August 5, 1999
A Day with Jews for Jesus
Some 1,200 believers gather at a conference in Woodland Hills, and The Jewish Journal is there
The sound of a guitar playing and children singing drifts out past the hotel pool. "Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh," they sing, "Holy, holy, holy unto me."
They are singing about Jesus.
I am at the Warner Center Marriot in Woodland Hills, where 1,200 Jews and non-Jews have gathered for the annual conference of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations -- commonly referred to as Jews for Jesus.
I feel as if I have entered a parallel universe, where Stars of David symbolize Christianity and people quote Torah to prove the New Testament. Some instances are acutely painful -- when I see the display of 100-year-old silver spice boxes and worn velvet Torah covers. Some -- the guy dressed as a Chasid, the class on the amidah -- are sickeningly incongruous.
But I am a guest at this conference, and a journalist at that, so I squelch the desire to scream, to snatch the children and run, and I struggle for a guise of objectivity.
I begin to approach people, hoping their stories will help me understand a movement that seems unfathomable -- practicing Judaism, believing in Jesus.
As did my discussions with the movement's leaders over the past few weeks, the conference does little to fill in the intellectual blanks.
But what I didn't expect was to feel the sincerity, the innocent passion of these believers.
These conference goers -- while many are eccentric -- are not the guitar-strumming guys in the tie-dye T-shirts passing out poorly drawn Jews for Jesus pamphlets at Venice beach.
These are people who honestly believe they have seen the light. And the movement is emotional, spiritual, communally cohesive. As Jews we know their message is subversive and distorted, but to those on the inside theirs is a mission from God.