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Reprinted from the INTERMOUNTAIN
By CHRIS LEPPEK
IJN Assistant Editor
Nathan and Temima Feldman came to Denver’s Orthodox Jewish community, a
youthful couple professing a search for deeper, more meaningful Judaism;
evincing a commitment to the radical lifestyle changes that come with the
decision to live according to Jewish law, or Halachah. They were duly
welcomed as such, with open arms, and helped considerably along their way
by a community that prides itself on openness and support for those who
wish to join its ranks. Within months, the Feldmans became active
participants in the religious and social life of that community,
celebrating a wedding in the Orthodox custom, having a bris for their
infant son, adopting the dress and mannerisms of Torah observant Jews,
avidly studying Torah and other Jewish subjects, working and volunteering
for several Orthodox institutions, living in the homes of Denver Jews, and
apparently establishing close friendships with members of the community.
Ultimately, they applied for aliyah under Israel’s Law of Return, and were
initially accepted by Israeli immigration authorities who based their
decision on the recommendations of two Denver Orthodox rabbis. But the
aliyah was halted suddenly earlier this month — as well as the Feldman’s
most unusual sojourn in the Jewish community — when it was discovered that
the Feldmans are not Jewish at all, and in fact have close personal ties to
a Messianic, Hebrew-Christian congregation in Ft. Collins. The discovery
sent shock waves of apprehension and distrust through the Orthodox
community of Denver.
* * *
Based on a telephone interview with one of the rabbis involved, Rabbi Aron
Yehudah Schwab, a letter from the other rabbi, Rabbi Yaakov Meyer, as well
as telephone interviews with Nathan Feldman, with Dr. Anthony Bowman, who
initially exposed Nathan Feldman, and with other sources, the INTERMOUNTAIN
JEWISH NEWS has pieced together the story of the Feldmans’ integration into
parts of the Denver Orthodox community — and its sudden, emotional
dissolution. The IJN attempted to learn the views on and the possible
connection of Danny Miller, the self-described "rabbi" of Ft. Collins’
Messianic, Hebrew-Christian congregation and Temima Feldman’s father, to
the story, but Miller did not respond to telephone messages from the IJN.
Since the time the Feldmans were confronted by the rabbis and then severed
their ties with the Jewish community, Nathan Feldman has written a letter
of apology to the community. In the letter, he admits, "We lied and have no
excuse." He has also made financial restitution to those who lent him money
or gave gifts — and maintains that his dishonesty was limited to not being
candid about his background. He maintains that he never intended to
missionize nor help others do so, and still wants to be an observant Jew.
Confronted on Saturday night, May 8, by the same rabbis who once
recommended the Feldmans as candidates for aliyah, the Feldmans admitted
the fact that neither of them is Jewish, and acknowledged their tie to the
Congregation of the Living G-d, a Messianic congregation in Ft. Collins
sometimes called the "Church of the Living G-d" and sometimes by its
Hebrew name. Temima Feldman is the daughter of Danny Miller, the leader of
that congregation. They also said that they had legally changed their names
before entering the Orthodox community, from Timothy Ryan Williams and
Amber (Miller) Williams to the Jewish-sounding Nathan and Temima Feldman.
Nathan Feldman has acknowledged to the INTERMOUNTAIN JEWISH NEWS that the
couple did indeed lie about being Jewish, but not for the reasons that many
might assume. He and his wife, he insists, have never been Christian
missionaries, nor did they assimilate into the Orthodox community in order
to learn information that would be valuable to other missionaries. They
have, at least for the present, also ceased their affiliations with the
Jewish community. But the aftereffects of what some rabbis are calling an
"infiltration" may linger for a considerable time.
* * *
The Feldmans’ integration into Denver Orthodoxy is a story of amazing
patience and determination.
The couple spent at least a year living as Orthodox Jews, convincing
rabbis, lay leaders and others of their status as baalei teshuvah, formerly
secular Jews beginning to embrace fully observant Judaism. The Feldmans
first became known to Denver Jews in the spring of 1998, when they
presented themselves as secular Jews from Platteville, Colo., curious about
learning more about Judaism. Nathan soon began advertising his services as
a "Shomer Shabbos handyman."
The couple quickly began making contacts and
friends in Denver. They became frequent visitors to or participants in
study sessions of the Southeast Center for Judaism, led by Rabbi Yaakov
Meyer, and the West Side-based Denver Community Kollel, run by Rabbis Aron
Yehuda Schwab and Shachne Sommers. They received considerable Jewish
instruction at classes of the Southeast Center, regular study sessions at
the Kollel and through private tutorships.
