Yaakov Ben Yehoshua a Concise Life Story
Every person’s story begins in the mind of God before the creation of the world. Within time and space, we each have forebears who shape our shared and familial histories. My forebears are a mixed breed made up in part of British brush makers, German immigrants, Austrian Cohens (Levites), artillery soldiers, synagogue founders, and a yeshivah (Jewish school of Torah study) rabbi from New Orleans (Ephraim Israel), all of whom converged in Aotearoa, New Zealand in the mid nineteenth century.
On my mother’s side there is mixed German and English heritage, and some of the first European immigrants to the South Island of Aotearoa, New Zealand, and on my father’s side Ashkenazi Jews (with some Italian and Anglo blood thrown in) from convergent Orthodox communities in London named Nevei Tzedek (Abode of Justice) and Sha’arei Tikvah (Gates of Hope).
My father’s family were founding members of the first synagogue in Auckland N.Z. (1859) and for a short time, were members of a small synagogue named after one of the London Jewish communities. Subsequently they became members of the then Beth El, and now Auckland Hebrew Congregation.
I was born (1971) and raised in West Auckland (Ranui) to a Messiah following Jewish father and a Christian mother, and was taught the Scriptures from a young age but was not made familiar with the then forgotten traditions of our people (that came later). Many diaspora Jews (Jews of the dispersion) become secular for numerous reasons, often losing touch with cultural and religious traditions.
At the age of three I watched helplessly as one of my younger brothers crawled through a small hole in the terrace railing surrounding our two-story balcony. He landed on the concrete driveway below to the sound of the gut-wrenching screams of my mother as she hurtled down the stairs to his aid. She immediately called an ambulance and my younger brother was rushed to hospital where the doctor’s initial prognosis was grim: “Major brain damage and paralysis at best, if he lives through the night.” However, to the utter amazement of the medical staff a thorough examination of my brother showed not one broken bone, no skull damage, nothing more than bruising and minor swelling. Having returned home from hospital my brother suffered more trauma from me stealing his new blue teddy bear than he had from the two-story fall.
At the age of three I understood that there was an unseen power at work among us, a transcendent presence that had little respect for the suppositions of medical science. I met the malakhim shel HaShem, Elohay Yisrael (angels of the YHVH, God of Israel) the day my brother fell, I remember the abiding presence of God, but I don’t remember the faces of the angels.
Around that same time, I recall my mother reading me a children’s book about a fierce but kind Lion who changed into a friendly cat and back again. Even at the age of three I recognized the Lion-cat as the King of worlds. The Lion in the book was the Lion of Y’hudah, King of Israel.
At the age of seven my father took me to a Church meeting and an elderly man spoke about Jesus (Yeshua) and explained that He was the promised Messiah of Israel Who had come to provide a way for sinful human beings to be saved from the just punishment for sin and be reconciled to God the Father unto eternal life. B’leiv in the center of my being I understood that this was true and when invited by the preacher to receive Yeshua I asked my Abba (Daddy) to take me forward, but I was yet to meet the person Yeshua (Jesus) in a kinetic, tangible, manifest way.
It was at the age of seven that I also meet my lifelong friend Daniel Heke (of the Ngapuhi tribe of the Maori people), in retrospect this was a divine appointment intended to figuratively prophecy God’s plan for the yet future return of the Jewish people from the ends of the earth (Aotearoa, N.Z.) to our divinely covenanted ancestral homeland Israel, led by righteous Maori believers in Messiah.
During our childhood, my two brothers my friends Amir Kunan and Doron Anderson, and I were the token Jewish faces at predominantly Maori and Pacifica schools in west Auckland. My education was a mixed bag of diligence and foolish teenage apathy. To the great disappointment of my parents I was eventually kicked out of school as the result of my rebellious actions.
At the age of 14 years the universe shifted. I was invited to a youth camp during Easter (Pesach [Passover]) and found myself tenting with several hundred youth next to a huge marque by a racecourse in Matamata (Aotearoa, N.Z.). I recall my primary objective was to check out the girls, an objective that was hijacked by the same presence that many years prior had miraculously delivered my younger brother from death.
On the Friday evening of the weekend camp there was a meeting in the marque and a man (who I later found out was Jewish) spoke. I don’t recall all the details of his message, as I said, I was checking out girls and in fact was not even inside the tent but approximately 400 meters outside it looking for opportunities to speak to some of the young ladies who like me were avoiding the tent meeting (I wonder if there were boys and girls like us who avoided the Mishkan [Tent of meeting] during Israel’s wandering?)
