FREE vs. Missionaries: The
Annual Summer Camp Battle Wages On
- The Jewish Press
Every summer, Russian-Jewish immigrants are subjected
to high-powered proselytizing by the Baptist Evangelical summer
camp in Connecticut, operated by missionaries.
now the missionaries have a battle on their hands, thanks loan
aggressive recruitment campaign to register these children in
Jewish summer camps. The registration is taking place at the
Jewish War Veterans Hall, 3149 Coney Island Avenue in the Brighton
section of Brooklyn, and is being conducted by FREE (Friends
of Refugees of Eastern Europe).
The Russian-Jews' plight is one they face every year. The Baptist
camp is large, beautiful, and free to Jewish children. the Jewish
parents do not realize and sometimes do not care that the children
are subjected to constant religious activities with the goal
of conversion and baptism.
The director of FREE's recruitment campaign is Mordecai Goldin,
who was instrumental in rescuing 75 Jewish children from the
Baptist camp, and who has been working with those Jewish youngsters
ever since. The story of FREE's daring infiltration of the Baptist
camp made headlines throughout the country.
"We have organized a series of long-weekends and Shabbatons
for those children," Rabbi Goldin told us, "and it
is having a wonderfully positive effect on them. When we rescued
those 75 children, 50 still remained - in the Baptist camp.
Now, with the help of Hashem and our Shabbatons program, we
are even beginning to bring these children back to their Judaism."
FREE's Shabbaton programs involve bringing the children to
Crown Heights for Shabbos, taking them to Shul (sometimes only
for ten minutes at a stretch) and then to families' homes for
the Shabbos meals. The big first attraction for these children,
however, is the post-Shabbos Sunday attractions offering, which
range from skiing in upper New York State to horseback riding
in the Poconos. All of the children attending FREE's Shabbatons
were in the Baptist camp last summer, but none of them submitted
to the final stage of baptism and conversion.
The job of getting these children to realize the importance
of their Jewishness and to reject the missionaries' teaching
is a difficult one. Rabbi Goldin and the other FREE rabbis and
workers meet with the children's parents, often with frustrating
results. One parent recently told them, "I don't believe
in who they pray to and I don't believe who you pray to, so
what's the difference where my boy goes? The Baptist camp is
free and the Jewish camps cost plenty of money, that's why he
went there and that's why I want to send him there again."
Of course, most of the parents respond more favorably to the
rabbis' pleas of the importance of teaching their children about
Judaism. But the discussions with both parents and children
are often difficult.
"At first, the children are afraid of us," Rabbi
Goldin said. "They are all from public school and have
been worked over by the missionaries for a long time, some of
them for two and three years. So when they hear about Judaism
or see a rabbi, they get scared. We start out by telling them
stories about how Jewish children in Russia had been taken by
the missionaries for hundreds of years. But how they always
resisted conversion, sometimes even at the risk of their lives.
We try to instill pride in their Jewishness, and it works. Having
a child with us for 50 uninterrupted hours during a Shabbaton
usually breaks through the missionaries' brainwashing. After
a couple of the Shabbatons, the children are usually ready to
consider Bar Mitzvah lessons, Talmud Torah classes, or enrollment
in a Jewish summer camp."
The 50-hour Shabbatons have a remarkable impact on these children.
When they first arrive Friday afternoon, they are given a snack
and asked to make a bracha over the food. Almost all of them
are afraid to say it, fighting an inner struggle between their
Jewishness and the beliefs they have been taught by the missionaries.
But by the end of Sunday, the whole group screams out pesukim
from the Torah in unison with broad smiles on their faces.
Heroic Rescue From The Missionaries
When Mordecai Goldin became one of the heroic rescuers of the
75 children, he was just out of yeshiva. He infiltrated the
missionary camp by putting on jeans and a baseball cap and taking
a boy from the Lubavitcher yeshiva who posed as his cousin and
potential recruit for the Baptists. Goldin and the boy asked
to be shown around the camp to see if it would be suitable.
The missionaries, of course, suspected Goldin inasmuch as he
had a beard, which is uncommonly worn by non-religious Russian-Jews,
but they were not sure, so they showed him around anyway, keeping
a close watch on him. As Goldin and his young charge strolled
through the camp, they surveyed the situation. It was a Sunday,
and the camp was filled with parents visiting their children.
