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September 27, 2008

Messianic Jews Missionize In Ethiopia, Urge Aliya – Messianic Leader: 70,000 "Messianic Jews" Waiting For Aliya

It boils down to this: The Israeli government, in its rush to keep out as many Ethiopian Jews as possible, has through its lies and inaction perhaps opened the door of aliya to 70,000 practicing Messianic Christians.

Here's how…

The Jerusalem Post reports:

Messianic Jews promote Ethiopian aliya
By RUTH EGLASH

Under Operation Tikva, through which thousands of people in Ethiopia are provided with clean water, money for food and educational services, they are also reminded often that they are Jews and that the people of Israel are waiting for them.

A worshiper at the Shalhevetya church in Jerusalem, where Ethiopian Israelis hold services on Sunday nights.

What makes Operation Tikva different than other Jewish aid programs in Ethiopia, however, is that neither the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency for Israel, nor any other recognized aliya organization is involved in it. In fact, The Jerusalem Post has learned it is a program run by Messianic Jewish missionaries, and very few people in Israel even know about it.

It seems that while Israel has officially stopped encouraging the immigration of thousands of Ethiopians either via the Law of Return or the Law of Entry, other groups have taken up the task.

These Messianic Jewish missionaries continue to be active in far-flung villages of northern Ethiopia, telling local farming communities there that God, Israel and the Jewish people are rooting for them, even though their ancestral link to Judaism is tenuous at best.

Run by the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA), Operation Tikva is contravening the Israeli government's attempts over the last year to wind down official aliya operations in Ethiopia, and the project is being viewed in Jerusalem with alarm.

"I don't believe that we are working against the Israeli government," MJAA General Secretary Joel Chernoff, told The Jerusalem Post in response Thursday.

"The political situation in Israel can always change and we believe that what has happened to these people is a major injustice," he said.

According to Chernoff there are between 50,000-70,000 Ethiopian Messianic Jews who are being discriminated against by the Israeli government based on their beliefs.

Messianic Jews believe that Yeshua (Jesus) is their Messiah, but still consider themselves to be Jewish. Jews of other denominations do not consider Messianic Judaism to be a form of Judaism, but a form of Christianity.

"These people are viewed by the government of Ethiopia and by their neighbors as Jews and are persecuted as such," argued Chernoff, adding that it all "boils down to the fact that Israel has decided not to accept Jews who believe in Jesus."

"These people are clearly not Jewish and they are working in areas where none of the people are Jews either; everything they are telling these people are lies," said Rabbi Menachem Waldman, a member of the Public Council for Ethiopian Jews, which has successfully persuaded the Israeli government to continue checking the eligibility for immigration of a further 3,000 Falash Mura (Ethiopian Jews whose ancestors converted to Christianity more than a century ago) from the same region of Ethiopia.

"This organization [the MJAA] and the people that it is working with in Ethiopia are in no way associated with the Falash Mura community currently waiting in Gondar for Israeli government approval to immigrate," said Waldman, adding that missionary activity in the area is not a new phenomenon.

In contrast to the MJAA, the Public Council for Ethiopian Jews, which is made up of Israeli-based Ethiopian community members and politicians, maintains that only 8,700 Jews remain in Ethiopia who must be checked for aliya by Israel's Interior Ministry.

Currently, the government's criteria for immigration to Israel is based on a 1999 census known as the Efrati list, as well as a maternal link to Judaism and relatives already living in Israel.

Aveje Manhanei, who runs an Israeli-based Web community dedicated to preserving the traditions and culture of Ethiopian Jewry, told the Post, "If Israel does not put a stop to this activity as soon as possible then there will eventually be another 75 million Ethiopians demanding to make aliya."

He said that a significant number of Ethiopian Israelis, specifically those who arrived here during Operations Moses (1984-5) and Solomon (1991) and are known as Beta Israel Jews, are "angered" over the activities of this Messianic organization both in Ethiopia and here in Israel.

What has upset Manhanei and other community members the most is several short video clips that have been posted on the Internet - on the MJAA's official Web site and on YouTube - showing raggedly-dressed and poverty-stricken Ethiopian children who are labeled as Beta Israel Jews by the MJAA and whom the organization claims were left behind by the Israelis in the poor African country.

An official from the movement, visiting a water-well site near Gondar donated by the organization, is seen and heard on the video as asking those gathered, "How many people here want to go home to Israel?"

