The Soul Snatchers of Long Island

Luxenberg, Stan

THE SOUL SNATCHERS OF LONG ISLAND CAN A MASSAPEQUACOfjFEc HOUSE DEFEND OUR CHILDRM AGAINST A12-ACRE ESTATE IN STONY BROOK? STAN LUXENBERG PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL AWN Marvin was thoroughly caught up...

...Besides housing the organization's approximately 25 full time paid staff members, the complex being renovated will provide dormitory space for 60 students who will attend summer missionary training courses...
...But Rosen's brash new appeal did not sit well with the conservative leaders of the American Board...
...They know what the problems of the Jewish community are...
...Of particular concern in New York is that middle class young people have been joining...
...By and large, young people who would come into the synogogue didn't feel loved...
...Congregations operate in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Chicago, Los Angeles and other cities...
...Reverend Jack Hickman, pastor of the Christ Lutheran Church of East Meadow, Long Island, believes the success of the missionaries has been exaggerated...
...Others closed their eyes tightly, hands folded in prayer...
...They stressed winning converts through quiet persuasion and careful study of the Bible...
...Repeating the words over and over the believers came to their feet, clapping and smiling...
...Consequently, there is no problem with accepting both books...
...That night I stayed in the modern building with thick carpeting and freshly painted walls where men staff members live...
...We needed one...
...Hebeher suggested some members may be psychotic...
...But I see it primarily as a history book, written by awesomely brilliant men who, like any writers, had certain biases...
...There are people who rob, who murder, and they're still considered Jews...
...In the past year the newcomers have been attacked by rabbis and Jewish leaders in articles, on the radio and from pulpits...
...We don't have any youth group or cards...
...It's designed in such a way to get those most susceptible to assimilation interested...
...An ordained Lutheran minister, Hickman is descended from Mar-ranos, Jews forced to maintain their religion in secret while publicly attending church...
...Another group, led by Larry Feldman, has deempha-sized the use of the cross...
...I'm going to pray for you every day until you're saved...
...The doctor told me I would never be able to function without taking medication every day...
...Most of their converts are gentiles, not Jews," he quoted...
...If that was what Sandy was trying to do, she was succeeding...
...Was there a particular moment when you found Jesus...
...Our conversation rambled through a variety of topics and they seemed as bewildered by my beliefs as I was by theirs...
...When I was in the Navy I had a nervous breakdown," he explained...
...I knew from that moment on that God was real...
...While the missionaries' success is always limited, they usually win over a few Jews, enough to please the benefactors...
...With financial help from the American Board he attended a fundamentalist Bible college, becoming a missionary in 1957...
...But since I have found Yeshua I have no need for drugs...
...During the service the preacher called for anyone ready to receive the Lord to come forward...
...When she finished, she offered the crowd a testimonial...
...Hickman, like most Jews, is still waiting for David's descendant to begin his reign...
...Glory to your holy name...
...They come to socialize in a relaxed Jewish atmosphere...
...Theories abound about why Jews join the Hebrew Christians...
...Besides B'nai Yeshua, the major missionary organizations are Jews for Jesus and the American Board of Missions to the Jews...
...While many former members have angrily left the church, hundreds of dedicated followers have joined...
...By providing young people with a place of their own, we're preventing them from going to the Hebrew Christians," said Frances Ross...
...Some have approached Gershon Winkler, who has assisted with the program...
...I couldn't understand that...
...As a boy, Hickman saw such missionary groups testifying at his Oregon church...
...They didn't feel wanted...
...The service lasted about an hour...
...How could Jewish Jesus freaks be sophicticated...
...When you have a Jewish mother and a gentile father, it's like having matzoh balls and pork chops on the same lunch plate...
...In the highly competitive missionary business, Mike Evans has arrived...
...They didn't know what was going on____We don't oppose Christianity, but we are against the deceptive methods of the missionaries...
...When they join one of these groups they become happy...
...By offering friendship, the Christians gain the trust of strangers...
