Rayla-Jeanne Klepetko’s path to discovering the Jewish foundations of her faith started in 2011 when her son introduced her to the Chumash, a translation of the first five books of the Bible. The commentary, written from a Jewish perspective, rocked her world: “I was so fascinated with it, I couldn’t keep my excitement to myself.”
Today Rayla-Jeanne leads a Torah Club in San Antonio, Texas—two of them, actually. She has her hands full with a women’s group in the morning, a Chumash study in the afternoon, and a couples’ group in the evening, all on the same day of the week! Like so many others, her morning club grew out of a group study of HaYesod: The Foundation—a ten-week, introductory-level course produced by First Fruits of Zion. Student Joyce Smart recalls, “That’s really what piqued my interest … I think I was hearing that missing piece that I needed in my life in relationship to Israel.”
HaYesod was just the beginning. Rayla-Jeanne’s students wanted more. They found it in Torah Club, First Fruits of Zion’s small-group Bible study. One student, Marla Ripps, has discovered that her Messiah is Jewish: “I’m learning who God is, and I’m also learning who Yeshua is, which is really amazing. He’s not who I grew up thinking he was.” Torah Club has helped another student, Joyce Vanderpool, recognize her relationship with Israel: “I think it has promoted a deeper connection to the land, to the people, to the culture.”
Messiah Magazine #28
Summer 2022 (Sep 2022)
In this issue of Messiah Magazine, you’ll read about how Torah Club is changing lives all over the world. We hope you will feel called to join or start a club in your area. Your presence, your identity, and your perspective may be exactly what your local community is missing.
Similarly, Kathy Hanus-Caruso relates, “These are God’s chosen people. This is his nation—his nation that he has drawn together to teach other nations how to live, how to love, how to conduct themselves.”
Rayla-Jeanne has found that the content is more than helpful and it’s easy for her and her students to understand: “First Fruits of Zion … they take all this esoteric, hard-to-understand stuff and put it down in language that we can easily read and enjoy … It reads like a novel.”
The lesson content isn’t the only part of Torah Club that keeps students coming back week after week. Rayla-Jeanne has fostered a real sense of community. Joyce says, “Other Bible study groups have always seemed to be just a collection of individuals. Torah Club is a cobbled-together family.”
Rayla-Jeanne’s group reflects the diversity of San Antonio itself. The members of her diverse group have found that they have a lot to learn from each other’s differing cultures and their varied life experiences. Joyce says, “Collectively, we can learn a lot more than we can individually.” Encountering the wide variety of backgrounds and lifestyles among her students has helped Rayla-Jeanne grow as a person: “I see myself differently.”
Torah Club director, Damian Eisner, explains how the program’s unique take on Bible study helps small groups gel: “Because it’s provocative and full of new material that a lot of people have not encountered, the leader is in a unique position to help navigate the spiritual minefields.” Most of the students welcome the challenges to their long-held (and maybe not even questioned) beliefs about the Bible, and deep conversations emerge: “They’re not just going through a workbook and talking about a single Scripture verse.”
While just about anyone can be a Torah Club Leader—the job is mostly organizing and facilitating—Rayla-Jeanne goes the extra mile. She has organized Passover Seders and celebrations on Rosh HaShanah (Jewish New Year) and Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) for her group. She also draws on her theater background to help her students envision the lush landscapes of the Galilee and the stone walls of Jerusalem.
Torah Club Students who decide to become leaders generally find that they grow into the responsibility even if they don’t initially feel ready. Damian says, “You don’t have to be a biblical scholar. The excitement of seeing others’ growth helps leaders grow. And when you have questions that need theological attention, the Torah Club team and staff of First Fruits of Zion are always here to help and provide additional support.”
What We Need Right Now
Torah Club is a unique opportunity to study the Bible from a Jewish perspective in a tight-knit community of disciples. It’s both spiritually challenging and intellectually accessible. Rayla-Jeanne’s students gush over their newfound “enthusiasm and eagerness to learn.” They describe their club as “exciting,” “fascinating,” and even “necessary.” Joyce says, “This is exactly what I’ve been looking for … It’s—I guess, my tribe. I’ve found my place.”
As for Rayla-Jeanne, she has found her Great Commission calling: “For the first time in my life, I really can disciple people.”
Thousands of other leaders and students have come to the same conclusion. Torah Club is making a worldwide impact. Leaders are making disciples and building communities of faith from East Asia to the heartlands of America. The errors of replacement theology, which have for so long displaced the land, the people, and the Scriptures of Israel from the body of Messiah, are being confronted and corrected. Disciples of Yeshua are finding their faith renewed and restored as it is rebuilt on the firm foundation of an Israel-centric understanding of the Bible.
As Rayla-Jeanne says, “This is no small thing. This is an amazing thing!”
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