The following frame shows almost all of those present raising their arms.

The official then adds: "We are doing our best for you here and in Israel."

In another scene, MJAA representative Kokeb Gedamu, who refers to himself as a rabbi, says: "With God's help we can take these people home to Israel."

"They are filling these people with empty promises," commented Waldman, who helped compile the Efrati list.

Chernoff denied that his organization was giving these people false hope about a future in Israel, responding that "these people have a lot of hope that in the future it will be different and they will be accepted."

The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement that it was not aware of such Jewish Messianic activities in the Gondar area but, following The Jerusalem Post's inquiry, it planned to check into the issue.

A spokesman for the Jewish Agency said its role in the African country was not to determine who is eligible for aliya but rather to facilitate the immigration of those approved by the Israeli government.

He said that the feeding centers and health clinics currently in Gondar were not under the Agency's control.

As for the so-called Messianic Jews behind Operation Tikva, lies and misrepresentation seem to be their modus operandi – which puts them right where they've always been.

If you have to lie, cheat and steal to sell your religion, folks, your religion isn't true.

Comments

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--If you have to lie, cheat and steal to sell your religion, folks, your religion isn't true. --

Amen to that. The MJAA is also:

--Taking advantage of people's desperation in order to bring their followers to Israel and attempt to convert the rest of us

and

--Taking the focus off the 8700 Falash Mura, who should have been in Israel years ago, and who are almost entirely made up of Jews who practice Judaism

On the other hand, when faced with the possibility that 70,000 "messianic Jews" may be muddying the waters sufficiently to make the Falash Mura's status look more questionable, the Israeli government may decide that it would be worthwhile to accept the Falash Mura, get them to Israel, and permanently close down any further possibility of aliyah from Ethiopia.

But given the number of times the Israeli government has slowed or stopped the process of Ethiopian Jews making aliyah, I'm not all that optimistic.

Rachel is correct. That's also why I believe in working with born-agains for political reasons, because we need their political support (there are a hell of a lot more of them than there are affiliated Jews). But we should always be vigilant, and not trust too much. Their agenda is not ours, even if our interests sometimes converge. Don't shun them, but keep an eye on them.

Heh. and Sun Tzu wrote, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."

I am sorry, Yochanan.
I do not believe in working with the born-agains for any reason at all. We do not have to say anything to them, we should just politely ignore them. They want to turn us into Christians, that's all, and they'll never stop trying, unless we totally ignore them.

Dave: The USA supports Israel not because of the vaunted "Jewish Lobby" but because of the millions upon millions of Born Again Christians. The Jewish community is actually shrinking in absolute numbers, let alone proportion, and many Jews actually don't give a shit about Israel anymore. And without the USA, no more Israel, and ultimately no more Jewish people.

Dave, I understand your feelings about evangelicals, because I share them, but I think Yochanan is right about working with them. They can keep trying to convert us until they're blue in the face, but we don't have to pay any attention to it, or respond to it in anyway. Let them waste their breath.

Meanwhile, they are helping to support Israel, which means that, among other things, they are helping to support the Ethiopian Jews, who are the original subjects of this thread. The Jews that have been left behind in Ethiopia live in extreme poverty and will die of starvation and disease if they don't get out of there. Israel exists precisely to rescue people like this; the fact that the Israeli government is allowing them to languish is unconscionable. But tens of thousands have already been brought to Israel and saved from persecution at the hands of their Christian neighbors, and I hope the aliyah will continue until all the Falash Mura are home.

So it's fine with me if American Evangelicals want to support Israel for their own theological reasons. They're supporting the only country in the world that exists to rescue Jews from persecution. Considering that the persecution has come mainly at the hands of Christians, that sounds like justice to me.

Yochanan and Rachel, you both make some good points.
However, as I have pointed out, my personal feeling is that the true future of the Jewish people is promoting Judaism in the 3rd world and among "visible" minorities in North and South America and Europe.
As long as we hope that the West will save us, we really are doomed.

Dave: Why not do both? I am all for more converts, but we also can't place all our hopes in the developing world. Shanah tovah.

I can't see how we could possibly get enough converts to make that much of a difference, especially in predominantly Catholic countries in Latin America.