...Marvin, a heavyset young man wearing a yarmulka on his frizzy hair, opened the service by singing the Sh'ma, using the traditional melody...
...Wearing a leisure suit, he stood up and, hands raised over his head, cried out, "Praise you Yeshua...
...The American Board is proud that many of its converts go on to become active missionaries...
...The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York hired a fulltime staff member to keep tabs on the Hebrew Christians and determine what action the Jewish community should take...
...die-aged and older people...
...Occasionally less restrained Jews have assaulted the young missionaries working on the streets...
...Now they use subterfuge...
...Larry Evans, pastor of the Coney Island mission of the American Board of Missions to the Jews, said that in the last several years his group has increasingly used traditional Jewish customs and symbolsóbut not as a deceptive tactic...
...There's a constant 'love Jesus' atmosphere...
...Then, having reminded Israel that there is only one God, he sang another line, praising God for sending "Yeshua ha-Mashiach," Jesus the Messiah...
...If you bring up the cross when talking to Jewish people they won't let you get to the real issue which is whether Christ is the Messiah...
...No one invited them...
...Avi Kraft has helped open after-school Hebrew classes...
...They accept Jesus, then they come home with a yar-mulka and tell their Reform parents they believe in Jesus...
...During several generations of leading double lives his family developed a strange religion that combines Orthodox Jewish customs and a belief in Jesus the man...
...Jewish leaders of the East Meadow area became concerned about Hickman's success during the fall of 1975...
...The groups operate independently, but they share a basic conviction that Jews should believe in Christ...
...They are people possessing beautiful souls and searching for God...
...It's a nonverbal reality," he said...
...They claim to be part of a common Jewish Messianic movement, a rising of Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah...
...The group now has missions in more than 50 cities around the world, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem...
...There is a large gym, a dining hall and an ample kitchen...
...Rosen was a not particularly religious sporting goods buyer in Denver until he was converted in 1953...
...Rosen decided to offer them his answer...
...It doesn't matter what language you use...
...Did they ever become discouraged with their work and feel they are not winning any converts...
...We pray every day for Israel and for Soviet Jewry...
...The coffeehouse, called Bilu, is deliberately located in the basement of a restaurant to attract young people normally reluctant to attend mixers and social events held in Long Island synogogues...
...I was skeptical about Winkler's assessment of the new Hebrew Christians...
...I think you're going to be saved...
...What was it like to discover God...
...Some people, convinced that only a handful of Jews have joined the groups, are concerned about the Jewish community's response to the problem...
...Now its specialty is street theater, aimed at young people...
...Gershon Winkler had warned me about this...
...Evans denies the figure is accurate, but to me it seems about right...
...You know, Stan, I'll bet you're going to come back here...
...I had written extensively, but I realized not many people were paying any attention," Rosen recalled...
...Young people who get into these groups seem to be sincere," said Gershon Winkler of the New York Board of Jewish Education...
...No, they replied, they were winning converts and even if they weren't, doing God's work is fulfilling...
...According to his haunting autobiography, Cohn established a storefront headquarters in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, then a neighborhood of muddy streets and 15,000 Jews...
...He joined the mission in January 1976...
...You know when it happens...
...Winkler agrees to help a community only if it can provide a place outside a Jewish institution...
...The missionary was assaulted on several occasions and once one of his sons was beaten up and both his lees broken...
...We have to assume you've come to infiltrate us...
...Its million-dollar budget now comes from private donors, collections at churches and sales of records and books...
...You know, Stan," Bob said, lying in his bed across the room from mine, "I'll bet you're going to come back here...
...I think you're going to be saved...
...We're just basically Jewish kids who have had a spiritual awakens/Moment ing," Evans explains...
...While B'nai Yeshua keeps its records secret, the other two groups are quite open...
...When Sandy went off to a small North Carolina college she became friends with other students who were religious Christians...
...A member of the B'nai Yeshua choral group, he had just returned from a 20 month tour that included stops in Florida, Minnesota, and Indiana...
...The "good news" she was telling me was becoming depressing...
