Marcus S. Bergmann., convert of the L.J.S., is well known as a missionary of the L.C.M and translator of the Bible into Yiddish. A second edition, with improved translation into simple Jargon, was issued by him in 1905. In an account of his conversion he thus writes:
I was born in Wieruszow, on the borders of Silesia, in the year 1846. My father (who was one of the sect of Chassidim, which is the strictest sect of the Pharisees, and a great Talmudist) died when I was about a year old. Of my dear mother I have only a very dim recollection, as she, too, died when I was but six years old. I had one elder brother and one sister. My brother was established in a large way of business in Luben, a town near Breslau, and my sister was brought up in the house of the Chief Rabbi of Breslau, Rabbi G’dalia Titkin (who was a relative of ours), whilst I was brought up with my uncle, Woolf Bergmann, a Chassid like my father, in Wieruszow, under whom I studied much of the Talmudic and Rabbinical literature.
When I was fourteen years of age I was sent to Breslau to study under the chief Rabbi there. I did not like it at first, as I had to change my Chassidic dress for the German style, but I soon became accustomed to it. After a residence of three years in Breslau I went to one of my uncles who was a Rabbi in Frankenstein, under whom I had ample opportunity to practice for some time. I then went back to live with my sister in Kalisch, and applied myself more than ever to the study of the Talmud, believing it to be the most honourable of all employment and most conducive to the glory of God, and the best mode of making amends for my sins, which I found clung to me even when engaged in these religious duties.
The word of the Lord to Abraham (Gen. xii. 1), ‘Get thee out of thy country and from thy kindred… unto a land that I will shew thee,’ seemed at that time to be constantly ringing in my ears, and made me so restless that I could not put my mind in anything. I obeyed that voice, and in 1866, I left my native country and came to England. Shortly after my arrival in London I established a small synagogue at which I gratuitously officiated as minister for nearly two years; my sister from time to time sending me remittances, as I required, from the portion which I inherited of my father’s property.
It pleased the Lord at this time to lay His hand upon me, and I was laid aside for six weeks in the German hospital. When feeling a little better I began to look into the Hebrew Bible, which was on the shelf in the ward. As a reader in the synagogue I knew the letter of the whole of the Pentateuch and other portions of the Old Testament by heart.
The portion of Scripture that made a great impression on me at the time of my illness was Daniel ix. Several verses of this chapter (the confession of Daniel) are repeated each Monday and Thursday by every Jew; but the latter part of the chapter, which so plainly prophesies the suffering of the Messiah, is never read – in fact the Rabbis pronounce a dreadful curse upon any one who investigates the prophecy of these seventy weeks. They say: ‘Their bones shall rot who compute the end of the time.’ Remembering this anathema, it was with fear and trembling that I read the passage about the seventy weeks, and coming to verse 26, ‘Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself’ – though we Jews are most careful not to let a Hebrew book drop to the ground – I threw that Hebrew Bible out of my hand, thinking in my ignorance that it was one of the missionaries’ Bibles. But although I threw the Bible away, I could not throw away the words I had just read: ‘Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself.’ These words sank deeper and deeper into my soul, and wherever I looked I seemed to see them in flaming Hebrew characters, and I had no rest for some time. One morning I again took up the Bible, and without thinking or looking for any particular passage, my eyes were arrested by these words (also in a chapter which is never read by the Jews): ‘For He was cut off out of the land of the living; for the transgression of My people was He stricken.’ (Isa. liii. 8.)
This seemed to be the answer to the question I was constantly asking myself during this time of soul-conflict – ‘Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself.’ For whom then? Here it was plainly revealed to me. ‘For the transgression of My people;’ and surely I belonged to His people, therefore Messiah was cut off for me.
Shortly after this I left the hospital and was again among my Jewish friends, but I could not banish from my mind these two passages.
