New Jersey Jewish News
Jews for Jesus targets NJ in latest swing of campaign
As part of a $3 million campaign in the greater New York area, representatives of Jews for Jesus, the missionary organization that targets Jews for conversion, have been proselytizing in Essex, Bergen, Union, Monmouth, and Middlesex counties.
Josh Sofaer, director of the Jews for Jesus New York office, said the organization has been recruiting in recent weeks in Livingston, Springfield, and the Bergen County communities of Fair Lawn, Teaneck, and Tenafly and had representatives at the Fourth of July fireworks display in Summit. There are plans to expand its drive in the coming weeks to make the messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue for Jews in central and north Jersey, he said.
We recognize our statement that Jesus is the promised Messiah is not a popular one but believe it is relevant and worth considering, even for the Jewish community, he added.
Etzion Neuer, executive director of the New Jersey office of the Anti-Defamation League, said he wasnt surprised by this latest push.
We know from the literature we started seeing a few months ago that Jews for Jesus talked about New Jersey as part of their large push this summer, said Neuer.
Interestingly, they now seem to be targeting practicing Jews while in the past we have seen them mainly targeting Jews of marginal levels of observance and knowledge such as Russian Jews, said Neuer. Now along comes Jews for Jesus offering them a particular practice of Judaism that seems traditional, but often these people are unwilling victims of a duplicitous campaign.
Like most mainstream Jewish groups, the ADL sees the groups message as a sort of theological bait and switch.
By its very name it suggests one can be Jewish and accept Jesus as the Messiah, said Neuer. We say of course that is nonsense. We find insulting the notion that Jews cannot be good, full Jews until they accept Jesus.
Scott Hillman, executive director of Jews for Judaism, a Baltimore-based organization dedicated to countering the tactics of Jews for Jesus and other proselytizing groups, said there has been leafleting along beaches and at concerts held in bandshells along the Jersey shore.
They have decided in New Jersey to especially reach out to intermarried couples, he explained. They feel they are vulnerable in New Jersey.
Hillmans organization has issued a counter-missionary alert for the month of July, noting that during the month missionaries are being brought from around the world to New York City and its suburbs. The missionaries campaign is scheduled to run through July 29.
According to Jews for Judaism, the metropolitan area push is the grand finale of Behold Your God, a five-year, $22 million international campaign that is targeting 66 cities outside of Israel with populations of 25,000 or more. Planned targets in the New York area are 500,000 Russian Jews, 200,000 Israelis, and the sizeable Orthodox community, according to the Jews for Judaism Web site.
The groups outreach tactics include door-to-door visits, direct mail, phone calling, ads in Russian- and English-language newspapers, and radio spots. Its missionaries include both Hebrew- and Russian-speaking teams.
According to Jews for Judaism, more than 14 million pieces of literature have been distributed.
Jews for Jesus claims to have made more than 1,000 converts and received contact information for almost 14,000 Jews during the course of the campaign. Such figures are considered highly unreliable, however, and tend to be exaggerated by both sides, experts say.
While Sofaer, who was raised by Jewish parents in Berkeley, Calif., acknowledged that belief in Jesus was not a popular notion in the Jewish community, he claimed there was a substantial minority who subscribe to it.
If what we believe is true, believing in Jesus as the Messiah wouldnt disqualify us from being Jews, said Sofaer, who considers himself to be both Jewish and Christian.
Sometimes I call myself a Jewish Christian. I was born Jewish and came to believe in Jesus before I became involved with Jews for Jesus. I came to these beliefs by reading both the Jewish Bible and New Testament.
The current drive will end on July 29, said Sofaer, but the organization will continue its efforts on a smaller scale, adding, I live in Manhattan, and Im not going away.
Lori Price Abrams, director of the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest New Jersey, said her office was made aware of the latest push by Jews for Jesus, but that she had not yet received any reports of their activity in the MetroWest area. She urged members of the community to alert her office if they do encounter the groups missionaries locally.