...A middle-aged man in a business suit walked up to a woman demonstrator at the Democratic Convention last summer and struck her in the face, knocking her down...
...In fact, at 29, he is the head of a substantia] and growing concern...
...Ross and Diane Cohen opened a coffee house in Massapequa as an alternative to Christian centers and Hickman...
...Explaining how the hand of God had touched her, Sandy talked with a wonderful Southern charm, radiating a comforting warmth...
...They were constantly asking questions...
...The whole focus is on Jesus...
...That faith has strengthened their Jewishness, they claim...
...What was I doing sleeping in this house with people I didn't know...
...Her father was born in Lithuania, and during World War II one of her aunts hid from the Nazis in a cave...
...Most of the staff members were Jewish...
...The crowd's emotion reached a high point when they sang a simple song: "Behold God is my salvation...
...shirt and wearing wire rim glasses, the missionary could easily pass for a Jewish businessman...
...Shortly after the UN passed a resolution branding Israel a criminal state, Jews in Massapequa, Long Island, paraded through the streets in protest...
...People who write this kind of stuff are morons...
...I grew up in a kosher gentile home, loved but confused...
...I thought they were JDL," Frances Ross recalled...
...We don't know how many have been 'ensnared' and yet we make all kinds of statements, even from those of us who have never met any Hebrew Christians, and few of us have...
...The rabbis are blaming the mothers, and the mothers are blaming the rabbis," he said...
...Despised by Jews and Christians, and opposed by the missionary groups, he is an odd man out...
...On the night I attended, most of the 80 folding card chairs, set up in the large room that doubles as a basketball court, were filled with people in their twenties and thirties...
...Many New York Jews, perceiving the Hebrew Christians as a threat, have begun efforts to counter the missionaries...
...Gradually she overcame her reluctance...
...As she spoke I wrote furiously...
...Now our people believe in the word of God...
...They had probably told their stories hundreds of times, but they repeated them enthusiastically, as if no one had ever inquired before...
...In the streets, Black Panthers hawked their newspaper, feminists marched and hundreds of longhaired young people asked pas-sersby for "spare change...
...Halleluya...
...Some raised their hands, looking upward and crying out...
...This produces anti-Semitism...
...In the past several months various militant groups have attempted to infiltrate the missionaries and harass them, Evans informs me...
...Although she is a Christian, Sandy said, her Jewishness is still very important...
...Reverend Hickman argues that the coffeehouses and other such programs cannot combat the missionaries...
...Hadassah chapters have invited speakers to talk on the subject...
...The crowd was a mixture of regular staff members of B'nai Yeshua and visitors...
...Clearly, if we are protesting too much and reacting hysterically, it reflects our own sense of ineptitude or absence of real commitment and faith, rather than an external problem...
...Although this concern about the missionaries has only grown in the last year, the Hebrew Christians have been active since the 19th century...
...When the missionary stood up, he hit her again...
...Silverman, who is 25 and from Pittsburgh, said that before his conversion he wanted to be an actor...
...They are unhappy...
...I had had enough...
...She met other Jewish believers, and last August, after much prayer, she joined the mission where she does secretarial work...
...STAN LUXENBERG PHOTOGRAPHS BY BILL AWN Marvin was thoroughly caught up in the spirit...
...Rosen's media-oriented techniques opened up new avenues for the Christian missionaries...
...Speaking in Yiddish, Cohn told his fellow immigrants that the Messiah had already arrived, teaching them about Jesus using Hebrew editions of New Testaments...
...One night I saw the hand of God reaching out to me...
...He believes that the success of the Hebrew Christians is an indication of the failure of some Jewish institutions...
...Dressed casually in corduroy slacks and a striped rugby Stan Luxenberg, a free-lance writer, has worked as an Assistant Editor with the Washington Post and The New Leader...
...The enthusiasm was contagious as some people began dancing...
...I got little sleep that night...
...This stuff is terrible," he yells, holding up a newspaper article and glaring at me as if I had written it...
