Called to Controversy: The Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the Founding of Jews for Jesus

Called to Controversy: The Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the Founding of Jews for Jesus

by Ruth Rosen

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What does it mean to be a Jew? What practices are relevant? And is belief in God even necessary?
Answers to these and other questions reflect the amazing diversity within the Jewish community. However, one terrible fact—centuries of persecution in the name of Jesus Christ—has united this diverse community in one belief. Namely, that Jesus Christ is not the Jewish Messiah.

Moishe Rosen was born into this culture. No New Testament. No Christmas. No question. Even nonreligious Jews—including Moishe’s family—would disown anyone traitorous enough to profess faith in Christ. Which means the moment Moishe was called to Christ, he was Called to Controversy.

This stirring account from his daughter describes the rise of a man whose passion for Jesus and passion for his people triumphed over self-preservation and ultimately fueled an international movement that is still changing lives today. Called to Controversy is the inside story of one the most influential evangelists of our times.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781595554925
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 02/27/2012
Sold by: HarperCollins Publishing
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Ruth Rosen is a graduate of Biola University with a bachelor’s degree in Biblical studies. She has been writing and editing full time with Jews for Jesus since 1985. She has also done a considerable amount of public speaking for the ministry.

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Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2012 Jews for Jesus of San Francisco, CA
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59555-491-8

Chapter One

I was born in Kansas City, but raised in Denver. So far as I knew, I would never leave my home town. —MOISHE ROSEN

Ben Rosen was seeing Kansas City through different eyes now that it was his home. As a child, he'd been there often—whenever he and his brother, Dave, visited their married sister, Annie Singer. Sadly, they were more welcome at her house than in the Denver home that had once been theirs. Within a year from the day the boys' mother, Dora, died of diabetic complications, their father, Edel, had taken a new wife. She seemed to resent the fact that her three youngest stepchildren, Ben, Dave, and Ida, were too small to fend for themselves. Edel did not resist his new wife's insistence that his children make way for her own five, all daughters.

Annie took in Ida, the youngest sibling, and helped the boys whenever she could. Dave and Ben took turns visiting her in Kansas City. The one who stayed in Denver did chores by day and curled up to sleep in the unheated shed at night.

With maternal love barely a memory and a father who was not known for treating his children affectionately, it's no wonder that Ben grew up tough and proud of it. Perhaps for a time he was a little too tough. He always remained true to his father, even covering for Edel in the matter of some bad checks. When Ben found himself on the wrong side of the law, he gritted his teeth and took it rather than implicate his father. After that incident, Ben decided the best way to turn his life around was to leave Denver. With Annie and Ida in Kansas City, he headed for Missouri.

Finding a job wasn't difficult. Tall and strong, Ben had a quiet confidence and was not afraid of hard work. As he strode down Troost Avenue one sunny day in 1928, Ben had reason to be optimistic—and hungry. The smell of food brought him into the local bakery / delicatessen, and the sight of a lovely young woman behind the counter kept him coming back. Ben watched with admiration as Rose Baker deftly carved corned beef and lox into thin slices, demonstrating a strong, steady hand as well as a pretty face and figure. He began to flirt.

Rose might have blushed inwardly, but she accepted his attentions with outward composure. She mentioned that she had just bought a tennis outfit, and Ben quickly offered to teach her, though he knew nothing about the game. After Rose agreed to go out with him, Ben explained that he was "just kidding" about the tennis lessons. He had a wide, easy grin and eyes that telegraphed his mirth even when he tried to keep a straight face. Rose smiled back. The rest, as they say, is history. Rose's sister Esther had a man of her own, Sam Cohen, and so the Baker sisters made it a double wedding.

* * *

Were it not for this love story, Moishe Rosen, and subsequently Jews for Jesus, probably would not exist. Nor is it likely that it would have come about if the Bakers and the Rosens had settled far from one another. Unlike so many Jewish immigrants who struggled to build new lives near other Jews in the enclaves of Manhattan's Lower East Side or Brooklyn, these two families chose less populated, yet robust Jewish communities farther west. Though completely unknown to one another, one day two of their offspring would meet and marry and produce two sons. One of those sons would revolutionize Christian missionary efforts among Jewish people in what many would consider a shocking turn of events.

Who can predict the effects of seemingly unrelated circumstances? When Jacob Baker and his family left Austria, they were not fleeing anti-Semitism; they were taking a brisk walk away from it. Hitler and his black-booted terror troops were not yet on the horizon, and under the reign of Franz Joseph, Jews were treated relatively well. Unhindered by many restrictions that confronted Jews throughout Europe, the Bakers lived rather comfortably. Jacob was a carpenter who built especially fine cabinetry and had developed a formula for furniture polishes. His skills were highly respected and suitably rewarded by the Franz Joseph regime via a commission in the military.

