A growing number of reports have recently emerged of missionaries targeting Jews for conversion. Some of these have even involved Christians disguising themselves as observant Jews in order to infiltrate Orthodox communities in the United States and Israel.
In one such case, in Jerusalem, a missionary passed himself off as a normative rabbi and kohen – or member of the hereditary biblical Jewish priesthood – performing ritual "services" that not only were founded upon false pretenses but deeply violated the spiritual life that religious people consider to be at the sacred core of their very existence.
Even for Christians who feel unable to completely disavow proselytism, such deceit should not be deemed acceptable. The ends do not always justify the means.
Some Christians may believe that targeted missionizing is an act of love, but such a belief needs to be recognized as just that – a Christian's own belief. Ultimately, true and meaningful love involves treating people as they wish to be treated, not as we insist upon treating them.
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself" is a central pillar of both Jews' and Christians' sense of mission, and early sages paraphrased this injunction as "that which you would dislike, do not do to your fellow." Surely serious Christians would not want others aggressively seeking to part them or their children from their faith as they define it – especially if they were, like Jews, a small and recurrently vulnerable minority. The world today is home to only around 15 million Jews, but more than two billion Christians.
In a spirit of friendship, let us be honest: Jews agree on precious few things, but trinitarianism is as compatible with mainstream Judaism as denial of it would be with mainstream Christianity. Likewise, for virtually all Jews, proselytism aimed at their traditional faith and identity is experienced as hostile, just as physical attacks are.
For much of nearly two millennia, these two were in fact intertwined. Antisemites sought to bar Jews from practicing their faith, to aggressively convert them to other faiths, to enact discrimination against those who resisted conversion, and to impose torture and even death upon such resisters. Some preeminent figures, like Luther, signaled tolerance for Jews only to shift to vitriol upon realizing that many would not abandon their Judaism.
Indeed, countless Jews sacrificed their lives rather than renounce the religion of their forebears.
To be clear, as a believing Jew, the last thing I want is to insert myself in the internal theological considerations or religious practices of another faith community. I actually find the convictions of passionate Christians relatable, and I recognize that evangelism is particularly important to those who identify as evangelical.
But as with other cherished liberties, every person's religious liberty is inviolable only until it reaches another person's doorstep. It mustn't be exercised to the active detriment of others' ability to live securely and uphold their own commitments free of outside pressure or imposition.
Even more fundamentally: as students of history, we know that while faith offers immense blessing to human life, it can be used – when not stewarded with humility and care – to spur division and even persecution. Religious adherents are thus entrusted with balancing an impulse to share their own faith with a basic respect for fellow people, their rights, and sensibilities.
More often than not, we do more good in witnessing to our faith by fully living its values than by seeking spiritual conquests.
Of course, democracies like Israel proudly uphold religious freedom – enabling, in the case of the world's only Jewish state, the continual growth of the country's Christian and other minority populations, a rarity in the Middle East – but predatory or deceptive proselytism simply cannot be ignored. Camouflaging missionary solicitation as "Jewish" in order to attract Jews of weaker religious backgrounds, like the offering of social services to needy recipients on condition of exposure to a certain form of religious indoctrination, is a longstanding tactic in the efforts by some to capture the souls of others.
Fortunately, since the Holocaust – the physical cataclysm that capped centuries of religious contempt – unprecedented mutual closeness has blossomed between Christians and Jews. Various key church denominations have deplored antisemitism and eschewed active engagement in the targeting of Jewish people for conversion. And many Christians, recognizing the Jewish roots of their faith, are invaluable allies of Israel at a time when it continues to face not only relentless violence in its own neighborhood but demonization and even delegitimization abroad.
Without a doubt, many Christian supporters of the Jewish people are utterly pure in their friendship, with no motive other than solidarity as well as mindfulness of the biblical promise to Abraham: "I will bless those who bless you."
These friends deserve to be embraced, not feared. Let us ensure that the friendship of the many not be undercut by the overzealous actions of the few.
The rest is in God's hands.
Read Michaels' insights and analysis in Real Clear Religion.
David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunal Affairs at B'nai B'rith International. He previously trained at the Foreign Ministry of Germany, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Embassy of Israel in Washington, Ha’aretz and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. A Wexner Fellow/Davidson Scholar, and winner of the Young Professional Award of the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, he holds degrees from Yale and Yeshiva University. Click here to view more of his content.
