JTA: Messianic San Bernardino victim was ‘gentile’ supporter of Israel, the Jewish people

Nicholas Thalasinos renewing his marital vows with his wife at a Jewish-style ceremony, 2013. (Facebook)

(JTA) – While America puzzles over the mass shooting in San
Bernardino, California, many American Jews are puzzling over an
additional element: the religious identity of victim Nicholas

Pictured on his Facebook page wearing a scarf-style tallit prayer
shawl, Thalasinos, who was killed along with 13 others in Wednesday’s
shooting at a center for people with disabilities, has been variously
identified in media reports as a Jew, a Zionist and, in some cases, a
messianic Jew.

Just two weeks ago, Thalasinos reportedly got into a heated argument
about the nature of Islam with co-worker Syed Farook, whom authorities
said perpetrated the horrific San Bernardino attack along with his
wife, Tashfeen Malik. Investigators announced Friday that they were
treating the attack as a terrorist act motivated by Islamic extremism.
Both husband and wife were Muslim, and authorities said Malik had
pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a Facebook post.

Thalasinos “knew Syed. He worked with him,” Jennifer Thalasinos, the
victim’s wife, told the New York Post. “He knew he [Farook] was
Muslim, and with our faith, they may not necessarily have got along.”

What was that faith? Nicholas Thalasinos apparently identified as a
messianic Jew, but not as Jewish.

Bat Zion Susskind-Sacks, an Israeli who struck up a Facebook
friendship with Thalasinos about a year ago, provided JTA with the
transcript of an online conversation she had with him in September.
Writing soon after he and his wife renewed their vows in a
Jewish-style ceremony complete with huppah canopy and tallit prayer
shawls, Thalasinos said: “As a gentile who loves HaShem, I know my
place is to support Israel and the Jewish people.”

Thalasinos’ final Facebook post, made early Wednesday, seemed to
affirm this identity. In the post, sharing an anti-Semitic,
anti-Israel message he said he received, he wrote of the alleged
sender: “He ALSO assumes I’m a JEW – a great Compliment, I should keep
him around for that reason alone!

Like many Americans who identify as messianic Jews, Thalasinos was not
Jewish by heritage and was a believer in Jesus. Though they observe
many biblical laws and adopt some Jewish practices and holiday
observances, messianic Jews are not accepted as Jews by any of the
major Jewish denominations. One of the best-known messianic missionary
groups, Jews for Jesus, actually is comprised in large part by

Susskind-Sacks, like many Jews, is irked when people who are not born
Jewish and believe in Jesus call themselves messianic Jews.

Thalasinos, who was 52, said in his exchanges with Susskind-Sacks that
he was raised a Catholic and “a Pagan,” and that he only came to Jesus
later in life. Thalasinos’ wife, who could not be reached by JTA for
comment, told the Post he became a “born-again messianic Jew” in 2013.

“When I was in darkness (I was not a Righteous man) I cried out to
Jesus (as I mistakenly called Him) and He lifted the veil from my eyes
and the weight from my heart,” Thalasinos wrote Susskind-Sacks in

When Susskind-Sacks asked why, if he loved Israel and the Jewish
people and adopted some Jewish practices, he didn’t convert to
Judaism, Thalasinos replied: “I believe in Yeshua (an aspect of G-D
that grants Salvation). I will not lie to a Rabbi and let him believe
otherwise to do this – no matter how much I want to.”

Messianic Jews typically refer to Jesus by the Hebrew name Yeshua.

Thalasinos was by all accounts was an ardent Zionist – or pro-Zionist,
as his Facebook page suggested (Susskind-Sacks said she told him only
Jews can be Zionists).

“Nicholas was a great supporter of Israel, no question about that. He
felt he was put on this earth to follow Hashem and God’s people,”
Susskind-Sacks said.

Thalasinos’ wife, Jennifer Thalasinos, told the Post that her husband
might have been the person whom media reports said got into an
argument with Farook the morning of the shooting.

“He’s very outspoken about Islamic terrorism and how he feels about
politics in the state of the country,” Jennifer Thalasinos said of her
late husband, who worked for the county as a public health inspector.
“So I’m sure he probably had plenty to say to him.”

After the shooting, Nicholas Thalasinos’ Facebook page was flooded
with expressions of condolence and grief, with many posts
memorializing him with Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.

Facebook friend Erica Karas said she believed Thalasinos was killed
because of his love for Jews and Israel.

“It is my honest belief that Nicholas was murdered because of his
alliance with Israel and Jewish people,” Karas wrote. “Blessed be the
memory of Nicholas Thalasinos! He loved Yisrael and Jewish people.”