However, when the Bakers' oldest son, Arthur, was ready to train for his chosen profession, the family discovered that Austrian equality did not extend quite far enough to admit Jews into medical school. Jacob decided to move his entire family to America where the young man's dreams might be fulfilled. Jacob was willing to sacrifice the status and connections he enjoyed for his son to become a doctor—but the young man was not accepted to medical school in America, either. Yet Papa Baker did not want to turn back. Had he not pressed on in his new life, who can say what would have become of him and his family in Austria? No one knew the horrors that awaited European Jews when the Bakers made their way to Kansas City to join their cousins, the Beisers, who had previously emigrated.

Jacob, his wife, Dora, and their sons Arthur, Joe, and Ben, along with their daughter, Esther, found their places in a Jewish community and settled into a way of life that would later be termed Reform—even though the synagogues they attended were Orthodox and later Conservative. Certainly they believed in God, and the heart of the family beat with an unequivocally Jewish rhythm, cycling through celebrations and sorrows shared by Jews everywhere. But they were more ethnically than religiously oriented. Into this setting the last two Baker children—Rose, and a younger brother, Milton—were born.

Edel Rosen left his Eastern European homeland under less sanguine circumstances as Russian persecution against Jews was prevalent and pointed. While details remain unknown, family lore has it that if the persecution itself had not been reason enough for the family to flee to America, Edel, through some act of vengeance against the persecutors, had become a fugitive from the law. One of Edel's uncles had made the voyage two years earlier; when officials at Ellis Island noted his lung condition, they sent him to Denver, Colorado. There the air was therapeutic, and he would find treatment to help him regain his health and become a productive citizen. Edel joined him.

The Rosens were not as affluent as the Bakers nor was Papa Rosen as benevolent a father to his sons as Papa Baker was to his sons. But if Ben had received all the encouragement and affection the most accomplished father could give or even if his stepmother had been able to create a loving environment, Ben might never have come to Kansas City, and he might never have met his bride.

Ben and Rose's first son, Martin Meyer Rosen, was born on April 12, 1932, in Kansas City's Menorah Hospital. Martin was given the Hebrew name "Moshe" at his circumcision, but his grandfather Edel called him Moysheleh, the Yiddish derivative. In 1934 the family moved to Denver, where Moishe's brother, Don, was born.

Moishe's earliest memory was that of asking for more to eat—and being told there was no more. He must have been around four years old at the time. He never forgot that gnawing sensation or the ubiquitous oatmeal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner when the family could not afford better. He maintained an aversion to oatmeal for the rest of his life. The amount and variety of good, fresh food that eventually became available doubled as one of his chief enjoyments and most perilous problems.

The Great Depression years deeply affected those who lived through any part of them. The thirties, Moishe's childhood years, were lean for most people. Ben's sister Ida had married Sam Freedberg, who worked in a produce store and later a fish store. That meant the Freedbergs had extra food to share, and whenever they could, they'd give some to Ben and Rose and the boys.

When Moishe was nine years old, his mother became ill. No one told him the nature of her sickness, but he remembered radiation treatments, so it was most likely some form of cancer. Rose was generally hearty and strong, but she became greatly weakened, unable to cook or clean house. Moishe's father taught him to prepare meals, and with help from his brother, Don, Moishe took over that responsibility for a while. The boys also washed and dried the dishes, and Moishe scrubbed the kitchen floor on hands and knees.

He never questioned his extra responsibilities because he knew that family takes care of its own; when one is weak, others take up the slack. This value was deeply embedded in his childhood and remained with him always.

When things got better, Moishe's mother tried to encourage him to pursue a part of childhood he'd missed. "Go out and play with other children," she'd urge him. But he tended to be a loner and a daydreamer.

Though the family struggled, they managed to live with dignity—and to live as Jews. It cost a dollar a week to go to cheder (Hebrew school, also known as Talmud Torah). Some weeks Ben could pay the melamed (teacher), and other weeks he taught his sons Jewish traditions and prayers at home. As family finances improved, the boys were able to attend cheder regularly.

Grandfather Edel Rosen maintained strict adherence to Jewish holidays, traditions, and dietary rules. Following his grandfather's death, Moishe's family continued the affiliation with the Orthodox synagogue for special events, but their home life was just plain Jewish.

A certain amount of religious activity was expected in order to show loyalty to the Jewish people, but as is often the case, those activities neither stemmed from nor inspired deeply held spiritual convictions in the Rosen home. Moishe's father maintained that "all religion is a racket," and his mother, while not sharing her husband's cynicism, did not seem interested in religion. It would be fair to say that Moishe's childhood was strongly shaped by Jewish values, but not by Jewish faith.

Moishe was also strongly influenced by the regard his parents demonstrated for each other. He said about his parents' relationship, "There was a lot of romance there. I can still remember how my father would take us out for Sunday rides with my mother beside him in the front seat and us boys in the back. As my father drove along, he would sing love songs to her. He always told us how terrific our mother was, in front of her."'

This was one of many childhood lessons that carried over to Moishe's adult life. Accordingly, the next few chapters provide a look at Moishe's childhood, beginning with an emphasis on his mother and her influence on him.