In January 2020 the Jewish community came together in New York City to rally against anti-Semitism.
The rally was in response to a series of attacks against Jews in December 2019 that included two events of horrific violence targeting Jews in Monsey, New York and Jersey City, New Jersey. Earlier that year, in April 2019, a synagogue was attacked by a white supremacist, resulting in the murder of a congregant.
One year before that attack, in October 2018, the Jewish community in America mourned following the attack against the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Congregation synagogue that killed 11 worshippers at Shabbat services.
In response to these events, B’nai B’rith created and introduced a program called “None Shall Be Afraid.” This program is a way to stand against anti-Semitism, hatred and intolerance in our communities. It was created to help bring awareness to how words and actions matter. It provides tools to help understand the fight we face as Jews. Anti-Semitism is not new—we know of the long history of Jew-hatred in most of the places Jews have lived. While there may have been times of tranquility, Jews have faced the worst experience during the Holocaust, as the Nazis sought to wipe out the Jewish people. While the Holocaust can be referenced between a beginning and end in physical years and occurred decades ago, we are not surprised to see the glorification of Nazis and the denial of the Holocaust itself play out each day today online or in anti-Semitic symbols painted in public places. A key component of the None Shall Be Afraid program is the promotion of a very important tool to help define anti-Semitism. This includes endorsement of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.
B’nai B’rith has spoken out against anti-Semitism at times when there are attacks against the Jewish people in places around the world. It also takes the opportunity to educate when events, even when they are not violent, offer a teachable moment.
B’nai B’rith, via staff and international leadership, have participated in international conferences and forums that focused on anti-Semitism. For example, in July 2021, B’nai B’rith International CEO, Daniel S. Mariaschin addressed the 7th Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism (GFCA) in Israel that was organized by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Diaspora Affairs to serve as a think tank for the global Jewish community. His presentation focused on contemporary anti-Semitism and its manifestations in history. His approach offered several suggestions to be an advocate for the Jewish people. This includes working with friends and allies of Israel on every level of government. It means sharing this important information with friends, family and colleagues. It calls for educating ourselves as well as others about Jewish history, especially the contribution that Jews have made to make the world a better place. B’nai B’rith is also involved in many coalitions on the subject, adding our voice to speak out when Israel and Zionism are attacked on the street, as well as at international meetings sponsored by the United Nations, such as the Durban IV Conference held last month.
You can get involved by taking a deeper look at the None Shall Be Afraid program here. None Shall Be Afraid offers answers you need to become and encourage others to be an advocate for the Jewish people. This also includes an important first step that you can take. Take our pledge to fight anti-Semitism here.
The title of None Shall Be Afraid comes from the letter exchange between President George Washington and Moses Seixas, writing on behalf of the congregation of the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode
Island in 1790. In it, George Washington quotes Micah 4:4—"Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid."
The letter would find its place in history as the promise of the United States to the Jewish citizens to provide a place they could live and be free of bigotry and persecution. It was to be no place for intolerance, hatred and violence. We take that promise seriously and will continue to speak out in response to threats to Jews and around the world. Help us spread this important message by taking the pledge today. If you have already signed on, take another step and send it to friends and family asking them to get involved. Mention it at the next virtual program you attend and provide the link. The more voices that become part of this call to educate, the stronger our advocacy.
If you are getting together with family this Thanksgiving, print out the pledge and share it with your guests. Share your own experiences with anti-Semitism and listen to your children and grandchildren about what they face on campus. Let your parents share what they experienced in the past. It will offer a glimpse into Jewish history, especially if you have the fortune to have the precious Holocaust survivors in your family. Write down their experience to share as part of your family’s legacy and please share your stories with me at email@example.com so that we can include this in our Annual Yom Hashoah programming in April 2022.
Earlier this month, I visited Pittsburgh ahead of the anniversary of the Tree of Life tragedy.
Three years earlier, on October 27, 2018, a far-right extremist committed the deadliest attack against Jews in the history of the United States – killing 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Joyce Fienberg, Richard Gottfried, Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon, Daniel Stein, Melvin Wax and Irving Younger of blessed memory were beloved members of three different congregations. Other worshipers, as well as law enforcement officers and first responders, were seriously wounded. So too, the sense of safety of American Jewry.
