Respected Messianic Jewish scholar and author, David H. Stern, led an inspiring life of service to the body of Messiah in Israel and the faith community of believers worldwide.
Stern, who died on Oct. 8, was laid to rest in Jerusalem the next day – the morning of Erev Sukkot – at the age of 86. Friends and family gathered for his funeral to pay respects to a beloved pioneer in the Messianic Jewish movement in Israel.
Born in the U.S. in 1935, he was an avid surfer from southern California; and, in fact, authored the 1963 classic, “Surfing Guide to Southern California.” Stern's other hobbies included mountain climbing and he later trained as a bodybuilder.
Stern graduated Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA at age 19, where he earned a B.A. in Economics and later an M.A. and Ph.D. in Economics from Princeton University (with a dissertation on bargaining behavior) by the age of 24. He then went on to become the youngest faculty member of the Graduate School of Management at UCLA.
Later in life, when questioning his own existence and the meaning of life, Stern discovered and received Yeshua as his Lord and Savior. It was 1972 and he was 37 years old. Two years later, he earned his Master of Divinity degree at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA and taught the seminary’s first-ever course in ‘Judaism and Christianity.’ Stern also did additional graduate work at the University of Judaism before immigrating to Israel (making aliyah) in 1979. You can read his fascinating story of coming to faith in Ben Hoekendjik’s book, “Twelve Jews Discover Messiah,” published in 1997. Parts of their journey were also featured in a 2017 Community Spotlight article in Kehila News.
As a Messianic Jewish theologian, Stern went on to author five books related to the faith, including Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel; The Messianic Jewish Manifesto (which was later updated to Messianic Judaism: A Modern Movement with an Ancient Past); The Jewish New Testament and its companion piece, The Jewish New Testament Commentary.
Stern’s major work, the Complete Jewish Bible, includes his well-edited paraphrase of the Jewish Bible Society’s translation of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and his own translation from the original Greek of the New Testament, and is used widely by Bible scholars due to its unique translation and transliteration of ancient Hebrew and Greek into well-written accessible English. His books have been translated into many languages and have had a worldwide impact in both the Christian and Messianic Jewish world.
“Dear Brothers and Sisters, with deep sadness and sorrow, I inform you that Dr. David Stern, a member and leader in Netivyah Bible Instruction Ministry from 1974 has returned his soul to the Creator of all,” wrote Netivyah Founder and Director Joseph Shulam in a tribute last week.
David and his wife of 46 years, Martha, have attended the Jerusalem congregation, Roeh Israel, led by Shulam, who is also a longtime friend of the family.
“His greatest contributions and the ones that David was the happiest with were the books that he wrote about faith in Yeshua and the Jewish people,” Shulam stated, adding that the community will “continue to remember and honor Dr. David Stern and his contributions to Messianic Judaism and the Kingdom of God!”
“We had a wonderful and amazing life together,” his beloved wife Martha told ALL ISRAEL NEWS in an exclusive interview from their home in Jerusalem this week. Together, the couple raised two children – their daughter Miriam and son Daniel – and enjoyed their nine grandchildren.
David and Martha met in the summer of 1975 at the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) annual conference held that year, just days after David had received a word from the Lord that he would meet his ‘future wife’ at the upcoming conference.
“At Messiah ’75, I will show you your wife,” according to David’s testimony. “At first you will not recognize her. When you do, you will be dismayed, because no woman on earth could meet the standards you have set up for your wife! But when you think about it, you will realize that I have made the right choice. It will then be up to you to woo and win her. I am the Lord.’
“He fulfilled the prophecy,” Stern continued his testimony “by bringing me to Martha Frankel, another Messianic Jew; and in 1976 she ended my 40 years of bachelorhood…”
“David was brilliant,” Martha added. “He would remember dates, weather statistics…everything. If something interested him, like astronomy and the stars, he would just read and read about it. He enjoyed the process of learning and also teaching.”
Their son Daniel joined Martha for the interview and said David frequently took the family traveling around the Middle East so their children would learn about the region, see the places they would read about and to become acquainted with different cultures.
“He lived a long and full life and did so much in it. My father was a ‘doer.’ He ploughed ahead and got things done, regardless of what other people thought,” Daniel said.
“And he was ahead of his time, in so many ways,” he continued. “Whether it involved a pioneering effort for the Messianic movement or a chain of organic health food stores on communes; learning how to play an obscure instrument, if he decided something needed to be done, he just did it.”
It’s no surprise to many readers that David was a pioneer of the early Messianic movement in Israel, responsible for bringing leaders together, whether it was orchestrating the first meeting of the Messianic Jewish stream of the Charismatic Renewal Movement at the Kansas City conference in 1977 or arranging a local gathering of visionaries who wanted to see God’s Kingdom advance in the Jewish nation.
