Ronald Hugh Lewis was born in London on 13 June 1930 and died on 17th October, 2021 at the age of 91. He was brought up in the Swansea Hebrew Congregation (Orthodox) where he had his barmitzvah, and studied Semitic Languages and Philosophy at Cardiff University with the intention of becoming a rabbi. He joined the Liberal Synagogue in London, taking services and speaking in synagogues, but became a disciple of Jesus and did further training at Westminster College, Cambridge to become a minister in the Presbyterian Church (now United Reform Church), serving in Jarrow, Harlow and Redcar. In his retirement he served in several other churches.
He joined the Hebrew Christian Alliance of Great Britain (now BMJA) in 1958, and the Finance and General Purposes Committee of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance (now International Messianic Jewish Alliance) in 1963. He served as International Secretary of the International from 1979 to 2000, and was a member of the Theological Commission, editing the Alliance magazine, and on several other committees. He visited Hebrew Christian Alliances and their members throughout the world.
Ronald Hugh Lewis was born on 13June 1930 into what he described as a “fairly tolerant middle-of-the-road orthodox Jewish family” in the East End of London, but was brought up in Wales, so always felt himself to be more Welsh than English. His paternal father came from Russia.
Ron attended Swansea Hebrew Congregation, the local synagogue, with his family, with religion school classes and Jewish youth group most weekday nights. Len Goss, later organising Secretary of the Council of Christians and Jews, was his youth group leader. His barmitzvah was quite a day – his voice was breaking and he had to drink a raw egg in a glass of wine for his throat. His teacher helped him to pitch the notes when he sung the parshah (the portion of the Pentateuch). His fellow students were in hysterics, but it all went well. After his barmitzvah he would lead some of the synagogue services and sing the haftarah (the portion of the prophets).
After the War the family moved to London and he joined the Liberal Synagogue and along with his parents. He got became secretary of the youth group, and decided to become a rabbi. He studied Semitic languages and philosophy at Cardiff University alongside his friend Norman Solomon (later to become a well-known Rabbi) and continued to take services and preach in synagogue.
At university he started to drift in his faith, and questioned religion in general. He drank, played poker and went hungry. He became the “black sheep” at home and “my father disowned me and said kaddish”, although Ron did not think he fully meant it.
After his university degree he did two years of national service with the Royal Artillery. But instead of being sent to Korea he was posted to Carlisle, where he dealt with the boredom by attending Christian meetings and a local drama group. After national service he came to London where he worked in a bank and went to Speakers Corner in Hyde Park on Sundays to hear Donald Soper, the Methodist minister, pacificist and debater. Soper offered Ron a practical faith that had to do with everyday life, and without any dramatic conversion and with much agonising and thinking things through, he came to see Jesus in a new light. He joined the Presbyterian church because he appreciated its sense of order and its emphasis on the Old Testament. He was challenged to offer himself for ordained ministry, and was accepted – despite one official asking him whether he looked very Jewish!
He did his theological training at Westminster College, Cambridge, and married Doreen, whom he had met in London. They had two children, Mac, who lives in Cambridge, and Kirsty, now living in Australia.
One evening he was preaching and a man asked him afterward “you’re Jewish, aren’t you?” It was Heinz Leuner, IHCA Secretary for Europe. He connected Ron with Canon Peter Schneider, who helped him finance his studies at Cambridge. Ron joined the Alliance in 1958, finding it a place where he could “share his oddness” as both Jewish and Christian. When he moved from Jarrow to Harlow he was able to attend the meetings of the IHCA Finance and General Purposes Committee which he joined in 1963. In 1964 he gave the Bible Reading at the annual Garden Party of the British Alliance, and joined the British Alliance Committee, despite having initially declined the invitation because of his many other commitments. He would go on to become the International Secretary, working closely with Harcourt Samuel, Irene Hyde and many others, to co-ordinate the work of the national Alliances, representing the Alliance and Jewish disciples of Jesus at national and international meetings, in church and theological forums, Jewish Christian relations and Dialogue group, and being a bridge between the younger, emerging Messianic Jewish movement and the older style Hebrew Christians who were in the mainstream churches. He also contribute greatly, by his own presence, wisdom, sense of humour and occasional strong and forceful interventions!
