LONDON (Feb. 24)
British Jewry has expressed alarm over missionary activity aimed at Jews in the republics of the former Soviet Union, including many on their way to Israel.
The first international conference organized to combat the phenomenon heard an urgent message from the Rabbinical Alliance of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltic Republics.
These missionary groups “have a very sophisticated program targeted specifically at Soviet Jews,” the message said. It described the ex-Soviet Jews as “extremely vulnerable” to the advances of missionaries since the collapse of communism.
The meeting, held here Feb. 16 was attended by religious and secular leaders, including Chief Rabbi Jonathan sacks; Judge Israel Fine-stein, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews; and all of the board’s officers.
Their presence reflected their “increasing concern” about what is going on in the missionizing world, according to the Board of Deputy’s chief executive, Neville Nagler.
Lawrence Littlestone, executive director of the National Council for Soviet Jewry here, said, “Missionary and messianic material” sent “by the cartload” from Britain, North America and Finland to synagogues in the former Soviet Union.
Littlestone, who stressed that Jews en route to Israel are emotionally vulnerable targets, spoke of Christian groups which assist their immigration ostensibly out of good will.
‘A SHOULDER TO CRY ON’
He mentioned Good News Travel, a Christian-owned bus company in Hull, northern England, which has been busing Jews sine last June from Kiev to Warsaw, where they are placed on flights to Israel.
He also mentioned the Ebenezer Emergency Fund, based in Bournemouth, which chartered a Greek care ferry to transport Jews from Black Sea ports to Haifa.
The vessel has made three trial trips so far, bringing hundreds of Jews to Israel by sea. Littlestone said that while there was no evidence of overt missionizing during the voyage, he heard reports that several of the Israeli “volunteers” aboard were Jewish converts to Christianity.
“There are giving friendship, warmth and a shoulder to cry on. Where we and Israeli society fail, missionaries and their ilk pick up,” Little-stone said.
Rabbi Shmuel Arkush, director of the Birmingham-based Operation Judaism, said he was satisfied that the operators of the bus line and the sea route were not out to convert Jews.
But he was wary of the motives of some of their aides, who accompany the immigrants on the trip and urged countermeasures.
“I would like to see the Israeli authorities providing positive Jewish educational programs for the olim while they are in transit.” Arkush said.
Rabbi Yonah Prus, director of the Lubavitch movement’s Revival for Soviet Jewry organization, said nearly $18 million a year is needed to raise the level of Jewish identity among Jews of the former Soviet Union.