A Few Conversations from UMJC 2009

conversationsWho knows how many stories, conversations, and connections were made at the 2009 UMJC Conference? UMJC stands for the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (umjc.net) and we just met in Miami.

This was an eventful UMJC for me. I passed my last remaining exam for smicha (ordination as a rabbi) and received smicha on Saturday night in the havdalah service. I taught two classes and manned a table for MJTI (Messianic Jewish Theological Institute). And I enjoyed conversation with some learned and devoted friends.

These are the stories of a few conversations.

Learning to Sing the Torah
I met with Jeff Feinberg, from Chicago, whose Sing the Sidra turned out to be the most valuable tool out of many I tried in learning the trope melodies for chanting the Torah this past year. He had to examine me to see if my knowledge of the trope melodies was sufficient, a qualification for rabbinic ordination I put off for last. As we worked through a few passages of Torah, Rabbi Feinberg reminded me that singing the Torah changes the way you read the details and helps you see relationships in the words of Torah.

Discusssing Rabbinic Literature, Modern Media, and Halakha
I spent hours talking with Carl Kinbar, my rabbinics mentor and also the Provost of MJTI. We often manned the table together for MJTI. The conversation turned to his specialty, rabbinics, and also his great interest in changes in media due to the dynamics of the internet. He reminded me that the greatest revolution since the Gutenberg printing press is underway right now. He expressed some thoughts about the challenges for the future of Messianic Judaism and I enjoyed the chance to pick his brain for an hour or two at a time. The challenges to the future of Messianic Judaism are nearly overwhelming and I see the need for more interaction between younger leaders and our predecessors.

How to Live Out Torah and Be Practical
I had dinner and a cab ride with Boaz Michael and Aaron Eby of First Fruits of Zion. I talk often with Boaz, so this was a rare chance to talk more with Aaron Eby. I learned a lot as we dialogued intensely about the more Orthodox end of the observance spectrum versus my more lenient ideas. He was very challenging. He also introduced me to a concept that may show up this week in my Yeshua in Context podcast (about going beyond the legal requirements of the commandments). Boaz challenged me regarding the importance of materials instructing people in keeping mitzvot and other practical, rather than academic, topics.

Feeding Elderly Jews in Israel
I had coffee at Starbucks with Michael Schiffman of Chevra (chevrahumanitarian.org) and we made plans for me (and my synagogue as well) to be more involved in helping Chevra provide food and help for elderly and needy Jews in Israel. Our synagogue already supports Chevra, but as Rabbi Schiffman and I talked, we could see that there are ways I can immediately be of help. I think our synagogue will be excited about hosting an event in Atlanta. This is a tikkun olam (repairing the world) undertaking we truly believe in.

Reemerging as a Movement and Seeking Unity
The Shabbat message was challenging to say the least. The Torah portion was the beginning of Deuteronomy: Moses explaining some history to the new generation about the enter the land. The rabbi challenged us, like them, to reemerge as a movement. Messianic Judaism needs to reemerge, he said, to get out of the place we have been stuck. We need a divine dissatisfaction, just as God said to Israel, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain.”

One of the rabbi’s main points for moving ahead and reemerging as a movement, is that we need a much deeper sense of unity and working together — with groups whom have different emphases and with whom we sadly overlook our common vision.

Shortly after that, I was in a Torah study led by Julie David and mostly populated with 20’s and 30’s. Their voice was refreshing. I heard them saying, in response to the Shabbat message, “We need to learn from the wisdom of our predecessors in Messianic Judaism, but not carry their burdens.” They spoke of that unity, of reconciling divided groups of Jewish Yeshua-followers. Several are involved in prayer and friendship events with 20’s and 30’s in the MJAA. One, a son of a prominent UMJC leader, said we need to reach out to those in the Jews for Jesus movement.

The younger generation is more likely to overlook differences, something the older generation has polarized over. I am in the middle, a young 40-something. have focused on differences. I have neglected to emphasize the fact that a large part of our vision is in common.

My heart was strangely warmed by this talk of a greater unity. What will happen to Messianic Judaism if we seek this greater unity? How can we do this and avoid assenting to things that harm what we most care about? I am not for unity at the expense of vital issues (I’m not ready to sing Kum Ba Yah with Christian missionaries to the Jewish people just yet), but I also want to believe that through repentance and divine empowerment, diverse groups could gather more around what we share in common: a vision of final redemption through Israel to the nations by the work of Messiah.