At the time, there were 125 Jewish children in the camp.
Goldin would try to talk to the parents about their Jewishness,
the camp's officials would intervene and start talking to Goldin
and the other Jewish parents. Then finally, the camp's church
bell began to ring and the missionaries announced that everyone
had to go to church. Goldin complained loudly, "but we're
Jewish, we don't go to church." The missionaries demanded
that everyone had to attend the church services.
Goldin insisted that he was only a visitor and that the other
parents were also only visitors and did not understand why a
visitor had to go to church. He became the focus of the parents
who rallied behind him. The confrontation soon became a high
pitched screaming battle, with the missionaries insisting that
if Goldin did not go to church, then he had to leave the camp
grounds. In a huff, he took his young companion by the hand
and led him and an army of some 75 Jewish parents and their
children out of the camp that Sunday afternoon, much to the
Missionaries Pressure Children
Since that fateful day, it has been a building operation, trying
to win the confidence of these youngsters and their parents.
FREE has photos of some 50 Jewish families in attendance at
the camp, but after publishing one such picture, the missionaries
showed up at the family's home to complain about being betrayed
and to put on strong pressure to bring the child back, so FREE
has subsequently made it a policy to avoid revealing the names
of the children involved in this struggle.
Activities continue throughout the year for these Russian-Jews
and are designed to teach them about their Jewish religious
heritage. The Sunday before Purim, March 23, FREE held an enormous
Purim party in P.S. 225 in Brighton, attracting more than 700
people, including a couple of hundred children. There were clowns
and refreshments, games and prizes, and the people learned about
the holiday of Purim. And it is this learning that FREE feels
is the ultimate key to success. Meir Okunov, chairman of FREE,
told us that the typical Russian-Jewish immigrant has little
or no concept of the uniqueness of his Jewishness. To the children,
most of whom come uncircumcised, there is no difference between
a Jew and a Gentile.
Herschel Okunov, vice-president of FREE, posed an intriguing
question that he often asks people whom he wants to give financial
support that is much needed by the organization. "If it
were fifteen years ago, and you were told that you had the opportunity
to give a Jewish boy or man in Russia a Bris Milah, what would
you spend? Well, Hashem has helped us by bringing thousands
of these Jews to America. They still need the circumcisions
and it still costs money, but now it is so much easier. Now
your contribution can really perform wonders." To date
FREE has given over 9,000 Jewish men and boys circumcisions,
each of which costs approximately $150, even though the mohelim
donate their services without charge. This, because a circumcision
on an adult must be done in a hospital with surgical supervision.
Jewish War Veterans Building
And now, the battle for summer begins at FREE's new headquarters
at the Jewish War Veterans Hall in Brighton, generously provided
by Philip Cohen, Hyman Sommer, and Samuel Meltzer. FREE has
the difficult job of bringing the children in and determining
which of the Jewish summer camps will be most suitable for the
individual, providing funds to help out the parents of the children,
who would have a free ride with the Baptist Missionaries. The
need is overwhelming and the main consideration on the part
of the families is the cost.
In previous years, individual contributions have allowed FREE
to offset the mounting costs of summer camp tuitions, but every
year it is a hard struggle. Today it costs just under a thousand
dollars to keep a Jewish child in camp for the whole summer,
and FREE hopes to place approximately 250 Russian-Jewish children
in more than ten summer camps, meaning that the financial burden
is staggering. But the difference one summer in a Jewish camp
can make will have an impact on these children for the rest
of their lives.
The Chairman of the Manhattan-Brighton Beach committee for
Russian-Jews told us: "Bringing Jewish children into Jewish
summer camps means the difference between a child staying Jewish
and marrying Jewish. With each child, the being in a Jewish
camp instead of the Baptist camp can affect future generations
for all time. I don't know of any other battle as important
as this one. Thank G-d, we're winning the battle."
For information about FREE's Jewish summer camp activities,
contact them at 718-467-0860.
Missionaries themselves acknowledge the success of FREE’s activists in pulling Jews out of the their clutches
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