by Jeff Neckonoff
Last Thursday, July 20th, as I was in the midst of my weekly Shabbos shopping in the Five Towns (of Long Island), I just happened to stop into Chabad to pick up a copy of last week’s L’Chaim publication.
As I walked through the door, Shainy Blau, Chabad’s extremely efficient & smiley Office Administrator, frantically called me over. She told me that she had just e-mailed after receiving a handful of phone calls that Jews for Jesus missionaries were spotted on Central Avenue. Just five minutes before I walked into her office, Rabbi Wolowik, who was in California, had text messaged her to get in touch with me ASAP.
So off I went. I just happened to have about 25 Jews for Judaism flyers in my car from my trip to the Jones Beach Bandshell the week before, when they had a Messianic concert aimed at telling secular Jews about their god. I grabbed the flyers and called my good friend, Gavriel Sanders, to get some help dealing with this situation.
Gavriel had also received some calls and we were able to pinpoint the location of these missionaries. Meanwhile, since Gavriel was in Brooklyn, he was on the phone trying to get some more people to help.
The missionaries were enjoying a casual lunch at King David’s Deli. I walked by, looked in and saw they were there nonchalantly sitting at a table, proudly sporting their new gray “Jews for Jesus” t-shirts, paid for in part by the millions of dollars their organization receives from Evangelical churches across the United States.
I then stood outside, reading the Five Towns Jewish Times, which also just happened to have an ad for a very important counter-missionary program that coming Sunday.
After about 15 minutes, the missionaries came out. As they were getting their bearings, I asked in a very friendly tone, “how was lunch”?
Being a former “messianic” myself, I feel that yelling and chastiseing doesn’t work, as they truly believe their mishugas and they are 100% sincere in wanting to save us poor Jews from going to hell for rejecting their god. Plus, they love persecution since yushke told them in their Bible that they were to expect it.
They looked at me questionably as I then engaged them in conversation. I told them how nice it was for them to come, as I needed to tell them about the awesome seminar they really should attend on Sunday. They didn’t know what to do with me.
I told them that there was no reason for animosity as I used to be one of them. Now, I really grabbed their attention. I explained to them that their main proof from Isaiah is a farce and that anyone seriously studying it will see that for him or herself. Then, the head missionary, Melissa, asked me about Daniel 9 which they claim pinpoints the exact date yushke came. I countered with a simple response that Daniel 9 has in it four possible dates, and that they (Evangelical Christians) chose the one that makes the least amount of sense.
Their mouths hung open as they didn’t know how to respond.
They then politely excused themselves and said that they had to go “shopping”.
But before they walked away, one of them, Santiago, from Australia, the son of two Jews, clasped my hand and told me that my conversation with them was the most amicable they had since they arrived on Central Avenue. He explained that people were cursing them and threatening them with flat tires. He was very distressed that “people who call themselves religious could act that way”. I very nicely explained that while it was nothing personal, Jews for Jesus and their fellow missionaries who target Jews for conversion are rightly seen as “spiritual Nazis”, and what they are doing is attempting to destroy Jewish souls by conversion which leads to further assimilation, therefore effectively waging war on Hashem, Torah & the Jewish people. Plus, the entire concept of being Jewish & Christian at the same time is a tremendous oxymoron. I explained that the Tenach speaks nothing of a resurrected mangod messiah and that their belief is an ancient pagan belief brought to Europe by Emperor Constantine in the year 325 c.e.
I then responded to their “shopping” comment by asking if they were really there to shop or are they there to proselytize. One of them, from Pittsburgh, admitted they were there to hand out flyers as well as shop, as he showed me his stack of tracts.
Melissa then prodded them on, as they were obviously not there to speak with someone like myself, who is thankfully 100% inoculated against their methods & deceit.
So as they made their way west down Central, I called Gavriel. He told me that Tzvi from the singing group Hamsa,and our mutual friend Yehezkal Bund (also known as Charles) were on their way. Tzvi then called me and found me near Spruce Street. He parked and then walked past the missionaries again. I smiled and asked if they were having fun “shopping”. Tzvi then told them that this was not the right place for them to “shop”. He then engaged them in conversation asking about certain verses in their Bible, as he had some training with Jews for Judaism. They didn’t want to talk to someone who actually knew how to answer their questions.
Then Yehezkal Bund, also a former messianic, arrived on the scene. We’ve known each other since 2000 when we first met in a local messianic congregation. He recently broke free thanks to Jews for Judaism, Gavriel Sanders and myself.
He told the missionaries that he had also once believed exactly as they do, and asked them to please elaborate on some of their “messianic” prophecies and questionable theology. He challenged them to prove their ideology and try to bring him “back” to their fold.
The reason he engaged them in that manner was because he knew that there was no way their so-called “proof texts” and twisted religious concepts could affect him, as he is currently learning true Torah in a local Yeshiva. But he was hoping for a way to challenge them in serious dialogue. His goal was to have them see the error of their ways as well as to counter their spoon-fed answers with truth from the Torah. He also wanted to make them understand that many people leave the Christian life and actually come home to true Judaism. The Hebrew-Christian/messianic organizations and congregations hide the fact that many adherents break away and make true teshuvah. Because they are kept from the truth, many feel they have no way out. As far as the missionaries were concerned, Yehezkal though, if they were truly sincere in their beliefs, why would they not try to “save” his soul again? However, they refused to speak with him.
At this point, Melissa started getting nervous and vocalized to us that she felt harassed. This, I know, is standard Jews for Jesus playbook material. If threatened with the truth, they call for help. So Melissa called Susan Perlman, the assistant to the Executive Director, and told of her concerns. Next thing we know, Melissa is threatening to call the police as she feels harassed and threatened by our behavior. Meanwhile, all we were doing was walking next to them, politely asking questions. Their obvious goal was to do anything possible to prevent a counter balance to their activity. Melissa then stuck to the missionary script and called the police.
At this point, I personally had to leave and go to work. Yehezkal then shared with me the rest of what transpired. Eventually, the police came. They told Tzvi and Yehezkal that the missionaries had claimed that they were there to “shop” and not give out tracts. This was a lie as we all witnessed them handing out tracts during their leisurely walk. The police acknowledged that we were doing nothing wrong, nobody was engaging in any kind of harassment and everyone had the right to be in the street.
Throughout the day, the Jews for Jesus missionaries called the police at least two more times, but to no avail. The police left and appeared to be frustrated by their calls. Most of the onlookers thought this to be a true waste of our tax money and police resources.
Every time Yehezkal tried to engage them in peaceful dialogue, Melissa told the group not to speak to him. They were totally closed to listening to opposing viewpoints. It came out later that the missionaries had zero knowledge of Hebrew and would not have been able to really understand to the Tenach in its original meaning anyway.
All in all, the missionaries were prevented from handing out their pamphlets thanks to us keeping our eyes on them. During their five hours walking up and down Central Avenue, they actually did buy some items from a few stores, but the main item they came shopping for that day, precious Jewish neshamas, were Baruch Hashem unavailable, and not for sale.
Stay tuned in the near future to the Five Towns Jewish Times as Gavriel Sanders, and I join with other key players in the war against the missionaries to formulate a plan to train a troupe of proactive counter-missionaries. In that way, the next time that the Five Towns and other Jewish areas are invaded by missionaries, we will have more local people ready to engage and challenge the missionaries and maybe even bring some of these lost Jewish souls back home.