Is greater unity between various groups of Jewish Yeshua-followers possible? What about movements that are largely non-Jewish but also share the passion for final redemption through Israel to the nations by the work of Messiah?

What would change look like: on my blog, in my relationships, in the size and power of what Messianic Judaism could do if factions worked together?


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to A Few Conversations from UMJC 2009

  1. ckinbar says:

    I also enjoyed our conversations. I, too, had some very substantial and warm conversation with leaders from non-UMJC groups.

    Unity is often confused with “being at peace,” relating with love and forgiveness, networking socially, etc. These are not options but commandments. If we do not have this quality of relationship with fellow Yeshua-believers, we are in need of repentance.

    “The younger generation is more likely to overlook differences, something the older generation has polarized over.” I know it’s hard to believe, but “the older generation” was once young and we, too, heard the same message of unity. We embraced it. But we didn’t understand it. And when we began to ask what unity really looks like (and what should be “overlooked”), we ran into the nuts-and-bolts reality that real unity involves suffering. And not many were willing to suffer for people who were indifferent or even hostile to their deeply-held spiritual values.

    Here is a single issue that is foundational to the unity you describe. What is a group of Jewish Yeshua-believers? This can be overlooked in the warm glow of a superficial unity or engaged in to the point of blood, sweat, and tears. Real unity may not include full agreement on that issue, but we’ll have a measure of unity when men and women are willing to be honest, transparent, and loving with one another as they grapple deeply with crucial issues like this.

    Substantial unity is found on the far side of blood, sweat and tears. When we are willing to suffer for one another, work with one another, and cry with one another, we’ll be on our way.

  2. “…honest, transparent, and loving with one another as they grapple deeply with crucial issues…”


  3. What our generation gets is that there is not a single way to be Jewish. Nor is there a single best way to build the Messianic Judaism of the future. And … that we desperately need each other if we’re going to move forward, while mindful of sources of genuine disagreement.

    The question isn’t just “What is a group of Jewish Yeshua-believers?”

    The equally important, but totally overlooked question is “What is the PURPOSE of a group of Jewish Yeshua-believers?”

    We’re looking forward to moving back to DC and continuing to grapple with this question.

  4. PS: My husband’s been saying all of the above for several years now. “The young people aren’t invested in your politics!” Glad to hear the idea gaining some currency.

  5. ckinbar says:

    Monique–The purpose of such a group is certainly crucial. I wasn’t clear enough. I wrote “Here is a single issue that is foundational to the unity you describe. What is a group of Jewish Yeshua-believers?”

    What I meant was “Here is one foundational issue. . .” As we’ve seen even on this blog, there is no clear agreement on this question. How can groups and individuals live in unity if we don’t even know who belongs in the groups that should be in unity? This is a difficult issue and, IMO, will require blood, sweat, and tears.

  6. Darvari says:


    “I’m not ready to sing Kum Ba Yah with Christian missionaries to the Jewish people just yet”

    Why not? Because of their ethnicity? What would they have to do/believe in order for you to sing with them? Just trying to understand where you are coming from.

  7. Darvari:

    Singing Kum Ba Yah is an idiom for a sort of Christian fellowship that goes back to camps when people would gather around a fire at night and sing this song (an African song imported into 1970’s Christian circles — not that I was involved in any kind of religion back then).

    As you read Messianic Jewish Musings for a while you will figure out where I am coming from. I am part of a movement seeking to work with God as he brings final redemption of the world through Israel to the nations by the work of Messiah.

    My disagreements with Christian missionaries to the Jews primarily include: (a) an insufficient definition of the gospel and (b) a lack of seriousness about Jewish identity and continuity.


  8. Darvari says:

    Thanks Derek. I kind of knew about the idiom but wasn’t completely sure.

    I agree with point a) but i also believe you cannot generalize. There’s a great diversity among them.

    As to b), I’m not sure i understand what you mean. Are you saying Gentile worshipers are to assume a Jewish identity and consider themselves Jews in order to be approved by God?


  9. Darvari:

    These Christian missionaries to the Jews are Jewish, not Gentile. I guess that is what confused you.

    No, I do not encourage Gentiles to take on Jewish identity.

    Hope this helps.


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