Before long, the couple was
spending Shabbat nights at the homes of Denver Jews. Eventually, they spent
the remainder of their time, excepting Shabbat, at the southeast Denver
house Rabbi Meyer uses for his own family on Shabbat. In addition to doing
various work at homes and institutions, the Feldmans became active
volunteers — for the Denver Community Kollel in particular. They handled
most of the arrangements and preparations for the Kollel dinner in January.
At one point, Nathan Feldman was apparently offered a teaching job at
Denver’s Hillel Academy. They were also the recipients of over $1,000 in
interest-free loans and charitable gifts, made by members of the Orthodox
Their elaborate life of Jewishness came crashing down in early
May, however, when the Feldmans were recognized by Dr. Anthony Bowman, a
Greeley Jewish cardiologist who had formerly been active with the
Congregation of the Living G-d in Ft. Collins. Bowman knew that Temima
Feldman is the daughter of Danny Miller, the congregation’s spiritual
leader, he told the IJN this week. He informed Rabbi Meyer of this fact
only after considerable thought and consultation with a rabbi-friend on the
appropriateness of saying something about another person.
allegation became known, the result was a dual showdown with the Feldmans
which took place on May 8. Having planned the confrontation in advance, Dr.
Bowman, Rabbi Aron Schwab and his father, Rabbi Myer Schwab, dean of Beth
Jacob High School, confronted Nathan Feldman at the Kollel office. Rabbi
Meyer participated by telephone. Temima Feldman was questioned by the
younger Rabbi Schwab’s wife at another location. Rabbi Aron Schwab
described the confrontation with Nathan as emotional and teary, with
Feldman revealing the truth about his lack of Jewish background only in
gradual degrees. Only when Rabbi Myer Schwab was planning to call Feldman’s
parents — in order to ascertain their Jewishness or lack thereof — did
Feldman, according to Rabbi Aron Schwab, break down and acknowledge that
the couple’s claim of Jewishness was incorrect. Informed that her husband
had revealed the truth, Temima Feldman soon followed suit, said Rabbi Aron
Rabbis Aron Schwab and Meyer, who had provided aliyah
recommendations shortly before the confrontation, withdrew them
immediately. The Feldmans, who had already received government vouchers
covering their airfare to Israel, saw those vouchers quickly revoked. The
Feldmans apparently gave conflicting answers to their questioners when
asked why they had done what they did. According to Rabbi Aron Schwab,
Nathan Feldman indicated at one point during the confrontation that they
were exclusively interested in learning about Judaism; at another, Feldman
said that the Congregation of the Living G-d did have a "plan" concerning
the infiltration of Denver’s Orthodox Jewish community, but maintained that
he was not part of that plan. Later, he told Mark Powers, director of the
Baltimore-based Jewish for Judaism, that there had been a plan and that he
and his wife had been part of it.
The existence of a plan was stoutly
denied, however, by the Feldmans in an apology letter they sent several
days after the confrontation, along with a check which they felt would
settle their various debts. "We were serious about striving for Judaism for
ourselves in our personal lives. It had nothing to do with any kind of
‘Messianic Infiltration Plan.’" The letter also contained a plainly stated
statement of repentance. "We are writing this letter to express our regret
and sorrow for the damage we have caused to the Denver Community," the
handwritten letter reads. "We realize the implications are far greater than
we can foresee. Many people have been damaged, trust has been shattered,
and the Kollel has been shamed due to our dishonesty to ourselves and to
the people that had opened their hearts and lives to us. We are so sorry.
There is nothing we can say in our defense. We lied and have no excuse. We
were completely wrong."
* * *
Nathan Feldman, in a telephone interview with the IJN this week, echoed the
sentiments of the apology letter and elaborated on the circumstances. "We
wanted Judaism for ourselves and our lives, to live as full-fledged Jews,"
he said. "There was never any other hidden motive as we have been accused
of." Feldman says the desire of he and his wife to become authentic Jews
came despite the fact that his wife’s father, Danny Miller, leads the
Congregation of the Living G-d, which, like all Messianic or
Hebrew-Christian groups, is based on belief in the divinity of Jesus. Their
decision to pursue authentic Judaism, he says, caused problems between the
couple and his wife’s family. The result, nevertheless, was the couple’s
act of "disassociating" themselves from the congregation.
