, Cohn studied with Hasidic rabbi Zalman Leib Teitelbaum. Then, he attended the non-Hasidic Hatam Sofer’s Yeshiva in Presburg, Slovakia. Ordained as a rabbi at age eighteen, he practiced as rabbi in 3 small communities. In his teaching he started to read the read Scriptures about the coming Messiah. Puzzled, he asked a nearby rabbi for help. The unnamed rabbi told Cohn that America was the place to find answers to his questions.

“But,” said the rabbi, “my advice is that you go to America. There you will meet plenty of people who will tell you more about the Messiah.” Cohn arrived in America in 1892.

Newspaper announcement of first Williamsburg services by Leopold Cohen

Newspaper announcement of first Williamsburg services by Leopold Cohen

After he came to an end for his search for the Messiah in New York City, Cohn became a Christian pastor, started the Williamsburg Mission and edited a journal called Chosen People.

Mary C. Sherburne, a Gentile volunteer, wrote a description of Cohn’s operations. She noted that “Cohn preached on Saturday afternoons and Thursday nights” at an auditorium for 160 people. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday he preached in English. He even enlisted his children to distribute tracts, “Joseph started at nine years old.” The son would lecture at churches to ask for donations and on his way home would immediately buy food because supplies were so low. Cohn spent free evenings and days going door to door to talk about his faith.


The idea of Messianic Judaism gained ground. Our Hope magazine, which became a bulwark in the fundamentalist-evangelical movement under the editorship of Arno C. Gaebelein, carried the subtitle “A Monthly Devoted to the Study of Prophecy and to Messianic Judaism.” Gaebelein later stepped away from the attempt to combine Christianity and  elements of Orthodox Judaism.

Site of Cohen's Williamsburg mission today. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

Site of Cohen's Williamsburg mission today. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

1896    Cohen opened a headquarters and second branch of Williamsburg mission. He started a popular clinic with physicians of a variety of faiths.


In his “The Apostate of Chego-Chegg” Abraham Cahan, the editor of The Jewish Forward, portrays contemporary Jewish Christians as lonely, miserable, restless and destroyed. A Jewish Christian literary group on the Lower East Side wrote responses.


Cohn started a Russian Jewish meeting. One contemporary remembered, “One Saturday afternoon, father came home and said that he had just passed the missionary store on grand Street. ‘They are doing good business these days,’ he said, ‘as I passed, the door opened and I saw the place crowded with people.’”

1901?  Rev. S. Neddlemann directed the Rainbow Industrial Mission to Israel on 395 First Avenue in Manhattan.

1903 July

Mark Levy, an Episcopal priest, advocated that Jewish Christians retain Jewish rites and practices. The term “messianic Jew” started to be used for those in favor of retaining some rites and customs. Most called themselves Hebrew Christians.

1905 January

Amos Dushaw, Jewish Christian novelist

Amos Dushaw, Jewish Christian novelist

Lower East Side writer Amos Dushaw began a series of non-fiction and fictional books to respond to Cahan’s stereotyping of Jewish Christians. After studying at Union Theological Seminar he published The People, the Land and the Book as a Jewish Chrstian counterpart to Abraham Cahan’s The Rise of David Levinsky.

1905    The Hebrew Christian Association of New York formed. The organization also started the First Hebrew Church of the Messiah of New York.

1908    Williamsburg Mission established a mission station at Coney Island

The Presbyterian Church USA warned of the dangers of socialism attracting Jews. Jewish Christians are divided on the issue.

1908 Dec 10

The department of immigration of the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions held an all-day conference at 156 Fifth Avenue. A hot topic was “What should be relation of the Jew to the Gentile Christian Church?”


Dushaw published his novel Proselytes of the Ghetto as a direct response to Cahan. The title may be an allusion to Israel Zangwill's Children of the Ghetto. Zangwill gave currency to the phrase “the melting pot,” which he said was God’s way of remaking what it means to be Jewish.

Felix, the narrator of the story, recounts that the “Russian Jews” who read the New Testament discover that “God's love is wider than petty creeds have represented, and that the life and teachings of the Nazarene have been caricatured by many of his followers. Here he discovers that the New Testament is not anti-Semitic and that Jesus was a loyal son of Israel, who came to break down the barriers which separated man from man.”


Dushaw combined Zionism and Messianism. “Zionism will do it, from a political point of view, and the gospel from a spiritual point of view; and the intelligent Jews are turning to Zionism for political freedom, and to the gospel for spiritual freedom.”

He published the novel The Rivals: A Tragedy of the New York Ghetto. The story line is that Jewish journalist Daniel Mendes meets Debora Herz, and problems ensue over his evident belief in Jesus.

1911 (?)           Rev. Frederick Aston formed the New York Jewish Evangelization Society at Columbia University.


The Hebrew Christian Alliance of America was founded with an endorsement of Zionism. In the Christian Hatikva (the Hope) the alliance declared that “We have not yet lost our hope.”

1916 May        The Presbyterian Church USA called upon the United States government to support the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.


Jewish Christian Louis Meyer edited The Fundamentals, which led opponents of evangelicals to tauntingly call them “fundamentalists.” Later, the evangelicals broke into two camps, “the fundamentalists,” who were militantly counter-cultural, versus “the evangelicals,” who emphasized engagement with culture and society.

