A messianic congregation opened its doors in Wayne recently and the leaders of the YM-YWHA of North Jersey there want to make sure the Jewish community knows what to expect and how to respond.
The education departments of the Y, Cong. Shomrei Torah, and Temple Beth Tikvah, together with the counter-missionary group Jews For Judaism, are planning a seminar on March 6 to educate the community about missionary groups. Organizers said they are not only preparing for proselytizing from the new messianic church but teaching their children how to deal with missionaries when they go off to college.
Jews For Judaism provides a response to Jews For Jesus across the country. PHOTO COURTESY OF JEWS FOR JUDAISM
Subonnie Kochman, president of the Y’s board of directors and chair of Wayne’s planning board, received a letter through the planning board late last year from Jonathan Cahn, religious leader of the Beth Israel Worship Center. The organization, which has 300 to 400 member-families, was planning to relocate from its home in Garfield to Wayne. Against Wayne’s zoning rules, the church wanted to open in an industrial zone, so it needed approval from the board of adjustment and it sent the letter asking the planning board to intercede on its behalf.
Kochman appeared before the board of adjustment to argue, as a private citizen, against changing the rules to allow a religious institution in an industrial zone. Her arguments did not sway the board, however, and the congregation is now open at 11 Railroad Ave.
"No doubt they would try to reach into our Jewish community and start converting Jews," she told The Jewish Standard last week. As a pre-emptive measure, the Y reached out to Shomrei Torah and Beth Tikvah to plan an event aimed specifically at the Jewish community’s children. The program is intended for children in sixth grade and up, organizers said.
"This is really preventative," said Steve Allen, the Y’s executive director. "There are so many outside forces that are trying to invade the Jewish community and put a non-positive spin on us and our facilities."
Although he does not advocate visiting regularly, Allen pointed to Beth Israel’s Website, www.bethisraelworshipcenter.org, as a way for people to learn how to recognize the group’s methods.
"When these groups come into communities they many times proselytize aggressively," said Ruth Guggenheim, executive director of the Jews for Judaism office in Baltimore, which is coordinating the event with the Y. "Most people have no response. That lack of response creates vulnerability."
Teenagers who have positive experiences in Judaism become more confident when confronted by missionaries, Guggenheim said. They realize they don’t have all the answers but the answers are in Judaism.
"Judaism does have the answers, it has for thousands and thousands of years," she said. "We can have dialogue with people and respect for people, but that’s not always given back to us."
Beth Israel has not caused any problems as yet, and if its members remain within the boundaries of their own congregation then there should be no problem, said Shomrei Torah’s Rabbi Randall Mark. However, if they begin proselytizing to the Jewish community then that is a problem, Mark said.
While "it’s too soon to have cause for concern," he added, the March 6 program is good for the community, especially teenagers who will soon go off to college and may encounter missionaries there.
"The program coming up is not in reaction to their coming, it’s just a good program," he said.
For more information on the counter-missionary seminar, call the Y at (973) 595-0100.