Josef Herschkowitz grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in Vienna. He rejected God when his brother was drafted in World War I. However, the relief work of Chosen People Ministries (then called the American Board of Missions to the Jews, ABMJ) during World War II changed his life. He and his wife began attending meetings at the ministry’s center in Vienna. In 1939, the Nazis took him to Dachau, a concentration camp in Bavaria. The Mission helped him get out of Dachau and to a refugee center in Holland. From there, he was able to enter the United States, and soon thereafter, a Christian family in Pennsylvania took him in. During that time, he came to faith in Yeshua. He stated, “I had lost all the things I loved most, but He gave me Himself, Yeshua the Messiah.”
At Chosen People Ministries, serving Jewish people is part of our mission. Loving and caring for those in need is a key part of Yeshua’s teaching (Matthew 25:40). Moreover, compassion for the vulnerable is a prominent theme throughout the Bible (e.g., Deuteronomy 27:19). At various times since our founding in 1894, we have helped those fleeing persecution and war. This article will recount some of those efforts, focusing on the ministry during the turn of the twentieth century, the Holocaust, and Russia’s war with Ukraine.
Early Refugee Relief in New York
Jewish immigrants from Europe flooded America’s shores in the late 1800s. In eastern Europe especially, many laws sharply restricted the rights of Jewish people. For instance, quotas limited how many could attend state schools. Some laws forced Jewish people to live in certain areas. Pogroms and violent attacks on Jewish towns and Jewish sections of larger municipalities were common. For all these reasons, many Jewish people referred to the United States as the goldeneh medina, Yiddish for “golden country.” It expresses the freedom and opportunity they gratefully associated with the nation. Many of these immigrants were extremely poor. They came with few belongings and had to learn a whole new language and culture.
In the early years when our ministry was known as the Williamsburg Mission to the Jews, one of our first efforts was to establish a dispensary in Brooklyn where these immigrants could receive medical care. This practical aid and the kindness of the staff drew many Jewish people. The dispensary, along with the ministry’s other programs, opened doors to the gospel of Yeshua and the abundant life He provides. The Mission also ran a sewing school to help Jewish girls and women have jobs. In those days, ministry workers also visited homes to distribute clothing and help immigrants find employment. The ministry began to phase out these services in the 1930s as immigration slowed and Jewish Americans grew more affluent.
Relief Work in Nazi-Run Vienna
Emanuel Lichtenstein oversaw ABMJ’s refugee relief in Vienna from 1938 through 1942. He recruited a staff of more than a dozen ministry workers. These believers helped arrange visas for Jewish people trying to flee Austria, which by then was under Nazi control. Lichtenstein’s team also included doctors and pharmacists who could provide refugees with medical care. When possible, the ministry center provided food.
Lichtenstein himself had fled from Germany to Vienna in 1936. His grandfather was a Hungarian rabbi who fell in love with Yeshua while reading the New Testament. Emanuel came to faith through his grandfather’s testimony. Joseph Cohn, then president of ABMJ, met Emanuel shortly after he arrived in Vienna. Seeing his desire to serve Yeshua, Cohn offered him a job with the ministry there.
One challenge of providing refugee relief in Nazi-run Vienna was getting funds from the United States to the Vienna mission. Cohn had an innocent, but shrewd strategy (Matthew 10:16) to ensure the funds went to the right people. He decided to send the donations that the ABMJ received for Vienna through the Swedish Mission Society in Stockholm. Sweden was on friendly terms with Germany at the time, so this organization could freely transfer the money to Lichtenstein’s work in Vienna.
Chosen People Ministries also strategized to help Jewish people not lose their money once they had secured permission to leave the country. By law, they had to surrender all their funds to the German government before leaving. To avoid this robbery, some gave their money to Lichtenstein’s team. The ministry would then transfer it to the Swedish Missionary Society, who would return it to the refugees. Lichtenstein fled to Argentina in 1942 and established a branch of the ABMJ in Buenos Aires.
