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Early Edition

Orlando Christian Theme Park Braces for Protesters

Aired February 5, 2001 - 8:36 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BRIAN NELSON, CNN ANCHOR: Now to a Florida Christian theme park that is called the Holy Land Experience. It's 30 miles north of Orlando. And it's the area's largest and latest attraction, that is, and perhaps its most controversial to date.

CNN's Alexa Lee takes us on a tour of it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEXA LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The idea is to create of a sense of really being there, to feel like you're actually walking through the ancient city of Jerusalem.

Well, some who've seen the Holy Land Experience say it does that. Others say it goes too far.

(voice-over): The Holy Land Experience is a Christian theme park built by a Jew.

REV. MARVIN ROSENTHAL, "HOLYLAND" FOUNDER: Our responsibility as bible-believing Christians is to share the truths of the world of god.

LEE: That conviction can be seen and heard all over Orlando's newest theme park. founder Marvin Rosenthal grew up Jewish, but is now a Baptist pastor. His ministry is called Zion's Hope. Critics say the group's mission is to convert Jews to Christianity.

The park is filled with bible-based attractions. But some Jewish leaders find the interpretations and prominently placed Jewish symbols disturbing.

Rosenthal argues the symbols are true to the period. Critics see something else

RABBI MERRILL SHAPIRO, CONGREGATION BETH AM: All the menorahs -- it's there to entice Jews to make them think this is a Jewish park, and that there is a close connection between the history of our ancestors and the notion that Jesus was divine and the son of god.

LEE: Jewish leaders say one of the most talked about attractions, the Wilderness Tabernacle, illustrates their concerns.

The multimedia presentation also features Jewish songs and prayers. ROSENTHAL: If you don't like it, Rabbi, simply don't come.

SHAPIRO: Those of us who don't like it won't come. But we're afraid that others who are not aware, who are not so sophisticated will come, will put down their money.

LEE: Rosenthal says his motive is not to make a profit. As for conversion, he says that's in God's hands.

(on camera): Members from the activist group, Jewish Defense League, are expected to protest but won't be allowed in. Park creators say they'll stay open from this day on, 365 days a year.

Reporting from Orlando, Florida, I'm Alexa Lee.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NELSON: Thank you, Alexa. And the park, in fact, is bracing for protesters as it opens its doors.

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