ultra-Orthodox group in Israel is taking aim at a couple it
claims is manipulating minors into becoming Christians. The group, Yad L’Achim, singles out Jewish Christians, known
as Messianic Jews, for harassment and abuse.
Yad L’Achim this week placed leaflets around the home of Serge
and Naama Kogen, 37 and 42 respectively, in Mevasseret Zion, a suburban
community located just west of Jerusalem.
Someone took out
a full-page ad in a local newspaper the same week, giving the couple’s address and
telling residents they were part of a missionary group “targeting” the
community. The Kogens are native Israelis and hence not part of any
The advertisement invited the public to a
protest planned against the Kogens, and on June 26, about 20
of the group’s supporters demonstrated outside the couple’s home, where
they denounced them over megaphones for 90 minutes.
protests came after Yad L’Achim lost a court case against the Kogens and
their congregational leader, Asher Intrater. The group had accused them
of “proselytizing” minors.
During the protest, a
distraught 16-year-old girl, the alleged target of the couple’s
“missionary” efforts, said all of Yad L’Achim’s claims were false. Donna
Lubofsky maintains that she has never converted to Christianity. She
wanted to speak at the protest to give her side of what happened, but
the organizers wouldn’t let her, she said.
“They are all
liars, all liars! Ask them, why won’t they let me speak?” Lubofsky told
Compass at the protest. “They won’t let me speak because what they are
saying is untrue. [The Kogens] never tried to get me to believe.
They are just good people.”
‘Lot of Love’
Kogens met Donna a year ago while they were next-door neighbors. Naama
Kogen said Donna, whom she described as a “genius,” had some issues
adjusting to a new school, and her home life seemed problematic. The
girl quickly became a regular fixture at the Kogen household and “a
close part of the family,” in Kogen’s words.
“She said she
had never seen a family like ours. We have a lot of love in our home,”
Kogen said, adding that the teenager told her the time she spent in their
house was the first time she felt loved. Kogen said that during the
course of the friendship, problems persisted in the girl’s home, and at
times she was afraid to return there. She also said the teenager began
experimenting with alcohol and other potentially self-destructive
behaviors from which the Kogens were able to deter her.
“I told her she would be the only one to suffer in the end,” Kogen said. “Step by step, I started to see an improvement.”
and her husband were emphatic in their claim that they never discussed
religion with Donna, but that she expressed interest in attending their
congregational worship. Kogen said she obtained permission from Donna’s
mother, and she attended Shabbat meetings with the congregation for
about two months.
But Donna’s mother, Bella Lubofsky, told protestors that the Kogens “took” the girl “every Friday.”
the progress Donna was making in some areas of her personal life, her
family life was still in tatters, according to Kogen. She said she urged
Donna to approach her parents and try to reconcile their relationship,
but things remained tense.
The problems came to a head
after a disagreement at the Kogen home when Lubofsky allegedly pushed
her daughter, and the Kogens had her spend the night until things calmed
down. Soon afterward, Lubofsky reported the Kogens to the police for
Serge Kogen said police investigated the
case, found that they had done nothing illegal and dropped the
investigation. Yad L’Achim, not dissuaded by the police finding, went to
court and brought charges directly against the couple and against
Intrater, leader of the Ahavat Yeshua Congregation.
As with the police, the court found nothing illegal and on June 14 dismissed all charges against Intrater and the Kogens.
Kogens said they weren’t certain how Yad L’Achim became involved with
the Lubofskys. They think an Orthodox Jew in their neighborhood
approached the extremist group. One day the neighbor began harassing
Kogen, she said; when she fled inside her house, the man and others
demanded she come outside. On its website, Yad L’Achim claims the
parents of the girl approached them for assistance.
protest comes at a time when Yad L’Achim is trying to push new
“anti-missionary” laws through the Knesset, Israel’s national
parliamentary body. Under Israeli law, spreading one’s faith is legal,
but “proselytizing” to minors and gaining converts through “material
incentives” is illegal.
According to its website,
literature and speeches, Yad L’Achim wants to make “proselytizing” by
all non-Jewish groups illegal. The group does not specify which
non-Orthodox groups they consider to be truly Jewish, or how groups with
secular viewpoints might be similarly censored.
by ultra-Orthodox Jews, Yad L’Achim is known for its aggressive,
confrontational style. At other protests, followers of the group have
assaulted Messianic Jews. The group also places information in its
publications that Messianic Jews say is either unconfirmed, misleading
by its incomplete nature or blatantly untrue.