They went through
what they believed was a formal conversion to Judaism under the auspices of
a man who had served as a consultant to the Congregation of the Living G-d,
Nathan Lerer, Feldman says. He said they were unaware that Lerer had
already been roundly criticized by Jewish anti-missionary groups. In 1991
and 1992, the IJN ran two long investigative articles on Lerer ("Temple New
Israel," Jan. 4, 1991; "Temple New Israel includes ‘Beth Messiah,’" March
13, 1992). These investigations revealed that conversions performed by
Lerer — formerly the leader of the Conservative congregation Mt. Sinai in
Cheyenne and the Messianic Temple New Israel in Denver — were not
recognized by Israeli or American rabbinical authorities.
The IJN also
revealed that Lerer’s own ordination to the rabbinate was suspect. It was
months after their conversion by Lerer, Feldman says, that the couple
learned that their conversion was not accepted. By that time, they had
already established contact with Denver Jews, and formed several close
friendships and associations. In what Feldman admits was a "mistake," the
couple opted not to reveal that their conversion was invalid and to simply
pass themselves off as Jews. They maintained this, he said, and elaborated
on it, up to the time of their confrontation in Denver. "Because of the
position we were in we felt that there was really no way to change at that
time period," Feldman says. "We felt basically between a rock and a hard
place. Not in terms of Judaism or Christianity. That was never an issue. We
initially believed that the conversions were good. When we found out that
they weren’t accepted, we felt that it was already too late."
says Nathan Feldman, felt that if they revealed their story to their new
Jewish friends, those at the Denver Kollel in particular, they would not be
believed. The fact that Temima Feldman’s father is the pastor of a
Messianic congregation would immediately cast suspicion on them, Nathan
Feldman indicated. "We felt that because of who my wife is, or rather who
her father is, that it would be embarrassing," said Nathan Feldman. "There
was never any question that we desired anything for ourselves other than
Judaism. We completely tried our best to sever any contact with the Church
of the Living G-d . . . but we still had the problem with Danny and Fanny
Miller being my wife’s parents and my parents-in-law. Needless to say, it
was a little on the difficult side."
Their decision to make aliyah was made
several months ago and was motivated, Feldman added, only by the desire for
the couple to receive intensive Orthodox education and to live in a purely
observant environment. Claims that they wanted to help Danny Miller
establish a Messianic missionary community in Israel are "false," he said.
Their decision to make aliyah as ostensible Jews, Feldman added, was done
purely for financial reasons — they needed the help of the Israeli
government, in travel vouchers and absorption assistance, that is only
offered to Jews making aliyah. "We’re not wealthy people," he said. "The
government’s help was absolutely necessary for us." Feldman concluded with
another apology, especially to Rabbi Aron Schwab, who, he said, "was like a
brother to me." "My wife and I are extremely sorry; we had never, ever,
intended on hurting anybody. Everybody in the Denver community, especially
the Kollel, befriended my wife and I, opened their homes to us, and we want
to apologize for any hurt that we may have caused them, because we know we
Faced with contradictory responses from the Feldmans, Denver Jews and
others were left with little choice but to wonder about the youthful couple
from Platteville. Admitted Mark Powers of Jews for Judaism, a national
anti-missionary project: "We’ve scratched our heads about this one." Powers
added, "We’ve seen over a period of years a change from what could be
called more Christian-looking to more Jewish-looking, Messianic activity.
There’s now a segment of the Hebrew Christian movement they call
‘Torah-observant Messianic Judaism.’ How’s that for an oxymoron?"
told the IJN that he attended a recent convention in San Diego of such a
group of Messianic Jews. "If I didn’t know where I was I could have been in
Borough Park on a Saturday afternoon," he said. "The attempt to effect the
look, to appear Jewish, is clearly what this movement or segments of it are
heading toward." Dr. Neil Dobro, director of Colorado Jews for Jewish
Identity, described the Messianic congregation in Ft. Collins as
relatively small, probably with less than 100 members, very few of whom are
actual Jews. It has been locally active with "the normal intensive
outreach," often conducted in the Ft. Collins and Boulder areas.
Anthony Bowman, the man who recognized the Feldmans to begin with, is a
former Hebrew Christian himself. He said he is familiar with the
missionary’ s desire to work among Jews. "The phrase that comes to mind is
out of the Christian Scriptures: ‘I was sent to the Jew first and then to
the Greek,’" Bowman told the IJN this week. "Those are the words of Jesus.
The greatest prize for a missionary is to convert a Jew." In the Hebrew
Christian movement, Bowman said, missionaries are trying to appear more
Orthodox in order to appeal to Jews who have minimal Jewish knowledge.
"People will look at them and say, ‘You really are a knowledgeable Jew.’
