As you know, the Department of Homeland Security has a much-debated color-coded system to describe the level of threat to our nation’s security. There is no such color-coded system within the Jewish community but if there were, many would insist that our people are facing a level red alert, with the highest possible threat to the security of the Jewish community. We’re not talking about terrorist plots from Hamas or even the specter of a nuclear attack from that crazy Iranian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The danger, according to many reports, is Jews for Jesus.
Of course we don’t want the Jewish community to feel threatened by our efforts…but we cannot deny that Christ’s claims do challenge the status quo…and in that respect, we understand why our upcoming Behold Your God campaign has raised the threat” level.
I want you to know about an aspect of the campaign that has been top secret until now—because the need for secrecy is over and the need for prayer is immediate.
Over the last year and a half we have been preparing a special project to reach into the ultra-Orthodox Jews of greater New York City. This very closed and cloistered community is centered primarily in Lakewood, New Jersey as well as Brooklyn, Monsey and also, a place you may not have heard of called Kiryas Joel*, New York. If ever there was a community that could claim to be immune to the efforts of Jews for Jesus it would be the Hassidic Jews, who generally fall into two sects: Satmar and Lubavitch.
With help from friends, we secured the rights to distribute a special Jewish version of a film on the life of Jesus in Yiddish. The entire film is narrated in Yiddish, (the language spoken by this community) which is a combination of German and Hebrew with smatterings of other East European languages. We mailed this film titled “Days of Moshiach” (Messiah) via DVD to some 80,000 ultra-Orthodox homes. Along with the DVD, we included a phone number and a coupon for people to request further information. We also invited them to a special web site.
We kept quiet about the project because, had it become known, those who oppose us probably would have intercepted these DVDs before they reached people’s mailboxes. We praise the Lord that the DVDs were all delivered in mid-May.
I don’t know of anything like this having ever been done to reach this particular community. As expected, the response has been volcanic. Rabbis have issued edicts banning the DVD. To date we’ve received over 2,600 phone calls, most hostile, including threats of violence—even some death threats. At the same time, thousands have visited our website and we continue to receive responses in the mail.
In this highly experimental outreach, some seed is falling on good soil. Many are watching the film in secret.
But think about it. What is the threat here? People simply received a film recounting the story of a Jew named Jesus who claimed to be the Messiah 2,000 years ago, along with an offer to further consider those claims. One rabbi, Menachem Schneerson, who died back in the 1990’s, is still considered by many of his followers to be the Messiah. The issue is a topic of debate in the Jewish community. Children throughout the Orthodox community collect and trade cards with pictures and stories of famous rabbis—these rabbis are the celebrities, the stars of the ultra-Orthodox community.
But Rabbi Jesus has no card. His story is untold, His claims never considered or debated within the communities of Hassidim. Well, not any more. Some from within this community have informed us that as a result of this film project, Jesus’ claims are now being debated in the yeshivas (Jewish schools of higher education) and preached against from synagogue pulpits throughout the community.
The Hassidic Jewish communities are not the only ones who are reacting to our evangelistic efforts before the campaign even begins. A recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz is typical. The headline declared, “A Special Place in Hell: Why ‘Jews for Jesus’ is Evil.”
Author Bradley Burston takes a different approach than many who have opposed us. “Don’t get me wrong,” he wrote. “The members of Jews for Jesus are pure souls. They are among the most wholesome, guileless, truly well-meaning, fundamentally lovely people you will ever meet.”
(Burston obviously never met me because I am not nearly that lovely.) Nevertheless, he explains that Jews for Jesus are evil because we are guilty of missionary activity, (which of course we freely admit) or as he labels it, proselytizing. To him proselytizing equals persecution.
(Ironically, the dictionary definition of a proselyte is “a new convert; specifically a convert to Judaism.” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary) That’s right, a convert to Judaism! The original usage referenced the forced conversion of Idumeans (such as Herod) to the Jewish religion before the time of Christ. But even today, if you speak of proselytes, they are not forced. Moreover, each year far more Gentiles convert to Judaism (approximately 10,000) than there are Jews who become followers of Jesus Christ.)
We don’t enjoy being called evil, but articles like these help us to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide. So far, the Haaretz website has more than 1020 responses to Burston’s article—pro and con—from people all over the world.
In any case, I want to obey Jesus concerning these articles and even the threats we’ve received. According to Luke 6:22-23, it’s time to jump for joy: “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven…”
Lifting up the name of Jesus in the Jewish community will always raise the threat level. Yeshua was perceived to be a threat by the religious leaders of His day, so they sought to crucify him. But He told His followers, “If I be lifted up I will draw all people to me.” (John 12:32) It was true then. It is true today.
*Kiryas Joel “Town of Joel” was named for Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum. There are more than 40 synagogues in this New York village. The vast majority of the residents are “ultra-Orthodox” Jews known as Satmar Hassidim. For more information go to Wikipedia.