They claim that Messianic
Jews are enemies of the Jewish people and have no place in Israel. The
group makes no distinction between Christianity and cults, or between
Christians and “missionaries.”
Referring to the protest on
its website, Yad L’Achim described Naama Kogen as a missionary “who has
been having a devastating impact on local youths.” The group goes on to
say that Donna “soon found herself attending prayer groups and being
subjected to brainwashing. Gradually she came to accept J and began to
pull away from her parents …”
The website makes no mention of the ultimate outcome of the failed case that Yad L’Achim filed.
said Yad L’Achim is a fringe group whose views aren’t representative of
most in Israel. The group has tried to frame its argument as one of
Jews against Christians and has dredged up the specter of hundreds of
years of anti-Semitic persecution to lend weight to its argument, he
Intrater said he sees the entire issue as a
disagreement between two groups of Jews. He said the first generation of
Jews who believed in Jesus didn’t refer to themselves as “Christians,”
and it is a title he avoids. Most “Messianic Jews” don’t use the term in
reference to themselves. Instead, they prefer to be known as Jews who
believe in the Messianic claims of “Yeshua,” the Hebrew name for Jesus.
look at us as worse than Christians,” Intrater said. “They look at us
as if we’ve betrayed our people and become Gentiles. And they want to
annihilate us. We see ourselves as true Jews. We see it as an argument
over who is the true Messiah. What we want to say is, ‘Who is the real
Messiah?’ They feel hatred toward us and see us as the enemy. We don’t
look at them that way. These are our people, and we love them.”
protest went peacefully for the most part. Surrounded by signs saying
“missionaries” are “targeting” Jewish souls, a small group of protestors
gave speeches, including Bella Lubofsky. Protestors refused to speak to
any media they viewed as being neutral or unsupportive of their
demonstration. Asked if a Jew who believes in Jesus is still a Jew, one
protestor said, “No.”
The demonstrators jeered as a camera
crew for an international news media outlet left. After the protest was
over, a group of six Yad L’Achim sympathizers insulted and menaced a
Compass reporter and a friend, then followed the two by foot for about
two miles, threatening violence against them along the way. When the
reporter tried to get help from passersby, the group frightened off
people and shouted that the reporter was a “missionary.”
the two reached a local mall, the hard-line sympathizers followed them
inside. Mall security and police refused to help and left the two – now
surrounded at a distance by the group – stranded for more than 90
minutes. Only after intervention by a group of women declaring that
Israel is a free country would mall security escort the reporter and his
friend to a taxi. The group of Yad L’Achim supporters, however, was
never asked to leave the mall.
The Kogens still have
contact with Donna, but her parents don’t allow her to go to the
congregation. The Kogens, Asher and others agreed that Donna should obey
her parent’s wishes as long as she is a minor. They sent her and her
parents each a letter to that effect, which according to Kogen was very
painful to the girl.
The evening after the protest, the
Kogens came home to find Donna with a stack of Yad L’Achim literature
that she had collected by hand and ripped to pieces. It was obvious she
had been crying, Kogen said.
“This group doesn’t care about this girl at all, they just care about getting to us,” she said about her and her husband.
said on July 1 that the response of her community to the
protest has been mixed. Before the protest, no one knew about her
religious beliefs, she said. But she said now most people in her
community have been very supportive. Some of their neighbors, even those
who could be considered “traditional,” have made an effort to send
their children over to play with her four children.
the persecution continues. Supporters from Yad L’Achim continue to
plaster her streets with leaflets. They have also started handing out
pamphlets at the mall.
More insidiously, on Wednesday (June
29) the Kogens’ landlord asked them to leave their apartment because
she was receiving phone threats ordering her to evict them, Kogen said.
The man making the threatening call told the landlord that if she didn’t
remove the couple, “we will.”
The caller said he would
burn down the Kogens’ home. The landlord offered the couple money to
move, but the Kogens – who had moved into the apartment only two months
ago – refused to move again.
On June 26 the landlord talked with the couple again.
the congregational meeting on Friday, Serge Kogen told the
group the landlord said, “We could stay as long as we want.”