Local leaders miffed by church’s invite to Jews for Jesus speaker

New Jersey Jewish News/August 11, 2006
By Debra Rubin

An appearance by a Jews for Jesus missionary arranged by an evangelical church in South Brunswick angered local Jewish leaders, who pledged to expand counter-missionary education efforts within their own institutions.

Coming on the heels of a July 14 appearance by Jews for Jesus in Highland Park, where missionaries passed out literature on Raritan Avenue, the July 26 talk by Stan Telchin to members of Calvary Chapel Crossroads caused enough alarm within the Jewish community that the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County sent a letter asking its rabbis and synagogues be “on the alert” for such activity. It also asked to be kept informed if Jews for Jesus representatives were spotted in any Middlesex County community.

An ad promoting the Calvary Chapel Crossroads appearance by Telchin, founder and former president of the now defunct Stan Telchin Ministries, ran in the Sentinel, a weekly newspaper published by Greater Media Newspapers. In the ad, Telchin describes how he as a Jew reacted when his 21-year-old daughter confessed a belief in Jesus and how the event spurred his own acceptance of Jesus. The ad included a phone number, address, e-mail address, and Web site for Jews for Jesus.

“The ad was so deceptive it made my blood boil,” said Rabbi Mendy Carlebach of the Chabad House of North and South Brunswick. “We cannot tolerate this kind of deception; telling people they can be both Jews and Christians is totally wrong. Even different priests I know are very angry about it because it’s very deceptive.”

Carlebach said he had been undecided on how to handle the situation and even considered attending the July 14 meeting. However, in the end, he decided education and community unity was the answer.

“It’s very clear they’re hoping to attract people who are really lost, and what really worries me is that people who are not comfortable with one thing can, God forbid, fall into this trap,” said Carlebach. “This is the first time I’m facing a missionary project. I think it’s of the utmost importance that the Jewish community get together to fight this at every avenue possible because this is a clear and present danger. This is a war on all fronts. While our brothers and sisters in Israel are under physical attack, we are under spiritual attack.”

The Calvary Chapel Crossroads congregation, which does not have its own building and uses a Plainsboro post office box, rents facilities at Pierre’s Restaurant in the Monmouth Junction section of South Brunswick.

Chabad of South Brunswick also rents the facility for some of its major functions, according to its spiritual leader Rabbi Levi Azimov. A caller who identified himself as the rabbi called the restaurant’s owner the day before Telchin’s appearance and threatened to pull Chabad’s business if Telchin’s appearance wasn’t canceled.

“It wasn’t me,” said Azimov. “I found out when the owner, who’s a nice guy, called me very upset. He doesn’t know anything about this. He just rents to this church.”

Cantor Bruce Rockman of Congregation B’nai Tikvah in North Brunswick was also angered by the event.

“We’re very disappointed that people would come into our community in a country based on freedom of religion and try to take their religion away from people,” Rockman said. “They’re robbing them of their heritage. It splits families. I don’t understand their point. How do they think they can save people by cutting them off from their families and ostracizing them in their own communities?”

Telchin’s talk came at the tail end of a $3 million campaign conducted in July by Jews for Jesus in the greater New York area. The group conducted missionary activity in communities in Essex, Bergen, Union, Monmouth, and Middlesex counties.

However, virtually all the 80 or so people who attended Telchin’s appearance seemed to be church members. Many of those interviewed said they held strongly pro-Israel and pro-Jewish positions and seemed surprised the Jewish community has taken umbrage at the speaker and at Jews for Jesus in general.

“We’re very pro-Israel and pro-Jewish,” said its pastor, Joseph Deprosimmo. “We pray for the Jewish people every day.”

Deprosimmo, who is a South Brunswick police officer, said his church’s sentiments were based on biblical scripture.

Bobbi Lawrence of North Brunswick, a member of Calvary Chapel and Jews for Jesus, said she recommended asking Telchin to speak at her church. Lawrence, who was born Jewish, grew up in West Orange and became a bat mitzva at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston. Today, she follows both Jewish and Christian practices, she said.

She and her current husband were married in a Jewish wedding ceremony under a huppa by two pastors including “a Jewish pastor of the Gospel.”

Lawrence said she was turned off to traditional Jewish practice when she found herself widowed at age 33, after the sudden death of her 600-pound husband. Unable to immediately find a casket to fit him, the two families’ rabbis disagreed about what to do, one insisting a coffin without metal must be found and the other stating that he had to be buried within 24 hours.

“So I started searching for the truth,” said Lawrence. “I had already come to the Lord when I found out about Jews for Jesus.”

Denise Toth of Dunellen, who belongs to another church, Calvary Chapel in North Plainfield, was volunteering at a table covered with Telchin’s two books and literature promoting Jews for Jesus, including a pamphlet called “Jesus Made Me Kosher.”

Although a member of Jews for Jesus, Toth said, she still considered herself to be Jewish, adding, “I was born a Jew and I’ll die a Jew.”

Tactics vs. beliefs

Etzion Neuer, director of the New Jersey office of the Anti-Defamation League, said he wasn’t surprised that Telchin’s hosts were not aware of the “strong feelings aroused by Jews for Jesus within the Jewish community.”

He emphasized that despite disagreements over religious philosophy, the ADL’s main concerns were not the missionary group’s beliefs.

“Our problem is less with the Christian participants than with the outreach tactics directed at the Jewish community,” said Neuer. “They make the messiahship of Jesus a central issue, and some within the Christian community are attracted to this type of message because to them it is recognition of the Jewishness of Jesus, which is an indisputable fact. It’s not our role to judge what makes people go to this particular path of faith. What they are really after is to convince Jews that Jesus is God, along with the father, son, and Holy Ghost, when nothing is less compatible with Judaism. The focus of Jews for Jesus is on proselytizing and the trinity.”

According to the ADL and other Jewish and interfaith groups, Jews for Jesus uses “duplicitous” and “ethically immoral” tactics to attract Jews of marginal observance such as many within the Russian immigrant community.

Scott Hillman, executive director of Jews for Judaism, a Baltimore-based organization dedicated to countering the tactics of Jews for Jesus and other proselytizing groups, said his group had been alerted to the South Brunswick event by community members.

He warned that although the July campaign has ended, the missionary group has planted its seeds.

“They’ve had four weeks to build up a strong grassroots network of Hebrew-Christian congregations or new Christians, who will now go after their Jewish friends,” he added. “They have new evangelical churches to work with.”

However, when asked if the church was giving Jews for Jesus funding, its assistant pastor, Anthony DiBrito, said, “When a person comes around, we don’t ask for money” from the congregation.

However, another man, who identified himself as a church elder, asked, “Why is that any of your business?”

Carlebach said he was considering contacting Christian colleagues in North and South Brunswick to issue an interfaith statement.

“I’ve thought about this quite a bit ever since I saw that ad,” said Carlebach. “When the Jewish people all come together with one heart, we have the power to overcome many things.”

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