Over the next two weeks, starting Friday, Denver will have the unfortunate distinction of being the first in a series of cities targeted by a group known as "Jews for Jesus." This isn't anything like "Democrats for Bush." This is more like, oh, "Chemists for Alchemy," or maybe "Monarchs for Republicanism." It is a group of people who, masquerading as Jews, attempts to convert people to Christianity, under the guise of Judaism. They do this by appealing to some Jews' need to assimiliate as completely as possible, while still claiming credit for lox and bagels.
It is stealth evangelism (with a small "e"), and it stinks to high Heaven, where they will, no doubt, be in for a big surprise. We have a word for people who follow the teachings of Jesus. We call them "Christians." These Christians, however, call themselves "Jews," and are surprisingly and revoltingly successful at getting people to believe that there's no conflict here. The fact is that, by now, a fair number of people attending these so-called "Messianic Synagogues" acutally are Jewish, but they're practicing Christianity.
I was at a rally for Israel once last year, outside the local NPR studios. I noticed that, while a substantial contingent of demo'ers seemed to know each other, I had never seen them before. When I asked one girl what shul they were with, she hesitated, and said, "the Messianic Congregation, in the Platte Valley."
"Oh. Well, at least it's good that we can get together on this." A threat to Israel is an existential threat to the Jewish people. And who knows? Maybe if you're nice, they'll come back.
"Well, you know," unctiously, "we agree on a lot more than you think."
Firmly, "No, not really, not all that much."
Insistently, "Yes, you know, we do."
Restrainedly, "Well, that's a conversation for another day."
She wanted to draw me into a debate she was sure she could win. I'm Jewish, therefore I'm a legitimate target. (These people never take a vacation, either.) Any time, any place.
Me, I just wanted to get out of there before I said something I regretted. Something like, "We don't agree on anything, not even the time of day or the color of the sky. If you get some emotional succor out of calling yourself Jewish while breaking with its core beliefs, that's your business, but it's trademark infringement. No, it's worse: it's identity theft.
They look Jewish. The men wear yarmulkes. The women dress modestly sometimes. They know Israeli folk dances, but slip "Jesus is King" into "Hava Nagilah." They praise Jesus in Hebrew. They are the Viceroy butterflies of the religious world, and they taste about the same.
Not only are these people insistent, they also know scripture like Kerry knows Vietnamese waterways. It means that, while it seems like an argument ought to be an easy win, people who don't know their way around can get confused, which is pretty much what the missionaries want. Sow this year's doubt, reap next year's dues money.
While the best thing that I, as an individual, can do is to keep walking before I end up throwing one of them in front of a bus, as a community, that sort of response is completely inadequate. For one thing, we'd have to raid the building fund for the bail money. More than that, it sends a message that we're unwilling to defend ourselves, and it suggests to those who really don't know better that maybe these guys aren't all that bad, after all.
So the community has responded by inviting Rabbi Tuvia Singer, an expert on counter-missionary activity, to come speak at the JCC at 7:30 PM next Tuesday, September 7. In addition, members of the community will be handing out leaflets, shadowing missionary events over the next two weeks. Be there, and go hear Rabbi Singer speak.