1920    Dushaw was appointed by the Hebrew Christian Alliance as its representative in Palestine.

1921    Charles Weisenberg founded the Christian Witness to Israel on 2258 Westchester Avenue in the Bronx.


D.L. Moody's institute opened a department for training missionaries in Jewish evangelism.

To emphasize its professionalization and national scope the Williamsburg Mission changed its name to the American Board of Missions to the Jews.

1928    The Bureau of Jewish Social Research in NY surveyed missionary activity through a questionnaire to Jewish agencies.

1930 Jan

Gregory Guberman, a Jewish missionary in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, sent his last message. It is assumed that he was killed by the Communists or, at best, lost as a refugee.


Cohn accused famous fundamentalist William B. Riley of anti-Semitism.

Elias Newman published The Fundamentalists’ resuscitation of the anti-Semitic protocol forgery (1934) and The Jewish Peril and the Hidden Hand (1933).

1932    Dushaw published When Mr. Thompson Got to Heaven.


The American Board of Missions to the Jews rescued its missionaries from the Nazis. Its attempts to rescue lay members of their congregations had mixed results.

One refugee from Germany Arthur Michelson alighted in New York City and then founded the First Hebrew Christian Synagogue.

Presbyterian Conrad Hoffman wrote about what it is like To be a non-Aryan in Germany. He also published Emergency that proposes a plan for evacuating Jews from Germany


Henry Einspruch, a Zionist pioneer from Palestine, created a new Yiddish translation of New Testament entitled Der Bris Chadosha, The New Covenant. It is illustrated with Jewish men and women wearing traditional worship clothing such as yarmulkes, prayer shawls, etc.

In the Yiddish press noted writer Melech Ravitsh, observed, “The Einspruch translation of the NT is unquestionably beautiful.”


The American Board of Missions to the Jews co-sponsored an influential National Conference on Prophecy that led to more support for Christian Zionist ideas.

A speaker Albert Lindsey warned that “within the fold of the Church, there is today an unusual amount of ignorance, misunderstanding and actual hate of the Jew.” He called upon the church to support the establishment of Israel.

The American Board of Missions to the Jews moved its headquarters to Manhattan.

1948    Modern Israel founded.

1949    Aaron Krelenbaum published a polished translation of the New Testament into Yiddish.

1950s   Cohn fought against Communism among the Zionists. He also started a radio broadcast from New York City.

1953    Before passing away, Cohn wrote his autobiography I Have Fought the Good Fight.

1955 March     Daniel Fuchs becomes president of American Board of Missions to the Jews.

Late 1950s

In Cincinnati Martin Chernoff began a missionary center that later becomes first modern Messianic congregation. His efforts started to influence New York City Jewish Christians to think of starting synagogues.


Six Day War   The war became pivotal for the thinking of Jewish and Gentile Americans. Dozens of evangelical groups organize to support Israel.

Rosen came to NYC to lead the training school for the American Board for the Missions to the Jews..


The era of modern Messianic congregations began. The term “Messianic Judaism” was adopted.

Passover Seders were used as a Jewish-Christian interface.

Immigration wave of Jews from Russia


Selling over twenty million copies worldwide, Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth impacted Christians and Jews in NYC. Billy Graham released a film about Israel entitled His Land.

The American Board of Missions to the Jews sent Rosen off to San Francisco to minister to youth. Rosen met the New York City Jews who become a part of the nucleus of Jews for Jesus with its pugnacious NYC-style. One slogan, “Everything you always wanted to know about Jesus but were afraid to ask your Rabbi.”

1973 Aug        The American Board of Missions to the Jews fired Rosen.

1973 Oct         Israel-Egypt War.


Mitch & Zahava Glaser

Mitch & Zahava Glaser

Jews for Jesus training school set up in NYC with Sam Nadler as one of its leaders.


The American Board of Missions to the Jews changed its name to “Chosen People Ministries.”







Immigration of hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews into NYC. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions

Immigration of hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews into NYC. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC religions


Soviet Union allows Jews to emigrate freely. Large increase of Russian Jews in NYC. Russian Jews had a positive view of Protestant Christianity, and many were curious to know about Jesus the Jew. Over a dozen Russian Jewish Christian congregations started in the city and founded Russian Community Life Center in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.


Tracie J. Peterson wrote My Valentine, a Christian romance novel set in 1835 New York City. A Gentile Christian and Orthodox Jewish girl fall in love.

Glaser became President of Chosen People Ministries and moved its headquarters back to NYC.


28% of Messianic Jews said that they most admired Chosen People Ministries, 10% most admired Jews for Jesus, according to a national survey of 1176 respondents. Almost fifty Messianic Jewish organizations are listed as “most admired.”

2007, 2010

Borough Park Dialogue gathers Messianic Jewish leaders to reconcile their differences over theology, role of tradition and personal styles.

2013    Charles L. Feinberg Messianic Jewish Center for graduate Jewish ministry studies opens in Brooklyn.


Celebration of opening of Feinberg Center in Brooklyn for graduate studies on Messianic theology

Celebration of opening of Feinberg Center in Brooklyn for graduate studies on Messianic theology. Photo: Tony Carnes/A Journey through NYC relgiions

This selective chronology of Jews who became evangelical Christian leaders is sometimes based on a running judgment about which source is really correct about events and dates. When in doubt, we have consulted multiple sources and archives. In the future we will chronicle NYC Jewish turns toward other messianic options.


Also read Jesus the New York Jew

Read Jesus the New Yorker, Part I

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