One morning I put on my phylacteries and tallith in order to perform the prescribed prayers, but I could not utter a single sentence out of the prayer book before me. One passage (Psalm cxix. 18), ‘Open Thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law,’ came into my mind, and that I repeated over and over again, and for nearly two hours that was the cry of my soul. After laying aside the phylacteries and tallith I left the house without tasting food, and as I walked along the streets I prayed again in the words of the Psalmist, ‘Lead me in Thy truth and teach me, for Thou art the God of my salvation, on Thee do I wait all the day long.’ My heart was burdened with a very great load, and yet I dared not open my mind to any one. In this state I believe the Spirit of God led me to Palestine Place. My heart failed me when I reached the door of the late Rev. Dr. Ewald’s house.
After several vain attempts, I ventured to knock, and was admitted to see that venerable servant of the Lord. To him I unburdened my soul and told him all that was in my heart. He asked me whether I was willing to come into his Home for enquirers in order to be instructed in the truth as it is in the Lord Jesus. I told him that was just what I needed, and at once accepted his kindness, and I did not return to my Jewish friends. This was just one week before the Passover.
On the first day of the feast several Jews of my congregation, who had discovered where I was, came and entreated me to leave the missionaries and go back with them. As I refused to do so, they said they would soon get me away with disgrace. They left, but only for a short time, and when they returned they brought a policeman with them and charged me with being a thief, and as such I was taken to the nearest police station and locked up. Whilst in the cell I was visited by several Jews who implored me to return to them, and said that if I promised to do so they would not appear against me on the morrow, and I would be liberated. I answered in the words of David, when Gad, the seer, was sent to give him the choice of his own punishment: ‘Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercies are great, but into the hands of man let me not fall;’ and I added, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.’ They left me disappointed. But I never spent a happier night than in that prison cell, for I felt and fully realized that the Lord was with me, and it was there that I for the first time knelt down and prayed to God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Though up to this time I knew very little or nothing of the New Testament, yet it seemed to me as if the Lord Jesus spoke to me in the same manner as He did to His disciples. ‘They shall put you out of the synagogues, yea, the time cometh that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service; these things will they do unto you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I have told you of them.’ ‘And when they bring you unto magistrates, and powers take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, for the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.’ Passage after passage seemed to come before me to encourage me to cling close to Him and not to fear what man could do unto me.
The night – though sleepless – I passed joyfully and peacefully. The morning came, which brought other Jewish visitors with food from their table, also entreating me to return to my Jewish friends. As I refused, they told me that they had witnesses to prove the charge against me, and I should be put into prison for at least three months; but I felt that the Lord Jesus was my advocate, and that He would plead my cause.
About 10 o’clock I was taken out of the police cell and led to the Mansion House (followed by a large number of Jews) to appear before the Lord Mayor of London. The whole judgment hall was filled with Jews. My chief accuser swore that I had robbed him, and three others gave their evidence on oath against me. The Lord Mayor asked me, through an interpreter (for I could not then speak English), what I had to say in my defence, and whether I had any witnesses to prove my innocence. I replied, ‘I stand here in this position on account of my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I am not only not guilty of the crime which is imputed to me, but I have left all my valuable things at the house where I lodged. It is only because I wish to become a Christian that I am accused.’ The Lord Mayor then ordered my chief accuser again into the witness box, and asked him whether he knew that it was my intention to become a Christian. The expression which flashed across his angry countenance and was reflected by the face of the other Jews present, sufficiently answered the question before he could speak a word.
On cross-examination they so contradicted each other that they themselves proved my innocence, and I was at once set at liberty. (I wish it to be clearly understood that this persecution was not in enmity to myself personally, but rather in friendship and mistaken zeal. They wished to save me at any cost from becoming a Christian).
On leaving the Mansion House I returned to Dr. Ewald, and after being thoroughly instructed in the Scriptures, I was admitted into the visible Church of Christ on the 7th of June, 1868, by the rite of baptism.
After my baptism I was admitted into the Operative Jewish Converts’ Institution, where I stayed nearly two years. In May, 1870, I was accepted as an agent to the London City Mission, to work among my poor benighted people in the East of London. During the first few years of my mission work I had naturally to undergo much persecution, and the work was most arduous, but by the blessing of God this is in a great measure changed.
It is now fully thirty-one years since I became a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I can look back upon all these years and say that not one good thing hath failed of all His gracious promises.
Bernstein, A. 1999. Jewish Witnesses for Christ. Jerusalem: Keren Ahvah Meshihit.