Chapter Two

As a Jew, I grew up being alternately fascinated and angry with Christmas. I had no idea that thousands of miles away, a little Jewish girl from a far stricter background than my own was hearing Christmas carols, wondering why the one they spoke of was not for her. —MOISHE ROSEN

The radio was playing songs about a jolly old man, and it was easy for five-year-old Moishe to imagine that man with his white beard and red suit. He knew that Santa was somehow able to figure out who was naughty or nice. This in itself was not especially interesting to a five-year-old, but there was the promise of a present for nice children. Santa understood about presents because he had a big sack filled with toys.

Toys! Like most kids, Moishe made playthings out of anything at hand. Cardboard boxes became cars and boats. Once he got hold of some wonderful wooden blocks, left over from carpentry repairs. But all too soon, they disappeared into the fiery maw of the coal stove. When you're very young, it's hard to understand that firewood is more necessary than toys.

Moishe began singing along with the radio: "Santa Claus is coming to town." Is Santa listening? he wondered. Even if he wasn't, the bouncy song was fun to sing.

His mother turned quickly, surprised to hear her son singing what she considered a Christian song. Ironically, Rose liked Christmas music, and as her son put it years later, "No one held it against her." If there was a hint of a double standard, it was probably because as an adult, she was fully educated about the need for Jews to reject the Christian religion. She could therefore enjoy a few of its harmless trappings. But a five-year-old boy had to be taught the difference between what was Jewish and belonged to "us" and what, as part of someone else's religion, must be relegated to "them." So she called out: "Moishe, it's nice that you're singing, but that song ..." She paused. It wouldn't do to have him singing it when Ben got home. And if the boy's Zayda Edel ever heard it, that would be far worse.

"Is it a bad song?" Moishe didn't recall any naughty words in the song.

"Well, if your father or grandfather heard you singing that song, it would make them unhappy. Anyhow, Santa Claus isn't coming to our house."

"Why not?" he wanted to know. He couldn't see that there was anything wrong with his house, nor did it seem to him that other boys and girls were noticeably nicer than he.

"Because we're Jewish, and Santa Claus doesn't come to Jewish homes," his mother explained patiently. Then, partly because she did not want him to think that Santa Claus was among those who disliked Jews, and partly because she was a very truthful person, Rose explained that actually Santa didn't come to anybody's home because he was not real. She compared him to a character in a fairy tale. But that didn't satisfy Moishe.

So Rose very carefully began to separate childish fiction from the realities of life. As Moishe listened, he began to accept that some things he'd heard about or imagined did not exist. For the first time, he began to wonder about other realities he had taken for granted. His thoughts turned to a special Someone Else that people talked about, Someone from whom people seemed to expect good things and who mysteriously knew everything about everyone. Okay, so Santa was made up. "But, Ma," he asked, "is there a God?"

Rose paused thoughtfully, and then, as though answering the question as much for herself as for him, she said, not quite as emphatically as he would have liked, "I'm pretty sure there is."

* * *

That was the first conversation Moishe recalled regarding the existence of God. Rose did not often talk about such things, but she held certain beliefs that showed through in her outlook.

Moishe said, "My mother believed in rectitude, that God saw everything and would ultimately make sure justice was served. I know that she believed in hell. She was certain that Hitler was there. But she never exactly said if she believed in heaven."

While his mother's concept of God was rather remote, her vision of right and wrong was close at hand and very practical. Moishe remembered her saying, "You may be forced to lie to an outsider, but never lie to yourself. If you're doing wrong and you tell yourself it's right, even when you want to do right, you'll continue doing wrong. But if you can admit to yourself that you're wrong, then you stand a chance of someday changing and doing right." Moishe never forgot that lesson: know right from wrong, and remember that right and wrong involve truth.

His mother spoke in aphorisms such as, "The person who lies to himself is the biggest liar in the world." Some of her sayings seemed cynical, such as, "Advertising is all lies," but that was her way of protecting herself and her family— because she didn't merely mean the advertising of shopkeepers and other merchants. She meant people who would "advertise" their own good qualities. She was fond of saying, "I'm from Missouri. You have to show me." Moishe once said, "My mother was an antiperfectionist. She thought something was authentic if she could see the flaws in it." Some of Rose's ideas of good and bad, right and wrong, may have been subjective, but there in the middle of it all, the focal point was honesty.

Rose was never insincere. She cared nothing for the good opinion of someone she didn't like. And she was a profound friend to her friends, among whom her reputation was not so much as a woman of manners, but as one who was kind-hearted, generous, and loyal.


Excerpted from CALLED TO CONTROVERSY by RUTH ROSEN Copyright © 2012 by Jews for Jesus of San Francisco, CA. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


PART ONE: The Early Years....................1
PART TWO: Prelude to Jews for Jesus....................89
PART THREE: Challenging the Status Quo....................205
Ceil's Postscript....................296
Appendix A: Why Witness to the Jewish People?....................301
Appendix B: Moishe's Letter....................304

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