A Faith or a Fraud?

Jews for Jesus considers opening Valley operation

The Arizona Republic/March 4, 1995
By Kim Sue Lia Perkes

It seems so simple to Moishe Rosen: You're born and raised Jewish, you come to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and now you're a Jew for Jesus.

Baloney, say other Jews. They take Jews for Jesus as one more whack at a people with a long history of being persecuted for their faith.

How would Christians feel, one Jewish man says, if they started a group called Baptists for the Torah to convert Baptists to Judaism?

Hogwash, says Rosen.

It's been 15 years since Rosen visited the Valley. He's returning to see whether it's ready for a Jews for Jesus office.

Rosen says he's been too busy founding offices in nine cities across the country and setting up ministries to bother much with Arizona.

All of that is changing. The state's population explosion, which has included an influx of Jews, and its high number of Jews unaffiliated with a synagogue make the state fertile ground for a Jews for Jesus office, Rosen says.

Rosen, who founded the group in 1873, claims that Arizona has as many as 60,000 Jewish people who are not actively practicing their faith. He'll be speaking about his evangelistic mission at 7:00 p.m. Thursday at Scottsdale Baptist Church, 2500 N Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale and at 6:00 p.m. March 12, at First Baptist Church, 4525 S. McClintock Drive, Tempe.

Rosen knows a branch office here wouldn't be welcomed by the Jewish community.

"Why is it any Gentile that converts to Judaism is seen as noble and intelligent by Jews, but any Jew that converts to Christianity is seen as ignorant and a turncoat?" he asked.

Rosen believes it's his mission to bring the New Testament to Jews no matter how difficult.

"Most Jews don't trust themselves to deal with whether Jesus is or is not the Messiah because it might be true," Rosen said during a telephone interview from the group's San Francisco headquarters.

Rosen, an ordained Conservative Baptist minister, will attempt to rustle up about a dozen committed volunteers to provide a support system for a branch office he hopes to open around Arizona State University in Tempe.

Jews for Jesus traditionally opens its offices near universities, Rosen says, because college students are open-minded enough to listen to the group's message.

They usually avoid bringing their message to the 30- to 45- year-old age group because those are people more concerned about their families, homes and careers than with their religion, Rosen contends.

Older people are receptive to hearing about Jesus because they are at an age where they become concerned about mortality, he adds.

Critics charge that the group brings its message to students because they are young and vulnerable, and to the elderly because they are old and vulnerable.

The thought of a Jews for Jesus office that Rosen says would have three paid staff members worries such people as Rabbi Barton G. Lee, executive director of the Hillel Jewish Student Center at ASU.

"There is pain in being singled out," Lee says. "It's hard to live as a tiny minority in a larger society, and campaigns against Jews, whether religiously motivated or hatefully motivated, cause concern because people are snared by them.

"The notion of Jews for Jesus is simply a fraud perpetuated on both religions. Hopefully, people will understand that Christianity is Christianity and Judaism is Judaism, and the two each have their mobility but they are not one."

Lee and other Jewish leaders dismiss the Jews for Jesus notion that being Jewish is an ethnic identity. Those who convert to Christianity Lee says, have forsaken their history and community.

Rosen, a native of Denver, says he was brought up by his orthodox Jewish mother and a father he describes as an "Orthodox Jewish atheist."

"He (father) didn't like Reform Jews because he said they were Jews that wanted to be Gentiles but didn't have the courage."

Rosen and his wife, Ceil, a former devout Jew, converted to Christianity in 1953. They were 21 years old.

They were disowned by their families, Rosen says, but they had to follow their hearts. Since then, they have been actively involved in evangelistic ministries, particularly ones that involve bringing the Gospel to Jews.

Rosen shuns such words as "proselytizing," but the group hands out tracts about Jesus in public places. It discerns where the majority of the Jewish population lives by looking up the names Cohen, Levy, Katz and Bernstein in the telephone book and then pushing pins in a city map where they live. Because those are the most common Jewish names, Rosen theorizes, most of the people with those names live in areas with the highest concentration of Jews.

Even though they publicly evangelize, Rosen believes that Jews for Jesus is 'very ignorable' for those not interested in them.

The group's biggest opposition in Arizona will be Valley cult deprogrammer Risk Ross, Rosen says.

"He'll be wanting to tell you why you shouldn't pay any attention to me. He's talks a bunch of sociological gobbleygook."

Ross, a Jew, is a nationally known figure who is hired by families to remove their loved ones from undesirable religious sects. Ross says he does not consider Jews for Jesus a cult even though the group is "controlling" and "suffocating."

Regarding Jews for Jesus and other organizations that fall under the heading of Hebrew Christians, Ross says, he has helped at least 50 people get out of the groups and back to their families.

What's bothersome about these groups is that they fail to grasp that Jews are tired of being targets, Ross says. He points out the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust, the Crusades and pogroms as examples.

One would think, Ross contends, that in a pluralistic society such as the United States, Jews could simply be appreciated for who they are and not what they should become.

"The Jewish community has received this message of Rosen's over and over again," Ross says. "What's the point? To harass us or to help us?"

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