By: Taeeba Sadar
Members of Jews for Jesus, a controversial evangelical group, that specifically targets Jews for conversion, is campaigning at Ryerson University as part of a three-week, worldwide blitz ending September 14.
According to the group’s official website the operation, known as ‘Behold Your God’, will focus its efforts in 66 cities outside of Israel with Jewish populations of more than 25,000. Toronto is included in that roster as it is home to a Jewish community of about 180,000 people.
“We are giving people a chance to interact with the claims of Jesus,” says Andrew Baron, executive director of the Canadian chapter of Jews for Jesus. “We are Jewish people and we believe in Jesus. People who oppose us are instilling fear and anger in the hearts of other people.”
But many mainstream Jewish groups accuse the organization and its followers of masquerading as Jewish worshippers to help veil their true intent of converting Jews to Christianity. Among other things, practicing Jews maintain that Jews for Jesus has appropriated Jewish symbols, prayer garments and rituals in an attempt to blur the line between the two faiths and make conversion more palatable.
The Jewish students association at Ryerson University, known as Hilell, has strongly condemned their actions as deceptive.
“We explain that their tactics are contrary to Judaism,” says Hilell President Victor Volfson. “And we disprove the claims that they practice Judaism and are good Jews by believing and worshipping Jesus.”
Judaism does not accept Jesus as a savior or as the Jewish messiah, whose coming is foretold in the Torah, the sacred Jewish text. The added controversy stems from the fact that practicing Jews are strict monotheists and acceptance of the Christian Trinity would violate this very fundamental tenet of the faith.
“We respect the religious freedoms this country guarantees,” says Julian Ciss, executive director of a counter-missionary group called Jews for Judaism. “But they are two distinct and unique religions. We differ on all major theological issues.”
Ciss and his organization have assembled ‘rapid-response teams’ who patrol the city and work alongside the Jews for Jesus members by handing out reading material of their own to allow young Jewish people to make an informed decision. A few of these representatives are at Ryerson University. Hilell has also decided to provide students with a more balanced perspective.
“We have brought a stack of more comprehensive counter-missionary pamphlets,” says Volfson. “We are also educating students by sending out an email to our members.”