Until the sign appeared, none of the people at the butcher shop, or the kosher pizza parlor knew who the new tenant in the Main Exchange Mall in suburban Toronto was going to be. It caught the local director of headquarters of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth completely by surprise. But when the 30 foot sign, reading "City of David Messianic Synagogue" was installed, there was no question in anyone's mind - the missionaries had moved into one of Canada's most Jewish neighborhoods.
Aetna Canada, the mall owners, initially were apprehensive about dealing with anyone from Jews for Judaism, because the missionaries claimed that we were behind the protests taking place at the mall. However, when the Canadian Jewish Congress made it clear that we were the primary organization in the community that deals with this issue, and after speaking with Canadian Director, Julius Ciss, they realized that they had been misled by the missionary group, and they were willing to work for a solution that would satisfy the Jewish community. The solution presented itself almost immediately. The kosher frozen yogurt shop next to the missionaries threw in the towel, and in its place, the new outreach center of the Toronto office of Jews for Judaism arose.
Needless to say, the missionaries were not very pleased. For the past several years, since they began operating in the Toronto area, Jews for Judaism has been offering an alternative to the fraudulent "Judaism" that the missionaries have been trying to offer. When the missionaries first started holding meetings in a local library, and advertising themselves as "an exciting new Messianic Jewish fellowship," Jews for Judaism was there. We rented space in the library at the same time. However, on the first night, the missionaries moved out.
Now the missionaries are attempting to make this a cause celebre. Pat Robertson's legal hit squad, "The American Center for Law and Justice" has taken up their cause, raising the threat of legal action on their behalf. They are charging the Jewish groups with religious persecution. This attempt to turn this into a civil rights case in Canada signals a new aggressiveness on the part of the Christian missionaries, that is being echoed in Jewish communities all over the world.
"We are not discriminating against their right to practice their religion. What we take issue with is their deceptive and dishonest representation of their church as a synagogue, and their minister as a rabbi," said Ciss.
Aetna Canada was also misled, although they are hesitant to use those words. "Our people believed that this was a Jewish sect. We had never heard the term 'Messianic Hebrew' before," said Patricia Smith, an Aetna spokesperson. "We are not skilled and cannot propose to rule on the theological arguments. What we have is a contract, a tenancy agreement with (City of David). We have been trying to recognize the anger in the Jewish community."
Aetna's solution was to rent the space next door to Jews for Judaism. They also removed the 30 foot sign and replaced it with a sign that is comparable in size to those of the other merchants at the mall.
Jay Sekulow, head of Robertson's ACLJ, and a Jewish convert to Christianity said, "This is a case about discrimination and our client is being singled out and targeted because of their deeply held religious beliefs. Our client will not be intimidated by the tactics used by those in the community who would like them to leave."
Ciss and the Educational Director of the Toronto office, Rabbi Rabbi Michael Skobac, have already begun offering programming at the new location. "We will be moving our entire base of operations to this location," Ciss remarked. "However, in order to make this a viable outreach program we need the support of the entire community."
One staff member of Jews for Judaism noted that "it's interesting that the missionaries complain about being "singled out and targeted". This is a group that is predominantly made up of people who weren't even born Jewish, and they are the ones who deliberately chose to place themselves in this particular mall in order to target the Jewish community. The truth is that they would like to have us leave. We have rights also, and our paramount obligation is the survival of the Jewish community. We have no intention of abandoning that responsibility.