NEW YORK, March 28 (JTA) — Anti-missionary groups are not surprised that a Christian evangelical managed to sneak an ad into more than 80 unsuspecting U.S. Jewish newspapers.
It’s all still wrapped into religious Y2K fervor, they said.
“The belief is that Jesus will resurrect in the first few years of the second millennium if enough Jews are converted,” said Philip Abramowitz, director of the Task Force on Missionaries and Cults for the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.
Abramowitz was responding to the made-for-TV movie “The Rabbi,” which billed itself as a film about a rabbi’s struggle with modernity, but was actually a pitch for conversion sponsored by “messianic Jews.” Jewish newspapers across the country ran an ad for the film without realizing its content.
“The Rabbi” was produced by Morris Cerullo, a San Diego-based Christian missionary.
Anti-missionary groups have been tracking Cerullo.
According to Mark Sanders, outreach director for the Los Angeles- based anti-missionary group Jews for Judaism, Cerullo previously sent copies of his books to 1 million Jewish homes in Israel. Now an observant Jew, Sanders is a former Christian minister who spent four years in Israel as a missionary. As such, he said, he is “intimately” aware of the methods used to convince Jews to abandon their religion.
The ad had come through an agency, Walter Bennett Communications in suburban Philadelphia, which has handled high-profile Christian productions, including Billy Graham, Sanders said.
The advertising campaign for the missionary movie was presented differently to non-Jewish newspapers, including USA Today, which ran the film’s schedule along with a picture of Cerullo, Sanders said.
“Jewish papers got treated differently than the secular press,” he said.
Sanders said Christian missionary groups normally aim their message at Jews with little or no religious background. In this case, though, the ads ran in Jewish newspapers, which are usually read by more-involved Jews.
Jews for Judaism is lobbying the Israeli government to bar Cerullo from entering the country again.
“Cerullo is a liar and a deceptor and we believe that appropriate response for the Israeli government is to make him persona non grata,” Sanders said.
“He’s free to ply his trade,” he added. “He is not free to do it deceptively.”
Abramowitz and Sanders both said the best defense against missionary groups is education.
Vulnerability “is proportional to the lack of knowledge about Judaism,” Sanders said.