The Jewish communities of the Ukraine have decided to sever all contact with Even Ha’ezer, a Christian group that sponsors ships bringing Ukrainian immigrants to Israel. The decision follows evidence unveiled by Yad L’Achim, Israel’s leading antimissionary organization, that Even Ha’ezer is working hand in hand with missionaries based in Kfar Saba.
Yad L’Achim investigators discovered that 10 members of Ma’ayan, a messianic congregation in Kfar Saba, were permitted to board a ship that left the Ukraine Sept. 13. The 10 were briefed on strategies and techniques for establishing close, lasting ties with the Jewish immigrants before they even arrive in Israel during a farewell sermon delivered at Hama’ayan on the eve of their departure.
The missionaries employed these techniques during the three-day voyage at sea – when the immigrants were isolated and vulnerable – developing intensive relationships with the newcomers and planting the seeds of belief in a new, “improved” religion.
Yad L’Achim learned that the group was headed by three senior missionarires: Tony Sperandeo, a French-born Christian missionary who runs missionary activities in Kar Saba; Demetry Kuzminov, a Jew who converted out and who organizes activities of messianic cults in Petach Tikva and Bnei Brak; Mariana Dolgov, a senior activist who has been banished by her family because of her involvement with messianic cults.
Yad L’Achim’s founding chairman, Hagaon Harav Sholom Dov Lipschitz, worked round the clock in Israel trying to prevent the ship from leaving Odessa. He appealed to Even Ha’ezer officials and to all the organizations responsible for immigration. Even Ha’ezer has been bringing boatloads of Jews to Israel since 1991, in the belief that this will hasten the redemption.
“We view with utmost severity the presence of missionaries traveling as guests of Even Ha’ezer,” he wrote to the Israeli ambassador to the Ukraine and Moldavia on the day before the ship was to set sail. “The whole purpose is to convert the immigrants and to continue contact with them after they arrive in Israel. This goal and the way it is to be achieved was the main subject of a sermon delivered in the messianic congregation Ma’ayan in Kfar Saba [just prior to the ship’s departure].
“This is not the first time that Even Ha’ezer has cooperated with the missionaries and this must be brought to an immediate stop.”
Copies of the letter were sent to the prime minister, foreign minister, absorption minister, head of the Jewish Agency and the chief Rabbi of the Ukraine, Harav Avraham Wolf.
At the same time, Harav Wolf was leading a most unusual battle of his own. Three hours before the ship was to set sail, he was leading a group of children on a tour of the port before leading them in Tashlich. Nearby, he noticed a large group of local Jews being accompanied by 10 guests on their way to a boat. Having been tipped off by Rabbi Alex Artovski, head of Yad L’Achim’s antimissionary department, as to the identity of the missionaries who would be accompanying the Even Ha’ezer ship, he immediately grasped the severity of the situation.
“Missionaries,” he screamed out at them. “What do you want from the Jews? Leave them alone.”
The missionaries, who were taken aback, at first feigned ignorance. But Rav Wolf wasn’t deterred.
“You are from Kfar Saba, right?” he asked.
Yes, came the stunned answer.
“You are from the Ma’ayan in Kfra Saba and three of you are named Tony Sperandeo, Demetry Kuzminov and Mariana Dolgov?”
At this point there was no longer any point in denying their identity. Rav Wolf shook them up with the following warning: “If you board that ship today, Yad L’Achim will continue to track you and not let up. You have no right to board a ship of immigrants, and to mislead them and cause them to leave their religion.”
On his return from the port, Rav Wolf immediately contacted Even Ha’ezer and warned that if the missionaries were allowed to board the ship there would be severe consequences. The phone call apparently shook up the administration of Even Ha’ezer and within minutes Rav Wolf received a call from the director general of the organization, who was in London. He tried to convince Rav Wolf to rescind his demand that the missionaries not board the ship. “They are musicians and they will play in a band to provide music during the trip,” he said, offering a most creative explanation. “They are not on board to engage in missionary brainwashing.”
But the Rav of Odessa didn’t buy it. “Every one of the Jewish communities in the Ukraine has a local band that can help you,” he responded. “If that ship sets sail today with the missionaries, Even Ha’ezer will regret it.”
But Even Ha’ezer didn’t back down, and the ship set sail with the missionaries on board. Harav Wolf quickly reported his discussions and the disappointing results to Yad L’achim and then went about carrying out his threat. On that day, the heads of 12 Jewish communities in the Ukraine decided to sever ties with Even Ha’ezer.
“Until recently, I myself wasn’t convinced of the missionary identity of Even Ha’ezer,” said Rav Wolf. “Despite the claims of Yad L’Achim and their insistence that firm action be taken against the organization, I still wasn’t sure whether Even Ha’ezer had a missionary identity or was just Christians who love Israel but whose goals weren’t clear. The recent and official conscripting of missionaries from Kfar Saba on this trip proved that they are missionaries.”
Yad L’Achim’s rabbi, Harav Lipschitz praised the Jewish communities of the Ukraine and said their action was an important step in the battle against missionaries.
“Yad L’Achim recently set itself a goal to fight, in every legitimate way, the citadel of missionary centers and not to be content with striking at localized missionary centers. The recent development in the Ukraine, executed with the help of the chief Rabbi of Odessa, shows the responsibility of each and every one to act against the missionaries. It shows that when we act with determination we can succeed.
“We must bear in mind that Odessa is the only place from which the Even Ha’ezer ships of immigrants leave. When the Rav of the area announces a severing of ties with this organization, and other Jewish communities join him, this deals a severe blow to the missionary operation there.”