B. A. M Schapiro. One summer morning in the year 1890 there visited the reading room of the Hebrew Christian Mission, 17, St. Mark's Place, New York, a Hebrew lad of nineteen years, with bright eyes and curly black hair. He had just arrived there from Germany, although he was a native of Poland. The boy's keen, intelligent countenance attracted the attention of the Rev. Jacob Freshman, Superintendent of the mission, and as several Jewish men were having a lesson in English, that gentleman suggested that the young Jew should become a member of the class. The stranger knew no English, the teacher had no knowledge of Polish or Russian, consequently their conversation was carried on mainly by pantomime, and with the help of one of the scholars, who acted as interpreter. Jews are naturally fine students, grasping knowledge with avidity. The new arrival proved no exception to the rule, and so before the forenoon ended he had learned the English names of the articles of furniture in the room, the days of the week, the numerals from one to ten, and also how to write his name, "Benjamin Aaron Moses Alexander Schapiro, in English script. Long after, when he had learned to speak English with ease, we asked: "Why did your parents burden you with such a number of names?" "Because," was his answer, "they hoped and wished that I might combine in my character, when I came to manhood, the qualities of patriarch, priest, prophet and king." He was a fine Hebrew scholar, and carefully followed in a Hebrew Bible the Psalms which the other pupils read in English. We found at our next visit the new pupil awaiting our coming. His countenance glowed with pleasure, as he cordially grasped our hand and proceeded to dispose of our satchel and umbrella. That morning he read several pages in an English primer. When we went again we found that Benjamin had taken his departure, though urged by the superintendent and his kind wife, for they both had become greatly interested in him, to make their house his home for an unlimited period. His proud, ambitious spirit chafed at the thought of becoming a burden on the hands of strangers, so he started out to earn his own living, an entirely new experience in his case. Hitherto he had never been called upon to solve the three vital problems: "What to eat," "What to drink," "Wherewithal to be clothed." His brief stay at the mission proved, however, a very important epoch in this young life. The seeds of Gospel truth were sown in his heart, and afterwards quickened by the Holy Spirit, sprang up, budded, blossomed, and ultimately bore the fruitage of earnest work for the Master. Two years had elapsed since our first meeting. One evening, at the close of the service in a Hebrew Christian Church, we were cordially greeted by a young man. The native dress had been changed for American, the hair arranged in a different style, etc. So great was the transformation that at the first glance we failed to recognize our quondam pupil and friend. He then told us what had befallen him since we last met. He had, soon after leaving the mission, found employment with Mr. Benjamin Clayton, a butcher at Jamaica, L. I. Imagine, if you can, what a trial it must have been to one brought up to a strict observance of the tenets of orthodox Judaism to have to handle "Gentile" meat, especially the abhorred pork. A Christian man who dealt at the shop became interested in the young stranger, seeing him to be the possessor of talents which ought to be improved and developed. This kind friend placed him under Christian tutors.
Eventually Mr. Schapiro was converted, and publicly confessed Christ, and united with a church in Brooklyn. Soon after taking this important and decisive step he was convinced that it was his bounden duty and glorious privilege to tell the story of a Redeemer's love to his own people. Very visionary seemed the project. How could he, a youth who had not yet attained his majority, a stranger, a foreigner, a "despised" Jew, without means, with few friends, accomplish this mighty undertaking? Faith laughs at impossibilities. Enthusiasm is ever contagious. A few friends became interested, amongst others Mr. Horatio S. Stewart, the gentleman who had previously provided him with a scholarship at Pennington Seminary. The first Jewish mission work in Brooklyn was inaugurated in that part of the Twenty-sixth Ward known commonly as "Brownsville." Here a colony of Polish and Russian Jews had taken up their abode. A small hall was hired and services held on Saturday afternoon. Great was the excitement, tremendous the opposition. Jews gathered in crowds, anxious to hear what the youth might have to say concerning his apostasy from the faith of his fathers. Men thrice his age plied him with questions regarding Christianity, quibbles mostly; occasionally, perhaps, an enquirer might have been moved with a genuine desire to know the truth. The young missionary, however, was enabled to possess his soul in patience, and with quiet dignity to repel their attacks. The following incidents will serve as representative specimens of these interruptions: Once, when the missionary was giving a brief exposition of the first chapter of St. John's Gospel—"In the beginning was the Word," etc., "'Logos' as 'word' here is in the Greek synonymous with 'Memrah' in the Rabbinical writings," he remarked. A Jew sprang to his feet in a second. "You cunning Mr. Missionary!" he shouted—"trying to prove your statements from the Talmud, which you profess to disbelieve, because you cannot prove them from the Old Testament!" Quick as a flash came the rejoinder: "David, in the thirty-third Psalm, sixth verse, says: 'By the "word" of the Lord were the heavens established.'" The assailant was effectually silenced, but so angry was he at having been outwitted in public by one so much younger than himself that whenever he chanced to see the missionary approaching he would quickly cross to the other side of the street.
