The Humor and Life, in Particular Web site
author:  Margie Culbertson

Susan Perlman:  A Jew for Jesus

By Margie Culbertson

"We exist to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people world–wide."

Susan Perlman did not convert to Christianity in 1973. She did not renounce her heritage nor the faith of her ancestors. As Susan says, "I was born a Jew and I'll die a Jew". Susan is still a Jew, but she's a Jew who follows Jesus, and one who helped found Jews for Jesus, an international front–line evangelical agency.

Susan's journey toward Jesus began in October of 1963 when she was 12 years old and living in Brooklyn. That year Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his dream, the rousing "I Have a Dream" speech, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial; that year an American president died while the world watched; and that year Susan Perlman's father died.

The Jewish community had gathered in the Perlman's New York apartment to "sit Shiva" (observe a week–long period of Jewish mourning). Susan, always curious never afraid to ask, approached the Rabbi,

"Rabbi, is my daddy in heaven?"

"We don't know that for sure.""Rabbi, is my daddy in heaven?"

"Well, it's hard to say but your father's memory will live on in you."


"—We can't answer that for sure," he continued "we don't know anything beyond this life."

Today Susan believes the Rabbi's answer was "bankrupt." In 1963 she only knew that her question had not been answered.

But Susan did know about the preciousness of life, and she also knew she wanted her life to make a difference, "I felt that it was my responsibility to do something to help in whatever way I could. Maybe I felt that way because of my Jewish upbringing ..." So Susan organized neighbors to clean up the streets and plant trees; she worked tirelessly in a community recycling program; she became politically active; and Susan marched. She marched on the capital steps and across the U.S.:  for peace, against violence, and certainly, for civil rights. She was very busy, making a difference, but completely unaware that her spiritual life was missing.

Along the way, the unexpected occurred. Because of a chance meeting with a Gentile, Susan's curiosity, and—I suspect—that burning question of a certain 12–year old, Susan visited a Christian church. Initially, she had "little patience" with these Christians who simply listened to folk music and prayed, as if that would make a difference. As Susan says, "Didn't they know that there were kids in Harlem that were being bitten by rats? Didn't they know that it was people, not prayers, that made a difference?"

Susan continued to feel a deep, unfulfilled need and Susan's Gentile friend challenged Susan to pursue it. So Susan cautiously pulled down a dusty Bible and began to read, something she had never done before. She found that Isaiah 53: 6 told her, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath caused the iniquity of us all to fall upon him." God meant her and she kept reading:  "the rest of that 53rd chapter in Isaiah offered me good news. It told me that God had provided One to bear the punishment of my rebellion ... That One was Jesus ... the Jewish carpenter, the Messiah, the Son of God." Even though social activism and humanism had been Susan's idols all her life, she completely accepted Y"shua (Jesus) as her Messiah. From now on Susan's question would always be "What does God want?"

Now, whenever Susan is asked if she is a Jew or a Christian, she answers, "Yes—Yes." She is currently the First Assistant to the Executive Director at Jews for Jesus Administrative Headquarters in San Francisco. Susan worships, is the president of the board of trustees, and fills in occasionally to preach in the pastor's absence, at Congregation Tiferet Israel Messianic in San Francisco. Maybe not so surprisingly, the Baptist General Conference has two Jewish–style churches among its membership, for both Congregation Tiferet Israel Messianic and Congregation Kehilat Yeshua Messianic of Flushing, New York are members of the BGC.

You can often find Susan on city streets all over the world, passing out literature, talking with people as they pass and "showing them the Jewishness of Christ". But reaching out to Jews with such a counter–intuitive message is not easy, Susan says. "Jewish people are committed NOT to believe in Jesus. There is no stronger gospel–resisting group than Jewish people. If you can reach Jews with the message of the Messiah, then you can reach anyone!" Susan challenges those she meets at every turn. "We really have to put out a lot of seeds to have a harvest," says Susan of her work. Susan approaches people with a couple of direct questions, "Can I ask you something?", then, "Who do you think Jesus is?" She may be met with, "Oh, you're a disgrace ... You should be ashamed of yourself ... Disgusting" or she may find curiosity and openness as well. Susan knows she's "there for those who are hungry."

In addition, Susan is an accomplished author, editor and media creator, for she has produced a vast assortment of provocative literature, publications and campaigns. One publication is her "Issues:  a Messianic Jewish Perspective," a favorite which she has edited and co–authored since 1976. Susan is also the Coordinator of Jews for Jesus" Secular Media campaigns. And Susan is proud of this. She says, "One eye–catching ad I created and placed in the secular media was for T.V. Guide, during all the hooplah about the last Jerry Seinfeld episode. The headline was, ‘Jews for yadda yadda yadda yadda" and went on to tell of the importance of the gospel". Susan is currently embarking on the new venture of creating a multi–media department for the agency, just one more exciting opportunity.

Is Susan busy? Yes, for Susan is also a mover and shaker with associations across the globe. Among those:  Presenter at Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, national and international conferences; Steering Committee Member, LCJE (Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelisation) for over ten years; Editorial Board Member of Evangelical Missions Quarterly; Member of Council of Reference, Mousalaha–Ministry of Reconciliation between Jews and Arabs; and Jerusalem Board Member for the Jews for Jesus US and European boards. In addition, Susan is the first woman to serve as the president of the I.F.M.A., the "Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association" in its 82 years of existence. Is she a role model for women? Yes. But more than that, "I really feel a commitment to mentoring other women in ministry. I've gotten entre´ into places many others have not gotten...I want other women to have similar opportunities as I have, to be able to take my place in the future."

Does this mean that Susan is tired after these 25 years of work, looking for that early retirement package, that house on the golf course? Think again. As Susan puts it, "I'm as excited about what we do now as when we started." Right now, everything is good and Susan has the energy for it. That little girl of 12 in New York got her answer and now she's keeping her eternal promise of passing it on. Susan laughs, "It's clear that I have been chosen, but I am the most unlikely person for the work that I do. God really does choose the unlikely. I think what I do and who I am is more about how God truly takes the felicitous route."

What does all of this have to do with Christians? Susan replies, "[Jews for Jesus can] help Christians know how to witness to their Jewish friends and co–workers". And Susan includes a challenge, "It's not as intimidating as you might suspect." Susan says, "Jews are much more insecure in their unbeliefs than they are secure in their beliefs." The challenge? "You can demonstrate how Jesus is not a liability". Clearly, Susan wants our witness for Christ. Are you willing to do this?

Can I ask you something? Who do you think Jesus is?

Reprinted from article published in
The Standard, September 1998. Newsjournal.

2008 Update: 
These days Susan serves as the Jews for Jesus Director of Communication. You can visit her page on their website.
Click HERE to go there. (There is a wonderful MP3 File available.)

you can drop in at her personal website. Click HERE to visit with her there.

or you can mail her at: 

Jews for Jesus
60 Haight Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
Phone:  415–864–2600
Fax:  415–552–8325
E–mail:  jfj@jews–for–

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©Margie Culbertson

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