Evangelical group stirs up Jewish community

The Age/March 2, 2005
By Barney Zwartz

Tensions are high in Melbourne's Jewish community over an evangelical campaign by a Christian group called Jews for Jesus.

The group's Australian director, Bob Mendelson, complained yesterday that his car tyres had been slashed in Sydney and a Jews for Jesus billboard depicting a Holocaust survivor had been vandalised in Caulfield.

Meanwhile, Jewish leaders accused the group of "preying on the weak and vulnerable." The Jewish Community Council of Victoria circulated a letter calling Jews for Jesus shameless and warning Jews not to "engage with them."

Mr Mendelson said that Jews for Jesus had handed out 39,000 booklets in Melbourne last week and met a "steady increase in hostility."

"The desecrated billboard is a holocaust survivor trying to say, 'Hear my story'. The vandals cut parts out and wrote "remember" in Hebrew," he said. "I think most Jews would deplore this."

Mr Mendelson said Jews for Jesus was not just targeting Jews.

"Making the Gospel known, that's the point," he said.

But he admitted the group concentrated on Caulfield and St Kilda, suburbs with large Jewish populations. He said 17 people had "accepted Jesus with us on the street corner" and others had given their names for further discussion.

Paul Gardner, chairman of the (Jewish) Anti-Defamation League, yesterday said the campaign was "trying to undermine Judaism and is clearly rejected by the Jewish community".

He said it was impossible to be Jewish and Christian at the same time. But he criticised the vandalism, saying: "We can reject beliefs without engaging in that sort of behaviour."

Jews for Jesus members say they are "completed Jews", who believe the Messiah has come in Jesus. They identify as Jewish.

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