Today is another “See What I Mean Sunday” and therefore time for a visionary posting on the Interfaithfulness blog. Today is also Yom HaShoah, that terrible day in the Jewish calendar when we pause to commemorate the unthinkable, the indescribable, the unprecdented–the slaughter of six million Jews, including 1.5 million babies and children as a function of state policy under the Third Reich.
Yesterday I visited a local Conservative synagogue for the Bar Mitzvah of a friend’s son. There are nine survivors of the Shoah at this shul. I have read the memoirs of one, and those of her husband, both of whom endured a level of suffering and loss such as I have never imagined in my worst nightmares. She survives, in her nineties. Graceful, fragile, still trusting the God who her father taught her would not in the end abandon his people. I said to her yesterday, “I know that tomorrow will be difficult for you,” refering to Yom HaShoah. Somehow she managed a smile of gratitude for the thought, and kissed me on the cheek.
I think this was an appropriate encounter between a Yeshua believer and a survivor, especially considering the timing. However, I fear that not all approaches are as sensitive as they should be.
I have been reluctant to share the following letter. I have known the recipients for about forty years. We used to work together. I was, once upon a time, one of the founders of Jews for Jesus, and their director, Moishe Rosen mentored me in significant ways when I was in my late twenties and early thirties. Yet, we came to a parting of the ways 25 years ago, and now we are in some significant areas decidedly different from each other.
This is impotant to point out, because in the public eye, “Messianic Jews” and “Jews for Jesus” are often synonomous. But thinking this way is like assuming that all Jews are Hasidim. Only people who know nothing of the realities on the ground would say that all Jews are Hasidim . . . or that all Messianic Jews and Jews for Jesus are the same. No, although we hold certain facts in common, we are very different. And to both Jews for Jesus and Messianic Jews like me, the differences are important.
Recently someone told me about this film,That Jew Died For You, produced by Jews for Jesus. See http://goo.gl/4942IV. I was at first reluctant to watch it, because some of these differences upset me and I don’t enjoy being upset. Then I felt obliged to watch it, since it would be in the public eye, and as I said, the public often misimagines Jews for Jesus and Messianic Jews like me as the same. I needed to see the film as a matter of professional responsibility. I did. And then I wrote the following letter to my old friends.
I will say by way of preface, that I am sure they meant well in what they did. These are not bad people, but, in a sense, “They need to get out more,” that is, they are too steeped in an environment that ratifies and justifies their way of looking at things. This can be a danger for all of us, you know. But even the best intentions can blind us to the collateral clumsiness and inappropriateness of what we do. This is one of those cases.
And because this film is going to get a lot of publicity, I owe it to myself, to Interfaithfulness, to the Messianic Jewish movement, to the Jewish people, and to you, my readers, to make some distinctions.
So I am sharing this letter with you. It is not meant to sling any mud, so please, in your comments refrain from doing so. The recipients are the Executive Director and Media Director of Jews for Jesus.
Dear David and Susan,
Making this film was a most unfortunate choice. I don’t know who made the decision to go ahead with this, but it can only damage the reputation of JFJ and reinforce people’s worst views of the organization and by implication of the Messianic Jewish movement and the gospel.
I don’t know if you can undo the damage you have done already, not the least, to Jews for Jesus, but it is considerable even if you don’t feel it yet.
Did you run this idea past people who are NOT in the JFJ camp, people not already loyal to the way Jews for Jesus does things? Did you beta test this with focus groups? It would have been a good idea.
To capitalize on the Jewish people’s most tender wound in order to make a point for the gospel is a VERY insensitive choice. To do this in proximity to Yom HaShoah is far worse. For example, there are survivors of the camps who have lost so many loved ones, and go through such agonies at this time, remembering what is impossible to describe. This film adds to the pain. It is an exercise in non-communication to create the message “this Jew died for you” at a time when people are remembering six million who died themselves, including 1.5 million children, and for many, not just people who died, but family members and loved ones. In the minds and hearts of survivors and their families, what good did the death of Jesus do for these? Did he die in their place? No! This is the day that we mark that these people themselves died! People’s response would be, “If only SOMEONE had died instead of my brother, my sister, my children, my father, my grandfather, my mother. . . etc.” Yom HaShoah is the very worst occasion to speak of Jesus’ vicarious atonement for the Jewish people, and to speak of his being wounded for our transgressions, as if Jews went to the ovens for their own, but he was prepared to go in our place! When I worked with Jews for Jesus I was taught to equate getting a reaction with success. This is a most unfortunate equation. You will get much reaction to this film. But consider this: some reactions are well-deserved backlash.
Take a look on YouTube and see the comments that are piling up. You will discover that your message is not getting across, but that people are repelled, disgusted, and enraged. Paul reminds us that it is no compliment when “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” I am afraid you triggered great animosity toward yourselves and the gospel. Is it the gospel they are rejecting, or is it offensively poor taste? The answer is clear.
Susan, David, this was a gross misjudgment. It would be good to try and discern what you can do to reverse what will prove to be a tsunami of backlash against you, by Christians as well as Jews, and surely by many Messianic Jews with whom you are seeking to build bridges. And if the Jewish people are your target audience, you should above all be concerned with their perceptions of this action—and I think it will be very difficult if not impossible to find any Jew who regards this positively.
What were you thinking?
Years ago I decided that when I met a Shoah survivor I would never state any opinions, I had no right to speak about experiences beyond my comprehension. I remember Moishe (Moishe Rosen, Founder of Jews for Jesus) saying that one should never ask a survivor what he or she did to survive, because they all did things they are not proud of. He recognized that some things are hands off. Unfortunately, this film ignored that wisdom.
Not everything that appears to advance the cause of the gospel is a good idea. This is why Moishe forbade JFJ to evangelize people under 18 without parental consent. He was wise: he realized it was inappropriate. That kind of wisdom was missing in the release of this video.
It is time for damage control. It is may likely be past time. Pubic Relations firms suggest a swift public apology in such cases, a public and unambiguous mea culpa. You should consider it.
I am afraid you damaged the cause for which you work so hard: the cause of the gospel among the Jews. This was deeply offensive. And there are thousands who will tell you so if you will just listen. Look at YouTube for starters. That you are featuring this film on your website at this time indicates to me that you are out of touch with the fact that even offenses “for the sake of the gospel” are still offenses. And it is good to remember how inadvisable it is to place a stumbling block before people. It appears “That Jew Died For You” is a boulder.
With fond memories, but great sadness and alarm over this.
Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD