A Celebration of Jewish Culture: Birth of a Vision


Jonathan Bernis shares his journey from growing up in an American Jewish family to becoming a follower of Christ.

As a child growing up in a typical American Jewish family, I did not know much about Jesus, other than He was the god of Christianity. I’d been taught to believe He and His followers did not like Jewish People and that many atrocities had been committed against us Jews in His name. It was not within my worldview to believe in Jesus and still be a Jew. During my teenage years, I began to develop a singular ambition—to become a successful businessman before I turned 30. Jesus did not figure in my plans. However, in 1980, while a Business major at the University of Buffalo (in preparation to fulfill my dream), my entire life was turned upside down. Through a series of events, Jesus broke into my life.

God had a better plan

Needless to say, the direction of my life changed radically and all my life goals shifted! I abandoned business for a call to the ministry. Upon completing a degree in Jewish Studies and Early Christianity, I started a Messianic Jewish congregation called Congregation Shema Yisrael in my hometown of Rochester, New York. I happily did this for almost nine years until God sovereignly called me to a groundbreaking work in the former Soviet Union following a fact-finding trip I took there in 1990.

With the fall of Communism, a land long held in darkness captured my attention. I reactivated a ministry I had started for college students in 1994 called Hear O’ Israel! Ministries to facilitate this new call. After numerous trips and small outreaches, the work grew and by 1993, we were holding large-scale Festivals of Jewish music and dance and tens of thousands of people were responding. What’s more—the great majority were Jewish! The overwhelming response to these Festivals was clearly a phenomenon. In some cities, like Odessa, Ukraine and Kishinev, Moldova, we were renting and filling entire soccer stadiums—up to 60,000 people at a single event!

In 1996, Chira Kaplan traveled to one of the Festivals we were conducting in Kishinev, Moldova, to cover the event for Jewish Voice. It was there that Chira first approached me about entering into a closer relationship with Jewish Voice and even to consider the possibility of taking over the ministry when Brother Louis Kaplan retired.

My friendship with both Chira and Louis grew quickly in the months following that event. Within a short time, our two ministries entered into a strategic partnership to produce evangelistic television programs for Russia and Ukraine. 

I assumed leadership of Jewish Voice in 1998, and then on January 1, 2001, Jewish Voice Broadcasts and Hear O’ Israel! Ministries merged into one ministry, renamed Jewish Voice Ministries International. 

Evangelistic explosion

Since our small beginnings in 1993, more than 560,000 people have crowded into stadiums, concert halls, and coliseums from St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1993 to Rosario, Argentina, in 2011—that’s 26 total Festival outreaches to date—to attend our vibrant Hear O’ Israel! Festivals of Jewish Music & Dance. Millions more have participated by television broadcasts. Tens of thousands have responded to altar calls, including thousands of Jewish People. Amazingly, more than a dozen new Messianic Jewish congregations have been birthed in the former Soviet Union through these outreaches, and many more have since spun off from the original groups.

Scattering good seed around the globe

The apostle Paul declared, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). This is the reason that Jewish Voice goes wherever Jewish People are and shares the truth of God’s Word with them, no matter how remote their location is!

I have been privileged to hold Festivals of Jewish Music & Dance throughout Eastern Europe, India, and South America for close to two decades. Here are some highlights from several of our key Festival outreaches.

St. Petersburg, Russia 1993

14,000 in attendance

I will always recall our very first Hear O’ Israel! Festival in St. Petersburg, Russia. What an awesome move of God! Some 14,000 attended the three-night event, and of those who attended, more than 10,000 responded to our altar calls. A large percentage of those who responded to my invitation to accept Yeshua as Messiah were Jewish. The success of our initial St. Petersburg Festival caused the Festival outreach to expand the following year in Moscow, Minsk, and Kiev.

