Messianics use “American Idol” to promote missionary activity in Ethiopia

In mid-October we reported on a scandal involving Kadima Knesset Member Shlomo Molla and a well-known messianic missionary organization. It had been reported that Molla may have pocketed many thousands of shekels in funds which were designated for the Ethiopian Jewish community by Christian missionary “rabbi” Jonathan Bernis of the Jewish Voice. At the time the scandal broke Jewish Israel provided information about related missionary activity to certain members of Knesset. Some of that same evidence later appeared in a Mabat (Channel 1) news report on the affair.

Well, the Jewish Voice is working harder than ever to bring their message of Jesus - their Jewish lord and savior - to the many thousands of Falashmura in Addis Ababa and Gondar who are hoping for immigrant permits to Israel. A recent Haaretz article reveals the zeal of the missionary volunteers:

“The head of the ‘prayer team’ comes in all bright-eyed: ‘I have a Jew here who has just been saved,’ she says, meaning that he has accepted Jesus as the Savior. ‘To whom should I refer him for further religious guidance?’”

The effervescent former American Idol contestant, Sharon Wilbur, can now be seen promoting Jewish Voice missions to Ethiopia:

“Hey, I’m Sharon Wilbur. As a contestant on American Idol, I had an incredible experience…Come with us on a Jewish Voice Medical Outreach trip. You don’t have to be a medical professional. If you can wrap your arms around someone and tell them, Yeshua [Jesus] loves them, you can change a life.”

Sharon has true evangelizing yichus. Her father Joel Chernoff is the General Secretary of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) and president of the International Messianic Jewish Alliance (IMJA). Her father-in-law is singing missionary Paul Wilbur, who frequently croons his “messianic” gospel tunes at ICEJ’s Feast of the Tabernacles and other happenings at the Jerusalem Convention Center and throughout Israel.

Addis Ababa and Gondar have indeed become the favorite preying grounds for numerous messianic and evangelizing “aid” groups, and the unresolved Falashmura issue is making a number of Israelis very uneasy.

MK Shlomo Molla, who was at the center of the messianic funding scandal last October, is pushing for a quick resolution:

"The humanitarian situation in Gondar is very difficult…it is the responsibility of the State of Israel to recognize these people for aliya and it is up to the Jewish Agency to bring them here."

According to Jewish sources, there are an estimated 8,000 – 11,000 Falashmura who are waiting to be checked by Israel’s Interior Ministry for their eligibility for aliyah (many have relatives already living in Israel). The generally accepted theory is that the Falashmura are descendants of the Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews) and that they were forced to convert to Christianity a century or two ago.

But Missionary Joel Chernoff , father of the messianic American Idol contestant, has very different figures. According to a Jerusalem Post report Chernoff claims there are between 50,000-70,000 Ethiopian Messianic Jews who are being discriminated against by the Israeli government based on their beliefs.

The Jerusalem Post reports that Natan Sharansky, Executive Director of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), declares, "there is no doubt that this is a humanitarian crisis…However, this does not mean we have to open the gates to the [whole] of Africa."

Sharnasky is calling for an acceleration of the aliyah process for those who are authentic candidates, followed by an end to Ethiopian immigration and a disbanding of the compounds in Gondar.

"My gut feeling is that it is very bad for this aliya to be moving so slowly," said Sharansky, who is very familiar with the controversial Ethiopian aliya from his days as interior minister in 1999-2001.

"We need to accelerate this process as quickly as possible, but of course we also have to carefully check who is eligible to make aliya under the Law [of Entry]," he continued, adding that once the checks were completed, large scale immigration from Ethiopia must end and the existing compounds in Gondar, where many people still wait to make aliya, must be disbanded.

American evangelical missionary groups frequenting the compounds around Gondar and Addis Ababa are ensuring that these potential olim don’t lose sight of Jesus – and so they’ve established eye clinics with a “messianic” twist and special spiritual “follow-up” treatments.

But the missionary problem doesn’t end in Africa. A recent video produced by the Tel Aviv missionary organization MaozIsrael attests to the targeting of Ethiopians once they arrive in Israel. The video features one Ethiopian messianic congregation in which 90 percent of the congregants came to belief in Jesus after arriving in Israel.

Jewish Israel’s rabbinic advisor, Rabbi Sholom Gold says, "Ethiopian Jews resisted Christian efforts for 1,500 years - not so that they should come to Israel to be assaulted again. I would have thought that an independent State of Israel would have the self-respect and courage to ban and banish missionary activity - but unfortunately it is not so."

The Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel has repeatedly issued warnings over the missionary activity which targets them in the Jewish State, and in the past couple of years Ethiopian rabbis and spiritual leaders (keisim) have called on the Israeli government to halt the Ethiopian Falashmura aliyah, and have threatened community members found proselytizing with excommunication. And, of course, everybody is concerned about the prospect of violence: "The missionary activities have crossed the red lines and could incite the community and cause bloodshed."

But to true to form, the missionaries appearing in the MaozIsrael messianic video have converted their provocation into an issue of church persecution. Members of a messianic Ethiopian congregation claim that after they accept Jesus they become victims of persecution “at school, amongst their own families, and from the State of Israel” – with some being threatened with deportation.

This sounds far more like an internal family matter than an issue of church persecution. It’s simply ludicrous to think that any Israeli who accepts Jesus as their lord and savior, and performs the Christian obligation to spread the gospel to the Jews, will find life wholly pleasant or comfortable in the Jewish state – even a democratic one.

Related Post: Knesset Member Molla in Messianic Money Jam
Related videos here and here

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Comment by Reuven Levinson on December 23, 2009 at 4:04am
Sharon Wilbur may have been attracted to her husband because he reminds her of her dad. Joel Chernoff's mom is not Jewish. Luanne Wilbur, her mother-in-law, comes from a Baptist family.
Comment by Jewish Israel on December 21, 2009 at 9:37pm
I imagine Joel would include all of Africa if he could.
Comment by Reuven Levinson on December 21, 2009 at 8:22pm
50,000-75,000 Ethiopian Messianic Jews....how laughable! If you take out South Africa, you would be lucky to find 75,000 Jews in all of Africa. Of course, since Joel Chernoff is not Jewish, I doubt he is counting actual halahically-born Jews.

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