The Messianic movement’s fundamental approach seeks to blur the distinctions between Judaism and Christianity in order to lure Jews who would otherwise resist a straightforward Christian message.
To the horror of the Jewish world, it is a tactic that has achieved remarkable success with the most vulnerable segments of our community -- the very young, the very old, and our Russian brethren.
Why are these at-risk Jews so desperately susceptible to this current missionary assault? Why do evangelicals cull some of our Jewish youth with relative ease?
There could be little doubt that the intense and dogmatic obsession that fundamentalist Christians have with Jewish evangelism contributes to the success of groups like Jews for Jesus. If we were doing our job, however, a Christian mission to the Jews -- no matter how creative, well staffed, and well funded -- would pose little threat to the spiritual integrity of our community. But a lethal combination of circumstances and factors that contribute to the spiritual frailty of Jewish youth.
Young men and women are particularly vulnerable to evangelicals because so often these adolescents are unsure of themselves, the world around them, and the adulthood that awaits them. Teenagers and college-age youth are seekers by nature -- they are searching for an identity of their own. They are wide open to spiritual suggestions that controvert and challenge the beliefs of their families. Moreover, adolescents are not renowned for being well-grounded or possessing an unflappable self-esteem.
Teenagers and college-age youth are seekers by nature -- they are wide open to spiritual suggestions.
For most emerging adults, the university campus is the place where they experience full autonomy for the first time in their lives. A paltry few of our kids are sent off to a university campus armed with a strong Jewish education. Missionaries are well aware of how lethal this combination is for Jewish youth and, as a result, they devote a great deal of their vast energies to Jewish evangelism on campus.
JEWISH IQ TEST
Often, when I am lecturing at Hebrew Schools across North America, I give the young students a Jewish IQ test. "Tell me," I ask, "what was Jesus’ mother’s name and what was Moses’ mother’s name?" They all know that Mary was the mother of Jesus, yet few know the name of Moses’ mother. Asking for the names of any two books in the Talmud, and any two books in the New Testament, will invariably get the same type of response. Typically, the kids could rattle off the names of all the Gospels in the Christian Bible and are clueless about the names of the Tractates of the Talmud. For the most part, we raised a generation of children who know little about the faith they are being asked to abandon.
A number of years ago, I received a hysterical phone call from a mother living in Long Island. She had just found a New Testament hidden between her daughter’s mattress and box spring. There was a terrible confrontation. The daughter stormed out of the house, and the mother knew she desperately needed help.
We spoke for quite a while. It turned out that her daughter was involved in a local Messianic congregation on Long Island called Olive Tree. I explained to her that if I were going to help, I had to meet with her daughter, so we set a date and time to meet. Elizabeth was not happy about meeting with someone like me, but after some well-placed motherly prodding and pressure, an appointment was arranged.
When I first met Elizabeth, she seemed friendly. Within five minutes, she began to tell me all about her new faith. She described how, when she attended Boston University, her roommate gave her a pocket-sized New Testament as a gift. She didn’t read it at the time, but just tossed it aside.
She told me how one night she was feeling depressed after an unexpected breakup with her boy friend and decided to look for some solace from her little New Testament. "I began to thumb through it, and I came upon a verse that moved me in a very special way," she said. "It penetrated my soul to the point that I knew that this New Testament had to be the word of God."
She quoted words of the New Testament that touched her so -- these words were first spoken by Moses.
I asked her to tell me which verse she read that was so inspiring. She picked up the Bible from the table, and her index finger began to flip through the pages. Suddenly she said, "This is it!" She began to read this verse from the Book of Mark, "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might... "
This young woman had no idea that this sacred phrase is the most precious and celebrated creed of the Jewish people and is written in the Five Books of Moses. It wasn’t long after this memorable meeting with Elizabeth that she returned back to the faith of her ancestors. Less than a month later Elizabeth left for Israel to study at a women’s college for one year.
Like Elizabeth, many Hebrew-Christians will tell you that the first time they considered believing in Jesus was in college. A university campus is one of the primary places that young people are invited to fundamentalist Christian retreats, prayer meetings, and Bible classes. What they will witness there is like nothing they have ever seen in their synagogue. People stand in their pews, crying to Jesus. Healings take place in the aisles.
Messianic Jews are exceedingly friendly. Visit a Messianic congregation: if you are a new face, members of the congregation, with big smiles and friendly words of introduction, will immediately approach you. They will want to know who you are, what do you do, and if you have a place to eat.
Messianic congregations abound in South Florida where many Jewish elderly reside.
The elderly are also perilously vulnerable to Jewish evangelism. It is little coincidence that there are more Messianic congregations tightly packed into the peninsula of South Florida than any other similarly sized region in North America.
Even more than from physical ailments, the aged suffer from bitter loneliness. The Christian missions volunteers who seek out and witness to the Jewish elderly in nursing homes are met with little resistance to their aggressive activities by these facilities or their residents.
A pretty smile and a warm touch are priceless commodities to those who are waiting to die. With minds that have slowed down due to the passing of time, and a soul hungry for comfort, our grandparents and great-grandparents are falling prey to the Jesus movement.
It is well known that Russian Jews are a prime target and easy prey for evangelical missionaries. Their upbringing in the former Soviet Union under communism robbed them of any Jewish education or understanding of their rich heritage. Few of these new immigrants are familiar with even the fundamental of their heritage, such as the Passover Seder or connecting with the State of Israel. This has proven devastating to the Russian Jewish community. As a result, Christian missions have invested extraordinary resources and manpower to large Russian communities in Israel and neighborhoods like Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. It is ironic that although Jews of the former Soviet Union have endured Czarist and communist Russia, yet they rapidly succumb to Christian missionaries in the West.
A CRY FOR HELP
A number of years ago it became clear to me that although my lectures were being heard by many throughout the nation, and although there have been numerous young men and women like Elizabeth whom I have counseled away from these Christian groups over the years, the vast majority of the Jewish people have not been reached. Many former Hebrew-Christians complained that very few resources were available to them that would have helped them counter the persuasive arguments used by groups like Jews for Jesus.
More than 8,000 Jews will be crossing over to the Hebrew-Christian movement this coming year.
Something more needs to be done. It is for this reason that our organization, Outreach Judaism, works tirelessly with far-reaching and multifaceted outreach programs specially designed to counter the efforts of fundamentalist Christian groups and cults who specifically target Jews for conversion.
Our special Role-Play for teens is regarded as the most effective tool to inoculate adolescents against pernicious evangelicals who seek to rob these youngsters of their faith. For more information on this special program for teens, please see www.outreachjudaism.org/roleplay.html
If the estimates are correct, more than 8,000 Jews will be crossing over to the Hebrew-Christian movement this coming year.
Christianity is called "the church;" however, Judaism is never called "the synagogue." The center of Jewish life has always been a Jewish home. This rich source of our heritage, along with a secure Jewish education, must be restored among our people. The place to begin is with our Jewish youth. They are our future.