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Canada at 150 and the Roots of the Messianic Jewish Movement - Ben Volman
July 4, 2017

By Ben Volman, Toronto Ministry Team Leader & Messianic Rabbi of Kehillat Eytz Chaim/Tree of Life Congregation


The blessings of God have rested on the people and the nation of Canada in many ways over the past 150 years.  Those of us who have grown up here have lived freely in peace, able to fulfill our lives according to our distinctive, personal beliefs. And for Jewish people who came to know Messiah Yeshua in Canada and brought others to faith, those gracious gifts toward a fulfilling life have been sources of great blessing.

The spiritual values of our country are not a coincidence.  They were essential to the vision of the Fathers of Confederation. In January 1867, there were 16 Canadian leaders in London, England, preparing the final drafts of the bill to go before the British parliament to create a new nation. They began to vigorously debate the descriptive term for its name: should Canada be a kingdom, a domain, a confederacy or a coalition?

The debates were entering a second day when the premier of New Brunswick, Sir Samuel L. Tilley, began his morning devotions reading in Ps. 72:

In his days shall the righteous flourish;
and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.

He shall have dominion also from sea to sea,
and from the river unto the ends of the earth.

They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him… (vv 7-9)

Tilley sought out Sir John A. Macdonald to suggest that they adopt the title “Dominion of Canada.”  The Bible was read into the minutes of the conference and the term “Dominion” was adopted. Writing to Queen Victoria, Macdonald explained that it was “a tribute to the principles they earnestly desired to uphold.”

Psalm 72 is an extraordinary reference point for a nation. As one of only two psalms attributed to Solomon, we see numerous connections to 1 Kings 3 (when he asks God for wisdom).  But also, it envisions the fulfillment of a greater promise to his father, David. In 2 Samuel 7:12ff, David’s spiritual advisor, Nathan, told him that in the future his line would produce an offspring, a Son, whose throne would be established “forever.” 

Solomon envisioned the rule of God that would one day reach all the nations of the earth through this greater Son, an exalted king yet to come.  The enemies of God would be overthrown and the glory of God affirmed by the many kings who would bow before Him.  The God of Israel will then establish on earth a “dominion from sea to sea” of peace, justice, righteousness, and care for the poor, needy and oppressed.  The Latin words, “a Mari usque ad Mare” on our coat of arms mean “from sea to sea.”

The decision to use such a title could be seen as a small, token gesture.  But the essence of any country or organization is revealed by these kinds of meaningful cues to its character and become part of its “DNA.” Despite its many faults, Canada has been a nation that allowed individuals to seek their full, God-given potential. As a result, Scriptural values have been etched into Canada’s history by those who genuinely trusted in God and, on occasion, has been shaped by outstanding men and women who worked to bring change through their bold, visionary and assertive faith.  This is why Canadians have been among the leaders of the international Messianic Jewish movement.  

In 1871, the British (German-born) Jewish believer, Isaac Hellmuth (photo left) was appointed Bishop of Huron by the Anglican Church in Canada. At the time, the “Huron” region was called “western Canada;” today, it’s known as Southwestern Ontario, best known for the city of London. Hellmuth had tremendous gifts as a teacher and administrator. He became the founder of Huron College and later founded the  university that would become the University of Western Ontario. 

Hellmuth was an outstanding individual of faith, frequently sharing about Yeshua to the sparse Jewish population living in Canada in the later 19th Century. He was also a strong early proponent of Israel’s return to their land.  Retiring to London, England, in the 1880s he gave lectures declaring that the Jewish people would be returning to their land very soon.

Later in the 19th Century, czarist policies of the Russian empire (which included Poland and the Ukraine) unleashed terrible pogroms that brought a flood of Jewish immigrants to Canada. Many settled in Toronto and Montreal where they subsisted in poor, struggling communities.  In the City of Toronto, that immigrant area was the central downtown district known as “the Ward.” The Presbyterian churches responded by setting up a mission in the Ward, inviting a gentleman born in Jerusalem, raised in the home of a distinguished rabbi and well trained in Orthodox traditions. “Ben” Rohold (photo left) had found Yeshua through the witness of a local missionary in Jerusalem and came to England at the age of 20.  Rev. John McPherson Scott brought him to Canada in 1908 after seven years of ministry in Glasgow.

Rohold’s profound impact on the Jewish community of Canada can’t be understated.  He became one of the most admired Jewish believers of his generation. In 1915, Rohold was appointed the first president of the North American Alliance of Hebrew Christians (known today as the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America).  By the time he left Toronto in 1921 to pioneer a work in Haifa, he’d not only written several books, but established a thriving young Hebrew Christian congregation in a large facility known as the Christian Synagogue, planted works in Montreal and Winnipeg (the latter work persisting for decades), and raised up his successor, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, Morris Zeidman.

Zeidman (photo left) continued the congregational and visionary outreach of Rohold through the work known as the Scott Institute (named for Rev. Scott, who had a heart for Israel) and later, the Scott Mission, which Morris and his wife, Annie, founded in 1941.  As a highly esteemed international leader, Zeidman prophetically envisioned a wide network of Messianic congregations 50 years before their time.  His life’s work, the Scott Mission in Toronto, just celebrated its 75th year as one of the city’s best-loved missions to a diverse, inner-city population.  Meanwhile, Morris’s grandson, Andrew, has been birthing a new Messianic congregation in downtown Toronto, called Rosh Pinah.

In 1939, the Anglicans of St. Stephen’s parish in Toronto, appointed a Canadian Messianic Jewish superintendent, Rev. Morris Kaminsky, to the Nathaniel Institute, a work in the heart of Kensington Market. This area of the city absorbed Toronto’s growing post-war Jewish population.  His work was extremely inspiring and he eventually moved to Chicago to take over the congregational ministry and outreach of his brother-in-law, Rev. David Bronstein.  Kaminsky mentored a young man, Larry Rich (photo right), who later took over the same work, before coming to Canada (where his wife, Jan, had been born) and bringing outstanding leadership to the work of Chosen People Ministries from 1991 to 2005.

Among those whom Kaminsky baptized at the Nathaniel Institute were two young Jewish men, Edward Daniel Brotsky and Morris Paul Chernoff (photo left), better known as “Marty” (photo).  Both of them became fathers of the modern Messianic Jewish movement through their work in Canada and the United States, bringing many Jewish people to faith in Yeshua, mentoring new leaders and promoting Messianic Jewish congregations across North America. 

Dr. Brotsky was a pioneer of Messianic congregations in the 1950s and 1960s. In the 1970s, Rev. Marty Chernoff was an American national leader based in Philadelphia who promoted the transformation of the Hebrew Christian Alliance of America into the Messianic Jewish Alliance. The impact of both men’s courageous leadership would be felt across this country as Messianic congregations began to spring up in Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver, as they were also appearing throughout America, Israel and around the globe. 

Canada’s Messianic Jewish congregations and their stand for Yeshua wouldn’t be possible without the freedom and prosperity that have blessed this country.  But the inspiring faith of these pioneer leaders (and many others unmentioned here) has also played a leading role in establishing the world-wide Messianic community.  

The promises of Psalm 72 are a bit closer today because of the genuine reality of Yeshua in the lives of men and women who were born here or came to Canada and dedicated their lives to His service.  They are part of the fabric of this nation that represents what is best from our community of Messianic faith in this Dominion of Canada.


You may also enjoy reading another article from Ben:  Some Well-Known Jewish Believers in Jesus.

To watch other Jewish believers tell their stories, visit www.ifoundshalom.com.

Filed under: Jewish History

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