On another occasion a Jew said: "You know perfectly well how wrong and wicked it is for a man to desert the religion of his fathers. Why, even the Gentiles despise those who are guilty of such an act!" "What do you mean by the religion of our fathers?" was asked in return. "Why, of course, I mean the religion of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob," the Jew answered. "But Abraham departed from the faith of his fathers. This 'apostasy' was imputed unto him for righteousness. You reproach me because I have departed from the religion of my fathers, which you claim to be the 'true religion.' Listen for a moment to the witness borne by Moses and the prophets concerning the religion of our fathers. Moses, our great lawgiver, says: 'Understand, therefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not the good land to possess for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiffnecked people.' 'You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.'
Isaiah the evangelist, says of our fathers: 'From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises, and putrifying sores.' 'Ah! sinful nation!' and mark the expression: 'A seed of evil-doers, children that are corrupters:' In another place the same prophet says: 'Woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.' Jeremiah says: 'Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil.' The weeping prophet declares: 'All these nations are uncircumcised, and the house of Israel is uncircumcised.' Jehovah himself says to Ezekiel: 'Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me; they and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. For they are impudent children and hard-hearted.' The suffering prophet again says: 'Thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech, and of an hard language, but to the house of Israel; not to many people of a strange speech, and of an hard language, whose words thou canst not understand; surely had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee. But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto Me, for all the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted.' Jesus the great teacher, said: 'Ye are of your father, the devil.' Now, in view of all these assertions, can you still insist upon my still adhering to the 'religion of my fathers.' You say: 'The Gentiles despise those who have departed from the religion of their ancestors.' That statement can be easily disproved from history. Jesus, Paul and the other founders of the Christian Church all apostasized from the faith of their fathers. Luther, a Roman Catholic, became the leader of the Reformation. Neander, Edersheim, Saphir and a host of other converted Jews have been indeed 'the glory of Israel, and lights to lighten the Gentiles.'"
These Saturday services were continued for more than two years. An evening school, where Jewish people, employed during the day, could receive gratuitous instruction in English, was carried on with a great degree of success. A protracted strike among the tailors, cloak-makers and operators on men's clothing, the principal industries of this settlement, reduced the people to the direst poverty; hundreds were on the verge of starvation. In this, the time of their need, Mr. Schapiro, at his own expense, opened a soup-kitchen in his rooms, himself serving the tables, and for more than two weeks scores were fed. That no offence might be given to their prejudices, the meat was "Kosher," that is, bought at a Jewish butcher's, and prepared by a Jewish cook. This kind, thoughtful treatment did much to disarm their repugnance against him as a Christian. The missionary also opened a similar mission in the Sixteenth Ward, Eastern District, where there is a Jewish population of 50,000, and for nearly a year carried on the two stations, holding a service at Brownsville on Saturday morning, and a second one in the new mission in the afternoon. Finally his committee deemed it best to confine his labours entirely to the Eastern District station, as they considered it the more hopeful field, on account of the large number of Jews in the vicinity. Meanwhile a denominational mission had been established in Brownsville. The Brooklyn Christian Mission to the Jews has from the outset been interdenominational. This work in the Eastern District was not inaugurated without opposition. The missionary and the men who assisted him in the distribution of the notices for the services and tracts were targets for the stones of crowds of Jewish boys. The older people greeted them with sneers, derision, offensive epithets, and sometimes with curses. Among the Jewish boys, Samuel ————, acted as leader and instigator in the attacks. After a while he ventured into the mission, intending to create a disturbance, and, if possible, break up the services, but the story of a Saviour's love fell upon his ears, and as has many times happened in the history of missions, he who "came to mock remained to pray." Samuel was convinced, converted, and for two years has been a consistent member of a church in this city.