It was my joy to spend time regularly with Ron on trains, `planes and automobiles as we would find ourselves travelling together in the UK and abroad. I would see Ron in action in a variety of contexts, always his own man, yet able to relate to young and old, Jewish and Gentile, and all shades of Jewish Christian. His passions for Scottish Country Dancing, Jazz and a good Jewish joke would stand him in good stead. His training in both Synagogue and Church meant he knew well how to organise and lead a meeting, preach relevantly and helpfully, respond to the most difficult questions with a smile and self-effacing humour. I found most helpful his personal recollections and anecdotes of the older generation of Hebrew Christians, as he was truly a link with the past.
Ron, we will miss you greatly. You have given us in the Alliance so much, of your time, your talents and your temperament. We rejoice that you are with your Messiah now, and we pray for your family to be consoled in their grief and give thanks for all you have been and done. May you enjoy now your well-deserved reward – “An Israelite indeed, who found Jesus to be his Rabbi and in whom there was no guile.”
Richard Harvey’s tribute at Ron’s funeral, 29 October 2021
I am here today representing the International Messianic Jewish Alliance – many hundreds, if not thousands of Jewish disciples of Jesus who benefited from Ron’s life, service and friendship. We give thanks to God for him and extend our condolences to Doreen, Kirsty, Mac and all the family.
I first met Ron in 1979, more than 40 years ago, and had the opportunity of serving with him in what was then called the International Hebrew Christian Alliance, and is now known as the International Messianic Jewish Alliance, a significant change of name over which Ron himself presided. Over the years often at the different committee meetings, conferences and other events, we would travel and spend time together. I was fortunate to record some interviews with him in earlier this year. He was a mentor, friend and inspiration to me and many others.
Ron was a bridge. He bridged the gap between the older generation, brought up with a strong Orthodox Jewish upbringing, spoke Yiddish at home and English with a foreign accent, many of whom were holocaust survivors and refugees, and the younger generation, people like myself, baby-boomers, secular, thought we knew it all, but only discovered our Jewishness when we became disciples of Jesus, or Yeshua, as we preferred to call him. As well as the age differences, there were theological differences, as they called themselves Hebrew Christians and we called ourselves Messianic Jews. They thought we were going back under the law, and we wanted everyone to leave their churches and join our Messianic synagogues. Ron patiently and (generally!) calmly bridged the gap with his authentic and rich understanding of Judaism, Christianity and the challenges we all faced in constructing our identities. He brought us together and tried to help us listen to each other and understand each other.
Then there was the wider gap between Jews and Christians. Ron had an Orthodox Jewish upbringing, Reform Jewish rabbinical training, Christian theological training and his own ministerial experience, so he was ideally placed to be bridge of understanding in the midst of different groups. He might have never have felt fully at home in them but he always had something valuable to contribute to the discussion and add something important to the outcomes.
Ron was a friend to Alliance members in Israel, Europe, the Americas and worldwide, visiting us, writing to us and helping us in practical ways. For many years he edited the Alliance magazine, a vital way for us all to keep in touch. He brought his sharp perception, intuitive feel and – at times – his reluctance to “suffer fools gladly”, to many situations where problems arose. Where you have two Jews you have three opinions, and with Jewish disciples of Jesus this could easily become 24 opinions. As International Secretary, with the help of Harcourt Samuel, Irene Hide, and many others, he did much to achieve the Alliance’s goal of “uniting Jewish believers in Jesus in the bond of sympathy and prayer.”
Those he worked closely with were especially grateful to him. Gershon Nerel, the Alliance Secretary in Israel, said
“I remain thankful to Ron for his wise advice, his simple – not simplistic! – yet profound leadership and his willingness to equally cooperate with a person younger than him.”
David Sedaca, Secretary for the Americas, who shared Ron’s love of football and jazz, said “I want to express my gratitude to my former colleague and mentor, whose input and advice influenced my work and had a part in moulding me to be a leader of the messianic movement and a better servant of God.”
The President of the Dutch Hebrew Christian Alliance, Joop Akker, quoted back some of Ron’s own words from an article he wrote in the Alliance magazine. “Praise be to God whose lovingkindness and grace, the Hebrew word chesed, is part of a covenant relationship which goes beyond all human expectation.”
Ultimately, like his Lord and Messiah, Jesus, Ron helped to bridge the gap between our ways and the ways of God, a bridge that all of us, Jews, Christians and all, seek to find. In Jewish tradition that gap is bridged at the saddest of times by saying the Kaddish prayer, giving thanks and praise to God, even in the midst of our bereavement and grief.
