By MYRON LOVE It has been many years since I have had the pleasure of interviewing Rabbi Michael Skobac. I am happy to report that the long time Education Director of Jews for Judaism has been invited back to Winnipeg by the Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation to do a presentation – on Friday, October 20, after Kabbalat Shabbat services – on the subject of the ongoing missionary threat to the Jews.
The subtext for “The Battle for the Jewish Soul,” the title of his lecture, he points out, is an exploration of why so many Jews are susceptible to the siren song of missionaries – not just Christian missionaries, but also Asian religious movements – an issue that also falls under the aegis of Jews for Judaism.
“It is not just a matter of a lack of education or knowledge,” he explained in a wide ranging interview with the JP&N last Friday morning. “Many of those who have left Judaism grew up in Jewish homes, had their bar/bat mitzvahs, went to Hebrew school and visited Israel. What they are missing is a sense of spirituality.
“Too many Jews have grown up in a spiritual vacuum,” he continued. “They have holes in their soul that cry out to be filled and they are not finding it in Judaism. Therefore, they are turning to Bhuddism, Hinduism and the Church.”
To further illustrate his point, he cited a story about a conference on Jewish meditation a year ago in New York City. “There were about 1,000 people registered,” he recounted. “They were asked to raise their hands if they had participated in Eastern mediation practices. Everyone raised their hands. When subsequently asked how many of them had had any experience with Jewish meditation, no hands went up.”
That anecdote speaks to one of the several ways that Jews for Judaism’s mission has evolved and expanded. The organization was founded in 1989 in Toronto by Julius Ciss, himself a former “Jew for Jesus” who had returned to Judaism some years before and had begun doing counter missionary work.
Rabbi Skobac joined Jews for Judaism full time in 1992. A graduate of Yeshiva University, the former New Yorker received his smicha in 1980. After teaching for a short time, he was drawn into outreach work within the Jewish community prior to joining the staff of Jews for Judaism.
Initially, Jews for Judaism’s primary mission was working to bring back to Judaism susceptible Jews who were enticed into joining messianic congregations operating under the guise of following Jewish ritual practices within a context of worshipping Yesha (Jesus).
Skobac notes that Jews for Judaism’s focus has never been criticizing Christian beliefs, but rather on educating lost Jews as to the joys of Judaism. “We operate under the idea that the missionary activity of Jews for Jesus is not the problem,” he explains. “It is a symptom. The problem is that a growing number of Jews are disconnected from Judaism. Our communities are dealing with a lot of assimilation and apathy. The other thing we realized is that it is not just Christ who is calling to Jews. Twenty five percent of North American Bhuddists are Jewish and Jews are similarly overrepresented in other Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Bahai.”
Skobac noted that Jews for Judaism has become a 911 service forJewish communities – responding to many family members concerned about siblings or children who have strayed into other religious faiths.
There have been some interesting phenomena developing in more recent years that Skobac commented on. One is related to the growth of the messianic movements themselves.
“We are not dealing with just one or two messianic congregations in North America now,” he observed. “There are currently more than 500 – and they have become organized. They have camps and day schools and “rabbinical schools” to fill the growing demand for “rabbis”. The result is more of the messianic Jews are actually studying Judaism and some are – as a result- coming back to the Jewish community.”
Another difference that Skobac points out is that you no longer see these missionaries preaching on street corners. As with everything else in our modern world, virtually all the missionary work today is happening online. And the outreach efforts of Jews for Judaism has also moved to some degree online.
“Twelve years ago, we started our own YouTube channel,” he reported. “We have had between 8 and 9 million views. Obviously not all of our viewers re Jewish.”
He pointed out that over the past 40 years, a growing number of non-Jews have become interested in learning about Judaism and begun practising the “Noahide” laws as ordained in the Torah. These laws were required by God of Noah’s descendants and include prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, adultery, theft, murder and cruelty to animals.
And some of these Noahides convert to Judaism. Skobac reported, for example, that he was recently in Alberta to help a family living outside of Edmonton that was converting to Judaism.
The bottom line, Skobac noted, is that a growing number of Jews are not finding meaning in Judaism. “People need a sense of the spiritual in their lives to give their lives meaning,” he observed. “If they can’t find it in Judaism, they will look somewhere else. What we try to do is bring out the beauty and spirituality in Judaism.”
Readers who may be interested in attending rabbi Skobac’s presentation (which includes supper) can contact the Adas Yeshurun Herzlia office at 204 489-6262.
Congregation Etz Chayim says good bye to 123 Matheson Ave.
By BERNIE BELLAN After 71 years of serving as the home for first the Rosh Pina Synagogue, then for the past 21 years as the home for what was the merger of three different congregations – Rosh Pina’s, along with the Bnay Abraham and Beth Israel, the Etz Chayim Congregation held its final service on Wednesday, November 29.
You can read the story by CJN writer John Longhurst elsewhere on this site (https://jewishpostandnews.ca/rss/congregation-etz-chayim-in-winnipeg-says-a-bittersweet-farewell-to-their-old-building-as-they-prepare-to-move/) along with our earlier story about the sale of the building to an Eritrean Church (https://jewishpostandnews.ca/faqs/rokmicronews-fp-1/former-congregation-etz-chayim-synagogue-building-to-become-eritrean-orthodox-church/), but here are some pictures from the final service.
