History repeats itself since Russia in the 19th century was not a desirable place for Jewish people to live. You may have seen “Fiddler on the Roof” which vividly gives some insight as to what life was like then. The typical self-deprecating humour was possibly an attempt to soften something of the sting of the harsh realities faced daily. In addition to the difficulties of survival and the constant threat of persecution, many Jewish people were forcefully conscripted into the army at aged twelve years of age, entering long years of military service. They were systematically compelled to eat pork and to be “baptised”.
Raised in Russia
We have numerous amenities on our temperate weathered Island that we frequently take for granted. Only in the light of current events have we considered the cost of heating bills. Mordecai Baron sold oil to his neighbours in Suvalki, Russian Poland before electricity powered our homes and surroundings. Some of those neighbours were under constant pressure to put food on the table and Mordecai Baron would help both Gentile and Jewish people in their hour of need.
David Baron, the seventh child of Mordecai and Sarah was born just before the end of the Crimean war. There were no hospitals for Jewish people in Suvalki so Mordecai took a horse drawn cart to obtain a midwife. He was circumcised on the eighth day which is the optimal day for the blood to clot. The author, Ronnie McCracken, adds that medical research has confirmed that on the eighth day the combination of vitamin K and prothrombin ensure that this is the best day to carry out the procedure. The Scriptures written long ago speak ahead of their time since they are God-breathed.
It was obvious that David Baron possessed a precocious aptitude for learning and at the age of four and a half, he could read in Russian and Polish and could also read remarkably competently from the Tanakh! He began studying the Talmud before he was seven and soon had to go to another school since he exceeded the knowledge of his teacher.
He then went to study with his uncle though sadly he was a harsh and demanding man. After only a year David suffered from a severe fever for eight weeks and was then sent to another rabbi for further study in Talmud Torah. David hoped that his new teacher would treat him better though that rabbi was much the same as his uncle. David’s brother John was a year older but not so gifted and struggled to keep up with David. The rabbi would become irate and beat John almost on a daily basis. Although initially reluctant, John persuaded David to run away together to live with another uncle.
The Young Runaways
John took a note from their father’s oil shop to enable them to travel, though mistakenly took a twenty- five rouble note instead of a five rouble one. David was concerned because they took such a large amount and suggested heading back, though they continued with their plan. Although the young lads successfully caught the train to Koenigsburg, they had never seen their uncle and neither did they know his address.
Some say that fortune favours the brave though the events that unfolded were clearly providential. They spent a night in dubious lodgings in a dark, impoverished apartment. The landlord took advantage of them and stole all their money. They wondered up and down the streets tearfully and David went into a shop and begged for bread. The shopkeeper was moved by how David described their predicament, gave them a shilling and even offered them somewhere to stay for the night. But when David mentioned his father’s oil shop, the man recognised they were his nephews. He sent them back with a letter and all was forgiven.
No Rest for the Soul
The day of Bar Mitzvah would be daunting for anyone, though David was not fearful and he delivered a discourse on ‘Putting away Leaven.” Unsurprisingly many of the elders were impressed and commended him to his father and there was expectation that he would be an exceptional and famous rabbi one day. Nevertheless, David had another fear. That fear was the fear of God since when he examined his heart he saw darkness, hatred to the Name of God and rebellion.
David was highly conscious that although he was highly praised by others, he believed God was not satisfied with his works and observances. He was concerned that he performed them not from a willing an obedient heart, but for the sake of his community. The more he tried to keep the law the more he recognised how he fell short of it. Like King David, he prayed that the Lord would give him a new heart and a right spirit (Psalm 51:10). In short, his friends tried to reassure him with the notion, do your best and God will do the rest, though their kind thoughts gave no rest for his troubled soul.
At just fifteen, David made an escape with his brother- in law to avoid being a soldier in the Russian army. Their objective was to venture to Hamburg and to take a ship from there to America. They were not the only ones. Thousands of Jews were leaving Russia to evade anticipated pogroms though many did not make it. David remembered his previous trip and the experience with the unscrupulous innkeeper. His brother- in law (John), trusted a “friendly agent” giving David a distinct sense of unease. The agent never turned up and had made off with one hundred and fifty roubles. They made it instead to Hull, England where they hoped to find employment.
David loaned John his remaining money so he could get to America though never saw him again. David had little money left though some of the local Jewish community advised him to start selling chamois wash leathers. Nonetheless, David was a scholar, not a salesman and it was a miserable venture and though he spoke several languages, he did not speak English making it even more difficult for him.