Ron gave specific instructions about the version he wished to be used, which is from the Reform Synagogue Jewish Prayer Book. It adds the important addition at the end of the prayer where it says “v’al kol benei Adam’ – praying for God’s shalom, his peace, not just for Israel, but for alI humanity. I will say it first in Aramaic, the language Jesus would have used, and then in English. There are four places where we say together: Amen. Please would you stand.
Text of Kaddish with Ron’s instructions:
Tributes from Shirley Northcott, Gershon Nerel and David Sedaca
Shirley Northcott – Friend
I’ve known Ron on and off for very many years. We met two years running at the IHCA Holiday Home in Ramsgate, in either the late sixties or early seventies, where they and we were entitled to cut-price stays due to being in Christian ministry. One year, his Mum came too, probably his Dad had died prior to that. She was not a believer, but obviously any earlier rift had been healed. I have a little Polaroid photo of her – Ron looked very like her! He (and Doreen) was an avid Scottish dancer, and they travelled all over Lancashire, and also into nearer areas of Yorkshire, in order to attend dances. His friend John Haddow, a prolific dance devisor, wrote at least two dances in his honour. The one I remember best is called ‘Dancing round the Duchy’. He always wore a kilt for those occasions, and I pulled his leg and suggested he should have a blue and white tartan made to order, but he told me he proudly wore the tartan of Doreen’s clan. (Doreen, though a New Zealander born, had Scottish parents or grandparents, I forget now which).
Joop Akker – President, Dutch Hebrew Christian Alliance
The Dutch Alliance of Messianic Jews, Hadderech, has learned with sadness of the passing of our friend Ron Lewis.
But it is a consolation to know that Ron has entered into the glory of our risen Messiah, whom Ron served during his earthly life.
For many years we met at meetings of the – then – International Hebrew Christian Alliance.
In our archives we cherish the volumes of The Hebrew Christian, of which Ron was editor-in-chief for many years.
We would like to comfort the family and friends, left behind, with a quote from Ron’s editorial in the Spring 1983-issue.
Speaking of the mistakes that every human being makes, Ron ends with these words:
“Praise be to God whose lovingkindness or grace, Hebrew chesed, is part of a covenant relationship which goes beyond all human expectation.”
RON LEWIS – In Memoriam – Gershon Nerel, Secretary for Israel
I had the privilege of closely working with Ron Lewis for about eight years (1993-2001). He acted as the Executive Secretary of the International Messianic Jewish Alliance (IMJA) while I was the Israel Secretary in Jerusalem, replacing the late Menachem Benhayim who went on retirement.
During those eight years Ron and I also worked closely with Mrs. Irene Hide, the secretary for Abraham’s Vineyard Limited. The three of us cooperated together as a receptive and friendly ‘troika.’ Ron and Irene were kindly willing to explain to me the background of various resolutions made in the past. From their long experience I was able to learn how to deal with many delicate organizational matters.
Formally Ron was my ‘boss’ but he always gave me the genuine feeling that we are colleagues, partners and allies. I have greatly appreciated his open mindedness, his tolerance and integrity.
In particular I cannot forget Ron’s sympathizing and continuous support when I was a doctoral student at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, researching modern Messianic Jewish self-identity in Eretz-Israel. His ongoing encouragement and assistance were a great help to me.
Ron and I also served together on the International Board of Ebenezer Home, the only residence for Messianic Jewish and Arab Christian elderly people in Haifa, Israel. Ron tirelessly engaged himself in raising funds for this retirement home, and when visiting there he always reassured the staff and the younger local believers.
Ron was indeed a person I could trust and with whom I could, whenever needed, freely share some dissenting thoughts and dilemmas. I valued his straightforward approach regarding difficult issues. He always behaved humbly with a welcoming smile, never manifesting any patronizing attitude. For example, I remember how he had gently introduced me to the late Fr. Elias Friedman, a Hebrew Catholic author and poet at the Carmelite monastery in Haifa.
I remain thankful to Ron for his wise advice, his simple – not simplistic! – yet profound leadership and his willingness to equally cooperate with a person younger than him.
In spite of the geographical and linguistic distances between the UK and Israel, and the differences of habits, mentality and manners, for me Ron was at any time like a good older brother.
Ron’s main legacy for the Messianic Jewish movement, in my view, is his editorial contribution to The Hebrew Christian – later The Messianic Jew – the quarterly magazine of the IHCA/IMJA, uninterruptedly published since 1928. As the editor of this periodical for many years Ron had faithfully managed to timely publish the magazine. In it he included valuable articles and other information that any historian of the Messianic movement will treasure.