The threat of antisemitic attacks is part of the day-to-day of Jewish life in Europe. Metal detectors and security guards are ubiquitous at all Jewish venues. A kippah is worn both with pride and with trepidation, as the numbers of recorded antisemitic incidents have steadily risen in recent years.
But the heart wrenching attack in Pittsburgh’s Squirrell Hill neighborhood – the same community Mr. Rogers’ spoke about – surfaced an unlikely question: Can Jews feel safe in the United States?
What I felt being in Pittsburgh was a reverberating communal “yes”.
U.S. statistics about Jews’ sense of safety mirror those in Europe. A large majority of Jews feel antisemitism is a real and present danger, a reflection of the staggering rise in violent incidents.
The resounding, collective “yes” from the Jewish community and its many allies in Pittsburgh is not ignorant to this reality – on the contrary – it is determined to overcome it: not just survive, but thrive – openly and without fear.
A community of solidarity
The outpouring of love and solidarity following the attack three years ago was experienced not only in Pittsburgh, but around the world. I was truly inspired. Yet in hindsight, I didn’t fully understand the nearly-universal show of support until I was there in person.
It’s been three years, but Squirrell Hill houses on every block still boast signs: Stronger Than Hate. The city symbol, the Steelmark – continues to lend one of its four-pointed starlike figures to a Star of David. At the Tree of Life Synagogue, a long fence surrounding the building is covered in drawings sent in from schools across the country, turning security into solidarity and inspiration.
I had the chance to see once again a full-page newspaper ad in memory of two victims, Cecil and David Rosenthal. It read: “The entire Rosenthal Family wishes to extend our sincerest thanks and gratitude to the Pittsburgh community and around the world for your outpouring of support and kindness. Your thoughts, prayers and kind gestures have given us strength to get through this difficult time.”
In the town of the Steelers – #PittsburghStrong has a new meaning, and it has nothing to do with metal. It’s a collective commitment to beat back hate.
The Eradicate Hate Global Summit
One of the ways in which this commitment materialized was the inaugural edition of the Eradicate Hate Global Summit, which took place just last week in Pittsburgh. This was an unprecedented effort to convene leading researchers, practitioners, journalists, law–makers and tech companies to develop collaborative and multidisciplinary responses to hate. Among speakers were UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide; Alice Wairimu Nderitu, Judge Theodor Meron, President and Judge, International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals; U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, heads of policy for major tech companies, and, most importantly, the family members of the Tree of Life victims, who were the driving force and beating heart of the event.
Panels explored novel civil and criminal law remedies to hate, the role of tech and the ability of the justice system to address extremism, the role of COVID-19 in accelerating hate, community preparedness, free speech protections, the role of art, and many more and diverse themes.
During the Summit, I had the opportunity to share insights from Europe as part of a panel reflecting on global government responses: the state of antisemitism, but also what’s being done, what works, what can be modeled elsewhere. I spoke about the new European Union (EU) Strategy on Combating Antisemitism and Fostering Jewish Life, the collaborative approach between policy-makers and civil society, the significant advancements by EU legislators in placing liability on platforms through new reporting and due diligence obligations, important data collection commitments, and the Strategy’s cross-cutting approach, mainstreaming the topic across policy areas.
Antisemitism serves as a foundation for most conspiracy ideologies. It cuts across the political spectrum, is fueled by polarization, accelerated by algorithmic augmentation, and rests on Holocaust denial, distortion and trivialization. In that, antisemitism is ultimately the epitome of hate. Ensuring that experts in diverse fields understand it in its complexity is essential not only to providing a sense of safety and security for the global Jewish community, but to maintaining an open and democratic society all together – a premise that the Summit built on.
Now back home, taking stock, a key take away stands out beyond all others – the solidarity and kindness still emanating in Pittsburgh can serve as a motivating force for all of us.
Read Bricman's reflections in the Times of Israel.
