Haim, or Judah, was one of the first to come to faith through the testimony of Joseph Frey, founder of the London Jews’ Society, in London. He came from Poland. His father, Abraham Simeon, was a rabbi, who made sure to train each of his sons in a trade – after which they would be allowed to study whatever they wished. Haim learned watchmaking, and then went to Edinburgh to study law. It was there that he came to faith and took the name “Erasmus” after a Dutch reformer. Though he had hoped his family would listen to him, and he would be able to win them to the faith, it was not to be. However, he did talk with many of his former neighbours and found that there were many who believed in Messiah but were fearful of taking a stand because it would mean loss of family and livelihood. The realisation that a Christian Jew is cast out of both Jewish society, for being Christian; and Christian society, for being a Jew, affected him deeply. His life hereforth was dedicated to improving the situation of believing Jews and making a decent livelihood possible for them. His first thought was to establish a colony in the United States where Jewish believers, immigrants from Europe, could live with dignity. His new wife, a Scotswoman named Barbara, supported him wholeheartedly and together they left the UK for the shores of the United States.
The trip to the USA was not very comfortable – the couple had hired a Dutch ship which did not have decent accommodation for passengers. By the time the two arrived in New York they had a harrowing voyage behind them, and were half starved! But once in New York, their friends received them kindly, and they were encouraged to pursue their vision of forming a settlement. The ASMCJ was already in existence and as their vision coincided, they joined forces. Erasmus was asked to make a tour to churches, pleading the case, and raising funds with which to purchase land and found a settlement. When he had raised enough to begin the project, differences of approach came to light, and rather disappointed Erasmus left the Society and left them with the funds he had raised.
At that time he became interested in the native Americans of North America, thinking perhaps they were descendants of the lost ten tribes of Israel! He and Barbara lived among them for some time, teaching them, and preaching the Gospel to them.
Once back in London, Erasmus formed a society called the “Friends of the Hebrew Nation” under the patronage of the Bishop of London. His hope was to establish a church of Jewish believers, like the first church in Jerusalem! The society rented three houses in Camden Town for Jewish enquirers, and started the “Operative Jewish Converts’ Institution”. Inmates were to live there for three years, learning a trade (in this case, bookbinding) and studying the Bible, growing in faith and in learning until they could stand on their feet independently. One of those who lived there for a time was the future founder of the British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews, Ridley Haim Herschell. Herschell was sent, eventually, to Ireland to establish a similar home there.
A friend of the family writes that Erasmus and Barbara lived very simply in their last years, content that all their income should go to the support of the younger believers.
Bernstein, A. Jewish Witnesses for Christ. 1909. New edition 1999, Keren Ahvah Meshichit
Farrer, John Mrs. (Eliza) Recollections of Seventy Years [chapter XXVI A Converted Jew.] Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1866. rpt. New York: Arno Press, 1980.
Henderson, Geoffrey. All Love: A Biography of Ridley Herschell, pp 35-6. HTS Media, 2007.
Berk, George L. Defending the faith: Nineteenth century American Jewish writings on Christianity and Jesus. State University of New York Press, Albany. 1989
http://www.stgite.org.uk/media/jewishconverts.html (London Jews Society).
Simon, Barbara. Memoir of Erasmus H. Simon. 1837.