"These people are extremely dedicated and they feel that this is a
spiritual imperative," added Bowman.
* * *
Rabbi Aron Schwab admits that he really has no idea why the Feldmans made
such an effort to be accepted as Jews in his community. "I’m very
confused," he told the IJN this week. "I don’t believe that anybody in the
world can say with full confidence what is in anybody else’s heart." He
acknowledges the possibility that the couple started off as infiltrators,
only to become enamored of Orthodox Judaism over time. "My guess is that
they started off insincere, and maybe it became sincere later on," he says.
"We have proof pointing in both directions. But we have no right to believe
them today, because of the amount of lies they told. As much as we would
like to believe it, we are not allowed to believe it."
Rabbi Schwab has no
knowledge that the Feldmans tried to actually proselytize at the Denver
Kollel. He admits that he assumed that an Orthodox environment is the last
place a Christian missionary would attempt to spread the word. "That was
our assumption and our mistake," he says. "The new wave is that [Messianic
Jews] have two stages in their missionizing. One is to go and learn all you
can so you can soak up all the movements and motions of the Orthodox
community — the clothes, the way the hat is worn, everything. The idea is
to learn all the exterior trappings . . . and then implement that and trap
other innocent Jews who are looking for what they think is true Torah
Amazed at the Feldmans’ success in portraying themselves as
Jews, Rabbi Schwab offers an unusual compliment. "Nathan is a tremendously
talented fellow. They were very well liked, very nice people, and the
Feldmans did a tremendous job in covering up their background." Schwab is
still shocked, however, that during his confrontation with Feldman, before
Feldman admitted to being a non-Jew, the rabbi asked him if he would be
willing to denounce his belief in Jesus. "He denied Jesus in my presence,"
the rabbi says. "It’s very frightening that he was willing to go that far."
Feldman, in his conversation with the IJN this week, said that Rabbi
Schwab’ s portrayal of the question is completely accurate — he
acknowledged openly that he did deny the divinity of Jesus. But he insisted
that he meant it wholeheartedly when he said it.
* * *
How, then, should the Jewish community respond to the youthful couple?
Neil Dobro says the issue should be kept in perspective.
"There is really no important damage that’s been done to the community," he
says. "While they have ripped off the Kollel and Rabbi Meyer for time . . .
there is no other damage to the community. The apparent attempt to gain
aliyah to Israel under the Law of Return has been stopped. The knowledge
that they gained is freely available to everybody. In fact, Judaism is in
the business of dispensing that knowledge. That won’t hurt us at all. "The
only way that this can be destructive to the community is if the community
reacts by closing down and being leery and fearful of newcomers who come
around and say they have an interest in Torah. "Such a reaction would be
antithetical to Jewish teachings and traditions. We’re from the tradition
of having the tent open on all four sides to welcome visitors, like Abraham
did. If we close down even one side of that tent, then these people would
have done a tremendous damage to the community."
The two rabbis who have
been central to the story, meanwhile, worry about another sort of reaction
to the deception. "I don’t believe there should be a witch hunt toward
anybody who comes into the community," Rabbi Schwab said. "We have to
continue our outreach and not let one couple ruin it for all the others. We
don’t want our children pointing their fingers and saying, ‘Is this one
Jewish or not?’ We should be accepting of everybody, as the Orthodox
community has been and is." Rabbi Meyer shares his colleague’s concerns
about the ways Jews might respond to the unusual incursion into the
Orthodox world. "It has come to my attention," he wrote in an open letter
to the Jewish community dated May 14, "that in the wake of the recent
revelations about the Feldmans, there have been rumors circulating about
certain other individuals and/or families. There is no justification for
spreading unsubstantiated rumors. We must not allow the guilt of two
individuals to cause us to irresponsibly damage innocent people. Any
spreading of rumors is Halachically forbidden."
Finally, Rabbi Schwab
managed to extract at least one positive lesson from the strange episode. A
poignant moment occurred in his confrontation with Nathan Feldman, he said,
in which Feldman asked him in emotional terms not to "take it away from
me," meaning the Torah Judaism he had come to know and — perhaps — to
appreciate and value. "This is a message for all of us," Rabbi Schwab says.
"We should appreciate what we have." In an ironic twist, Feldman himself
echoes the same thought. "My life is over," he said, referring to his hopes
to live his life as a Torah-observant Jew, and expressing the wish that he
and his wife might one day still be able to realize that dream. "There’s a
void in my life without it."
This article was reproduced with the kind permission from the INTERMOUNTAIN
JEWISH NEWS who can be reached at
from the August 1999 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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