...Marshal Hebeher, a psychiatrist who treated one member of Jews for Jesus and has spoken to others, offered a tentative explanation...
...Kraft said some groups encourage children to attend after-school centers that, while decorated with Jewish ritual objects, provide classes in Christianity...
...The success of proselytizing, he believes, is related to assimilation and intermarriage, and the Jewish community is standing still while those problems worsen...
...Hebrew schools have begun to beef up their curricula, emphasizing the prophets and Christianity so that young people will understand how to react to missionaries...
...All the Hebrew Christians I met have something odd in their backgrounds...
...He silk-screened the phrase on 450 posters and circulated them throughout the San Francisco area...
...There is a lack of reality testing," he noted...
...Many, alienated from the religions of their parents, were exploring the occult and Eastern beliefs...
...One young man, who regularly goes to B'nai Yeshua on Friday nights, said he attends his own church, the Smithtown Gospel Tabernacle, every Sunday...
...It is possible to be a Jew and attend a Baptist church, they argue...
...It had become clear that this lovely 22-year-old woman could go on all night talking and smiling, oblivious to much around her, intoxicated with her Lord...
...I have reverence for the book too, I said...
...Working on busy street corners in Manhattan, last year the organization passed out two million pieces of brightly colored literature...
...Jews for Jesus members draw large lunch hour crowds when they perform skits designed to jolt the curious into thinking about Christ...
...When I found they were enticing Jewish children I was horrified," he recalled...
...Many of them need something to belong to," he said...
...Mike Evans, a Jew who loves Jesus, is screaming at me...
...They said I wasn't Jewish any more...
...I had a Jewish friend who couldn't care less about God and it hurt me so bad to see that...
...The half dozen visitors I talked to were all Christians...
...They know some kids are searching for spiritual answers...
...They have a personal relationship with God that resulted from asking God to come into their lives...
...Halleluya...
...After the service the congregation milled around for some "fellowship...
...What makes the Hebrew Christians baffling is that they are clearly sincere...
...There was some favorable response...
...They told me they accepted the Bible literally as the divine word...
...We're trying to show people that you can believe in the Messiah and still be Jewish...
...The Christians are genuinely moved and contribute the funds necessary to mount national campaigns...
...Most of our kids were typical American Jews before they came to us...
...The sessions are only temporary steps, helping the new believer to fortify his convictions...
...While Morgan's article is quite vitriolic, he is not the only New Yorker to provide B'nai Yeshua with a less than hospitable welcome...
...Cohn labored in poverty until a Baptist minister took up a collection in his church to support the missionary...
...As I moved through the crowd, Deacon Silverman came up and steered me over to talk to Sandy Siegel, the woman who had, earlier, blessed the candles...
...Except for several boring but mercifully brief speeches, I enjoyed it...
...Members of the groups say that they have simply been given the gift of faith...
...The proceedings that followed were a grab bag of traditional Hebrew songs and hymns of praise to Jesus: A woman named Sandy Siegel covered her eyes and blessed the Sabbath candles, first in Hebrew, then in English...
...Hebrew Christian movement can be traced to Leopold Conn, a Hungarian rabbi who, in the 1890's, became convinced that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah...
...They want love...
...But if you believe in Yeshua, you aren't Jewish...
...A lot of the parents thought the groups were Jewish...
...For centuries they have used every method to convert us, including torture...
...He stood up, hands raised over his head, and cried out, 4 4 Praise you Yeshua...
...People were speaking in slogans...
...Fundamentalist Christians believe that the Messiah has come and the throne has been reestablished in heaven...
...They've never gotten so much love before...
...Some of them took her to a Baptist service...
...Did he feel at all uncomfortable praying with Jews...
...Rosen soon broke with the organization and set up his own operation...
...Some groups claim they attempt to preserve the Jew-ishness of converts...
...The young people want to be Jewish, but they don't know how...
...It was the same presence I had felt before only magnified 20 times...
...It blows their minds...
