When the persecution comes from within our community
Jewish people are very familiar with the experience of persecution. It’s a significant part of our history, and it’s part of what defines us as a people. Prejudice, fear, and hatred proliferate when groups of people make assumptions and have false beliefs about “others” who are different from them, and usually considered “lesser than.” In the worst extremes, it leads to the horrors of genocide. In less extreme circumstances, it can lead to harassment, bullying, and the belief that the “others” have no right to share the same space, or attend the same events. Sadly, this is exactly the type of prejudice that we experienced at the Celebrate Israel Festival, and the persecution came from within the Jewish community.
The Celebrate Israel Festival was meant to be a joyful event, which it was, and we were so happy to participate in it! Those of us in leadership at Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue in Agoura Hills had recently decided to purchase a booth for the event. We love Israel, we love Israeli music, and we love to dance! Why wouldn’t we be there?
When we were setting up our booth in the morning, I mentioned to a couple of nearby Security guards that we would appreciate them “keeping an eye” on us and our booth since we anticipated that there might be some people who were not happy that we were there. Our booth was at the very end of the Vendor Village so it was easy for them to stroll by now and then. One of these Security guards later told me, “My wife and my mother-in-law are Messianic Jews, so I understand!”
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz wrote an article last week titled, “Missionaries Invade 2015 Israel Festival in Los Angeles,” and he implied that those of us representing Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue were there by deception. I personally submitted the application for the booth at the festival, and filled out all the required information, including the complete name of our synagogue. The coordinators of the event did not question it. There were no questions about our beliefs on the application. Why did he feel that that we should have been required to provide that information when it was not asked of anyone else?
We are very offended by Rabbi Kravitz’ comments in his article. We do not consider ourselves missionaries, nor did we do anything at the festival other than have friendly conversations with people who stopped by our booth, just like all the other people staffing booths. We did not distribute flyers outside of our booth, we did not lure anyone into any conversations, nor did we go to other booths to try to convince other people to believe what we believe. If they had questions, we responded. I can’t say that the same peaceful approach was true for Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz and his team.
Early in the day, Rabbi Kravitz approached me and angrily asked if the organizers of the event knew who we were. I assured him that I had completely submitted the application. He began to harass me, challenged my beliefs, and called me an idolater. I told him that we were not there to argue or debate, and we just wanted to enjoy the festival. He said he would like to meet with me to continue this conversation and he gave me his card. Nothing to indicate that he is the founder of Jews for Judaism. He stopped by later in the afternoon to personally apologize to me for being abrasive and offensive, and I thanked him for his apology. He told me I had a “sweet neshama.” He asked for my phone number and I declined to give it to him. I silently questioned the sincerity of his apology, and that lack of sincerity has now been validated by the comments in his article.
Rabbi Kravitz also sent several people to talk to me throughout the day, as well as bringing literature from his organization. Some of these people were upfront about the fact that they were representing Jews for Judaism, while others denied it, but were later observed staffing their booth.
One of the people he brought over to talk to me was an Orthodox Rabbi, who later looked me up on Linked In and sent emails to me. I acknowledged his first two emails, and I shared with him that I treasured my Conservative Jewish upbringing very deeply, to which he replied, “Growing up Conservative may not have been sufficiently meaningful or afforded you that personal connection to G-d in a Jewish way. Conservative Judaism admittedly distances itself from many of the mitzvos that follow the Sinai revelation leaving out much of a profound personal relationship that would follow. If Conservative Judaism had any real meaning for you, you might still be identifying as a Conservative Jew, and perhaps not as a messianic Jew. Is that fair to say?” I briefly responded by saying, “Let’s just agree to respect our differences, and bless one another in our spiritual journeys,” to which I received a very lengthy insulting response. I have not responded, nor do I plan to do so.
So apparently, Conservative Judaism is not an acceptable form of Judaism to Jews for Judaism either. Apparently, their version of Judaism is the only correct one!
Rabbi Kravitz called us “missionaries targeting Jews for conversion.” Those of us at Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue do not “target people for conversion,” because we have not converted. For those of us who were born Jewish, we are still Jewish. We worship in the same way as many other Jewish congregations. We observe Shabbat and all the Jewish holidays, we have a weekly Torah service in Hebrew and English; many of us do not eat treif; my parents, grandparents, and all of their ancestors were Jewish! I was born a Jew and I will die a Jew, regardless of what Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz and his team want to call me!
So we were not the ones who were being deceptive, distributing literature and trying to convince others to change their beliefs. In contrast, we were the ones who were targeted by Jews for Judaism doing that to us! We were just there to be in solidarity with other Jewish organizations in support of Israel, to enjoy the festival, and to have a peaceful visible presence just like the people in most of the other vendor booths.
Rabbi Kravitz has raised the art of exaggeration to a new level. He has exaggerated what happened at the Israeli Festival for his own gain. His organization “Jews for Judaism” thrives on controversy. As long as he can create fear and misunderstanding, he can use that misperception to justify his organization’s existence. It’s so sad when the persecution comes from within.
It is time for us as Jews to move beyond fear and misunderstanding, and recognize that Messianic Jews are a legitimate part of the Jewish community who love and support Israel. We share the same desire as religious Jews; that Kol Yisrael will embrace HaShem in all of His fullness and wonder.
Barbra Miner is the Chairperson of the Board of Beth Emunah Messianic Synagogue in Agoura Hills. She is also the Principle Consultant of Barbra Miner and Associates, a consulting firm that provides leadership training and development, coaching, and consulting services.