by Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Laureate
The Jewish community is only now becoming aware of a danger lying in wait for its young people, or, at least, certain elements among them. It seems that missionaries are displaying zeal as well as ingenuity in their efforts to attract young Jews in order to convert them.
As always, the fashion began in the United States, and it has not yet run its course. These "Jews for Jesus" are to be found everywhere, but especially on university campuses. On Long Island, as in the Middle West, their centers throb with activity. Their hunters of souls are successful more often than we think. Also the percentage of Jews joining the "moonies" is very high. The same applies to other sects. The Jew is their prime target, their preferred prey.
How do these missionaries operate? How do they set about enticing young Jews into their net? First of all, they know where to go. They make contact with lonely students, bewildered ones, those starved of love, attention, friendship.
"Come with us," the soul hunters tell them, "be one of us. After all, we are Jews like you. Better still, only by becoming Jewish Christians or Christian Jews will you be truly Jewish." So it is by offering to teach these students about Judaism that the missionaries entrap them and do not let go.
They organize festivals, ceremonies, prayer meetings. Hundreds of Jewish students take part in their "Havdalah" near a university campus on Long Island. To begin with, the students go there for the same reasons they go to an entertainment event or to a social gathering to spend a pleasant few hours, to escape boredom, to see and do something different. Some enjoy the evening. others go away frightened.
To say that these methods offend me would not be strong enough. The Jews have always opposed missionaries who believe that salvation belongs exclusively and irrevocably to them. When they try to tear you away from your faith and from your people, they are doing so out of altruism, they claim.
But I feel less revulsion for Christian missionaries than for their Jewish accomplices. The missionaries are at least honest. They proclaim openly that their aim is to absorb as many Jews as possible into their church. They aim to kill their victims' Jewishness by assimilating it. They give each individual Jew the choice between Judaism and Christianity always doing their best to influence that choice.
Their Jewish colleagues, however, the "Jews for Jesus", are dishonest. They are hypocrites. They do not even have the courage to declare frankly that they have decided to repudiate their people and its memories.
In telling their victim that he can be Jewish and Christian at the same time as if the history of Christianity did not give them the lie they are laying a trap of trickery and lies. Even more detestable, they play on their victim's vulnerabilities. They always exploit weakness, ignorance, and unhappiness. They offer the victim a new "family" to replace his own, the "comradeship" he lacks, and, at the outset, a "no obligation" religious atmosphere. Later, it is too late to turn back. "Operation Enticement" has been successful.
I have met despairing parents, in tears and not knowing how to bring their children back home. I shall not soon forget one Holocaust survivor I met, a pious Jew who came originally from Poland. He could not understand what had happened, asking, "Did I survive in order to fail precisely where my ancestors triumphed? To give life to a renegade?" He sobbed, and I was barely able to console him. Like the other parents, he reproached himself. The reproaches were always the same: they should have done this, said that, realized sooner, acted differently.
If the truth be told, we are all guilty to some extent. In leaving us, these young people are accusing us of having let them go or, worse, of not having noticed that they were going.
Perhaps this is one of the effects of ecumenism, which was welcomed a little too warmly in too many Jewish circles. Perhaps we have not done enough to help them, to show them the right direction in their quest for religion.
If Jewish boys and girls turn their backs on us and go elsewhere, it means that we have not done enough to keep them.
Since religion interests and moves them, why have we been unable to help them discover the beauty and richness of our own and theirs?
Despite what their parents think, there is still time.
We gratefully acknowledge Elie Wiesel's generous editorial contribution towards Jews For Judaism's counter missionary efforts. Mr. Wiesel's encouragement and support for Jewish continuity is recognized and lauded by the global Jewish community.