Messianic group tells 'Post' it will target Ukrainian Jewish refugees

"I know that when they end up in Israel, we're going to do everything we can to minister."

 Jewish immigrants fleeing the war in Ukraine, on a rescue flight sponsored by the IFCJ, arrive at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, March 6, 2022.  (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
Jewish immigrants fleeing the war in Ukraine, on a rescue flight sponsored by the IFCJ, arrive at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, March 6, 2022.
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)

Chosen People Ministries' "goal is to get people to believe in Jesus" and will target Ukrainian Jewish refugees who arrive in the State of Israel, the head of the Messianic Jewish nonprofit group has told The Jerusalem Post.

Dr. Mitch Glaser, who serves as Chosen People’s president made the comment last Thursday, just days after his organization was called out for actively reaching out to convert Jewish Ukrainians fleeing the warzone. 

"I know that when they end up in Israel, we're going to do everything we can to minister to these people ... and show them the love of Jesus," a member of Chosen People’s said on a recent conference call - a recording of which was shared with the Post by Shannon Nuszen, founder and director of Beyneynu, a nonprofit organization that monitors missionary activity. 

This would be after the organization gave food, clothing and shelter to the Ukrainian refugees.

Nuszen said Chosen People’s tactics are “disrespectful.”

“The Jewish people have been hunted and preyed upon for centuries,” she said. “It was in the wake of the Holocaust that the state of Israel was founded. The Jewish state was a place of refuge where the Jewish people could be safe to live as Jews. 

“Judaism respects people of all faiths,” she continued. “Jerusalem is the home to holy sites of many religions. We are simply asking for the same respect. Proselytizing is seen as disrespectful, offensive and a red line.”

In literature on Chosen People’s website, the ministry asked its followers to, "please pray that our staff in Israel will serve these new immigrants well and share the gospel with them" and to "pray for the continued movement of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the unbelieving Jewish people of Ukraine."

The website last week had a note that the organization was already working with dozens of immigrants and planned to "baptize 15" by Passover. However, Glaser said that was referring to immigrants who came to Israel previously from Ukraine and meant to garner support from its donors to help fund current efforts. The note has since been dated March 17, 2017 and moved and is now harder to find on the site.

Glaser said that the Jews should not be surprised nor alarmed by the organization's efforts. 

Chosen People has been around for nearly 130 years, he said, and has always had the same basic mission: “to pray for, evangelize, disciple and serve Jewish people everywhere and to help fellow believers do the same.”

“I take our mission very seriously,” Glaser said. 

However, Nuszen said that Chosen People Ministries is “clearly crossing lines.”

According to Israeli law, it is illegal to target minors for conversion or to offer goods or services in exchange for conversion, Nuszen stressed, noting that Chosen People is doing both.

But on this point, Glaser disagrees.

“In Israel, you cannot use material inducement to persuade people to another religion, so that is against our internal Chosen People policy and part of our training,” Glaser said. “To accuse us of being underhanded or not transparent about what we are doing is a shanda. It’s lashon hara and it’s untrue.”

Shanda is Yiddish for disgrace. Lashon hara is Hebrew for evil talk.

He said that his mission does not serve the Jewish people to get them to believe in Jesus, but “because we love and care for them. Serving people and getting people to believe in Jesus are two different things. They are parallel, not causal.”

According to Glaser, the organization serves people without any demand and has been raising loads of funds to help those in need in Ukraine, as well as the Jewish and non-Jewish refugees who have already arrived in Israel. On the conference call, Boris Gordon, a Ukrainian Messianic Jew who helps coordinate Chosen People's operations in Ukraine, said the organization’s efforts are costing up to $5,000 a day. 

Glaser admitted that the work “has been effective” at converting people to the Messianic movement, though he would not use the word convert, since he claimed that Jews can believe in Jesus and still be Jewish.

He said the process "happens naturally because people ask questions. People say, ‘explain more’ so we do.”

He told the Post that the organization’s heyday was after the first aliyah from the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s when “many young people from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia came to faith in Jesus.”

“We always told younger people about Jesus and did Bible studies and started Messianic congregations in their communities,” Glaser said. The young people would join in and eventually became believers. Today, many of these young people - all native Russian speakers - are missionaries in Israel, and they are ready to target the refugees and immigrants of the current war. 

Chosen People was founded by a Hungarian Jewish immigrant, Rabbi Leopold Cohn, who ultimately converted to Christianity and sought to “share the knowledge of Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah with God’s chosen people,” its website said.

“We have long been focused on immigrants,” Glaser noted. “We are a ministry that grew up among immigrants, was founded by immigrants to minister and care for immigrants - and that is the model for us.”

Nuszen said Chosen People’s model is “false advertising” and “consumer fraud.”

“This is a tactic that was brought about in the mid-70’s, at the inception of the Messianic movement,” Nuszen explained. “The idea was to blur the distinction between Judaism and Christianity in order to lure Jews who would reject the straight forward message of the church. It’s nothing more than a change in PR.

“There is absolutely no difference between what Mitch Glaser believes and the Southern Baptist denomination,” she continued. “Chosen People Ministries has simply repackaged Christianity in a Jewish wrapping.”

Rabbi Tovia Singer, director of Outreach Judaism, expressed similar sentiments, but said that Chosen People's methods "do not work for most people.

"But the elderly who are dying of loneliness, people who don’t know about their faith, troubled young people and certainly new Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe whose Jewish education leaves them too weak to respond.”

Aaron Reich contributed to this report.