But then again, I'm very much against the idea of seeking converts at all. I don't mind if we set a good example and people come asking about us, but I'm really against the idea of going out and eliciting conversions. For one thing, there is Hillel's dictum "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor." Plus, there is nothing wrong with a non-Jew practicing another religion. And anyway, what would we say to people: come join us, learn a difficult language, and risk having your conversion overturned by this week's frummer-than-thou rabbi? I just don't see it.

I think we should let the born-again-ers live in the illusion that by supporting Israel, they are bringing us closer to Christ. They're happy with their belief system. Why should we deny them their happiness?

Rachel,
I disagree with you.
I am very much in favour of promoting Judaism, in a non-patronizing way, non-coercive way.
We are losing thousands, and hundreds thousands of Jews in the western world.
I am working on a plan to promote millions of converts. There are millions of people around the world searching for spiritual meaning.
We have a good product- the Tanach can sell itself, properly promoted.
I do not believe that Judaism is the best religion in the world.
I do know in my heart, and I am certain that Hashem/ G-d/ Allah loves every human being.
I am also certain that all humanity aspires to pure monotheism, some of us just don't know it yet. I believe that every human passes away, if they have been good, they spend all eternity in the presence of G-d, and I don't mean Jesus or Buddha or Krishna.
I see Judaism as a vehicle to promote pure monotheism. Unitarianism is too weak, the Sikhs are a very Punjab, India- centred religion, and at the moment Islam is unfortunately dominated by fanatics.
So that leaves us, as the only monotheist alternative.
I am not Orthodox.
I am willing to work with Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Karaites, Samaritans, even Lithuanian Karaim (a break-off group from the Karaites).
I am willing to work also with tolerant Orthodox.
The situation is dire. If we do not grow, we shall disappear.
Right now we are 13.5 to 15 million out of more than 6 billion.
My goal is 180 million, within 50 years.
By that time, the world population is expected to be 9 billion, so we will still be a minority- but we will be 2 percent of the world's population, instead of being less than 1/2 of 1 percent as we are now.
Another thing- I do not give a sh-t about the "frummer" than thou rabbis.
I will do my part for the rest of my life to help the Jewish people grow. I do not care if the "frummer" than thou rabbis recognize me. The goal is to get so many converts that the balance of power in Judaism, changes. Anyway I ignore the haredim and extreme orthodox. They probably think I am irrelevant. Well, I think they are irrelevant. Just imagine Minhag Brazil, Minhag Mexico, Minhag Africa, etc.
Thousands of rabbonim/ rabbanot/ hachamim of African, Latin American, and Southeast Asian heritage. Judaism must cease to be a Euro-centric religion if it is to survive.
I think we have to admit to ourselves that we, the Jews of the western world have screwed up. We have tried Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, haredi, Lubavitch, Zionist, non-Zionist, and we are still losing the demographic battle. Our great future hope is to leave this wonderful heritage to the many millions of Mexicans, Brazilians, Africans, Koreans (especially North Koreans, when that regime collapses), and African-Americans, Native-Americans, etc.
I have met many converts and read about many converts. They are, to a man and a woman, much more enthusiastic about Judaism than "born" Jews are.
If you've

Rachel, I love you, but I agree with Dave. We should not, IMO, try to lure people away from their own religions. We should go after the "unchurched" of which there are millions in Asia and Africa. Only Catholics with Sephardic ancestors, in SA, should be missionized.

My shul is Modern Orthodox, and because we welcome converts, we are growing thanks to Black and Hispanic members who are undergoing an Orthodox conversion.

So your shul is MO, small, friendly, *and* diverse? I'm green with envy.

I just found out that the only shul in my rural town is Reform. Though I'm not at all drawn to the ritual and educational offerings there, I'll probably connect with the place doing community service, which they do very well. There are some other shuls around, including Recon and Conservative, but not Orthodox. Too bad, because I'm feeling more drawn to Orthodox services than to anything else. I visit NYC occasionally, and will probably check out an MO shul if I'm ever there over shabbos.

Anyway...As long as we're only looking for converts among the unchurched or former Sephardim, I may reconsider my stance. I'll give it some thought.

The issue is not Euro-centric vs Afro-centric Jews. The issue is whether having Jewish genes — without Jewish beliefs — is sufficient justification for making aliya. Imagine (G-d forbid) American Jews for Jesus demanding the right to "return" to Israel and be supported by the Israeli government so they can undermine Judaism.


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