At the end of the message the man who had been speaking invited people to come forward to meet Jesus (Yeshua). I can’t properly explain to you what happened next because I’m still not certain how it’s physically possible, but it seemed as if I was instantaneously transported to the front of the marque some 900 meters from where I was standing and there before me stood the person of Yeshua (Jesus), a Jew, Imanu-El (with us God), and He spoke to me and said “Return (T’shuva) to your roots!” In that moment I understood what it truly meant to turn away from my sin and toward God and further, that there was in my case an added ethnic dimension because I was standing face to face with the Jewish King Messiah promised to our people, the Lion-cat, the King of worlds.
In Hebrew the word shuva means to turn, turn around, and t’shuva, to return. Yeshua was asking me to both turn away from my sin and toward God, and to return to my people the Jews (ethnic, empirical, religious, chosen Israel). I didn’t fully understand what that all meant at the time but I understood in that moment the redemptive purpose and saving work of the King Messiah and my need to enter tevilah (immersion) and become a talmid (Disciple) of Yeshua (Jesus).
My friend Daniel also came to faith that weekend and we both returned to Auckland and were immersed (baptized) in the Name of Ha-Av (the Father), Ha-Ben (the Son) v’Ruach Hakodesh (and the Holy Spirit). I had begun to understand the redemption, power and unity of God.
Following this I sought out my father asking him about what it meant to be Jewish and he directed me to my Savta (Jewish Grandmother) who explained our heritage to me. I investigated local Jewish groups and eventually began to learn Biblical Hebrew from an Israeli Rabbi on loan to the Auckland Hebrew congregation.
In the meantime, I had pursued a career as a rock musician and had failed miserably, worked as a house painter, was employed for many years as a machinist and order picker in my father’s brush manufacturing business, and had led worship music at a local Baptist Church where one of my younger brothers had been leading a Good News revival among local youth. However, I had not fully obeyed Yeshua’s call to return to my Jewish roots.
To cut a long story short I met and married a stunning Canadian princess and we had two beautiful girls and moved to Canada to give her parents a chance to know their granddaughters. While in Canada I connected with the B’nai Chayim (Children of life) Messiah following Jewish community and trained under Rabbi Michael Ben Yochanan for seven years. I still remember the first time I donned the tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (Prayer boxes) and chanted the Shema (central prayer of Judaism), the power of God fell on me and I was standing again in the manifest presence of Yeshua just as I had at that youth camp so many years before.
B’nai Chayim was an oasis of transcendent joy in the midst of the dark Canadian winters. Rav Michael (a tzaddik), a true and devote Messiah follower and a wise teacher and friend, taught me the essential doctrine of freedom in Yeshua, something I have not departed from. I would bring friends from the Chabad (a sect of Hasidism) community to our shul (synagogue) and every Shabbat from the Torah portion Rav Michael would share the Good News of Yeshua from the bima (pulpit) during the D’var Torah (sermon).
After seven years in Canada my wife and I returned to Aotearoa, New Zealand with our preteen girls and for four years I worked as the manager of a Christian book store but did not utilize the Messianic Jewish training I had received during my years in Canada.
Three years into my work as a bookstore manager God spoke clearly to me asking “Why aren’t you using the training I’ve given you?” I had a number of excuses, not least of which was the need to earn an income to support my family. God continued to ask me this question, and I continued to provide excuses until one day I responded “Okay, if you provide me with a secure income stream that will allow me to apply my Messianic training in leadership of a community of Jewish believers, I’ll do it. But first provide me with the income so I know my family will be financially secure.” The Lord responded, “I will provide for you just as I have always provided for you, but I won’t make a down payment to prove to you that which I’ve already proved.” I was terrified, “You mean to say I’m supposed to just trust that our family won’t go financially bust in the process?” The Father said to me “Yes, take the first step and trust Me.”
After nine more months of wrestling with God (I am named Yaakov after all) I approached my wife and told her what God had been saying to me and why I thought we couldn’t do it. She said, “God has always provided for us, I’m willing to give it a try.” Having Julia in my life is like having the prophetess Devorah (Deborah) constantly at my side, which I guess makes me a bit of a schlemiel (a schmuck in need of a slap to the side of the head from time to time, or literally, a guy who dresses like a bum).
I took the first step, we took the first step together, God, Julia, our girls and me. I handed in my resignation and we began holding Shabbat meetings in our small living room with a total of eight people. During the week I painted houses, cleaned toilets and did whatever odd jobs I could find to make ends meet. Two years later our community had grown to approximately twenty people and our living room began to feel a little claustrophobic (given that it comfortably sat ten people).