Refugee Relief in Paris
ABMJ also ran a fruitful refugee relief ministry in Paris. In the late 1930s, many German and eastern European Jewish people fled to France. André Frankl, a Hungarian Jewish believer, had already been a missionary in Paris with Pastor Henri Vincent. By 1936, this ministry was publishing a magazine in Yiddish and French, called (in translation) the Shepherd of Israel. Frankl and Vincent provided much practical aid to poor refugees. They worked with restaurants in the Parisian ghetto to distribute tickets for one free meal. After refugees redeemed the tickets at a restaurant, the business would bill the ministry. Frankl and Vincent also helped establish a home for refugee children.
In 1940, the Nazis invaded France and occupied most of the country, including Paris. For a brief period, Frankl and Vincent continued their work, which included a soup kitchen, Bible studies, the children’s home, and the Shepherd of Israel publications. By the summer of 1940, though, the ministry workers had to flee. The ABMJ could not contact them or receive updates from them. In 1944, the ABMJ rejoiced to hear that both Frankl and Vincent were alive and that their families and the staff had also survived.
Paris became the center of the ABMJ’s post-war refugee relief. Joseph Cohn visited Europe in 1947 and set up programs with the Paris ministry to provide food and shelter for Jewish refugees. He also had Yiddish New Testaments printed and shipped to Paris for distribution. In 1949, Frankl reported that they had distributed 10,000 of these books, especially to those heading to Israel. Each month they also sent out about 2,500 copies of the Shepherd of Israel and 5,000 tracts. Frankl continued to minister in France until the 1960s.
Helping Ukrainian Refugees
Chosen People Ministries has been active in Ukraine since the late 1980s. After the fall of the Soviet Union, a great revival swept across eastern Europe. Our ministry founded the first Messianic congregation in the former Soviet Union. In recent years, we have partnered with a network of Messianic congregations in Ukraine. We have organized many seminars to train their leaders. So, when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, we immediately took action.
Many of our staff and global partners speak Ukrainian and Russian. Teams from Israel and Europe traveled to Ukraine’s border to support the millions fleeing war. Our workers helped these refugees in any way they could. They gave out food, water, and clothing. Our staff and volunteers also arranged transportation from the border into Poland or, even further into Germany.
During this war, Chosen People Ministries has set people up at Berlin’s main train station. They have greeted refugees and helped them plan their next steps, especially finding housing. Many Ukrainian refugees, especially those who are Jewish, have immigrated to Israel. Our ministry partners in Israel, many of whom are themselves from the former Soviet Union, have been ready to support these new arrivals. We are renting apartments for two or three families in Jerusalem and in the greater Tel Aviv area. Our vision is to provide low-cost housing, food, companionship, vocational counseling, childcare, and so much more so they can stand on their own two feet in their new country. We have seen the Ukrainian refugee crisis as an opportunity to show Yeshua’s love, especially to His Jewish people.
Refugee relief has been one important way that Your Mission to the Jewish People seeks to follow Yeshua’s command to love. As He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).
 Chosen People Ministries (CPM) began in 1894 as the Brownsville Mission to the Jews. As the Jewish population gradually expanded and crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, the mission expanded as well, becoming the Williamsburg Mission to the Jews. For several decades, its name was the American Board of Mission to the Jews (ABMJ). All three terms refer to the same organization.
 Harold A Sevener, A Rabbi’s Vision: A Century of Proclaiming Messiah: A History of Chosen People Ministries, Inc. (Charlotte, NC: Chosen People Ministries, 1994), 190–91.
 The Chosen People, vol. XLVIII, no. 2, (November 1942), 7–8.
 Leo Rosten, The Joys of Yiddish (New York: Pocket Books, 1968), 136.
 Sevener, A Rabbi’s Vision, 39, 69, 108.
 Ibid., 184, 189.
 Mitchell Glaser, “A Survey of Missions to the Jews in Continental Europe, 1900–1950” (Diss., Pasadena, CA, Fuller Theological Seminary, 1998), 326–332.
 Sevener, A Rabbi’s Vision, 272.
 Glaser, “A Survey of Missions to the Jews in Continental Europe, 1900–1950,” 336–37, 342.