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Jews for who?

by: Dan Pine - Last updated: 2003-11-02

Dan Pine

Dan Pine

The Montomery BART station in San Francisco is a lively place. There’s the sax player blowing Brubeck, the string quartet with some morning Mozart and the black guy who plays Eagles tunes on a beat-up guitar.

But not long ago, I came across someone who didn’t exactly put a song in my heart: a scruffy young man sporting a Jews for Jesus T-shirt.

When I saw him by the elevator handing out pamphlets, my blood pressure did a little elevating of its own.

“You should be ashamed of yourself!,” I barked.

Jolted out of his bliss, he yelled back, “You’re the one who should be ashamed of your sin!” (Or was it, “I’m rubber and you’re glue…?”).

Of course, he was exercising his First Amendment rights. I had no problem with that. In fact, I’ll grant him another thing: He definitely was “for Jesus.”

But he sure wasn’t a Jew, at least not anymore.

I’m not someone who dismisses Christianity out of hand. Like others, I’ve embarked on spiritual explorations in my past, including a minor flirtation with Christianity years ago.

Who wouldn’t feel seduced by the smells of Christmas, the sweet sound of carols?

I remember once being home alone watching TV. I came across a televangelist who urged his audience to accept Jesus there and then.

“Get on your knees,” he commanded. I looked around my empty apartment. Nobody was watching. So I got on my knees. “Say the sinner’s prayer with me.” I did. “Do you feel the healing power of Jesus?”

Well, no, I didn’t.

In fact, I realized it’s not that easy to attain spiritual connection, and it certainly doesn’t come from a picture tube. At least not for me.

Recently, doing research for a class, I found myself attending a service at a Christian mega-church. Afterward, several congregants came up to me and, once I told them I was Jewish, they grew as excited as a clutch of chicks (many evangelicals believe Jesus will not return until the conversion of the Jews).

They introduced me to a group of “Jewish Christians” standing off to one corner of the sanctuary; they fussed over me as if I were Colin Farrell at a Hollywood premiere.

Among them was a woman, 50ish and single, whose son, born Jewish, had been a longtime member of the church. She had recently shed her Judaism to become Christian, and it fell to her to convert me, or at least get me thinking about it.

She made a lousy missionary. I sensed she had converted not for the promise of heaven but in the hope that, having made a few friends, maybe the phone’ll ring. I could tell she missed being Jewish.

As I left the church, everyone begged me to return. But I knew if I didn’t, it wouldn’t matter: There are plenty of gefilte fish in the sea, and converting Jews remains a top priority for many Christian groups.

According to Bentzion Kravitz, founder of the counter-missionary group Jews for Judaism, more than 900 evangelistic organizations, including Jews for Jesus, target Jews for conversion. They use deceptive tactics to prey upon impressionable or ignorant Jews, luring them into abandoning their heritage.

How successful are they? Kravitz quotes one Christian magazine that claimed, “More Jews have accepted Jesus as their messiah in the past 19 years than in the past 19 centuries.”

Yeah, and those 19 centuries were no picnic. We’ve endured so much abuse for so long, the idea of evangelical bodysnatchers wearing yarmulkes, singing “Hine Ma Tov,” and claiming Jesus would complete me as a Jew, makes me puke.

Which is why I yelled at the guy in the BART station. Assuming he was ever Jewish to begin with, he should have been ashamed. Ashamed to have turned his back on his faith. Ashamed to have accepted a doctrine that, contrary to the intent of Jesus of Nazareth, inspired ignorant armies to persecute millions of Jews.

Some years ago, a leader of the Southern Baptists said at a national convention: “God does not hear the prayer of the Jew.”

Since I never saw the Jew for Jesus guy again, I think God heard at least one of my prayers.



Dan Pine lives and kvetches in Albany. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com

First published in J. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California.
J. can be found on the web at: www.jweekly.com
Copyright 2003 - San Francisco Jewish Community Publications Inc.