August 23, 2006

Samuel Srolovic Jacobson

2006 1524 page17 capamuel Jacobson was the only person I ever knew who had lived through the Bolshevik Revolution. Though only a child, he remembered very well those early years when Communists formed the world’s first “proletarian paradise.” Of course one person’s proletarian paradise can be another’s Dantean hell, which explains why he left, winding up in South Rhodesia (via British-controlled Palestine). Then there, in Africa, Samuel found the Messiah and became a Seventh-day Adventist, a big step for an Orthodox Jew. (An Orthodox Jew finds Jesus in Africa? Why not?)
Then, 45 years later in America, Samuel Srolovic Jacobson first entered my life. In the waning months of 1979 I had just become a believer in Jesus. Though fellowshipping with Seventh-day Adventists, I was a long way (or so I thought) from ever becoming one. The Adventists were nice and all that, but they just seemed so weird (folks raised in the church have no idea how bizarre Adventists can appear to outsiders). I found the church-on-Saturday stuff cool, and I was relieved to learn that a loving God wasn’t going to burn unbelievers in hell for billions of eons. But the soybean hot dogs, the soybean milk, the soybean mayonnaise, the teetotaling (what was next, I wondered, herbal coffee?), and the no pork chops (I grew up on lobster, and ham sandwiches) was all a bit too much. Then there was Ellen White, tithing, 1844, the mark-of-the-beast stuff—and the outrageous medieval idea that human life didn’t evolve from apes? Come on!
2006 1524 page17Anyway, through a series of fortunate events, I found myself staying with Samuel and his wife Barbra in the small town of Wildwood, Georgia. Sam was a bricklayer, and I’d carry his bricks and mix his mud. While he worked I sat there and studied Adventist literature, a lot of it, too. Meanwhile, I had been heavily influenced by Hal Lindsey and dispensationalist theology, which focused final events on modern-day Israel and wars in the Middle East. Though a fervent supporter of Israel, Sam was the first one to point out to me that this was not a correct understanding of the Bible. Now, if some uncircumcised Gentile had told me that, I would have denounced him as an anti-Semite. But I couldn’t exactly do that with Sam; and over time he convinced me of that (and a lot of other doctrines, too). Plus, with the exception of me slipping out at night and drinking coffee at the local truck stop, my entire diet consisted of Barbra’s vegetarian cooking, which happened to be very good, and I became a vegetarian.
Bottom line? Arriving at Sam’s house with no intention of ever becoming a Seventh-day Adventist, I left four months later a Seventh-day Adventist.
To say that Sam Jacobson was obsessed with the “Jewish work” would be an understatement (like saying that Lance Armstrong is interested in bicycle racing). Sam spent his adult life working tirelessly to bring other Jews to Jesus, the Messiah. Everyone, everywhere in the church knew him, and to know Sam was (believe me!) to know his passion to witness to the Jews. He, single-handedly, it could be said, helped keep the Jewish work alive in the Adventist Church—which, by the way, happens to be going better than ever today.
I remember one incident in particular, so typical of Sam. It was the early 1980s, and I was talking to him and someone else about the theology crisis that had rocked the Adventist Church at that time. Sam, never missing a beat, knew the precise cause. “Brother,” he said, “God brought this trouble to us because we haven’t worked hard enough for the Jews.”
Sam died this May, in his 90s. He’s survived by Barbra, four children, nine grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. Of Sam Srolovic Jacobson, these words of the Scripture are incredibly apt: “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them” (Rev. 14:13, KJV).
And these too: Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohanu Adonai Echad.
Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide.