Death after life: missionary targeting of elderly, disabled, and deceased Jewish souls

According to a recent Jerusalem Post report, a 94-year-old Holocaust survivor who was suffering from dementia was allegedly “converted” to Christianity shortly before her death by two women who were hired to play music and speak with her. Unbeknownst to the elderly woman’s family, the musicians were messianic Christian missionaries.

This is hardly an isolated incident of an accidental bible-thumping volunteer for Israel who broke the rules. One of the deathbed missionaries is identified as Efrat Gerlich, a sixth-generation sabra whose name appears in popular messianic publications and blogs like Israel Today, King of Kings News and the Jerusalem Journal. She is also cited in a publication of The Messianic Jewish Alliance of Israel (MJAI) as a participant in a seminar initiated and organized by the executive committee of the MJAI. So if anyone tells you that the messianic community in Israel is benign and doesn’t proselytize, think again (take note Larry Derfner).

The subject of missionaries targeting the elderly and infirm is heart-wrenching and compels us to ask, how common is this type of missionary subterfuge? Jewish Israel spoke with two representatives from Yad L’achim about the problem. Both Aharon and Binyamin confirmed that missionary activity is widespread among home caregivers as well as volunteers in hospitals, rehab centers, and institutions for the developmentally disabled. Outside of Sha’are Tzedek Hospital in Jerusalem, most facilities do not regularly report the incidents as they are understaffed and, therefore, turn a blind eye to the activity. In addition, the patients and their families are dependent on the Christian volunteers and caregivers, and there is a fear of losing the assistance and once again having to go through the grueling process of finding an alternative caregiver. So while some families go through the motions of “reporting” the incidents to organizations like Yad L’achim, they don’t want action taken or the information publicly reported.

Yad L’achim noted the historic irony in that many “Jewish” hospitals” and institutions were originally established to enable Jewish patients to feel comfortable in a religiously familiar environment where they would not be subjected to religious coercion from a devout evangelizing staff. These same hospitals are now welcoming evangelizing volunteers into their corridors. Yad L’achim also noted that a number of the Christian volunteers and paid staff do abide by the rules, offer excellent care, and do not evangelize.

Jewish Israel member Penina Taylor, Director of Shomrei Emet, was cited throughout the JPost report on the missionary targeting of the elderly woman. Penina responded, "It's probably a lot more common than we know”, and she explained that, “many cases may go unreported because of familial embarrassment, and the sentiment that once someone is dead, there is nothing that can be done.”

Jewish Israel asked Penina if she had anything to add which was not in the article. Penina feels it’s important to emphasize that, “missionaries WILL ALWAYS share the gospel when given the opportunity to, and that asking them not to is like asking a person not to breathe; it’s part of their entire world view… they don’t see it as deception, they only see it as freely sharing what they believe with someone – like having a pleasant conversation about the weather. “

Well, Jewish Israel feels that the evangelizing Christian community had better look again - especially when in Israel - because we Jews see it rather differently. When the “good news” is delivered to the wrong people, it becomes torture rather than “comfort”. We see this as a dignity of life issue. Causing spiritual confusion to Jews of a ripe old age – or any age - surely falls into the realm of psychological and emotional abuse, and causes immeasurable distress to families.

Our people say the Shema prayer in the morning, when they retire at night, and before death. That one can live as a faithful Jew all of their life only to be duped by Christian missionaries, who take advantage of the confusion, weakness, and fatigue which accompanies old age, is unforgivable, cruel and downright evil - by Jewish standards. By the way, the “conversion” of a Jew who is not in control of his or her full faculties is altogether fruitless, futile and fake, and it has no bearing on the victim’s halachic status as a Jew.

Jewish bodies and souls: a bone of contention

Evangelicals venerate people like Corrie Ten Boom and her family who, in addition to risking their lives to save hundreds of physical Jewish lives in the Holocaust, also incessantly preached that Jews were "completed" when they became Christian, and reassured condemned and terrified Jews in the camps that they would become “even more Jewish” if they accepted Jesus. After the war Corrie continued as an enthusiastic missionary, which included the “deathbed evangelizing” of at least one elderly and terminally ill Jew.

This type of activity finds justification in evangelical eyes, because it’s purportedly motivated by “love” for the Jewish people, rather than “hate”. In Jewish eyes, it is and remains an unacceptable, despicable, and inhumane form of religious persecution. It inflicts torment on living Jewish souls and disrupts our personal relationship with our Creator, since a Jew (of sound mind and heart) must be willing to give up his or her life before succumbing to idolatry or abandoning the Jewish faith.

Corrie Ten Boom and her family are appropriately deemed “Righteous Gentiles” by the State of Israel and have a tree in Yad Vashem- after all they saved many Jewish lives. At the dedication ceremony – on Israeli soil - Corrie used the opportunity to “witness”, in a big way, about her “Jewish” lord and savior.

And that’s why Evangelical Christians will have to understand that when it comes to Pentecostal missionary icons like Corrie Ten Boom, there remains a very warm spot in the hearts of Jews, as well as a cold and bitter one. As long as evangelizing remains in the equation, the reception on our end will and must remain lukewarm at best – regardless of what type of aid and assistance we Jews are receiving.

Jewish Nursing homes and Rehab centers targeted in the Diaspora

Missionary targeting of the infirm and elderly is not just an Israeli problem. In his June 2009 newsletter, missionary Pastor Igor Bagirov boasts to his congregants about his success in “witnessing” at Menorah Park nursing home for the elderly in Cleveland, Ohio. It appears he was on a roll, having spread the “good news” to a 95 year-old and at least 10 other elderly residents , when “one of the Jewish women whom I witnessed started to scream: ‘don’t let him do this’… After a couple minutes 2 supervisors came and told me that I can’t speak about Jesus in a Jewish nursing home”.

(It would be nice if the people of Israel had enough sense to scream, “Don’t let them do this”, followed by our government officials laying down the law and saying, “you can’t do this in the Jewish state").

According to Bagirov’s July newsletter, it seems the rabbi of Menorah Park threatened him with arrest. Not to be deterred, the “good” Pastor has sent another “good” Christian to proselytize in his place at the Jewish home for the aged.

(thanks to JI member Jason for that information)

CFI sponsors a trip to missionary paradise for Holocaust survivors

Three weeks ago Christian Friends of Israel (CFI) sponsored a luncheon and day trip for Holocaust survivors from Sderot. They took the group to the missionary village of Yad Hashmonah outside of Jerusalem – where the majority of the residents are “ Israelis who believe in Yeshua as the Son of God, as their personal redeemer and as the Messiah of both Jews and Gentiles.”

Jewish Israel recently reported that CFI engages in a number of missionary outreach activities directed at Israeli Jews – specifically new immigrants and the underprivileged. They also provide “home visits” to the “isolated and lonely”.

IFCJ and Suffering Jewish Souls

The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (ICFJ) as a policy discourages targeted “proselytizing”, but understands the evangelical need to “witness” (pregnant pause… Jewish Israel will be addressing that obvious ambiguity at a later date).

President and founder of IFCJ, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, has successfully channeled evangelical zeal into many millions of dollars in charitable donations, and has transformed the power of Christian love into powerful positions on the executive committee of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and on the boards of directors of the Jewish Agency for Israel and Keren Hayesod.

But Jewish Israel wonders if Ecksteins’ primetime portrayal of suffering elderly Holocaust survivors serves as a sort of impossible enticement for CFI and other fervent evangelists who feel compelled to “save” souls and offer “comfort” in the form of Jesus? IFCJ may (or may not) have a handle on missionary activity, but an abundance of other evangelizing organizations, who target Holocaust survivors, can’t get enough of the suffering elderly Jew – and image which IFCJ has immortalized and perpetuates.

[Note that Jewish Israel is not being cruel. We, too, are grieved by the Jewish philanthropic crisis and are critical of the Israeli government’s failure to efficiently distribute aid and assistance to those most in need. Our concerns over the pitfalls associated with soliciting Christian funding was expressed two and half years ago in the article, “Loving Us to Death”. Jewish Israel maintains that care for the needy sectors of Jewish society should remain the responsibility of the Jewish community].

Disturbing the Dead or Disturbing the Living?

And even after our people have left this world for the next, it seems certain Christian groups can’t let the issue rest in peace.

Every few years the case of Mormons “baptizing” deceased Jews resurfaces in the headlines. Again, this practice has no halachic bearing on the status of Jewish souls, but it does cause anguish to the living Jewish relatives.

And then there is Zev Isaacs the purported son of a Holocaust survivor who solicits funds for the Hebrew Messianic Prophecy Bible by standing in a Jewish cemetery and naming names off of headstones and warning that judgment day is coming, and if these deceased Jews could speak they would be pleading, “tell my Jewish relatives, tell my Jewish family that Yeshua is the Messiah…”

It would be nice to dismiss Isaacs as a crackpot and his project as a non-starter. But the narrator of Isaacs’ video is Peter Darg founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) TV's news bureau in Jerusalem, and the husband of missionary Christine Darg of Exploits Ministries, who coordinates events and partners with the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus. The following is part of a pitch Peter Darg delivers on behalf of Isaacs’ missionary bible project:

“It’s heartbreaking…that Jewish souls will be lost to eternity unless they come to know him [Jesus] as their Jewish Messiah. As both Christians and Messianic believers we have a responsibility to correct what’s been done in the past….Today we can give back the Jewish people their own Jewish bible - one that explains in a Jewish context that Yeshua is the Messiah of Israel who loves them in a very special way. I encourage you to sponsor a chapter of the much needed bible so that you can show the love of Yeshua to the Jewish people here in Israel…”

In a recent newsletter, Isaacs laments that, “every 4 minutes a Jewish person dies (passes from this life into eternity – 99% of them without God)! In the time that it took you to read this letter, about 7 Jewish people have passed away.“

Rest assured that as Isaacs frantically tries to complete and prepare his missionary Hebrew bible for distribution throughout Israel -to the 99 percent of the Jewish people who are (thank G-d) “incomplete” by Christian standards - Jewish Israel will do its part to raise that figure to a complete 100% of the Jewish people who do not believe in Jesus.

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Comment by Mark Powers on December 13, 2010 at 1:28pm

It's interesting that Isaacs is raising money for yet another project which has yet to see the light of day.  Dare I ask what happened to the previos "Bible" project (in conjunction with Mike Brown)?  Or the project before that in Chicago?  More than a "crackpot", Isaacs seems to be lining his own pockets with these non-starter projects.  Unless Zev would like to account for the money he collected for the other projects, I think that a stronger term than "crackpot" is in order.

Comment by Jewish Israel on September 3, 2009 at 9:29pm
Exactly! well said!!
Comment by Gavriela on September 3, 2009 at 6:43pm
Something I find very telling is the fact that missionaries seem to love targeting vulnerable people, like young people estranged from their parents, people down on their luck (financial problems, etc.), lonely people, and now elderly people nearing life's end. Seems to me that they realize that people who are happy or who are in full control of their minds and lives would not fall for their false teachings. I realize they are sincere, but how can they justify subterfuge as a means of bringing their "truth" to people? Doesn't the truth stand on its own merits?

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