Nine members of the controversial group Jews for Jesus passed out fliers on Central Avenue in Cedarhurst last week, but when they were ready to leave the neighborhood, they discovered that someone had slashed the tires of two vans used by the group, according to Fourth Precinct police.
In what is being investigated as a possible bias crime, police are still looking for the person or persons responsible for the damage, authorities said. In addition to slashing the tires of the vans, in front of 582 Central Ave. between 11 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. on May 25, a vandal or vandals also attempted to use a key to scratch off the Jews for Jesus symbol on both vans, police officials said.
According to Fourth Precinct officials, the crime is being viewed as criminal mischief with possible bias motives, and an investigation is ongoing.
Josh Sofaer, a missionary in Jews for Jesus' New York City office, said the reaction was not a surprise, since the Five Towns has a large number of religious Jews, but that it will not prevent the group from making a return trip to Cedarhurst. We don't base decisions on people who bully us, because we think that the message is important, said Sofaer.
Local rabbis expressed outrage that members of the group were handing out fliers in the Five Towns. There is nothing Jewish about Jews for Jesus, said Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, spiritual leader of the Reform Temple Israel of Lawrence. They represent the most nefarious and underhanded tactics of evangelical Christian movements who have targeted Jewish people for conversion.
Jews for Jesus, in my opinion, employs cultic tactics, mars religious truths with their own presentation of reality and has in the past, and continues to this day, to seduce the uninformed, religiously unsophisticated, naive and emotionally needy individuals, Rosenbaum said.
Constitutionally they have a right, but it is highly offensive in light of the high concentration of Jews in the area, said Rabbi Sholom Stern of the Conservative Temple Beth El of Cedarhurst. You can't be Jewish and Christian at the same time, so it's an oxymoron, and Jews take offense at this form of deception.
It's offensive, and it reminds us how important it is to be educated and know how to respond, said Rabbi Kenneth Hain of the Orthodox Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence.
Rabbi Arnold Marans of the Sephardic Temple, a Conservative synagogue in Cedarhurst, said that while he disagrees with the motives of the group, it has every right to do what it did. It's America, and freedom of expression is allowed, he said. So long as they are doing things peacefully and not causing panic or havoc in the community, they have every right. Despite being offended by the group's message, the rabbis said that responses like slashing tires are not the answer. As offensive as it may be, it is important to obey the law unless people are threatening people physically, said Hain.
It's counter'productive and only entices them more to do what they are doing, Stern said of the vandalism. We should disregard them as we disregard Jehovah's Witness or any other group who comes knocking on our doors, said Marans.
After learning of the group's presence in the Five Towns, Rosenbaum suggested the possibility of having a community forum with all Jewish religious denominations, to educate people on the controversial group and how to handle the situation if confronted by them in the future. Hain said that perhaps something that causes so much anger in the Jewish community could bring the different denominations together. I think there are a lot of things that can bring us together besides these negative intrusions, but I think if it provides a positive kind of response [in the local Jewish community], that would be a good result, Hain said. If it becomes a common activity, we should all sit down and form a strategy of how to deal with it in the future.
When word spread that the group was handing out fliers and knocking on residents' doors, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York was called and Marcia Eisenberg and Karen Sakael, who are involved with the group's task force on missionaries and cults, made the trip from Manhattan to Cedarhurst. The two monitored the situation to make sure the fliers were not passed out to minors, and they passed out their own leaflets to combat the Jews for Jesus message. We train people to be counter'community missionaries, said Eisenberg. We are there to educate.
Cedarhurst Mayor Andrew Parise said that while he does not believe it is right to force religion on anybody, the group has every right to do what it did in his village. We invite anybody to come here, as long as they are peaceful and don't interfere with anybody's privacy and don't block traffic, said Parise.
According to the organization's Web site, the goal of Jews for Jesus is to make the messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to Jewish people worldwide and to promote its ideals by illustrating hand'lettered pamphlets with plenty of humor in an informal, conversational tone. The group also publishes many evangelistic books, including testimonies of Jewish people who believe in Jesus, such as Jewish Doctors Meet the Great Physician, as well as books on prophecy, such as Future Hope.
The Web site also explains that Jews for Jesus campaigns are times of concentrated, short'term outreach during which staff and volunteers are sent into areas of New York City, Toronto, Paris, London, Moscow and other cities throughout the former Soviet Union.
The group also broadcasts evangelistic messages on billboards, on commuter trains, in bus transit shelters and on secular radio stations.
Sofaer said he sees himself and the people in the organization as being of the Jewish faith, regardless of how they are viewed by the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox denominations. We think that Jesus should not just be for Christians and gentiles but for the Jews as well, he said. The name is not intended to deceive.
Anyone with information on the vandalism is urged to call police at (516) 573'6454. All calls will be kept confidential.