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Book Review: Called to Controversy by Ruth Rosen

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Called to Controversy: The Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the Founding of Jews for Jesus by Ruth Rosen, daughter of the subject, gives us the life story of this extraordinary man from the viewpoint of his family and colleagues.

The book is made up of 32 chapters that are divided into three sections. Part 1 – “The Early Years” documents his growing up years in a Jewish family in Denver, his early married life with Ceil (Cecelia) his childhood sweetheart, and his conversion to Christianity. Part 2 – “Prelude to Jesus for Jesus” details his training and tells of his experiences with the American Board of Missions to the Jews (ABMJ). Part 3 – “Challenging the Status Quo” tells the story of Moishe’s role in founding Jews for Jesus in 1973, leading it until he stepped down in 1996, and his remaining years, ending with his death in 2010.

The story is fascinating due to the man who is its subject. Moishe comes across as a very talented, brilliant man with an overriding life passion to reach fellow Jews for Jesus. He used his unique talents of creativity, intuition, the ability to read people and situations, communicate, and more, to live out that passion as a missionary to Jews wherever he lived.

Rosen, the author, has done a good job of helping us see him through a multitude of eyes. For not only is she his daughter, but she also worked on staff at Jews for Jesus so saw him interact with co-workers and had him as a boss herself. She had access to dozens of his colleagues (former and present) and the book is liberally sprinkled with direct quotes from interviews, emails, letters, and other primary documents.

Rosen does a good job of writing a balanced biography which sometimes portrays her father in a less than flattering light — though even the critical parts are respectful in that there is no sense of spite or getting back at him, only the desire to be truthful and not hide the bad. The fact that he was not perfect leaves readers with the realization that we don’t have to be perfect either to make a big impact for God.

I have one small quibble with the way parts of the book were ordered. In Chapter 8, for example, Rosen told about Moishe’s early work life and much later described him leaving his father’s business to get that job. In Chapter 11 she generalized about what he found strange in the Baptist church, then later gave us a moment-by-moment description of his first visit there. In these parts and others, back-and-forth ordering of events muddied the chronology for me and made for a somewhat disorienting read.

Altogether, though, I was impressed by the story of this very talented, determined, and focused man, his great love for Jesus — his Y’shua Messiah — and what he accomplished as a result.

Each chapter begins with a Moishe Rosen quote (giving us a glimpse of still another aspect of him). I end with a sampling:

Power is ability. Ability is organized energy.

It’s not so bad to be out on a limb if Christ is the branch.

The way that I understand anger is that it is a God-given emotion, and its purpose is to energize us to do the right thing; one’s temper is something that one uses, not loses.

Don’t’ let your friends happen to you; don’t let life happen to you; don’t let things happen to you. Make the kind of friends and the kind of life that you believe you ought to have.”

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About Violet Nesdoly