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Chanukah Jam: What Would You Do? By Ellen W. Horowitz

Chanukah Jam: What Would You Do? By Ellen W. Horowitz
Chanukah Jam: What Would You Do? By Ellen W. Horowitz

DOJLife.com is proud to publish a new series entitled “In Our Midst” exposing the efforts of Evangelical Christians to infiltrate the Jewish community in order to convert Jews to to a a belief in Jesus.

By Ellen W. Horowitz, Reprinted with Permission of Vision Magazine

Ellen W. Horowitz is an artist and author who served as the former content and research director for JewishIsrael.com, an organization exploring the challenges and complexities of Israel’s alliances with fundamentalist, evangelical and messianic Christian groups.

What’s the correct response to odd behavior at the Chanukah party? How vigilant should we be to protect our communities from missionary activity?

Chanukah Jam: What Would You Do? By Ellen W. Horowitz

Rachel and David are in their early 30s with a three-year old and one on the way. They identify as “Modern-Orthodox.” She is an event planner and something of a social butterfly. David works in hi-tech. They live in Har Ḥoma, Jerusalem – a young, up and coming family-oriented neighborhood, filled with people of varied Torah observance.

Rachel and David are organizing a community Chanukah party. They are expecting around 40 people including kids. These events are usually potluck and have social games and light alcohol, as well as activities for the kids.

Miriam is 38 and has been fairly well-integrated into the community. She comes to all the events, goes to shul and is frequently invited for Shabbatot and chaggim. She is a freelance writer and an English tutor, specifically to most of the kids in the community from English-speaking families. She is originally from Iowa, which prevents her from playing Jewish geography.

Miriam is a missionary, incognito. She frequently misses the mark when it comes to Jewish cultural/social interactions… and that can be embarrassing. She is anxious about being “outed.”

At the Ḥanukah party, there is a light, friendly, festive mood. Miriam comes with homemade latkes and plum jam. Someone makes an innocent quip, “Jam on latkes? Doesn’t jam go in sufganiyot?” Another person jokingly chimes in, “Is that what they do in Iowa? What kind of a Jew are you?”

Everyone chuckles and takes it light-heartedly. But Miriam freezes, lets out a nervous laugh and says, “My grandma back in Iowa always puts homemade jam on her potato pancakes.”

The room grows a little more silent and there is a degree of awkwardness in the air.

One guest, Ben, a typical guy with no filter, doesn’t hold back and says, “I never heard that one! Are you sure you are Jewish?”

His wife, Anna, swats him and says, “Shut up…!”

Miriam’s reaction is to be slightly withdrawn and she is left wondering if she has outed herself. She backs away from the conversation and becomes less chatty. Everyone else in the room shrugs the interaction off, but no one tries Miriam’s latkes.

Anna goes over to Miriam and tries to apologize for her husband’s behavior. “Sorry about Ben… he’s always like that. But seriously, tell me about your plum jam recipe from your Grandma. Where in Europe is she from originally? Is this a family recipe?”

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Miriam is hesitant and scared to make a misstep. She answers, “Oh, my grandparents were born in America.”

Anna continues the conversation, “Wow! It must have been hard to grow up Jewish in Iowa.”

There are hardly any Jews there,” Miriam says. “It’s a long journey. One time we should get together for coffee and I can share it with you.”

The party winds down and Miriam is one of the first people to leave. A number of Rachel and David’s closest friends stay back to help clean up. Rachel and Anna get into a discussion as they are straightening up in the kitchen and Rachel asks about Anna’s conversation with Miriam, sensing that something is up.

“What did you find out?”

Anna, who is very sweet and innocent, answers: “What do you mean? We were swapping recipes for plum jam.”

They both laugh.

Rachel says, “Seriously, Anna, don’t you think something is a little off here?”

Anna answers, “I tried asking her about her background. She said it was a long journey.”

Rachel responds, “Journey? That’s a strange choice of words… she never presented herself as a gioret, or as a ba’alat t’shuva and she’s been making the rounds in this community for quite a while.”

Others have joined them in the kitchen and Ben retorts, “Journey? You know who else had a long journey? Jesus!”

David jokes, “Anyone have some eggnog?”

They both get scorning looks from their wives, but they laugh it off and continue joking.

Ben says, “I hear eggnog goes well with “potato pancakes.”

Rachel starts to feel some validation from the joking. Her intuition is telling her something isn’t right. Anna tells the guys that they are being mean.

David says, “You have to admit – something is off with her…”

Rachel asks if she should consult with Rav Cohen about Miriam.

Anna is hesitant and says, “Are you sure you know where you are going with this?”

Their other friend, Shira, chimes in: “You guys… it is not our place to judge.”

Her husband, Dani, adds, “Wait a second. What if there is something to this? Didn’t we just read up about that whole story with Elk and others who have infiltrated Torah communities in both Israel and the Diaspora?

Ben joins in, “Yeah, missionaries are in vogue in Israel. There was that HOT scandal with GodTV and what about the story with that guy…. uh… so and so Plummer. Ha! Plummer – plum…get it? Her jam.”

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Anna says, “Okay, you’ve had enough to drink. I’m cutting you off.”

Matt gets a little too huffy and defensive, “You guys are crazy. Was she handing out pamphlets trying to get us to convert from jelly donuts to plum jam? No, so just drop it.”

Matt abruptly  leaves and Ben starts humming and singing, “Can you feel the love tonight?” and suggests that they set Matt and Miriam up.

The party clears out and everyone leaves. David tells Rachel, “Look. I need to meet with Rav Cohen over the shul’s books. I’m going to run this by him.”

When David meets with Rav Cohen, he is brushed off.

“There are all kinds of people from all different places. It is our job to give them the benefit of the doubt. She’s single and alone, you don’t know her story. You don’t have anything here. Leave it alone.”

David feels a little foolish after Rav Cohen’s reproach. But now it’s sitting in the back of Rav Cohen’s head and will force his radar up.

Ben and David, however, aren’t prepared to let it go. Their instinct is telling them that something is up. Miriam tutors their kids and it makes them feel uncomfortable. They start keeping a closer eye on her when she is tutoring.

The entire group is left uncomfortable and not knowing whether they should trust their gut feelings, or simply drop it.

This group of people represents a typical community response to a suspected missionary.

  • They are a group of intellectuals acting emotionally and floundering to understand the instinctual feeling that something is wrong.
  • They do not know whom to turn to and the response that they receive from their “leadership” is discouraging.
  • The host of characters typifies a typical spectrum found within a social circle.
  • They collectively battle with the Jewish values they have been raised with (don’t judge, give the benefit of the doubt, etc.) versus their fears and wanting to protect their children and Jewish identity.
  • Ben and David’s approach is the most balanced – “Respect and suspect.”

This community is now aware of the threat, alert to the challenges involved, and seeking answers. Will they feel empowered enough to act? What would be the responsible approach?

SoulGag Brand developer, Shoshana Balofsky, worked with Zev (Don) Uslan and Elisheva (Ellen) Horowitz in exploring and creating character vignettes which would be startling, funny, fresh and honest – but primarily educational.

Chanukah Jam: What Would You Do? By Ellen W. Horowitz 1

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