An Arizona father and son who have performed Jewish rituals as Orthodox rabbis in several communities in the US and abroad have been accused of being a ‘sleeper cell’ of evangelical Christians – and some fear they are Messianic Jews whose ultimate goal is to bring about the second coming to the Holy Land.
Michael and Calev Isaacson, who changed their family name from Dawson, have performed sacred Jewish rituals like writing holy scrolls, washing the dead and even conducting weddings and conversions in Arizona, Wisconsin, Texas, Oregon and even Poland.
However, investigations by an Israeli newspaper and an anti-missionary group found that neither man has traceable Jewish heritage nor any record of a conversion. If the claims prove true, then any rituals they performed could become invalid.
Some rabbis fear an even darker purpose for the Isaacsons actions. They worry father and son are Messianic Jews, people who live as Orthodox Jews but believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and hold a desire to convert Jews to Christianity in an effort to bring about the second coming, according to the Jewish Chronicle.
Michael Isaacson and his wife, Summer, were married in a Lutheran church in Michigan
This composite photo, provided by anti-missionary investigators, show Michael Isaacson both (left) and after (right) his purported conversion to Judaism
Michael (left) and Calev Isaacson (pictured) changed their surnames from Dawson in 2019
Messianic Jews believe Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and will return to Jerusalem, prevail in an apocalyptic battle with the Antichrist and rule the world from the Temple Mount
Messianic Judaism is a religious group with an estimated 350,000 followers worldwide, the majority of them in the US, with origins that can be traced back to the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Messianic Jews believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and that a prophecy in the Old Testament says that God’s plan is for him to return to Jerusalem, prevail in an apocalyptic battle with the Antichrist and rule the world from the Temple Mount, according to The Atlantic.
By the 1960s and ’70s, Messianic Judaism gained popularity in the US and its followers were known by many as ‘the Jesus people,’ with a branch that gained popularity as Jews for Jesus.
However, unlike Jews for Jesus, which focuses on bringing Jews into churches, Messianic Jews seek to make Jews believers in Jesus while still maintaining congregations that identify as Jewish and observe Jewish customs and holidays.
Because of Messianic Judaism’s identification with Jesus, the major denominations of Judaism – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist – have rejected it as part of the religion.
Within Christianity, Messianic Judaism is sometimes seen as a group within the evangelical community, and sometimes seen as a separate sect.
Various Christian leaders have publicly criticized Messianic Jews for their aggressive missionizing in the Jewish community and for misrepresenting themselves as Jews.
The Israeli paper revealed in May how a fake rabbi and his family were operating in Jerusalem alongside a network of other Messianic Jews embedded in Israeli Orthodox communities.
An Orthodox Jewish teacher who has met the Isaacsons said the family wants to create ‘a backstory’ that will allow their children to marry Jews and believes they are part of a wider Messianic plan to create a sleeper-cell of fake religious Jews in Israel.
‘There is some movement afoot … for some reason, they need there to be an Orthodox looking, observant, Christian body in Israel. I don’t know exactly how this fits into their Messianic scheme, or the whys, but this seems to be what they’re doing,’ the unidentified teacher told the paper.
Investigators from Beyneynu – an anti-missionary group – have found no proof that the Isaacsons are trying to convert Jewish people to Christianity but the pair have refused to say they don’t believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah.
Michael Isaacson – then known as Michael Dawson – was raised Lutheran and got married at a Lutheran church in Michigan, the paper found.
Isaacson’s aunt, Marlene Gruenfelder, called her nephew’s claims about his new-found religion ‘bizarre.’
Beyneynu investigators have written to officials that the family has been questioned over rumors about their beliefs in the past. They say that immediately after being asked, they have up and left their communities, only to find another.
In Texas, Michael Isaacson was a supervisor for the Kashrut Organization in Houston, a non-profit organization offering kosher supervision and certification.
They’ve also led prayers and given religious lessons while hosting Jewish guests.
The family, which currently lives in Phoenix, was able to build a Jewish identity by getting documentation from rabbis to prove they were Jewish.
They were first suspected of fraud from a post on Gates of Zion, a Messianic website, that said they were going to attend a Shabbat event.
Reporters emailed the Isaacson family and directly confronted them about their beliefs.
‘We do not reject Yeshua [Jesus] the Jewish Messiah,’ Michael Isaacson said. ‘We have no doubts concerning the identity of the Messiah.’
However, they insist that they’re not attempting to convert people to Christianity. They’re merely in an ‘ongoing process of return’ to Judaism and reject any missionary tactics and do not support anyone trying to ‘target or convert Jews away from the Jewish faith, heritage and birthright.
They added that they ‘were not here to missionize, but to learn’, saying that is why they ‘kept silent and only answered the questions that we were asked’.
They said they had bailed on Christianity ‘when the truth of its pagan practices was revealed to us by God, however, we will never reject or deny the name of the Messiah.’
A 1995 wedding announcement shows that Michael and Summer Dawson were married in Trinity Lutheran Church in New Era Michigan
The Trinity Lutheran Church in Michigan is where Michael and Summer were married, with a rabbi saying he performed a Jewish wedding for them in 2013
Investigators from Beyneynu – an anti-missionary group – have found no proof that the Isaacsons are trying to convert Jewish people to Christianity but the father and son have refused to say they don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah
The Isaacsons have attempted to disprove these claims by providing a written history of their family background and involvement with Jewish individuals and communities.
The document claims Michael’s family originally emigrated to America from Finland, where his mother’s family had been called Isaacson.
It adds that they ‘fled Europe in 1937 through Finland to New York’, but Michael’s aunt claims the family arrived in the US many years earlier and that her mother was born in the Bronx.
The document also argues that Michael’s grandparents on his mother’s side spoke Yiddish, and maintained Jewish traditions, including making challah. His aunt also says this is a lie.
‘No, my family is not Jewish,’ said Greunfelder, 65, adding that Michael’s mother Linda was raised a Lutheran. The aunt said Michael’s brother is Lutheran and married a Lutheran minister.
The Dawson family changed their surname to Isaacson in August 2019.
Gruenfelder says her nephew is ‘not one for communicating’ and they don’t speak much.
What she did note is that Michael used to love to act and took classes in high school.
‘It’s strange… This is bizarre. So this is legitimate? Their name is Isaacson now?’
‘It’s shocking to see he’s changed his name and the kids. It blows my mind.’
Community members say that Summer Isaacson, Michael’s wife, has also claimed to have longstanding Jewish heritage, saying her family were Marranos, people who were forced to convert during the Spanish Inquisition.
However, an investigation has shown that Summer’s great grandmother was baptized in Mexico, which means she would have had to convert to Judaism to be considered Jewish.
A 1995 wedding announcement shows that Michael married Summer Morales at Trinity Lutheran Church in New Era, Michigan.
They obtained a Jewish marriage certificate in 2013 from a Dallas rabbi, telling the rabbi they became religious after their non-Jewish marriage.
At their request, he carried out a Jewish wedding for them.
Rabbi Rich has since said he didn’t know of their true background and would ‘readily renounce his signature’.
Michael Isaacson has not responded to requests for comment.