Jews for Jesus riles campus groups

Jews for Jesus, which just finished a month-long evangelical campaign, is facing objections from some on-campus religious groups.

The independent religious organization, which says that Jews can maintain their religious identity while still believing in Jesus as the messiah, began operation “Behold Your God” in D.C. in mid-August.

While reaching out to the District area’s 215,000 Jews at public locations, solicitors handed out literature to GW students during the Jewish High Holy Days of mid-September. Jews for Jesus members handed out pamphlets in front of the Marvin Center and Lisner Auditorium last week.

“We go to all campuses where there’s a sizable population of Jewish students because we’re trying to reach Jewish people and engage in the discussion of whether Jesus is our promised messiah or not,” said Stephen Katz, director of D.C.’s branch of Jews for Jesus.

The group also took out a full-page advertisement in the Sept. 9 issue of The Hatchet, promoting a “path of peace” between Jews and Palestinians through their mutual acceptance of Jesus Christ.

But the ad stirred controversy at the University’s Jewish student center. GW Hillel, along with the Western Presbyterian Church, placed a full-page ad in The Hatchet a week later, denouncing the presence of Jews for Jesus on campus and their evangelistic efforts aimed at GW students.

“Their goal isn’t to have someone remain Jewish and love Jesus, their goal is to have someone convert (to Christianity),” GW Hillel director Simon Amiel said. “We hope the ad will reach people who might be taking the pamphlets seriously.”

The message printed in The Hatchet also accused Jews for Jesus of using deceptive tactics and mistranslating and misquoting both Jewish and Christian scriptures.

Amiel said Jews for Jesus “poses as a threat because it seeks to essentially end the global Jewish community.” He added that GW Hillel is taking actions to counter the group’s message and is trying to arrange an information session with Baltimore-based Jews for Judaism, which actively opposes groups seeking to convert Jews.

“We spend as much time as we can out there connecting to students who seem to be upset by a Jews for Jesus encounter,” Amiel said.

Katz said he was disappointed with the counter ad run by Hillel and the Western Presbyterian Church.

“It saddens me that basically (the GW Hillel and the Western Presbyterian Church) are trying to be thought police for the Jewish students,” Katz said. “People at GW are smart; if they would take a serious-minded look at Jesus’s claims to be the messiah, there might be any number of students who find that to be true.”

Despite the ads, Katz said the Washington branch of Jews for Jesus still plans to send representatives to campus throughout the year. The group might also hold Bible studies and group discussions with students. In April, Katz spoke to about 50 students in the Marvin Center as part of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Jesus Awareness Week.

GW students have expressed interest in the message of Jews for Jesus, said Katz, who has organized a number of discussions on campus.

But some GW students said the evangelical group is just a nuisance.

“They’re kind of annoying, but if that’s what they want to do, that’s what they’re going to do,” sophomore Sam Sandberg said. “I haven’t seen anyone take them seriously.”

John Walker, a first-year law student, said he sees no harm in having Jews for Jesus on campus.

“Everybody has a right to do what they want to do,” Walker said. “(Jews for Jesus) is just standing on corners and handing out fliers.”

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