Jacob Damkani is a man on a mission. In his case, it’s a mission to his people: the Jews.
Damkani is warm and intense, with a resonant baritone voice, a thick gray beard and curly hair. Compact and vigorous, he begins his days back home with a 5 am swim in the Mediterranean Sea.
As a young adult, he moved from Tel Aviv to Brooklyn, New York, and lived in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community before moving to Asbury Park, New Jersey, where he ran a gift shop.
“I got to be friends with Bruce Springsteen. It was before he became a big deal. He’d play at the Stone Pony, and we had a few conversations,” Damkani said in an interview from the studios of American Family Radio in Tupelo.
It was while living in New Jersey that Damkani made a profound shift in his beliefs, a shift that led him from Asbury Park to Woodland Hills, California – home to a religious community called Last Days, led by popular Christian recording artist Keith Green, who died in 1982.
Damkani lived in the community and studied under Green for a year in 1978, in the waning days of the Jesus Movement. A casual observer would say he became a Christian, but the keenly intelligent Damkani, never at a loss for words, whether in Hebrew or English, put a finer point on his change of heart.
“Wait a minute. When we say ‘Christian’ we think of another religion,” he said. “But the idea that Jesus came to establish a new religion is far from the truth. Jesus never intended to bring a new religion, and the church has to understand that Jesus is the natural continuation of God’s promises made to Israel. Men made a new religion of it, and the Jews will not accept a new religion. That is the obstacle for the Jews. I didn’t become a Christian if that means following a new religion. If it means a follower of Messiah, then OK, I’m a Christian.”
Damkani said part of the challenge is helping non-Jewish believers understand the Jews’ natural resistance to Christianity.