New York (Jan. 15)
– The Task Force on Missionary Activity of the New York Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), formed to combat efforts of cults in the New York area to recruit Jewish youth as members, has developed into a national resource, according to Laurence Tisch, JCRC president, and Dr. Seymour Lachman, Task Force chairperson.
The two JCRC officials said Task Force activities were being headed by the Task Force’s full-time coordinator, Dr. Martin Dann, a former American history professor with a record of “broad and diversified experience in youth and communal work.” Dann is coordinating the anti-missionary activities of the more than 40 participating JCRC agencies and “developing with them programs of benefit to all members of our community,” they said.
Malcolm Hoenlein, JCRC executive director, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that as the work of the Task Force become known, requests for information began coming in not only from the metropolitan area and New York State, but also from around the country and from abroad, “indicating the dire need for such services.”
He reported that “an informal network has been established, “which includes JCRCs and similar agencies in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, and Miami; and Montreal and Toronto in Canada. He said the Los Angeles Federation-Council had named Jan Kuris as a full-time coordinator of the Task Force on Missionary Activity of the Federation’s Community Relations Committee.
OTHER TASK FORCE PROGRAMS
Lachman also reported task force development of seminars and workshops for professionals in anticult work; continuation and expansion of a speakers bureau through the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Service (JBFCS), and implementing a special 24-hour hotline for Jews needing advice and other help.
He said the Task Force also was “launching a public education campaign, including preparation of new materials to counteract missionary and cult propaganda.” He said that under Task Force auspices, experts in many fields “are joining together in a concerted effort to combat the critical problems” and that volunteers were sought “to help us make this program as creative and effective as possible.”
Lachman said a special grant from the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies had made it possible for the Task Force “to initiate the full-scale effort” needed to combat “the scores” of missionary and cult groups “preying” on the metropolitan area Jewish community. He said the Task Force would seek to “maximize existing programs and assist member organizations in undertaking new vitally needed projects” to combat cult efforts.
Hoenlein said that the Federation grant of $45,000 was divided between the JCRC, which received $25,000, and the JBFCS, which received $20,000. The grants were provided with the condition that the recipients match them, Hoenlein said, adding that the JCRC has done so.
MISSIONARY GROUPS IDENTIFIED
Lachman said that Jewish bookstores, schools and synagogues throughout metropolitan New York had been alerted to a wide range of literature, calendars, records and cassettes which bear “deceptive” Hebrew names, Jewish symbols and content, but which are produced by Christian missionary groups. He said the Task Force had been told that such items have appeared in stores specializing in Jewish items, organizational giftshops and at Jewish-sponsored fairs around the United States.
He urged Jewish agencies to publicize such materials, in addition to bringing them to the attention of rabbis, educators and neighberhood merchants. He cited records and cassettes by “The Liberated Wailing Wall,” “Jerusalem Players,” “Star of David Singers,” “The Israelites,” “Israel’s Hope,” “The House of David,” and “Shalom Singers.”
Lachman also cited organizations he said were not easily recognizable as Christian missionary groups, listing Beth Sar Shalom, also known as American Board of Missions to the Jews; Hebrew Witness, Inc.; V’Kol Shofar; Peace for Israel; Shalom Center; Jewish Voice Broadcost; Beit Yehoshuah; North American Jewish Ministries; Friends of Israel; the Tel Aviv Quartet; and Judaism in Service to the World, and the Jewish Friendship League, the latter two being front organizations for the Unification Church, according to Lachman.
SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF JEWS INVOLVED
Hoenlein said that while “hard statistics” were hard to get, the JCRC was certain that “a disproportionate number of Jews were involved in the growing number of cult and missionary groups” in the New York metropolitan area “and that the number was significant.”
He added that, since the initial studies of the problem were made, “we have identified more than 100 groups in the metropolitan area alone whose primary, or exclusive, purpose is proselytization in the Jewish community,” operating in every part of the metropolitan area.
Hoenlein said also that, initially, their emphasis was on Long Island and on college campuses but that “it now appears to have shifted to the city and includes the high schools as well.” He added that while “the major target population” is 13 to 35 years of age, the groups even have programs “for three and four-year-olds, as well as senior citizens.”
Hoenlein said that the JCRC noted two years ago “the increasing politization of many of these movements and that they sought to develop national political organizations whose purpose it was to support born-again Christians and like-minded individuals” for public office. He added that “while we recognize their First Amendment rights, we see their activities as a threat to our pluralistic society.”