Jews for Jesus make converts among Russian immigrants
September 15, 1996
From Correspondent Michael Okwu
NEW YORK (CNN)--Traditional Jews in New York are fighting what they call the wholesale Christian conversion of unwitting Jewish worshippers from Russia.
Jewish leaders say Messianic Jews are increasingly exploiting the large numbers of newly emigrated Jews from Russia, where Jews were urged to renounce their Jewish identification and assimilate into the Soviet mainstream.
Experts expect more than 20,000 Messianic Jews to settle around Brooklyn's shoreline communities this year, a statistic that has caused an uproar among New York's traditional Jewish groups.
Bob Mendelsohn is the New York Director of Jews for Jesus, one of the most influential and deep pocketed of the so- called Messianic groups in the United States. They spend more than $9 million a year spreading the word, hoping to add to the 50,000 American Jews they say believe in Jesus Christ.
Critics of the Messianic Jews say that they lure Russian Jewish immigrants with Jewish symbols and customs.
"They tell their people, keep your rituals, keep your Jewish holidays, keep your kosher food, but accept the fact that the messiah has come," said Philip Abramowitz of the Task Force on Missionaries and Cults.
To traditional Jews, it is a wily sleight of hand.
Traditional Jewish groups in New York are fighting back with hot-lines for those who've spied gains by the competition, using T-shirts, pamphlets, and posters in English and Russian: A veritable campaign to keep the faithful.
But some who call themselves faithful now also worship Christ.
"How can they take my faith?" asks Mendelsohn. How can they take my Jewishness? They cannot. They cannot because I'm a Jew in all my blood and all my faith and all my body! I'm a Jew. I'm a Jew. I'm a Jew."
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