My affection and empathy are with Doreen who together with Ron had graciously hosted me in their home. ** Gershon Nerel, Yad Hashmona, Israel (www.iseeisrael.com) ** Oct. 21, 2021
Rev. David Sedaca, International Secretary
Ron Lewis played a significant role in my life. He was instrumental in opening the door for me to serve in different capacities in the Hebrew Christian Alliance.
I was born into a Hebrew Christian home. My father, the late victor Sedaca was involved in the Hebrew Christian movement since the moment he came to faith as a young Jewish man in 1938. He served as a missionary to the Jewish people and officer of the Hebrew hero Christian Alliance From the moment he accepted Jesus as his Lord and savior. I grew up attending the monthly meetings of the Hebrew Christian Alliance in the United States, Argentina, and Uruguay. The Hebrew Christian Alliance was part of our lives since my father served as vice president of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance for several decades
In 1979 my father passed away suddenly a few days after returning from an executive committee meeting of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance in Switzerland. At that time, I was the Canadian director of Chosen People Ministries. Because my father was the directory in Argentina of the same organization, I was asked to go to Argentina to reorganize the mission after the unexpected death of my father. On my return to Argentina, I took it upon myself to continue promoting the work of the Hebrew Christian Alliance as my father was doing.
Soon before, Ron Lewis was appointed executive secretary of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance. He saw fit to visit all the national Alliances affiliated with the International Hebrew Christian Alliance. The following year, 1979, on his visit to Argentina, he asked to meet me. We spent a whole afternoon discussing the Hebrew Christian Alliance’s work; however, we also found that we had two additional things in common: football and jazz.
From that moment onwards, at Ron’s request, I became more involved in the work of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance, somehow doing the same work that my father had done for the International Alliance all his life. I began writing articles for the Hebrew Christian magazine and visiting other countries in Latin America on behalf of the International Alliance. At a general conference in Denmark, I was a Co-opted member of the executive committee. My involvement in the International Hebrew Christian Alliance continued to grow. At a subsequent meeting, Ron Lewis mentioned that Dr. David Bronstein, the secretary for North America of the International Hebrew Christian Alliance, would retire in approximately five years and asked me if I would consider being appointed to that post. His request was based on the fact that I was born in Uruguay but lived in Argentina, Europe, and educated in the United States, thus being fit for the post of Secretary for North and South America.
In 1986 Dr. Bronstein died suddenly; therefore, Ron Lewis asked me if I was willing to take the post that was now vacant. At that time, I lived in Argentina, but the appointment required that I move again to the United States. I became the Executive Secretary for North and South America. Since my appointment came suddenly, I traveled frequently to the United Kingdom, where Ron mentored me for the role I had the following years. I always stayed in his home, and our meetings always included going to a jazz concert. Since he was also pastor on his congregation and I was a full-time working for the International Alliance, Ron often asked me to take engagements when his commitment to his church prevented him from traveling as much as he wanted. Likewise, when he traveled to the United States, he always stayed at our home. The relationship between Ron, his wife Doreen, and my wife Julia grew stronger over the years.
During our tenures, the International Hebrew Christian Alliance encountered some serious challenges due to changing different ways of expressing our faith as Jewish believers. The younger generation changed the names of their national Alliance from Hebrew Christian to Messianic Jewish. In contrast, some of the older affiliated Alliances wanted to maintain the traditional name and philosophy. We dealt with the two ways of expressing our Jewishness during the nineties and had serious debates that Ron and I had to maneuver. It was during our year of working together that we changed the name from International Hebrew Christian to International Messianic Jewish Alliance.
As Ron Lewis was approaching the time for his retirement, I was also asked to take his post when he retired. When this occurred, I was appointed to succeed him as Secretary-General of the International Messianic Jewish Alliance. I held this post until 2004. During the many decades of working together, we learned to cherish each other and rely on each other’s advice. From the time I left my position as Secretary-General and returned to my former ministry as Vice-president of Chosen People Ministries, we didn’t have many opportunities to meet again. We continued exchanging jazz music, but our paths led us in a different direction.
Now that he received his Crown of Glory, I want to express my gratitude to my former colleague and mentor, whose input and advice influenced my work and had a part in moulding me to be a leader of the messianic movement and a better God’s servant.