...Although these Jews who love Jesus are somewhat detached from reality, content with themselves, too happy, they do not seem to be programmed like the ruthless zombies of the radical political groups or the "blissed-out" devotees of various gurus...
...The people involved are not kooks," he said...
...Several groups have formed elaborate national networks...
...They said I wasn't Jewish anymore...
...No, these friendly people would certainly do nothing to physically hurt me, I reasoned...
...In fact, they were Hickman's people...
...They are searching for a spiritual fulfillment that Judaism could offer...
...Having finally indicated why he is raging at me, Evans grows calm...
...It blows their minds...
...Rosen's motto became Jews for Jesus...
...Deacon Silverman, head of the missionary outreach team, was led to Jesus by friends...
...Finally, exhausted, we turned out the lights and went to bed...
...I think God sent you out here for a reason...
...The messiah is returning very soon, he noted, and the Second Coming is being preceded by a revival of faith...
...Had they already drugged me...
...Finally I stopped her...
...For example, Larry Feldman of the American Board was a substitute teacher with little religious background and no real direction in his life before he discovered Jesus...
...The American Board was a conservative organization whose appeal was often to midWhile Jews for Jesus remains the most strident of the missionary organizations, other groups have started gearing their appeal to the young...
...Living in San Francisco for the summer of 1970, Rosen had a clear view of both the turbulence and excitement many young people were experiencing...
...The main goal of most groups is to funnel people into fundamentalist Christian churches...
...People from other Jewish communities have visited Bilu to learn how to establish coffeehouses...
...The young people stood up and praised Jesus...
...Many of them begin explaining how they discovered Christ by saying that they grew up among religious Christians or that they had been drifting aimlessly...
...Each time I looked up from my notebook she was still beaming at me, pouring out her story...
...Jews for Jesus spread across the country...
...Since 1972, Rabbi Avraham Weiss, a professor at Stern College, has worked with a number of young people involved with Christian cults...
...I grew up in the South where I was the only Jewish kid in the high school," she told them, speaking earnestly in a voice marked by the accent of her native North Carolina...
...Jews for Jesus says it spends about $1 million a year and has 71 full time staff members...
...Sandy wanted to step down, but was afraid...
...They've had no Jewish background...
...But if you believe in Yeshua, you aren't Jewish...
...You say you're from a magazine," he remarks, "but we have to assume you've come to infiltrate us...
...There are people out there who rob, who murder, who are atheists, and they're still considered Jews...
...Rabbis have held conferences...
...At a number of points in the service the crowd broke into spontaneous outcryings...
...Some time later the young woman learned that Jesus was real, a discovery her parents and relatives could not comprehend...
...The only reason they opt for missionaries is that there's a void in their life...
...Sandy said she always had strong religious convictions...
...Hickman said most of the funds for the national Jewish Christian missionaries come from sincere fundamentalist Christians in the Midwest and West who probably do not know any Jews...
...Jolted by what they believed to be the Lutheran Church's deceptive appeal to young people, Mrs...
...I went to Stony Brook to find out...
...Jews contacted by the missionaries are encouraged to attend Bible study meetings held for new converts...
...Our reaction to the Hebrew Christians has been fascinating," Rabbi Samuel Glaser, President of the Long Island Board of Rabbis, told a meeting of the New York Board of Rabbis in February...
...Sandy talked nonstop for an hour...
...Aided by church dollars, Cohn expanded his mission, opening a storefront in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn...
...Was it already too late...
...Hickman is not part of any national religious body, but he is responsible for much of the furor over missionaries...
...One of the missionaries' favorite tactics, he explained, was to introduce young Jews to missionaries of the opposite sex...
...By offering poor Jews free centers for social and religious activities and sending children to summer camps they have won over whole families...
...The American Board lists 100 on its payroll and a budget of almost $2 million...
...Members of B'nai Yeshua were pleased to interrupt their Friday night socializing to explain how they came to believe in Jesus...
...In the age of McLuhan, Rosen came to feel, a more direct approach was required...
...As the organization spread throughout the country it changed its name to the American Board of Missions to the Jews...
