The plan was simple. Promise mixed-up youngsters who have run away from their religious homes and are living on the streets a home, an allowance and a chance to finish their education and then, once they’re in your clutches, tell them there are strings attached: attending church and studying the New Testament. These youngsters are perfect targets for the missionaries because they are homeless, cut off from their families and have no one to fend for them – no one, that is, but Yad L’Achim.
The plan was devised by a missionary group called Lev Moshia and run by David Stern, an American Jew who converted to Christianity, according to Yad L’Achim investigators. Stern is reportedly among the founders of the messianic congregation Netivya which operates in the capital’s exclusive Rechavia quarter.
Lev Moshia turned to these down-and-out youngsters with an offer they couldn’t refuse: We’ll put you up in a villa, support you and underwrite your education so that you can complete your matriculation exams.
In preliminary conversations with the boys, Stern offered full room and board for six months as a trial period. “During these months, you have to check if the villa suits you, and I will check if you behave appropriately,” he said. At the end of the six months, the boys were to receive, in addition to room and board, a monthly allowance of NIS 1,500.
The youngsters knew that Stern was a missionary, but he didn’t condition his offer on anyone leaving Judaism. Sadly, some of the boys were in such a state of confusion and so desperate that they would have taken up his offer even with strings attached. They moved into the villa in the Malcha neighborhood of Jerusalem but quickly discovered that, aside from providing them with a roof over their heads, none of the promises of assistance were kept – they were not even given bread and water. When they asked Stern for food, he responded, “You must learn the New Testatment and join me on my regular visits to the church in order to convert – only then will you receive all your basic living needs.”
Faced with what they felt was no choice, the youths began attending services at the Baptist church Narkiss Street in Jerusalem. In return, Stern began distributing generous checks.
By this time, Yad L’Achim learned of the plan and got involved. “We held a series of lengthy conversations with the boys who had fallen into the trap of the missionary villa,” said Rabbi Binyamin Klugger, a member of Yad L’Achim’s antimissionary department. “These youngsters were in a serious emotional crisis as a result of what they had been through with the missionaries.”
Through intensive contacts, Yad L’Achim succeeded in extracting the youths from the villa and severing ties between them and the missionaries. Today, they are receiving help and are on their way back to Judaism and their families. And with no kids to host, the villa has been shut down.
Meanwhile, some of the youths filed a complaint with the police against Stern and his abuse. The youths are being advised by Yad L’Achim’s legal counsel Yoram Sheftel.
Hagaon Harav Sholom Dov Lipschitz, founding chairman of Yad L’Achim, said that apparently “the goal of the Lev Moshia missionaries was to be able to turn to donors abroad and point to their new success: to force religious youths to abandon their religion.”
R. had been living on the street for five years when he met David Stern. Though he had abandoned a life of mitzva observance, he was still grappling with questions of religious identity and right and wrong. Some of his friends had spent time in jail, and he was looking for meaning.
“You could say that when I met David, I came with an open mind and no fear related to what I had been taught about J. and missionaries,” he wrote in a statement. “I came to recognize J. and the books written about him. … I heard classes and read the New Testament … and understood that someone like me needed a new group of similar people with such faiths.
“My dream is to give other boys with my background this philosophy, which is not just a faith, but a way of life.”
And so R. and his friend Y., two Jewish teenagers from religious homes, are now agents of missionaries. They worked for David Stern, seeking to lure other youngsters into the villa in Jerusalem so that he could go to work on them.
The two didn’t come cheap. A monthly bill that Yad L’Achim obtained shows their demand for NIS 3,550 each. The itemized bill includes NIS 500 for fixed expenses, NIS 500 for cell-phone usage, NIS 250 for membership in a gym, NIS 400-500 for travel, and NIS 1,800 for clothing, cigarettes and unexpected expenses.
In an explanatory note, R. and Y. state that “our physical needs are important and vital in order for us to maintain a normal life style.
“We see our ability to inform [spread the word] and to be an example everywhere commensurate with our ability to present ourselves as positive people, healthy in body and able to influence our surroundings with our actions and our words and our ways.
“As everyone knows, if a person is lacking clothes, money for transportation and so on it is difficult to make a positive impression on people.”
In other words, keep us in clothes, cigarettes and cell phones so that we can make a good impression and convert Jews to “the cause.”
“The people of Lev Moshia are Jewish believers in Yeshua the Jewish Messiah,” began the fact sheet handed out by Lev Moshia to newcomers to the villa. In order to avoid trouble with the law, the sheet said, “No one received money or material possessions in order to do this.”
The law in Israel is very generous to missionaries. Just about anything is allowed as long as no money or financial incentives are offered to convert.
Desperate youngsters had to sign on to these ground rules, which, obviously, were designed to give David Stern authority and diminish their ability to resist.
“Everyone accepts the leadership and authority of David Stern. … David decides who will live there and what the living arrangements will be. …”
Among the house rules:
§ We will move toward having regular times for prayer for each perso.
§ Holy studies will be at set times. ... Attendance at these, at prayer meetings and at praise meetings will be obligatory, except with permission of David.
§ Lev Moshia will try to find a believing single man to be the house father or a believing couple to be the house parents. They will have delegated authority.