Hillman said Jews for Jesus uses deceptive techniques to make even observant Jews think they are dealing with a Jewish group. For example, it sent DVDs to ultra-Orthodox communities in Lakewood and, in New York, Monsey and Brooklyns Boro Park and Crown Heights neighborhoods and other areas with high concentrations of Orthodox Jews. The return address on the recordings was a post office box in Brooklyn with no mention of Jews for Jesus. The DVDs name, which roughly translates to A Little Bit of Heaven for You on Earth is written in Yiddish, and the box pictures a bearded man blowing a shofar.
When you pop it in, it starts out in Yiddish about the creation of the world and then you finally get to Jesus, explained Hillman. Actually, the DVD is a 25-year-old Campus Crusade for Christ Jesus film project, but we were able to link everything.
However, even after being confronted with evidence, it took the missionary group about a month to admit it was behind the DVD, according to Hillman.
They go out and sell Jesus as the son of God, the product of a virgin birth, that he is the resurrected Christian messiah, none of which are Jewish ideas, but are very Christian, Hillman said. It is a large deception. It says something about what kind of faith they are preaching. If they really believe it, why are they using a deceptive model to sell it?
Hillman said Jews for Judaism has no objection to proselytizing by other religions so long as they do not purport to be anything other than Christian in their outreach.
The funding for much of the Jews for Jesus campaign is coming from Baptist, independent, and evangelical churches, said Hillman. The group is a member of various evangelical associations, including the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, an accreditation agency for Christian ministries.
They spend a lot of time in churches creating a network to raise funds, said Hillman.
Catholic, many mainstream Protestant, and Episcopalian clergy have joined in interfaith statements criticizing the tactics of Jews for Jesus in areas targeted, including Washington and New York.
Tactics of groups like Jews for Jesus were criticized in advance of the July campaign by the Commission of Religious Leaders of New York City, which includes Catholic, Protestant, Christian Orthodox, Anglican, and Islamic organizations, as well as the New York Board of Rabbis. In its statement Respect for Faith Traditions, the commission singles out proselytizing groups who incorporate another religions symbols, prayers, and rituals in their houses of worship and sometimes call their leaders by religious titles borrowed from the targeted tradition. The statement calls such tactics deceptive and dishonest.
Jews for Jesus has been a presence in New York City for decades, but because of the scope of the current campaign, Hillman said, the New York Board of Rabbis and Jewish Community Relations Council have launched a counter-campaign, Say Yes to Judaism.
Newspaper ads urge Jews to learn Torah, give tzedaka, light Shabbat candles and have a Shabbat meal, perform acts of tikun olam (repairing the world), recite Jewish prayers, and connect with a synagogue.
Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg, religious leader of Congregation Beth-El in Edison, is corresponding secretary of the New York board and president of the Metuchen-Edison Interfaith Clergy Association. He has encountered such proselytizing drives before and noted that the board and other Jewish groups stress education as the best tool to fight such missionaries.
Jews for Jesus is neither Christian nor Jewish, explained Rosenberg, so the term Jews for Jesus is at best a fabrication of the truth.
Rosenberg recommends that Jews avoid debating the missionaries.
It is a waste of time for the Jewish person and provides an opportunity to have an encounter for the Jews for Jesus representatives, he said. The more dialogue you have with them, the more chances you provide them to get an upper hand. They prey on those who feel disassociated from the Jewish community.
Both Neuer at the ADL and Hillman asked to be contacted if Jews for Jesus is seen recruiting. Jews for Judaism said it is prepared to provide pamphlets and other information to local synagogues and Jewish organizations.
Neuer said the answer to countering the efforts of Jews for Jesus is not to learn more about the organization, but to focus on learning more about Judaism.
Potential targets, he said, need to know not what Jews for Jesus stands for but what Judaism stands for. If they knock on your door, be firm but polite. Use this as an opportunity to go out and learn.
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