...Across the country there are dozens of Hebrew Christian groups...
...One well-dressed contingent of young people enthusiastically sang "Am Yisrael Chai" and marched in tight order...
...Hebrew Christian organizations are located throughout the New York area, most of them small groups who meet to study the Bible or pass out literature on the street...
...In an autobiographical essay called "Jesus Made Me Jewish," Mike Evans describes how he was raised...
...We're not giving people classes to screw up their minds," Evans noted...
...Not at all," he said...
...If you have it in a Temple, you will only reach those who belong to the Temple," he said...
...For several hours I sat up talking with Deacon Silverman and Bob, a Catholic in his late thirties from Pine Bluffs, Arkansas, who recently joined the mission staff...
...They believe completely in life after death and were troubled when I told them I do not...
...The article, written by Hesh Morgan for The Jewish Press, a New York newspaper, suggests in strong terms that the "soul snatchers" should go back where they came from...
...I think God sent you out here for a reason...
...Perhaps I was afraid Bob's prayers would be answered...
...One of my hopes was to be a Rabbi's wife," she explained...
...Over the next decade Rosen worked diligently to win converts, but by the late 1960's he had become dissatisfied with the Christian organization's techniques...
...During these times, Marvin, who was sitting next to me, was thoroughly caught up in the spirit...
...One of the leading examples is Moishe Rosen, who an American Board official once called the most effective Hebrew Christian missionary of the century...
...You say you're from a magazine...
...Especially when your mother is as Jewish as Golda Meir...
...Most Jews associate the symbol of the cross with the Crusades or the Inquisition," he explained...
...Every Friday B'nai Yeshua holds services in the main room of the Stony Brook headquarters...
...Elliot Klayman, a lawyer from Cincinnati, who had delivered the main sermon, explained how he had been lost in a forest in Finland and discovered Jesus...
...These people are very sophisticated," said Gershon Winkler...
...They didn't really care about Israel...
...They didn't believe in God...
...A tall wiry man who normally seems rather friendly, Evans is the leader of B'nai Yeshua (sons of Jesus), a Hebrew Christian missionary group that last fall moved from Texas to Stony Brook, Long Island, hoping to convert more Jews...
...I asked...
...B'nai Yeshua, founded by Evans five years ago, has recently purchased 12 pretty acres of ground and a complex of buildings in Stony Brook, N.Y., to serve as its national headquarters...
...One source estimated the whole project will cost $800,000...
...Evans' anger startles me, and I wonder if I have done something to provoke him...
...It receives funds from 3,000 churches and 30,000 individual donors...
...The Jews for Jesus, for example, hold that the New Testament is simply the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies...
...Over the 16 years that Hickman has served as pastor in East Meadow he has led the congregation from ordinary Christianity to his mixed religion...
...Decorated with Israeli posters and offering free food, Bilu was an immediate hit...
...It now draws over a hundred people twice a week...
...One 20-year-old who stands six feet 10 inches found the Lord after going through a difficult period...
...In a few minutes I was completely captivated...
...The Hebrew Christians appear at churches, testifying about their conversions and promising to save more Jewish souls...
...It was simple and vibrant, the audience seemed excited by it...
...In the New York area a number of groups have begun increased campaigns to win converts, going door to door and preaching at campuses...
...Avi Kraft, a yeshiva teacher from the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn has been observing missionary activity since the late 1960's...
...Although there are no firm figures on the number of Hebrew Christians, it is clear that there are at least hundreds of them and that they have become considerably more visible in the last year...
...The week before the service a rabbi and some relatives came from New York to visit her...
...The American 4They accept Jesus, then they come home with a yarmulka and tell their Reform parents they believe in Jesus...
...Bob's words frightened me terribly...
...the spirit is the same...
...But the reality is not as simple as the picture Evans paints...
...She came to believe that God was there...
...Jesus lived and suffered, Hickman believes, but he did not fulfill a primary prophecy, that the Messiah would reestablish the throne of David...

Vol. 2 • May 1977 • No. 7


 
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