After seven years of mission work, owing to the combined labour of carrying on the service and collecting funds for the maintenance of the mission, his health broke down and he gave up the work.
In June, 1900, Mr. Schapiro published the first number of "The People, the Land and the Book." He had a theory that much of the variance existing between Jews and Christians had its foundation in mutual ignorance and misapprehension of their different religious beliefs. He designed to reach both parties in a spirit of love.
Mr. Schapiro for eleven years had no home, no intercourse with his own family. Having become an "apostate," he was worse than dead to them. All his overtures for reconciliation were scornfully rejected. To be cut off from all one's relatives, to have no home life, is ever a great affliction, particularly to a Jew, for the Jewish attachment and devotion to home and family are proverbial. A Jew who has embraced Christianity can sing in all sincerity, "Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee," for it is his veritable experience.
One day he chanced to meet a fellow-townsman, who, to his great surprise, told Mr. Schapiro of the latter's cousin, who lived in New York. Of course he lost no time in hunting up this relative. At first he was greeted with sharp, bitter reproach, for his change of faith, but when it was manifest that his love for Christ had not obliterated, but rather intensified, his love of kindred, speedy reconciliation followed. Mr. Schapiro learned that his father had lost his property, and also that his eldest son had died. Letters were exchanged, and complete reconciliation ensued.
The painful situation of the Jews in Russia made Mr. Schapiro anxious on his family's behalf. Through the assistance of kind friends he was enabled to bring over two of his sisters. They reached there one Thursday, and a week later found employment. There were still eight remaining at home, father, mother, brothers and sisters. Through the efforts of the once deemed lost brother "Joseph" they were enabled to go, and are now comfortably situated in their own home in New York.
Mr. Schapiro's life is not lacking in romance. Some years ago, while he was conducting the mission in Boerum Street, a pretty Jewish girl of thirteen, whose parents lived opposite, frequently attended the services. After a while the family moved and Mr. Schapiro lost sight of his little friend. After he had left the mission, and was conducting the magazine, they chanced to meet again. Their renewed acquaintance ripened into love, and a year after they were married. Mrs. Schapiro is a charming little woman, bright and attractive. Their union has been blessed with a darling little daughter, Beatrice Sylvia, now nineteen months old. The former homeless wanderer rejoices in a pleasant, tastefully arranged home, and a wife who delights to minister to his comfort, and is hospitable in the extreme, always welcoming his friends, and leaving nothing undone which can minister to their comfort.
This paper has already far exceeded the limits originally intended; still it seems impossible to close it without some slight character delineations. Mr. Schapiro, so the Jews who come from his native place tell us, is of a good family; his father was a man of wealth and position, and was noted for his rigid adherence to the tenets of orthodox Judaism. One can easily understand how sore a trial it must have been for such a Jewish father to have his son embrace Christianity, and what in his opinion was still more disgraceful, to have that son become a missionary of the Cross among his own people. Mr. Schapiro is intensely fond of books, is a good student, ambitious to be thoroughly educated, and is already quite a forcible speaker. Fearlessness forms one of the strong points of his character. He is positive, liberal, without being a radical, conservative, yet not bigoted. He has what is an absolute requisite to all who undertake leadership of any kind—good executive ability. Naturally sensitive, as a missionary among the Jews he has had many a fiery ordeal to pass through and many hard reproofs to bear. But to his credit, be it said, he has been enabled to retain his patience and to exhibit a forgiving disposition. He had a very correct idea of the propriety and reverence with which all religious services should be conducted. Never using cant expressions, and although gifted with a keen sense of the humorous, he never stooped to ridiculous illustrations, which, though they create laughter, leave no lasting impression for good. He has never sought notoriety. Mr. Schapiro is still a young man, and like all young people, has much to learn, but if health and strength are granted, he bids fair to become an able advocate of the Messiah among his own brethren after the flesh, the Jews."
- ↑ "The People, the Land and the Book," Miss Mary C. Sherburne. July, 1905.