From the beginning of this endeavor God had told us not to ask people for money but only to receive what people offered freely and in support of the ministry we had undertaken in Him. At the two-and-a-half-year mark there was enough money coming in for me to stop the odd jobs and receive a small but (when combined with my wife’s income) sufficient amount to keep our family afloat. Three years later we had grown to approximately thirty in number and people were standing outside on the deck. This was when we were challenged to rent a small venue and were meet with an offer from a local Christian community who offered their Church venue for rent at an extremely reasonable rate. Our community have been fellowshipping there ever since. We are now in the seventh year of leading the Beit Melekh (House of King) community.
In the meantime, my wife and children (now four daughters, two wonderful adoptive young women having been added to our family) and I have been hosting and feeding Israel visitors to Aotearoa, New Zealand in our Auckland home and have been sharing our faith in Yeshua with them. All of the travellers have come to us either randomly or by word of mouth, we do not belong to any hosting programs nor do we manufacture opportunities. We travel to Israel once a year on average and share faith with the families of those who have stayed with us. The Beit Melekh community has grown; however, we have not sought to pursue a growth in Gentile Christian or so called “Messianic Gentile” attendees but have focused on sharing the Good News with our people and teaching sound doctrine from a Messiah following Jewish perspective to teachable people, both Jewish and Gentile followers of Messiah Yeshua.
I have met with much backlash and criticism from the local (New Zealand) so called “Messianic Gentile” (Christians who don’t want to be called Christians) movement, who despise the freedom that I teach in Messiah and are intent on forcing Christians to keep the very laws our people were incapable of keeping. These same people pretend to know and sometimes practice Jewish religious tradition and culture but are in fact pseudo learned and truly without knowledge when it comes to the truth of these things. They are, for the most part appropriators of things that do not belong to them. In addition, they have forsaken the truth that Yeshua is enough and have traded the security of relationship in Him for the idolatry of futile law keeping.
This has meant that I have had to be very clear in teaching the truth of the Good News regarding Yeshua, line upon line, precept upon precept. Many have come to our community expecting law keeping but to their disgust have found us teaching freedom, a number have been offended by our message and have left, and we are grateful for their leaving. We are devoted to Yeshua, the Scriptures, and the freedom God has afforded us, and look to the fulfilment of Romans 11:26 and the redemption of the full remnant of the ethnic, religious, empirical, chosen, people of God, the Jews (Israel). Our work continues, the One who has called us and guarded our family from before time began continues to guard our family, community and friends, and to prove Himself fierce for us, a gentle Lion-cat.
I live and breathe this message. In Messiah we are free to be and do anything and everything except that which places us under bondage again to the yoke (false teaching that enables sinful practice) of slavery (to sin).
“It is for freedom Messiah has set us free, stand firm then, and do not return again to the yoke (false teaching) of bondage (slavery to sin, exposed by law).”
-Rav Shaul’s Letter to the Galatian Believers 5:1
Yaakov Ben Yehoshua
Beit Melekh Messiah Following Jewish Community
Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.
5 Tevet 5781
20 December 2020
1828 - 1912
Ephraim Israel, was from the Nevei Tzedek Jewish community in London [Est. 1795].
At the age of 19 years he travelled to America (USA) where he spent time conducting a Hebrew school (yeshivah) in New Orleans at a time when that city was in its earliest days, prior to coming to Aotearoa, NZ in 1852 aged 24.
After arriving in NZ he became assistant to Rav Elkan, teaching the children of the Auckland Jewish community in the elements of Jewish faith and Biblical history.
He was indeed a fine example of religious devotion. To him the religion of his fathers embodied all the truth and meaning of life. He was well informed on all matters pertaining to the early history of the Auckland Jewish community and on many an occasion was called upon to share his storehouse of memories for the benefit of his visitors.
He never lost his keen interest in Jewish community affairs and attended congregational meetings into his later years until infirmities prevented him.
He was one of the most highly respected members of the early Auckland Jewish community. A founding member of the first Auckland Synagogue established in 1859.
(ref. Obituary, The Hebrew Standard of Australasia, Published in Sydney Australia 29 November 1912).
Jewel Brown (p. Savta)
Jean and Selwyn Bruning
Yaakov & Trevor Brown
(Saba shel Abba)
Roger (Yehoshua) Brown
Brown Family 1974
Yaakov & Phil (David) 1975
Brown Family 1988
Yaakov, Julia, Azariah & Bethany 2014 (Photo by Wendy Fenwick)
Yaakov & Julia 2016