December 2020 – Aaron Früh’s (photo, right) great-grandparents, Jacob and Tzila Krupnik, were Orthodox Jews who emigrated from the Ukraine to Canada, and then to the U.S., to escape the Bolshevik Revolution. When their daughter Rose was in her early 20s, a life-changing event shifted the family dynamic in ways Früh (free) came to understand more fully in recent years.
“It was the mid-1930s,” Früh explained to AFA Journal, “when my grandmother Rose had a vision of Jesus on the cross. And when she went to a Rabbi about it, he told her it was a nightmare.”
Soon after, she was walking down a Los Angeles street with her five-year-old son (Früh’s father). She heard music radiating from a large building. It was the Angelus Temple, the nation’s first megachurch. Her heart had already been stirred by the vivid vision. So, when she heard the gospel message that night, she came to faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
Her conversion was not well received by her family. Upon learning of it, her parents never spoke to her again.
“She was written out of the family,” said Früh. “A Jewish prayer is spoken over a child that does that. It’s basically a funeral prayer – as if the person has died. My grandmother was dead to them.”
Rose and her husband became part of the Gentile church. And though all 11 of their children were given Hebrew names, they were instructed to keep their Jewish heritage a secret. Deeply scarred by the hurtful rejection she had experienced by her Jewish loved ones, Rose feared Christians would likewise reject her children because of their Jewish origin.
Früh’s father died in a car accident when Früh was 4 years old. As a result, he grew up in his grandmother’s home.
“She raised me on Jewish food, Jewish humor, and Jewish culture,” said Früh. “My dad was the oldest son, and I was his oldest son – the oldest grandson. So, [in keeping with Jewish custom], I kind of took his place. She always had her hand on my head, blessing me. And her dying prayer was that I would go to Israel to find my family – and share the Lord with them.”
Früh forgot that dying wish. He had his own goals. And they didn’t involve Jews … or Israel.
After completing his undergrad degree in theology and master’s in Christian education, he pastored for 10 years in Chicago and 25 years in Mobile, Alabama, and taught a “soft replacement theology.”
Früh explained, “Replacement theology is the teaching that’s been around for 2,000 years that the [Christian] church has replaced Israel.”
John Chrysostom (A.D. 347-407), the early church father known as “The Golden Mouth” for his oratory skills, worked to cleanse Christianity of all Jewish religious customs. He argued that Judaism was displaced by Christianity and that “we must hate both them and their synagogue.” He called it foolish “to enter into fellowship with those who have committed outrages against God Himself” and strange “that those who worship the Crucified keep common festival with those who crucified [H]im.”
Some modern scholars believe Chrysostom’s spread of anti-Jewish sentiment was a factor that eventually led to the Holocaust of the early 20th century.
“Jews were forced to wear yellow stars during the Middle Ages (5th to 15th centuries),” explained Früh. “Hitler didn’t come up with any racial laws himself. He borrowed them from Christians. All the racial laws in Germany during the Holocaust came from the church 500 years prior to that.”
In addition, 16th century German scholar and Protestant reformer Martin Luther, in the later part of his life, became embittered by Jews’ failure to convert to Christianity. As a result, he produced writings that suggested extermination of Jews and gave rise to their severe mistreatment.
From 1933 to 1945, approximately 6 million European Jews were exterminated in mass killing centers.
For Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, it was less about religion and more about ethnic cleansing.
“When Germany began to exterminate the Jews, 63% of Germans were baptized Protestants, and 25% were baptized Catholics,” said Früh.
“The German Christians believed Jews were attempting to destroy the moral order of German Christianity, so they believed they were defending the cross. Hitler basically had a group of willing executioners. That’s the scary thing. And we’ve never really dealt with that.”
In the aftermath of the Holocaust, replacement theology, also known as “supersessionism” lost its grip.
“But about 20 years ago, it resurfaced,” said Früh. “And now it’s going full steam once again in evangelical colleges. And that’s what happened to me. I was trained in replacement theology. And I was teaching that wherever you see the word Zion in the Bible, it’s actually speaking about the church – because [I believed] God had rejected the Jewish people.”
One morning in 2001, Früh was sitting at his desk taking care of some pastoral business, and something completely unexpected happened.
“I wasn’t thinking about Israel, and I didn’t care about Israel,” he explained. “But all of a sudden, my grandmother’s words came back to me, ‘Go to Israel; find your family.’ It was like the Holy Spirit stepped into my office.
“And I just started weeping uncontrollably.”
He experienced a profound and unshakable conviction over his rejection of his Jewish roots. And he was resolved to follow through on his grandmother’s plea.
Miraculously, the next morning, Früh’s assistant walked into his office and handed him a letter from the Israeli government inviting him on an all-expense-paid tourism visit to Israel.
A month later, he was in Israel. He got in touch with his father’s first cousin and introduced himself as “Rose’s grandson.” But she had been utterly forgotten. It was truly as if she didn’t exist. Not one family member had ever mentioned her.
He was not exactly warmly received. Nor was he believed.
But Früh persisted. And, finally, his cousin called another family member who admitted she knew about Rose.
“And so, he got the family genealogy,” said Früh, “opened it up, and wrote my grandmother’s name – and my name – into the genealogy. And he laid his hands on me and blessed me.”
In a sense, Früh was “grafted in” – for the second time (Romans 11:11-24).
Seventeen years later, in April 2018, Früh accepted the lead role with Israel Team Advocates, a nonprofit organization that empowers an understanding of the Jewish roots of Christianity, fights anti-Semitism, supports Israel’s right to exist, and provides for the humanitarian needs of Israel and the Jewish people.
Früh desires to help others discover that Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, is ultimately the doorway to the Christian’s spiritual roots. He believes that a family’s exploration into its spiritual family history deepens their connection to those who have gone before them, helping them to truly understand the Scriptures, their own story, as well as the spiritual kinship with Israel and the Jewish people.
Früh has come full circle. He spent half his life denying his Jewish roots. And now his life is spent helping others understand their own.
▶ Israel and You with Aaron Früh
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▶ israelteam.org | P.O. Box 91779 | Mobile, AL 36691