Alina Bricman is the Director of EU Affairs at B’nai B’rith International. She formerly served as president of the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) from 2017 to 2019 and worked for the Representation of the European Commission in Romania and for the Median Research Centre, a Romanian civil society NGO focused on civil engagement and combating xenophobia. She studied political science at the National School of Political and Administrative Studies in Bucharest and at the Central European University in Budapest.
The idea of presenting “opposing views” with the Holocaust would be mortifying if the concept behind it weren’t so mind-boggling. The thought of such a ridiculous notion leaves me shocked, numb.
That a top educator in a School District in the Dallas-Fort Worth area would use the Holocaust as an example of desired balance in presenting history-relating racism reveals vast deficiencies in understanding, much less education.
What began as a debate over legislation addressing “critical race theory” ended with a bizarre comparison delivered before a stunned school board audience, prompting a swift and immediate apology from the superintendent of the Carroll Independent School District.
One of many teaching moments in this chapter of history is that revisionism is clearly becoming the embarrassing subplot to the torment that’s ripping apart the country. Are school districts across the most advanced country in the world really going to allow what should have been an Age of Re-enlightenment to become the Age of Reimagining Everything? Are generations of history, literature — not to mention our sanity — about to be gone with the wind?
“Opposing views” of the Holocaust are nothing but Holocaust denial. Such behavior is nothing new in today’s world of hate. In fact, this event only gains credence when Holocaust museums, commissions, and education diminish their importance by allowing the unvarnished history to be portrayed as just another genocide or just another violation of human rights. Now, anyone who can’t understand the reality of the Holocaust either believes people should still hail Hitler or that the earth is still flat. Two decades into the 21st century, is this the new direction of education?
Educators wishing to teach racism need to realize that too many people believe anti-Semitism began with Hitler and in Nazi Germany. In truth — the unequivocal variety — the history of anti-Semitism goes back thousands of years with Jews as slaves, inhabitants in ghettos, or scapegoats by empires over more than 100 generations. And despite such oppression, the Jewish people have not only survived but made a positive impact in many societies. In the face of great achievements, the Jewish people also understand that our values oblige us to dedicate ourselves to the freedom of others.
Today, Holocaust denial has a new partner — the denial of Israel as the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people. The history of Israel dates back thousands of years. The legal boundaries of Israel are more in evidence than in dispute, and any disputed territory is subject to negotiation. To that end, “Palestine” will exist when the Palestinians accept history, own up to the consequences of their own actions, and develop compromises within their ranks.
In truth, we have Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and an immense evil cast who not only participated in hatching, planning, and implementing the Final Solution, but meticulously and proudly documented the heinous crimes for the world to see. The irrefutable evidence is substantiated by voluminous eyewitness accounts of prosecuted war criminals, rescuers, physical evidence from labor and death camps; cans of Cyklon B, hair, bones, ashes, testimonies from survivors, miles of film, books.
And yet, the Holocaust deniers demand telling of their side of the story, their truth, the imagined “opposing views,” which basically is a collection of demonizing libels that don’t deserve repeating. Poland, which succumbed to the Nazis and was complicit in many ways to the brutality at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where 300,000 Poles also were victims, wants to criminalize tying Poland to its history of death to millions of Jews and others.
There’s no running away from history, particularly the evil of this human experience. Diminishing the truth is shameful. Back in Texas, with apologies rendered and, of course, the “opposing views” argument ascribed to either confusion or misapplication of a law that aims to keep people from spinning history, the incident undoubtedly will evaporate into the “wokesphere.”
Meanwhile, Jews continue to be targeted as scapegoats for the blood libels of the past or for no other reason beyond their religious identity. Make no mistake, there are many good people who respect the diverse culture and practices of the Jewish people. And for those who prefer not to do so, well, they will continue trying to reinvent the wheel, which remains, by all accounts, the same shape as the earth.
Read President Kaufman's analysis in Inside Sources.
Charles O. Kaufman is president of B'nai B'rith International.
In 2001, anti-Israel and anti-Zionism sentiment roared with a vengeance at the UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa (the Durban Conference). As president of B’nai B’rith International and as chairman of the United Nations Committee of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, I served as head of the delegation for those organizations to the Durban Conference, a true hatefest toward Israel, Zionists and the Jewish people.