(Photos courtesy of Keith Levit)
Israel report by former Winnipegger Bruce Brown
By BRUCE BROWN (posted Nov. 28/23) Was driving home from work the other day. Pre-ceasefire. Left the office early to reduce driving time in the evening hours. Hamas likes their 6PM missile barrage and I’m honing my missile-avoidance routine.
Was listening to talk-radio… but kind of had enough of the news. Too much war talk and its getting a bit overwhelming. So switched to Spotify and up popped Supertramp – the Logical Song. For sure how ‘wonderful, beautiful, magical’ life once felt. Before Oct 7th. Before Hamas.
Then, as if on cue. I gaze towards the sky. And saw missiles flying overhead. At first it didn’t really click. And then. Yikes! I quickly switched back to the news. Where, in a very calming voice, they were announcing areas under missile attack. Which is another reason to listen to the radio while driving during war – real-time information. Lesson learned.
Suddenly my smartphone’s flashlight started flashing. Which was pretty darn cool! And there I was, on Star Trek. Standing on the bridge. Even recalled the vessel number – NCC-1701. There I was with Captain Kirk. No! I was Captain Kirk. Dr. McCoy by my side. Sulu and Chekov at the controls. The Klingons were attacking. And Mr. Spock -standing to the side- was calmy advising the attack coordinates. No Wait! That was the radio announcer. Seriously. This all took place within a split second in my over-active imagination.
The flashing continued. Then I realized my cellphone was communicating with me. Warning of danger. I have the Home Front Command application which sounds an amazingly loud alarm during a missile attack in my area. But changing between the radio and Spotify prevented the siren from going off. So instead, the phone activated my flashlight. Sending out an S.O.S. Now how neat is that! In a geeky sort of way. Like for someone who imagines himself on Star Trek during a real-life missile attack.
Then. Reality set in. There were Home Front Command instructions to follow. Momentary-panic set in. Where was my wife. To tell me what to do. Like she always does…but that’s another story. This time I wanted her there, instructing me.
All these thoughts racing through my mind in milliseconds. As I calmly slowed the car and veered to the shoulder. Like other cars around me. I put on the blinkers. More flashing lights but the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise now a distant thought. Looking both ways I left the car and hopped over the road- barrier. Moving away from the car. Although probably not far enough. Because there was a steep decline just below. It was getting dark and, suffering from poor night vision, I didn’t want to trip and hurt myself. I heard my son laughing at me. “Nerd!” he called out. But that was just my imagination.
I should have laid flat. Prostrating myself for maximum protection. But it rained earlier that day, the ground was wet and I didn’t want to get muddy. ‘”Nerd!” This time it was my daughter in my mind’s eye. “Okay,” I said to no one in particular. “I’ll squat.” Good enough…but not really.
The family in the car ahead were huddling together but too close to their vehicle. I shouted for them to move further away. But they didn’t react. Probably didn’t understand me, especially given my still heavily accented Canadian Hebrew. This time I heard both my kids. Teasing me – thirty years and still talk like an immigrant! “Hey, they just don’t hear me.” I said to the darkness. Otherwise it was very moving seeing the father crouching down on top of his brood, in a protective sort of way. “Isn’t that touching.” I said to my wife. “For sure.” She said somewhat sarcastically in the back of my mind, “I know you’d do the same.”
Then it was over. The sky went quiet. People returned to their cars. The nestled family broke apart and entered theirs. We should have stayed in place several more minutes. Ten minutes is the recommended time. But it was dark. Getting late. Also a bit cold. I just wanted to get home. Back to the real chiding of my kids and to my wife… somehow longing for her ordering me about.
A few minutes later my wife called. Making sure I was safe. And then routine set in. “Don’t forget to pick up some milk and bread from the corner store.” She instructed me.
Um Israel Chai
Bruce Brown. A Canadian. And an Israeli. Bruce made Aliyah…a long time ago. He works in Israel’s hi-tech sector by day and, in spurts, is a somewhat inspired writer by night. Bruce is the winner of the 2019 American Jewish Press Association Simon Rockower Award for excellence in writing. And wrote the 1998 satire, An Israeli is…. Bruce’s reflects on life in Israel – political, social, economic and personal. With lots of biting, contrarian, sardonic and irreverent insight.
Jewish community holds solidarity rally November 25
The Jewish Federation of Winnipeg held a rally in support of Israel on Saturday evening, November 25.
A number of speakers addressed the crowd of 800, including Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun-Herzlia Congregation; Members of Parliament Ben Carr & Marty Morantz; Yolanda Papini-Pollock of Winnipeg Friends of Israel; Paula McPherson, former Brock Corydon teacher; and Gustavo Zentner, President of the Jewish Federation.
Click here to watch Ben Carr’s remarks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crfREGNRKfg
Click here to watch a video of Marty Morantz’s remarks: https://studio.youtube.com/video/zHzC-iaqivg/ed
Click here to watch a video of Gustavo Zentner’s remarks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3M_cCYuLgs