Many of the activities, much of the thinking, and most of the members have been Jewish, and thus we have a recognizably Jewish form of worship. Through the successive leadership of:
- Dr. Aaron Kligerman (1921-1949)
- Dr. Ludwig Dewitz (1950-1959)
- Ted Kline (1958-1967)
- Dr. Ernest Cassuto (1968-1979)
- Barry Rubin (1981-present)
The goal of serving the needs of Jewish people and non-Jews who join themselves to the Jews has never changed. But the character of each leader has had its impact.
One of the earliest leaders of Emmanuel, Dr. Aaron Kligerman was a Jew from a Presbyterian background. During his tenure, services included singing, prayer, and Bible study. Although most of the attendees were Jewish, the services were similar to Presbyterian services in structure and content. According to one person who attended these services, there were few Jewish elements to the services other than Kligerman’s quality exposition of the Old Testament. In 1948 Dr. Kligerman met Dr. Ludwig Dewitz. Dr. Dewitz was a Jew who had escaped from Germany in 1937, and then gone to London. He went to Italy to serve the many Jews who had left Germany and were waiting to go to Israel. It was there that Dr. Kligerman invited Dr. Dewitz to take over the Emmanuel work. It was during Dr. Dewitz’s time that God really blessed Emmanuel. Through various programs, geared towards meeting family needs, he was able to help the local Jewish community. He was also a prolific writer, with many articles to his credit. Through his magazine, “The Hebrew Messenger”, he made a significant impression on both the Jewish and Christian communities.
Throughout his tenure, Dr. Dewitz maintained that Emmanuel really was not an official congregation in any way. However, the natural progression could not be stopped. The move towards becoming a fully functional local congregation took place under the leadership of Theodore Kline, the next leader of Emmanuel. Kline led Emmanuel from 1958 to 1967, moving the meeting location to the Villa Nova community in West Baltimore. During this time he made the statement that, “[Emmanuel] is in a suburban area and serves Jewish, Gentile and mixed families, meeting in a very unique way the spiritual needs of those who attend.” We have maintained this vision and focus to the present. Although Kline, a Jew, conducted more Jewish-oriented services, still the congregation sang Christian hymns—except for an occasional solo that he would sing. There was a heavy emphasis on “neither Jew nor Greek” teaching, since there were so many mixed marriages. Emmanuel was seen in Baltimore as a congregation that mixed Jewish and Christian traditions.
Dr. Ernest Cassuto was called to Emmanuel Congregation in 1968, and was appointed leader on July 14, 1969. He served there until his resignation on July 22, 1979. Dr. Cassuto’s vision for Emmanuel can be summed up by the following quotation: “Emmanuel…is a congregation where Jew and Gentile meet on common ground. Our sanctuary is built as a replica of the synagogue of Nazareth, where Jesus preached his sermon on Isaiah 61 (Luke 4:16-22). In the center, one sees the Holy Ark with two scrolls… the Ark, the Candelabra, the Eternal Light, the two tablets of the Law with the Ten Commandments, the Magen David (Star of David)… Passover and Yom Kippur are observed,… as is Chanukah.” William Harvey was appointed interim leader in October of 1979. He remained until July 1981. In August of 1981, Barry Rubin was invited to “fill the pulpit” for Harvey. Under rabbi Rubin’s leadership, Emmanuel continued in the direction of his forerunners, to provide a congregation that serves the needs of Jewish people, as well as Gentiles who want to join themselves to Israel.
Rubin led the congregation to Howard County and a more observant worship, including a Torah service on Shabbat. The congregation now supports a system of havurot (home groups) in Howard County and several of the surrounding counties. Also, a formal Bar and Bat Mitzvah training program has been launched. Emmanuel Messianic Jewish Congregation is a member of the UMJC, an association of nearly 100 similar synagogues throughout the United States, and around the world. Our new home is Howard County, where we believe we can:
- share with Jewish people the message that Messiah has come
- provide a congregational home for Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Yeshua (the Hebrew word for “salvation,” rendered in English as “Jesus”) who wish to worship God in a Jewish context, recognizing and affirming Jewish holidays, traditions and customs.
- The identity of Emmanuel has been solidified. It is no longer a “compromise” congregation, combining Jewish and Christian symbols and worship. It is a Messianic Jewish congregation that serves the needs of both Jews and non-Jews who desire to serve God within an authentic Jewish context.
Barry Rubin did not plan to be leader of a Messianic congregation. But in August, 1981, he did agree to “cover” for the interim leader of Baltimore’s Emmanuel Presbyterian Hebrew-Christian Congregation who was going on vacation for two weeks. He never returned. Rabbi Barry is still “filling in.”
There have been a lot of changes since the summer of 1981, including the name of the congregation—it is now “Emmanuel Messianic Jewish Congregation.” Services are held on Saturday (the Shabbat) instead of Sunday. There is also a Torah service every Shabbat. But these were gradual changes, and often involved what Rabbi Rubin calls “two steps forward and one step back.”