Martha shared that David sought to be a bridge in the community and wanted to see the unity of the body of Messiah in the land. He was involved in the establishment of the Israel College of the Bible and was an advocate for Jewish believers to have their own identity, for example, by marching in the annual Jerusalem Sukkot parade wearing Messianic Jewish t-shirts, carrying Messianic Jewish banners, and even the production of kippot head coverings with the words “Yeshua Hamashiach” embroidered on them.
Martha and Daniel also shared many of the things they appreciated most about David: his ‘pun-ny’ sense of humor (which she actually began documenting over time), his folder of original worship music scores, and the way he could make anything seem interesting.
Over the last 20 years, Stern’s health declined incrementally due to Parkinson’s disease, which resulted in his need for a wheelchair during the last eight years of his life.
Even so, Martha with the help of David’s caretaker(s), remained active in their congregation and in the community, as well as welcoming guests to their home. Through it all, Martha said, he never complained.
In 2015, the couple moved to a new home in Jerusalem, which involved a downsizing. As a result, Stern decided to donate his extensive collection of Theological books. He donated the books to the library of the BRAM Center for Messianic Jewish Learning, a project of Jerusalem-based organization, First Fruits of Zion.
Founder and Director Boaz Michael wrote, “I am not sure if there is any Messianic Jewish person or organization today that has not in some way, whether they realize it or not, been affected by his work, his vision, and his life. Such was his goal at the outset of his career.”
Indeed, thousands of tributes, personal stories and posts of gratitude for the positive impact Stern had on the lives of individuals around the world have been shared on social media.
“Though he leaves a giant hole in our midst, David Stern will be remembered for posterity for his enduring devotion, steady faith, and pioneering works,” the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) posted on their website.
“A hero is defined as a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities. David H. Stern is one of my heroes,” wrote Matt Rosenberg in a tribute on his Facebook page. “His books have always been a part of my life.”
“It was a joy to know him,” added Rosenberg, who has assisted David with his social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for years. Currently, David has a subscriber following of no less than 15,000 followers on his Facebook Author Page alone.
“I can’t repay what David’s writings have and continue to mean to me except to encourage everyone to read his books. They are worth every page! I know he stands before Yeshua and has already heard Him say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ Well done, David. And thank you for using your gifts to restore the Jewishness of the Gospel!”
In a Messianic Jewish Publishers & Resources Facebook post on Oct. 9, Stern’s friend and publisher Barry Rubin wrote:
“So many, many people have posted in response to David's passing about how significant his life and writings were to each of them. I'm glad that most also mentioned that without Martha, David would not have been able to do what he did. Being by his side till the very end enabled David to have a productive and blessed life…”
“As David's publisher,” the post continued, “I'm privy to the many letters, emails, texts, social media posts that expressed that David's clear understanding of Messianic Judaism, coupled with his skillful writing, have changed people's lives for the better.”
“We can praise God that He chose a humble genius who took to writing, rather than speaking, as his primary method of communicating.”
Daniel Juster of Tikkun Israel, a long-time personal friend of David and Martha, posted a moving tribute on Facebook, which included these words: “David's breadth of Messianic Jewish understanding was vast and his mark on the movement is unequalled. When we had David and Martha over to our home last spring, I was glad he was still sharp enough to talk and understand. He was so patient in suffering. Martha was an amazing and loving wife through all this; tender, gentle and appreciative. We will miss David greatly.”
Jonathan Bernis, president and CEO of Jewish Voice Ministries paid tribute to Stern as “a pioneer in the modern Messianic Jewish movement” and that the Complete Jewish Bible "reintroduced many around the world to the ‘Jewishness’ of the scriptures.”
Martha shared that over the last three years, she had been reading scripture out loud with David each day in accordance with the Haftorah to “keep the Bible on your lips and put it in your heart.”
“It was very special,” she said. “And we would also say ‘I love you’ every night.”
“My dad was humble and modest,” said Daniel, while Martha added, “and very kind.”
Miriam, Stern’s daughter, adds that “another thing about my Abba which is special to me is that he was a really good listener. He would just listen, without interjecting his own opinions unless he was asked to. He was accepting of who you are. He didn’t judge people. I never, ever heard him speak badly of anyone. I always enjoyed spending time with him, just talking about stuff, or even just being together without saying anything. I’ll miss that.”
“What else can I say?” Martha said with a smile. “A long, full life, well lived, surrounded by family and those who loved him. And a sweet spirit all the way to the end.”
In his 1997 testimony, Stern wrote: “If I had a hundred researchers and lived to be 120, there would still be more to do. Through saving me and giving me this work, God has given meaning and purpose to my life. He has also given me a wonderful wife and children and a place to live in the Land of Israel, the home of the Jewish people. Praise you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, preserved us and enabled us to reach this joyous season.”
Stern was buried at Har HaMenuchot, Jerusalem’s largest hilltop burial ground located in the neighborhood of Givat Shaul, among family and friends who shared personal stories of their meaningful encounters with the beloved pioneer of the Messianic movement in Israel.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.