Letters to the editor: Missionaries, Kindertransport and more

Addressing the Bigger Wrong

Rob Eshman is right to question George W. Bush’s decision to address the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (“Why Bush Was Wrong,” Nov. 15), but I feel there is another issue that he should have addressed in this context: the Jewish position toward Evangelical Christian movements. On this second issue there has been no debate: Israeli prime ministers, some observant rabbis, and even Jewish entertainers have emphasized their gratitude to Evangelical Christian movements for their support of Israel. Yet those movements, like their messianic Jewish cousins, seek to supplant traditional Judaism with a vision that is heretical to it.

The reason commonly given for this otherwise strange Christian-Jewish alliance is political: Since Israel has tended to be politically isolated in the world, it needs all the allies it can obtain, from any source. According to this thinking, we should embrace any group, including messianic Jewish groups that support the State of Israel. As Eshman indicates, the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute supports the State of Israel by spending money in it.

I would argue that, given the long-term threat that messianic Jewish and Christian groups pose for Jews, the State of Israel should work harder to be less politically isolated, so that it can more easily obtain support from organizations and countries that do not represent a challenge to Jewish beliefs and survival.

Barry H. Steiner, political science professor, California State University, Long Beach

The Real Danger of Christian Missionaries

Dennis Prager wrote a very important article on the dangers of Christian missionaries who try to convert Jews by telling them that “you can believe Jesus is the Messiah and still stay Jewish” (“Jews for Jesus,” Nov. 22). The problem, however, goes way beyond this deception. What missionaries conveniently leave out in their deceptive scheme is the Christian belief that Jesus is … God. Yes, it is this idea, above all, that crosses the line for virtually every Jew: Not just that Jesus is the messiah, but that the messiah will be God in a body.

In my four decades of dialoguing with Jews who have converted to Christianity, my No. 1 argument for bringing Jews back to their faith has been that very point: Jews can believe a human being is the Messiah but never that he is God. That is beyond the Jewish pale. It is idolatry of the highest order. The founder of Jews for Jesus was well aware of this danger when he told his followers, “Make sure you don’t tell them that Jesus is God until much later.” 

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, Jews for Judaism

Dennis Prager responds: 

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz makes an important point. Years ago I wrote a column in which I suggested that Jews make a deal with Jews for Jesus: If you continue to believe that Jesus was the Messiah but drop belief in Jesus as God, we will embrace you as fellow Jews. Jews have believed in any number of Jews as the Messiah – from Bar Kokhba to Shabtai Tzvi – and have always been considered Jews. But they never believed that anyone was God. 

Having said that, I also want to clarify that I do not believe that Christians are idolaters.

Now Is the Time to Preserve Jewish History

As an English Gentile, I first became fascinated about the Kindertransport after seeing the memorials at Liverpool Street Station in London (“Survivors to Mark 75th Anniversary of Kindertransport,” Nov. 22). The Holocaust was not really covered in our history lessons at school, and it has only been [depicted in] the documentaries (“Into the Arms of Strangers” and “Auschwitz: The Nazis and ‘The Final Solution’ ”), various books and the films like “Schindler’s List” and “The Diary of Anne Frank.” This chapter must be kept alive. I am moved by it and I feel that we all have to be reminded about it more and more as those who were part of the Kindertransport grow older. Memories will fade, the message will lose impact with time, but whilst it is still possible, there must be a serious attempt to make the Holocaust a permanent part of world history, so that it will never happen again — something that unfortunately has happened since the demise of the Eastern Bloc.

Richard Hood via jewishjournal.com

Beautiful ‘Walk’

I can’t wait to see it (“ ‘Walk’ Changes a Life,” Nov. 22). I was in the congregation when Rabbi David Wolpe told this profound story. I knew then that I would never, ever forget it. Mesmerizing and absolutely inspirational. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story with the world!

Jennifer Malvin via jewishjournal.com


The byline on an interview with author Mitch Albom (Nov. 22) should have been Dora Levy Mossanen.

An incorrect photo accompanied chef Michel Ohayon’s recipe in the story “Eight Chefs’ New Chanukah Delights, One for Each Night” (Nov. 22). This is the correct photo.

Hundreds of missionaries targeting Jewish neighborhoods

Wednesday afternoon I answered my door in Pico Robertson to discover three young people, ranging from 18 to 22 years old. They wanted to talk to me about “Israel Restoration.” For a moment I thought they were talking about rebuilding Israeli forests. However, the moment I saw their literature, I knew they were Christian missionaries.

I welcomed them into my home and proceeded to give them a two-hour lesson about the spiritual beauty and integrity of Judaism. I also answered their questions, including who I thought Jesus was.

I left them with some things to ponder and they left me with a DVD Testimonial of their “boss,” Tom Cantor, and a Hebrew-English New Testament.

It turns out that Cantor is a multi-millionaire Jewish businessman who converted to and became part of the 70-million-strong evangelical Christian movement. He produced the DVD about his conversion to Christianity and hired 200 young Christians to spread the Gospel in Jewish neighborhoods including Encino, Westwood, Beverly Hills and Hancock Park.

My encounter was cordial and respectful; however, the average individual would not be as prepared as I was for such an encounter. I, in fact, would not mind having a face-to-face discussion with Tom Cantor himself, if for no other reason than to dispel the negative Jewish stereotypes on his DVD as well as some of his glaring theological mistakes.

There is a good chance you or your children will encounter missionaries. More than 85% of high school and college students report they have been approached. This may happen in person; however, the internet has become the more popular and effective arena for proselytizing, giving missionaries easy access into homes and dormitory rooms.

