A stupor fell over the French Hill neighborhood – and greater Jerusalem – after word got out this past week that a family the Orthodox community had helped for years were in fact Christian missionaries.
Under the fake cover of a Jewish family that had emigrated from New Jersey, the Elkohens – with five children aged six through 13 – had long been financially and logistically supported by French Hill’s Orthodox community, particularly after the mother Amanda became ill with cancer, later passing away. Father Michael posed as a rabbi, acting as a mohel and a sofer.
Persons involved say Amanda, who claimed to be the daughter of an Auschwitz survivor, was introduced to the community when she created a support group for women with cancer; throughout that time, she never disclosed anything suspicious.
Shira Kallus Zwebner, an Arnona resident who belonged to the support group, says that on top of the shock, she and many others wonder about the status of those religious ceremonies in which Michael played a pivotal part. “What about the boys he prepared for bar mitzvah? What about the babies he circumcised – how should the community consider them?
“So many questions, but also how could she [Amanda] accept that as a Christian, she would be buried in a Jewish cemetery, with all the Jewish rites? As a Christian, how could she accept that?”
The first time doubt crept in was when one of the sons made a few remarks about Jesus at school; all the dominoes fell from there.
It turns out suspicions had already bubbled up a few years ago, which led Beyneynu, a nonprofit monitoring missionary activity in Israel, to begin investigating. Michael refused to admit he was not Jewish, they said, and maintained he had renounced missionary work many years ago and that his family’s primary purpose in arriving in Israel was not to conduct missionary activities.
From what Beyneynu learned it seems the family is not Jewish at all – rather a Christian family from New Jersey who used forged documents to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return. Israeli law expressly forbids the giving of money or gifts to encourage conversions to another religion. Missionary activities, in general, are closely monitored by the authorities and also forbidden by law.
As of press time, the family remained in their Jerusalem neighborhood, though the children were not attending school.
French Hill’s finest are left stunned to pick up the pieces.