Bed, Breakfast, and Jesus for Israeli Backpackers

According to a recent study conducted by the University of Haifa's Center for Tourism, Pilgrimage and Recreation, some 2000 Israeli backpackers are being hosted annually by missionaries in New Zealand.

The Messianic Christian organization HIT (Hosting Israeli Travelers) offers accommodations at a token fee and sometimes free of charge. But there are strings attached…

Says one host: "The most important benefit is being able to tell my Israeli guest about my religion, about Jesus and about my love for Israel."

According to the study, the Israeli tourists' main expectation is “simply minimizing boarding costs”, and getting access to “clean sheets, hot water and cordial hospitality”. Some Israelis find that the complimentary accommodations can be a bit too “basic” and that “the missionary preaching can be quite tiring”. Israeli respondents suggested that their missionary hosts upgrade their facilities and “moderate their missionary zeal.”

However, the report also notes that some Israelis come away from their New Zealand/New Testament experience “spiritually uplifted”. And their hosts “achieve all their goals and feel blessed for being able to host and assist the Israeli backpacker.”

Professor Yoel Mansfeld of Haifa University seems to imply in his study that both sides benefit from what appears to be a symbiotic arrangement. But Jewish Israel wonders if the relationship is more parasitic (a cheap bed in exchange for a chance to snatch a Jewish soul).

Jews for Judaism’s Sydney-based Rabbi Eli Cohen expressed concerns, because although the vast majority of Israelis are untouched by the missionary's intentions, he understands that “around 5% actually develop a real interest in what their hosts teach them.” In an article at J-Wire (Jewish Online News from Australia and New Zealand), Rabbi Cohen relays the a story (with a photo ) of a young Israeli named Gal Levy “who went through the scheme and ended up being baptised on Bronte Beach. The Israelis are given copies of the New Testament in English and Ivrit… there is no doubt some of the messianic Christians are getting their message through and it then becomes a real problem...”

Rabbi Cohen goes on to say that he would have liked to see the Haifa University report “address the issues where members of our community have been lost to the messianic Christians.”

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s Executive Director, Peter Wertheim, told J-Wire: “This is fairly typical of the dishonest methods used by proselytizers. They target people, especially young people, when they are psychologically at their most vulnerable, for example when they have just finished their army service and are a long way away from family and friends. They also give their targets the false impression that you can be Jewish and Christian at the same time, deliberately blurring the differences and taking advantage of their lack of knowledge and experience.”

The ECAJ has called for some form of warning to Israeli backpackers before they leave the country.

The J-Wire report also notes that a breakaway group called “Chiburim”, has expanded the operation around the world, including Australia.

UPDATE: JI member Jason Levinson informs us that Chosen People Ministries is also
running a missionary program in New Zealand from Feb. 1-22 aimed at converting Israeli backpackers AND as we speak they are targeting Israelis in India:

Each year, 40,000 Israelis head to India in search of peace and spirituality, as well as parties and new experiences. Our team will engage in spiritual dialogs and share Messiah with these seeking souls...

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Comment by ellen on January 25, 2010 at 5:47pm
I think Stephen is correct on this. If our youth have a solid grounding in Judaism, and feel good about who they are, then they will naturally keep their distance from overt missionaries and know how to respond to the covert ones.
Comment by Sharon Elizabeth Kerr on January 25, 2010 at 1:50am
Strange Bedfellows I'd say! This is an example of their deceptive ways. I believe it's best to keep your distance from the soul snatchers. If you believe in "One G-d', and know what xtians truly represent there wouldn't be any assimilation. There goal is to convert the world to their way of thinking, and moral relativism plays a big part in that plan.
Comment by Jewish Israel on January 22, 2010 at 2:31pm
That is the root of the problem, and if you read Rabbi Cohen's full comments on the J-Wire article, he also touches upon this issue.
Comment by Stefan on January 22, 2010 at 1:38pm
Peter Wertheim's comment gets to the root of the problem - the "lack of knowledge and experience" of the Israelis. The State of Israel must get to grips with teaching schoolchildren about being Jewish - not just some Biblical studies but attractive, inspiring, meaningful, authentic Yiddishkeit. It should not be academic but practical. Sure, some die-hard secularists will object - let them start up their own private schools. Let the secularists form a ghetto rather than the "Orthdox".

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