Indeed, it was at Durban, which occurred during the Second Intifada, that the seeds of hate were planted to launch a malicious, multi-pronged diplomatic, academic, legal and economic boycott, and campaign of demonization against Israel in the court of public opinion.
Intended to explore ways to end racism and promote awareness of intolerance, the Durban Conference quickly devolved into a public display of anti-Jewish rhetoric and an ugly anti-Israel agenda. Copies of the antisemitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion were sold on the conference grounds, and anti-Israel protesters resurrected the “Zionism equals racism” charge, further demonizing Israel and the Jewish people in every possible way.
Both at the official UN member conference in Durban and the NGO Forum that aimed to “publicize the voice of the victims,” blatant antisemitic hate toward Israel was rampant. The forum consisted of tables, posters and people working to rile up the crowd with images that made it very clear that they considered Israel to be an apartheid Nazi racist criminal state unworthy of standing at the United Nations or equality in the family of nations, notwithstanding Israel’s member-state status at the UN.
At this forum, the Jewish Caucus proposed and is believed to have cast the only vote in favor of labeling Holocaust denial and anti-Jewish violence as forms of antisemitism. In addition, the forum and conference representatives rejected efforts by the US and other democratic allied governments to seek the inclusion of a key paragraph on antisemitism in the final outcome document of the conference.
After four days in which the US attempted to end the blatantly antisemitic attitudes and displays of hatred toward Israel, Zionists and the Jewish people, the US and Israeli delegations, along with the Jewish NGO organizations, held a press conference and staged a walkout in protest.
I am proud to have led that walkout along with Lord Janner of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and leaders of the various Jewish NGOs present at the UN Conference Forum, joined by the US and Israeli ambassadors and delegations. It is important that the Jewish people stand together in such times and circumstances; and important that we speak out with dignity in protesting the injustices of false accusations and outright hatred toward Israel and the Jewish people.
The final resolution of the NGO Forum called Israel “a racist apartheid state,” guilty of the “systematic perpetration of racist crimes including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing… and state terror against the Palestinian people.” This document is wrongly heralded as a guideline for action against Israel. It is a manifesto to be rejected, not commemorated.
In 2009, in Geneva, as head of the delegation for the Durban Review Conference, I witnessed the continuation of hatred toward Israel, Zionism, and the Jewish people, which further advanced the Durban agenda of castigating Israel in every possible avenue and venue.
What occurred on the grounds of the United Nations conference in Durban and at the recent “Durban IV” commemoration, was not by chance, but rather was a well-planned and designed gathering with the purpose not of standing against racism, but rather of singling out and accusing Israel as an apartheid criminal racist state. Understanding the absurdity of this charge and the depravity behind its origins, 38 countries boycotted the Durban IV event. Nevertheless, both the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council have in recent days passed resolutions continuing to endorse the Durban Program, tacitly applauding rather than castigating the hatred espoused there.
Over the past 20 years, the enemies of Israel and the Jewish people have followed that line, taking to the International Court of Justice a request, via the United Nations General Assembly, for an advisory opinion on the “legality” of Israel’s construction of the “wall,” which is truly a terrorism prevention security fence, and taking to the International Criminal Court the issues of Israel’s neighborhoods and communities in the ancient homelands of the Jewish people, further accusing the IDF of violations of international law with regard to the IDF’s military response to the kidnapping and murder of Jewish teenagers and civilians in the West Bank.
Those of us who attended Durban and experienced the rampant hatred toward Israel and the Jewish people must remind others of the need to stand up against such hatred and do so with pride, strength and knowledge; and do so with a commitment to making our voices collectively heard around the world, as B’nai B’rith International recently did in its highly acclaimed series Durban Revisited, broadcast by JBS TV.
The legacy of Durban must be recognized as one of hate, not of tolerance nor of a commitment to advancing education, democracy, equal rights and respect for the dignity of all people.
Read Heideman's insights and recollections in The Jerusalem Post.
Richard Heideman is honorary president of B’nai B’rith International; chairman of The Israel Forever Foundation; senior counsel of the Washington law firm Heideman Nudelman & Kalik, PC, which represents American victims of terror in cases against states and others who support and sponsor acts of terror and hate; and author of The Bloody Price of Freedom, recently published by Gefen and now available for purchase through the website BloodyPriceOfFreedom.com.
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