Friday, June 24, 2005

Dealing With Missionaries

One of the things that almost every Jew has to deal with is the approach of the missionary. At one time or another we are accosted by people who are interested in explaining to us why we shouldn't be Jewish but instead should become an adherent of some other belief system.

There are literally millions of dollars being spent by groups who believe that they have a religious obligation to try and convert Jews. And while I admit to understanding how someone could feel the need to try and follow the religious doctrine and precepts of their faith I nonetheless find this to be offensive.

I am not offended that they try to convert us, although I admit to finding it a little sad, but I am offended by the tactics and techniques they use. I am irked that there are professional courses and classes that are given for the sole purpose of snaring converts. I am offended by people who use what I call religious terror to try and affect change.

What I mean by this is the person who says to another that if they are going to suffer eternal damnation because their belief is not the same. I am offended by those that try and target children and others whose Jewish background and education is not strong enough to see the inconsistencies in what they are peddling.

And I am always saddened when I encounter members of these groups who try and build a rapport with me by talking about how they used to be Jewish. "Jack, I know exactly what you are talking about. I remember going to Hebrew school. I remember the youth group and camp experiences, but they never fulfilled me and now I found something that does."

I hear stories like this and my heart breaks. I hear stories like this and I feel a little empty. But it also makes me angry and more determined to do my part to help instill a strong Jewish identity in not just my children but the people around me.

Some of my Frum friends have told me about how they do not worry about things like this happening to people they know, that this is a problem limited to the Reform and Conservative communities.

I do not believe that to be true. I do not believe that every yeshiva bochur believes with perfect faith, some do not. But I do believe that they have a better understanding of why we do what we do and that this is an area that needs to be worked upon.

Orthodoxy is not for everyone. Some people will never take to it, but they might choose to be Reform or Conservative instead of being unaffiliated. If we invite them, work with them given the opportunity these Jews might just look at being part of the Jewish people and be involved on some level as opposed to none.

I still believe that it is to the benefit of every Jew regardless of denomination to have more Jews involved with Judaism, even if it be at a level of observance that is different from their own.

So I see this as a challenge for all of us to work together to overcome. I see a need for us to work on providing a warm and inviting place for the unaffiliated to come to so that they choose to be Jewish and that they choose to raise Jewish children.

Because if we do not open our doors others will.

9 comments:

ClooJew said...

in my experience, Lulei demistafina, missionaries do not have success with the best and the brightest. We Jews need to focus our efforts on education and outreach, and not worry about "defeating" missionaries.

Most of the non-Jews I work with are more impressed with Jewish ideas and ideals than those of their own religion. Thoughtful Jews, presented with the opportunity to embrace Judaism or another religion (let alone a cult) will choose their heritage.

We need to spend our resources--time, energy, money--on being proactive on education and not reactive to what other groups are doing.

Jack's Shack said...

I hear what you are saying and I agree, but I think that like it or not we sometimes have to react to what other groups are doing.

So while we are working on providing a better education we may need to focus our efforts on some areas more aggressively than others.

For example, if there is a divestment campaign or a big push among the missionary groups in specific places we need to respond globally and locally.

Mirty said...

Jack, you wrote Orthodoxy is not for everyone. Some people will never take to it, but they might choose to be Reform or Conservative instead of being unaffiliated. If we invite them, work with them given the opportunity these Jews might just look at being part of the Jewish people and be involved on some level as opposed to none.

I agree. My husband runs a Jewish outdoors group. They do camping, hiking, bicycling and all that, but he also invites the entire group over to our house for seders and chanukah parties. It's another way for "unaffiliated" Jews to be part of a Jewish community.

Jack's Shack said...

Mirty,

I feel very strongly about this. I have no compunction in saying that I want to see Jews involved in Jewish life, but my ego is not so large as to say that it only can be the same denomination as me.

I don't care which, just make it one of them. It is better for all of us.

Yoshi said...

My blog is dedicated to Counter-Missionary education. You might be interested.

Lyss said...

http://no_blog.blogspot.com/2005/06/jews-missionaries.html

Lyss said...

Strong Jewish education is a good way to ward off the missionaries.

PsychoToddler said...

Let me reiterate what lyss and others have said (only because I was going to write it anyway before I read their responses):

Jewish education is the key. Send your kids to Jewish Day Schools and High Schools, and you won't have to worry about missionaries. Our culture can counter anything the missionaries will throw at you, but it's of no use if you don't know about it.

Jack's Shack said...

Hi PT,

Here is the problem with that, some people are not going to do that for a variety of reasons. They may not be able to afford it, might not agree with a parochial focus over secular etc.

I agree that a strong education is important and that this does an excellent job of countering the potential ill affect missionaries can have, but it doesn't help those who need it most.

And that is who I am really concerned about.