University of Michigan Daily
By Victoria Edwards
September 23, 2004
Clad in T-shirts proclaiming “Jews for Jesus,” members of the seemingly paradoxical organization have made themselves a presence on the Diag — prompting criticism from mainstream Jewish groups.
The group, from San Francisco, says it is nearing the end of a three-week evangelical outreach on the campus. Jews for Jesus volunteer Dena Schultz said the group is targeting cities with a population of more than 25,000 Jews.
“The organization desires to engage Jewish people in the claims of Jesus being the Messiah. Jewish people all over the world are considering Hinduism, Buddhism, but one taboo is still believing in Jesus. We encourage them to see for themselves,” said Shaun Buchhalter, director of Detroit’s Jews For Jesus.
Buchhalter, who was born to a Jewish family and raised secular, said all of the organization’s staff was born or married into Jewish families. He added that they work with volunteers on campus who were born into non-Jewish families.
Buchhalter said although a basic belief in Judaism is the belief in one God, secular atheistic Jews are still considered Jewish. Therefore accepting Jesus as the Messiah doesn’t make him any less Jewish.
“We’re Jewish people who came to believe Jesus is the Messiah. We believe the only way is through Jesus and his sacrifice. We don’t want to exclude the Jewish people,” Buchhalter said.
He said the reaction of Jewish people on the University’s campus has been mixed with curiosity and hostility, although some appeared receptive.
Rabbi Jason Miller, assistant director of the University Hillel Foundation, said Hillel is ignoring Jews for Jesus, based on the recommendation of the Jewish Community Council of Metro Detroit.
“We are following the recommendation of that committee that Jewish communal organizations (like Hillel) do not respond to the Jews for Jesus Campaign. That will only help them publicize their message,” Miller said in an e-mail.
Instead, Miller said Hillel has chosen to inform as many of the 6,000 Jewish students on campus as possible that “Jews for Jesus is an organization of Christians that employs coercive techniques and indoctrinating propaganda in its efforts to convert Jews.”
LSA sophomore Perry Teicher, the student vice-chair for Hillel, said he has qualms with the underlying beliefs of the organization as well as how they’re spreading their message across campus.
“I completely respect having someone believe what they want. I don’t like people trying to impose their beliefs, especially when they conflict with the truth. The basic belief is you can’t believe in Jesus and be a Jew,” Teicher said.
In response, LSA junior David Morley has started distributing pamphlets for Jews for Judaism, a group that combats Jews for Jesus. Although Morley doesn’t belong to Jews for Judaism, he says, “I have followed (Jews for Jesus representatives) around and handed out Jews for Judaism literature.”
He added that although Jews for Jesus challenges the basic premise of the Jewish faith, it has actually strengthened the faith of Jewish students on campus. “I feel it made the Jewish community on campus stronger — it gives all the Jews something to feel strongly about,” Morely said.
Miller said combating the organization on campus is something he has encouraged other religious organizations on campus to get involved in as well.
“I sent a letter to our colleagues in the Association of Religious Counselors at U of M, urging them to speak out against Jews for Jesus on behalf of the religious community,” Miller said. “We have, thus far, been disappointed in that the Christian community does not realize that this is its problem as well. Jews for Jesus is promoting its religious views above everyone else’s and in doing, has violated the unwritten rules of public discourse at the University.”