A gathering of Messianic Jews and those seeking to learn more about the faith now have a place to call home in a former Baptist church in downtown Klamath Falls.
Klamath Falls resident Moshe Zilverberg followed a spiritual calling to open Synagogue Shuvu LaTorah on 707 High St., which opened at the location on Sept. 14. The group has been meeting in Zilverberg’s home since September 2018.
“It’s a return to all of God’s word,” Zilverberg said, referencing the Hebrew meaning of the synagogue’s name.
The congregation is the only known Jewish congregation meeting formally within upward of 65 miles, save for locations in the Rogue Valley.
Zilverberg also plans to open a private school of the Torah at Synagogue Shuvu LaTorah in 2020, and hold biblical and Hebrew classes.
“We’re very excited to see what God’s going to do with this,” Zilverberg said. “I think it’s going to be a good addition to the community here.”
After serving more than 20 years in the military, Zilverberg entered Christian and then Messianic Judaism ministry in Grants Pass, located about two hours from Klamath Falls.
Zilverberg said he believed God had something for him to do in Basin when he moved from Grants Pass four years ago.
“I just felt like God was calling me to this area,” Zilverberg told the Herald and News. “I knew it was to start something but I didn’t know exactly what that was.”
He and his wife, Dana Rouwen, began meeting with individuals in their home last fall, after having moved to Klamath Falls from Bonanza about two and a half years ago.
“The first four months, there was only five of us meeting,” Zilverberg said.
“Around December, we started getting more people coming.”
The group now sees upward of 25 attendees at Saturday meetings. The congregation has full use of the building and is in the process of purchasing the 33,000-square-foot space from the former Baptist church for $500,000. The synagogue will take official ownership of the space on Nov. 11, according to Zilverberg.
“We’re looking for about $100,000 for remodeling and to get the place into good shape,” Zilverberg said.
Updating the restrooms, painting, re-carpeting, and fresh pavement for the parking lot behind the building are at the top of the list for improvements.
The synagogue also plans to purchase a new Torah scroll, which is handwritten by a Jewish scribe on calf’s skin, representative of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Synagogues normally have two on hand, Zilverberg said.
The synagogue currently uses a 100-year-old Torah handwritten by a scribe in Russia that Zilverberg said was used in the former Soviet Union during the Holocaust.
Zilverberg often meets people in the Basin who are intrigued by Messianic Judaism simply by seeing him wearing a traditional Kippah on his head, as well as the blue-threaded Tzitzit on the four corners of his shirts, a reminder for Jews to keep God’s commandments.
For those interested in learning more, the synagogue has been celebrating fall feast days, which include Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement. The holy day started at sunset Tuesday evening and continues today.
The synagogue will be open for prayers, music, and meditation all day Wednesday, ending with a feast to “break the fast” that is open to the public following a service at 6:30 p.m.
Sukkot, or Feast of Tabernacles, a time in which the birth of Jesus is celebrated by Messianic Jews, will be celebrated starting Sunday, Oct. 13.
Zilverberg is also planning Chanukah celebrations this Winter, with evening Menorah candle lightings planned Sunday, Dec. 22 through Monday, Dec. 30.
“We are hoping to have a grand opening maybe during Chanukah time,” Zilverberg said.
Zilverberg said the building will be focused on the community as a whole, as well as for teaching youth classes.
“I’ve had this idea for about 20 years,” Zilverberg said.
A faith journey
With his traditional prayer shawl and Tefillah on as he reads from the Torah at the podium, Zilverberg looks the part of a traditional Jewish rabbi-in-training.
Zilverberg, who also serves as a middle school paraprofessional during the day, is anything but that. Just look at his tattooed arms once he removes the shawl.
But Zilverberg isn’t shy about his spiritual journey, and is quick to talk about how the winding path lead him to open one of the first – if not the first – Messianic Synagogues in Klamath Falls.
“I’ve had an interesting life,” Zilverberg said.
Zilverberg recalls having a connection with God at the age of 2. But how he connected with God changed throughout the years, including a time when he didn’t believe in God at all.
Zilverberg was raised in the Catholic church and transitioned to the Lutheran church as he entered his teens.
“I didn’t quite find all of the answers that I was looking for,” Zilverberg said.
So he tried the “New Age” and Eastern Religions and also dabbled in witchcraft for 16 years in his search for truth.
“In all of that, I couldn’t find what I was looking for, and when I was 35 years old, I came pretty much to the bottom of the barrel and was just totally miserable and ready to end everything,” Zilverberg said. “And then I called on God, and then he came and rescued me back in 1996.”
Zilverberg became a Christian and served as a pastor in the late 1990s. He also served two tours as a chaplain’s assistant on assignment at the Israeli-Egyptian border in the Middle East while serving with the Oregon National Guard out of Ashland starting in fall of 2001. Prior to his service in the Oregon National Guard, he served as a U.S. Navy Seabee, retiring as a staff sergeant E-6.
Zilverberg converted to Messianic Judaism from Christianity about 10 years ago.
His grandfather, who had helped to raise him, was Jewish. Zilverberg took his name, Moshe (which means Moses in Hebrew) before he died.
“It was just a conviction from God and reading what the scriptures said,” Zilverberg said.
For Zilverberg, it was a decision to follow all of teachings of the Hebrew Bible, not just parts of it.
“I was ready, and so I just stepped into that,” Zilverberg said.
Themes of Christianity
Zilverberg is open about the themes of Christianity that are present in Messianic Judaism.
“He (Jesus) was a rabbi,” Zilverberg said. “We believe that he’s the Messiah, as well.”
Zilverberg said he understands that can offend some, and has had his own experiences drawing offense because of his Messianic Jewish faith.
“I had a guy that started cursing and swearing at me and mocking me,” Zilverberg said.
Zilverberg welcomes all who are respectful to attend services at the synagogue and described it as a place for open dialogue for those who come with Biblically-based talking points and questions.
“God’s whole plan was for the Jews and the gentiles, together,” Zilverberg said. “And he wants us to learn and grow together.”