Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Messianic missionaries change tactics: "a huge problem bigger than ever"

Messianic missionaries change tactics: "a huge problem bigger than ever"

 Joanne Hill

Jews for Judaism’s Rabbi Michael Skobac, director of education, and Julius Ciss, executive director, are concerned about Messianic Jews changing how they proselytize Jews. Jews for Judaism’s Rabbi Michael Skobac, director of education, and Julius Ciss, executive director, are concerned about Messianic Jews changing how they proselytize Jews.

Messianic missionaries might not be approaching Jewish people on street corners anymore but that doesn’t mean the coast is clear: they’ve just changed venues.

“Some people [tell me], ‘Well, I don’t think there’s such a problem anymore,’” said Julius Ciss, executive director of Jews for Judaism. “They don’t see missionaries on the street anymore but the perception that there’s not a problem is wrong; the problem is huge, it is bigger than ever. What is happening is the missionaries have changed their tactics with the times and the internet is where a lot of stuff is happening.”

A case in point: a GTA-based, multi-pronged pilot project for the In Search of Shalom campaign spearheaded by local groups Life in Messiah Canada and New Covenant Forum.

An online call for volunteers describes the “[a]ggressive advertising” intended to lead Jewish individuals to a website, which can connect them immediately by phone, instant messaging or texting to people who will “share the gospel with Jewish sensitivity and sensibility” and make referrals to local evangelists.

The advertising has been targetted to reach people in predominantly Jewish neighbourhoods, said Daniel Muller, general director, New Covenant Forum.

They’ve purchased ad space on every bus leaving Toronto’s Wilson Station between the end of August and the end of December and they paid Canada Post to deliver postcards in October to residences in specific high-density “areas and streets...along the Bathurst corridor,” said Muller.

The ads and postcard pose a religious question and include a quote from Psalm 34. The word shalom is written in English and Hebrew, creating the impression that the ads have been placed by a Jewish organization. A website address is listed but the campaign organizers are not named.

Both Muller and David Brewer, a representative of Life in Messiah Canada, refused to share the names of the other organizations and individuals involved in the campaign. This information is also not available on the campaign website.

Sam Walker, who was involved in the messianic movement in the past, said his antenna went up when he saw one of the ads on the back of a city bus.

“Sometimes, when an ad or synagogue seems too Jewish, it’s not Jewish at all,” said Walker. “It’s like they’re trying to out-Jew themselves by pretending to be [Jewish].”

Muller and Brewer also declined to divulge the budget for the campaign or disclose how many people had responded to their campaign. Brewer said the organizers had not yet decided if the pilot project was a success or if it would be launched in other cities or countries.

Some west Thornhill residents, an area of Vaughan with a large Jewish population, were hit with a double evangelical whammy in October. The soft-cover book The Twelve Sons of Israel showed up in their mailboxes through an unrelated campaign run by the City of David Messianic Synagogue of Thornhill, the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues (IAMCS) and the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America.

The book was delivered by Canada Post, but volunteers also dropped books off at some houses, leading some angry homeowners to call and tell them not to come back, according to Jeffrey Forman, spiritual leader of the City of David Messianic Synagogue of Thornhill, who said he was ordained as a “messianic rabbi” by IAMCS.

The budget for the book campaign was “modest,” said Forman, and his people “have not had a flood of calls inquiring about faith in messiah.”

Reuben and Sharyn Cipin said everyone in their retirement condo got the book and so did a relative and a friend who live in two other buildings. All three buildings have a high percentage of Jewish residents.
“A lot of people have been upset and many of them threw it out,” Sharyn Cipin said.

There is a massive effort being undertaken by Christians who want to convert Jews, said Rabbi Michael Skobac, director of education of Jews for Judaism.

“We have in our files about 1,000 Christian organizations dedicated to converting Jews,” said Rabbi Skobac.

He attends an annual Christian conference and “every year there are between 7 and 12 different Christian groups in the Toronto area that are targetting specifically Jews for conversion. Now, I go through the same exhibit hall and try to find out how many tables are set up to target the Hindu, Buddhist or Islamic communities of Toronto: [there are] none.”

People in Yehuda Friedberg’s condo received both the postcard and the book. He has also seen proselytizers outside his synagogue a few times.

“It’s definitely a concerted effort…. I mean, I consider it intimidation; they probably consider it saving our souls,” said Friedberg.