These Orthodox rabbis aren’t even Jewish, according to a newly released investigation.
Michael and Calev Isaacson, a father-and-son pair who live in Phoenix, Ariz. — and who have spent some 12 years performing sacred Jewish rituals, including marriages and writing holy scrolls — are now accused of being evangelical Christians.
That’s according to the anti-missionary watchdog group Beyneynu, which additionally claims that the men — who the watchdog group claims changed their last name from Dawson in 2019 — don’t have legitimate Jewish heritage or any record of conversion. The group claims that the family, which also includes Michael’s wife, Summer, have built a misleading Jewish identity and have been welcomed in Orthodox communities around the nation by having rabbinical authorities attest to an allegedly bogus family history without confirming its accuracy.
While Beyneynu stopped short of accusing the family of trying to convert Jews to Christianity, the charges would mean that the holy rituals, which have also included conducting conversions to Judaism, could be rendered invalid. But other members of their Orthodox communities have raised concerns for more than a decade that the Isaacsons are possibly Messianic Jews, or Jews who seek to convert other Jews to Christianity to bring the Second Coming of Jesus.
“It was a massive investigation, because [the family] spent 12 years going from community to community for one to two years at a time,” Shannon Nuszen, Beyneynu’s founder, told The Post, noting the Isaacsons have also been based in Seattle, Milwaukee and Dallas. “We went to each of these cities and interviewed anybody who had significant contact with them. This was done through private investigators, professional genealogists and laypeople in the community.”
In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, which also investigated these accusations, an Orthodox teacher who knows the Isaacsons, and requested anonymity, alleged the family aims to create a “backstory” that will allow their children to marry Jews.
Michael Isaacson, 51, did not respond to The Post’s requests for comment.
The case of the Isaacsons comes nearly six months after two watchdog organizations, including Beyneynu, accused Rabbi Michael Elkohen of converting Jews in Jerusalem to Christianity. Elkohen, born Michael Elk in southern New Jersey, reportedly called himself a “good Jewish boy” and immigrated to Israel in 2006. There, he allegedly embedded himself in an ultra-Orthodox community to carry out a conversion operation — and reports at the time showed he appeared to work previously as a minister in Washington state. (Elk has called the charges “a lie,” adding that he “was born Jewish” and that he had already “repented” for his missionary work in the past.)
The Isaacsons’ personal histories are equally complex. Beyneynu claims that Michael and Summer, according to a 1995 wedding announcement, were wed at a Lutheran church in Michigan — where Michael is from.
“No, my family is not Jewish,” Michael’s aunt, 65-year-old Maryland resident Marlene Gruenfelder, told the Jewish Chronicle, adding that Michael was raised Lutheran — and that the two of them aren’t in contact.
The wedding announcement also states that Michael and Summer attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena, Calif.
According to emails seen by The Post, Michael apparently said his family was Jewish, but converted to Lutheranism to gain asylum in Scandinavia, and his maternal grandmother fled Europe in 1937 for New York. While under conversion, he said, the family still spoke Yiddish and practiced Jewish customs. But Gruenfelder told the Jewish Chronicle that her mother, Michael’s maternal grandmother, was born in the Bronx after the family immigrated from Scandinavia many years earlier.
“This is bizarre,” Gruenfelder told the Jewish Chronicle. “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.”
In those same 2011 emails, Summer said she came from a Spanish-Jewish family that was forced to convert to Catholicism during the 15th-century Spanish Inquisition. But the Jewish Chronicle found records of her great-grandmother being baptized in Mexico.
Suspicions arose roughly a decade ago, when in 2010 a post appeared on the website of the Messianic group Gates of Zion announcing a Shabbat event.
“We will be having some special guests with us,” it read. “We need to give a very warm welcome to … Michael, Summer, Caleb and Gracie Dawson.” It added that the family was affiliated with a Messianic pastor named Guy Cohen and his Israel-based ministry Harvest of Asher.
When confronted by members of the Orthodox community about their true beliefs, the family responded, “We left the religion of 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,” according to emails exchanged in 2011 that were seen by The Post. The family additionally noted that they’re not attempting any conversions to Christianity, but are in an “ongoing process of return” to Judaism.
(According to Beyneynu, each time the family received suspicious questions about their beliefs, they have quickly picked up and moved, allegedly to avoid being outed.)
For Nuszen, the intricate nature of these alleged deceptions was previously unheard of.
“What we’re seeing recently is a level of infiltration that the Jewish community has never seen before, so we don’t even understand what we’re up against,” she said. “It’s new to the Jewish world.”