The Seventh-day Adventist Church opened the Shalom Learning Center in Hollywood, Florida, Feb. 20 to 21 in an effort to increase contact with people of the Jewish faith. Adventist administrators came from all over the world—including France and Israel—for the center’s grand opening.
The center is located on the same property as the “Temple of Advent Hope” congregation. Along with weekly, messianic, Sabbath worship services, the center will hold weekend and weeklong training seminars throughout the year, teaching Adventists about the Jewish faith and how to conduct messianic worship services.
“This is the first of its kind in the Adventist denomination,” said Mike Curzon, who is known as “pastor” at the Temple of the Advent Hope and “Rabbi” during the congregation’s Messianic service in the new building next to the church.
The center was built with donations from individuals, the church denomination and Adventist-laymens Services and Industries, an organization of lay people dedicated to sharing Christ in the marketplace. Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, and Southern Adventist University in Collegdale, Tennessee, are developing a curriculum to include a practicum that would be served at the center.
“I’m so glad a Jew can worship like a Jew as an Adventist,” said Jim Zachary, chairman of the church’s Jewish outreach in North America.
“We have to remember Jesus was a Jew,” said Pastor Richard Elofer, president of the Adventist Church in Israel, who spoke at the dedication ceremony. “Unless we focus on the roots of Jesus as a Jew, the world will only get a western or American view of Jesus.”
It’s not merely Jews but also many Christians who want to worship in a manner close to that of the time of Christ. The center will teach the Jewish roots of the Adventist faith, the Hebrew language and Jewish customs.
“There is a need to know what not to do that is probably more important than what to do,” said Pastor Teofilo V. Ferreira, who was president of the Adventist Church in Israel from 1974 to 1982.
Church leaders respect the traditional Jewish worship style undertaken by the congregation. Behind the platform is a cabinet, representing the ark, with a Torah scroll kept inside. The Torah is taken out and read during Sabbath services. The words are also sung to melodies traditionally heard in a synagogue.
“It’s probably more how Jesus worshiped,” said Jeff Zaremsky, Adventist pastor and the rabbi of two Jewish Adventist congregations, each named Beth-El Shalom in St. Petersburg, and New Port Richey, Florida.
The growing popularity of this type of worship is reaching people that the traditional Adventist service has not. There are about 30 attendees at each of Zaremsky’s congregations. “We have more [Jews] attending these two services than I ever saw attend any Adventist Church,” he said.
Zaremsky compares it to a Spanish church in the United States, where most members speak English, but the style is still to have the service in Spanish.
“We would have hardly any Spanish churches if we did everything in an American style,” he said. “We can still have unity, we can still be one, but we can have different cultures.”
More people attend the congregations for Jewish holidays—sometimes as many as 100. Zaremsky uses holidays as evangelistic opportunities, inviting people to study the Bible with the church once a week.
Curzon, who was raised as an Orthodox Jew, plans to conduct evangelism at the center in the same way, calling it friendship evangelism.
“We’re not going to bother anyone. We’re not going to go door-to-door—that’s insulting to them,” he said. “Don’t bother them about proselytizing—you’ll never see them again.”
Like Elofer, who has had success with friendship evangelism in Israel, Curzon hopes to double the amount of members at his congregation as well.
Jewish Adventist congregations are only just reemerging. A Hebrew Adventist congregation met 30 years ago in Times Square, New York City. The area changed, and the congregation moved and fizzled out. There are three new such congregations in New York that have appeared in the last two years—in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. There are other congregations in North Carolina, Oregon and Texas.
“Five years ago there was nothing,” said Zaremsky.
Adventist Church administration in Florida has been supportive of Jewish Adventist evangelism, now with five such congregations in the state.
The new center is located in Broward County, between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, the third highest concentration of Jewish population in the United States. The center is in a diverse area—along the same road are Jewish community centers, synagogues, the tribal headquarters for the Seminole Indians, and a Polish-American club.
“[Adventist Church co-founder] Ellen White made quite a few statements about the need for us to reach the Jewish people,” says Zaremsky. He has been an Adventist for 20 years, but says he’s still a Jew.
“A Jew will always be a Jew, even if he’s a Buddhist,” says Ferreira. “That’s one of the reasons we have separate congregations.”
Ferreira explains that many modern Jews are “rationalists,” questioning their faith. In particular is this question: “If God exists, why did He allow 6 million Jews to be killed during the Holocaust?”
During his time in Israel, Ferreira remembers one Adventist who lost 23 members of the family in the holocaust. Another woman had to hide for seven months between two walls in her apartment in Budapest, Hungary, while her non-Jewish husband slipped her food through a hole in the wall behind a picture.
Adventist Jews in Israel had even more suffering—some lost loved ones in the Holocaust, and when they became Christians their families shunned them.
Ferreira says the biggest threat to Judaism in the last 30 to 40 years is losing about 60 percent of its population to intermarriage.
While he encourages Jewish Adventists to follow the Jewish holidays, he doesn’t think other Adventists need to. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t, [but] there’s no reason to.” In the same manner, he can celebrate Chinese New Year even though he’s not Chinese. “We can draw lessons from them,” Ferreira says.
The buildings are not called churches, but houses of prayer. No cross, but a Star of David, a menorah and prayer shawls. “It’s the closest thing to biblical worship that you’ll see,” says Curzon.
Samuel S. Jacobson, now retired in Oregon, always maintained the burden for Jewish evangelism, say many Jewish Adventist leaders. His book, “The Quest of a Jew,” was instrumental in many of them joining the Adventist Church.
“When I became a Messianic Jew I tried to find the right message,” said Elofer. “I found it within the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
—-Jeff Rogers, in Florida, contributed to this story