We planted one of the first Messianic Jewish congregations in the former Soviet Union as a result of this Festival and my decision to leave my comfortable life in Rochester, New York. The living conditions in Russia in the early 1990s were challenging; hot water and electricity were erratic, and KGB operatives were following us. Yet words can’t describe our overwhelming joy as the crowds literally ran down the aisles when we gave an altar call. The Spirit of God was moving in their hearts and many of them were Jewish!

Odessa, Ukraine 1995

60,000 in attendance

This was our second largest Festival to date, only superseded by our Festival in Vijayawada, India, in January 2000, which brought 70,000. Some 30,000 people in Odessa, nearly half the Festival attendees, were Jewish. We rented Odessa's football (soccer) stadium and filled it! At least 45,000 stood to repent of their sins and commit their lives to Yeshua. I stood up and prayed over the crowd, “I ask, Father, for Your healing power to flow through this stadium. Restore the bodies of all who are sick. Thank You for Your mercy.” God answered in a bold and dramatic way as instantaneous healings took place throughout the stadium.

Vijayawada, India 2000

70,000+ in attendance

India is a botttomless pit of need, but the receptiveness of the Indians to a 'Jewish Gospel' is amazing! In the past, the Gospel was presented to these people from the mainstream church's perspective, which was filtered through a Gentile understanding. But when I preached the Good News each evening from a Jewish perspective, Believers and unbelievers alike were astonished with this new message of salvation in a Jewish Messiah. Young and old came with a spiritual hunger, in need of a miracle to survive.  Blind eyes were opened. Deaf ears were suddenly able to hear. The Spirit of the living God had made His presence known!

Krasnoyarsk, Siberia 2004

9,000 in attendance

This area in Central Siberia is home to Jewish war prisoners who were sent here from Moscow in the early 1600s to colonize the area and strengthen the Moscow principality. Exiled Jews would continue to be the main reason for growth of the Jewish community in Krasnoyarsk, as well as all over Siberia. We were blessed to showcase the talents of music and dance team Kol Simcha and singing sensation Victor Klimenko at our Festival in Krasnoyarsk in August 2004. Plus, one of my dear friends, Sid Roth, was instrumental in providing humanitarian aid and good will to a local orphanage there.

Despite initial opposition from a local rabbi, who was trying to intimidate Festival attendees by taking photos of them as they entered the stadium, and despite the fears of many locals that Jewish Voice was there to brainwash them, God did exceedingly above what we could ask or imagine. The stadium was packed, and you could just sense the enthusiasm as attendees anticipated a great night of worship and the chance to come to know and be healed by Messiah Yeshua through our prayer team.

Rosario, Argentina 2011

9,500 in attendance

At the close of the 2010 Montevideo, Uruguay, Festival, which brought 8,790 attendees and the planting of our very first Messianic Jewish congregation there through the instrumental work of JVMI friends Jorge and Marcela Goldstein, the Lord placed the great nation of Argentina on my heart once again. I had conducted Festival outreaches in Argentina twice in the last decade; first in Buenos Aires in 2000 (22,000 attendees), and then in Cordoba in 2009 (12,100 attendees).

It seemed God was speaking to me about the city of Rosario, 190 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. Argentina is home to more than 250,000 Jews, many of whom are in the process of making aliyah. Current estimates in Rosario number the Jewish community at 20,000. It was the right place and right time to bring the Good News of Yeshua to these precious people. 

Mexico City, Mexico 2012

August 31-September 9

Yeshua said in John 9:4-5, “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” The work continues and we are anticipating even greater fruit for God’s Kingdom this year!

God is calling us to Mexico City, one of the largest Hispanic Jewish population centers in the world and home to more than 21 million people in its metropolitan center. You can still join our team as a street evangelist, prayer warrior, and more, so be sure to sign up for the trip by calling Israel Smith, one of our International Coordinators, at 800-299-YESHUA or emailing outreach@jvmi.org.

As we set our focus on the glorious future God has in store for us in these Last Days, let us be ever mindful of the words of the apostle Paul: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”  (Galatians 6:9). And, oh, what a harvest it will be!


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