To prepare you for an encounter, whether in person or online, I have a few suggestions. Firstly, be aware that the best response may be to politely and firmly say, “No thank you.” If you do choose to engage in dialogue, don’t assume the missionaries are correct simply because you don’t have answers to their questions, and don’t feel pressured to give an answer on the spot. There are always two sides to every argument. If you apply good Critical Thinking skills you will take time to research your replies.

Secondly, turn to your rabbi for answers or visit the JewsForJudaism.org website, which has an extensive library and free literature for download.

Finally, be aware that many missionaries give away free Bibles that are replete with misleading and incorrect translations of the Hebrew original.

Unfortunately, 80% of today’s North American Jews are unable to read or understand Hebrew. An accurate and trustworthy English translation of the entire Jewish Scriptures is vital to making an informed study of Judaism, and now there is a new and important tool that meets this need.

ArtScroll Publications has released a new English translation of the complete Jewish Bible, and I was one of several consultants who fine-tuned the commentary notes, using my specific expertise to provide insights into passages that have frequently been distorted or mistranslated in non-Jewish Bibles. 

This new Bible, “The ArtScroll English Tanach,” is a wonderful resource for the English-speaking Jewish community, and especially for unaffiliated Jews and students. The easily accessible knowledge it contains will certainly prove to be a valuable asset for those using vital Critical Thinking skills to evaluate the often cleverly deceptive claims of missionaries.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz is the Founder of Jews for Judaism international. He can be reached at 310-556-3344 or {encode=”LA@JewsforJudaism.org” title=”LA@JewsforJudaism.org”}.

First Person – A Mother of Wisdom

Calcutta’s kaleidoscope of teeming streets, sprawling markets and chaotic taxis has always mesmerized me.

At times, it seems as though all 10 million denizens of this eastern Indian metropolis are roaming the city at once, surging in tidal waves, an urban sea of humanity. It was here that Mother Teresa pursued her humanitarian mission for almost 70 years.

My wife, Simone, and I have visited Calcutta (now called Kolkata) often, setting aside time to plod our way through the cacophonous traffic along Chandra Bose Road to the calm oasis of Mother Teresa’s shelter for children, Shishu Bhavan. We would spend a day or two volunteering, as do so many others from around the world, to care for the youngsters. The volunteers always included Jews, who were welcomed as all others in this basically Catholic institution.

The children, salvaged from the streets or often left at the main gate, found refuge here from a harsh world. We fed and washed them, and played games with them. From one year to the next we got to know the familiar faces of those orphans and abandoned waifs not fortunate enough to have been adopted by families from India and abroad.

On one memorable visit to the shelter my wife sat on the floor telling picture-book stories to two wide-eyed toddlers tucked under her arms. In another room, I lingered at the crib bed of Priti, a disabled teenager whose congenital spinal condition left her helplessly prone and silent. Priti could not speak coherently; could scarcely move her limbs. I stroked her sleek back hair and hummed songs to her, as she studied me intently with her coal-black eyes. The nuns had told me she had little chance of long-term survival, and she has since died. Her contorted face remains deeply etched in my memory.

On earlier visits to the shelter we had never met Mother Teresa, who died eight years ago on Sept. 5. World traveler that she was, she had always been abroad when we were there.

This time we got lucky. We climbed the several flights of stairs and waited in the passage outside Mother Teresa’s room, curious and excited. A young nun who was to introduce us said that Mother Teresa’s small room was very Spartan. Emulating the poor, the nun said, Mother Teresa slept on a narrow cot, and used no electric fan to cope with Calcutta’s sweltering climate.

The door opened and a tiny figure in the familiar white and sapphire-blue bordered sari strode toward us in her bronzed bare feet. A graceful smile lit up her furrowed features, as she brought her palms together welcoming us with the traditional Bengali, “Namaskar.”

“Last Sunday I passed 80 years,” she said, with a cheerful lilt.

“In my religion,” I replied, “we wish you 120 years!”

Her quizzical look told me she might never have heard that Jewish birthday greeting before. I was convinced it hadn’t registered when, after telling her we were from New York, she spiritedly advised Simone, “You must go to our mission in the South Bronx … you can help out there.”

We chatted for a few minutes about the needs of the Calcutta shelter. As this scarcely 5-foot-tall dynamic woman spoke, I searched her eyes. They had an endless depth emanating a calm assurance and an artless candor. These hazel eyes seemed to project intense compassion.

Was I ascribing this aura out of awe inspired by her? Or was it a kind of celebrity worship?

I wasn’t sure.

She held up her right hand and bent each extended finger, one at a time, as she recited five words: “He did this for me.” Simone and I smiled at this simple prayer of gratitude. From somewhere on her person she produced two little yellow cards on which were printed a poem she had written. She offered them to us, touching our hands gently:

“The fruit of Silence is Prayer

The fruit of Prayer is Faith

The fruit of Faith is Love

The fruit of Love is Service

The fruit of Service is Peace”

I still have that yellow card. But I choose to remember first another poem, far more personal, said to be in her handwriting, found on the wall above her bed after she died:

“The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow.

Be good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be good enough.

Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God.

It was never between you and them anyway.”

For more information on Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, call (718) 292-0019 or write 335 E. 145th Street, Bronx, N.Y.

Jack Goldfarb has been traveling worldwide and writing about his journeys for more than 30 years. Formerly a resident of London and Tel Aviv, he now lives in New York City.