Again, amongst dire circumstances, the events that followed were providential. David became lost as he was selling his leathers though thankfully his landlord had written his lodging address in English. David showed a passer by the note and when he discovered that David was Jewish, he invited him to his house on the following Saturday. However David was perplexed as to why this man never wore a hat since religious Jewish men always wore a covering, even indoors.
When David’s landlord saw the name of his new acquaintance he went livid and ordered David to leave the house calling him, “Meshumed” and forcibly threw him out. David was totally confused by the turn of events. Though saddened and distressed, David found conciliation in Psalm 13:1-5, Psalm 22:1-10 and Psalm 71:1-6. David then found another place to live and destroyed the note that caused him so much trouble. The following morning David cautiously asked his new landlord what he had done to cause such anger and he explained that the man who gave him the note was a Jewish believer in Jesus and was trying to reach other Jewish people too.
David worked as a cabinet maker for eighteen months and was employed by a Christian. Although he had wanted nothing to do with the man who gave him the note and caused him so much trouble, he decided to attend one of his meetings and set the record straight. David attempted to unsettle the preacher with questions and arguments though Mr Koenig responded graciously in each instance. Ironically, some Jewish people in Hull were delighted with David since he was disruptive to the preacher’s efforts.
Resting in Messiah
Mr Koenig then introduced David to John Wilkinson who worked extensively in the East End of London speaking with Jewish people about Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. John Wilkinson read Isaiah 53 in Hebrew and English to a group of Jewish people and then offered to introduce David to Mr Adler who was a Messianic Jew. David came to debate but was surprised when Mr Adler ably responded to his objections not from the Talmud but from the Scriptures. Another time, Mr Adler preached about how Jesus was the Messiah who made atonement for sin.
David grew ever conscious of the need to be acceptable to God and strove to be stricter in prayer, and to repeat the psalms often. David went to listen to a sermon and obtained a Hebrew New Testament. Rather than finding comfort he became increasingly distressed and aware of his sinfulness. Over the next month he went to see either John Wilkinson or Mr Adler daily. David then obtained relief and trusted in the Lord Jesus as his Saviour and could rest in Him for salvation. The name Jesus, (Yeshua in Hebrew), became more precious to Him than anything else in the world.
Although David had shalom (peace), at last he conversed with his father, Mordecai who was deeply grieved that David now trusted in Jesus as Messiah. David was understandably devastated, though no one had explained to Mordecai that Jesus was Jewish and that the whole context of the New Testament is Jewish and that the first believers in Jesus were all Jewish! David copied out by hand the Gospel of John and the letter to the Hebrews since at that time it was illegal to send over printed books to Russian Poland.
David also wrote to his brother John and sent him a New Testament in Hebrew. His brother came to see Mr Adler and Mr Wilkinson and within three months John was also trusting in Jesus as the Messiah. David then went to Mr Guiness’s Bible School alongside John Goldstein, Solomon Ginsberg, Henry Barnett and Henry Goldman who were used greatly by God in their respective fields of service. David himself worked for two years in Scotland reaching the Jewish community with the gospel there.
He then returned to London and worked for the Mildmay Mission to the Jews and also in other countries across Europe. David went to Berlin and they raised concerns to him about a pastor who was antisemitic. However David asked them what they thought not about Christians, but about Jesus. They spoke favourably and recognised that He was exceptional. How sad it is that over many centuries people calling themselves Christians have so bitterly opposed and persecuted Jewish people in stark contrast to the Lord Jesus, the King of the Jews.
David spoke from the Tanakh (Old Testament) and how the promised Messiah would come and how in the second temple period He would suffer and die for our sins. How often when his hearers heard the New Testament read for the first time they were surprised and their hearts were warmed by what they heard. How sad it is that many Jewish people have never read the New Testament considering that it is a Jewish book offering eternal hope to Jewish people and Gentiles alike.
David was able to speak of Jesus of Nazareth to his father Mordecai and that he had not forsaken the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but had drawn nearer to Him than ever before. David never saw his father again though his parting words were, “I see my son, that you really do serve the one true God. It will prolong my life to have seen you again and to have found that out.” Like many individuals, Mordecai had never known that the atoning death of Messiah as a sacrifice for our sins could bring salvation for the soul and peace with God.