A few weeks back, I started to see the billboards around town that are advertising Jews For Jesus. Having been raised in a religious Christian home, I was intrigued by the advertisements. One above the Boulevard of the Allies reads:
“Jews for Jesus
Isn’t that like vegetarians for meat?
No, not really. Any other questions?”
I liked the humorous tone of the billboard, and I wanted to know more about the group.
But since I don’t work downtown, I didn’t actually see any of the Christian Chosen proselytizing on the street until Friday evening. At that time I saw a guy wearing an Israeli-blue shirt that said Jews for Jesus, talking to some folks in front of the Squirrel Hill Giant Eagle. On Saturday in Shadyside, I saw folks in forest green shirts that said: “Jesus for the Kosher.” There were a few of these folks hanging out along Walnut Street, passing out tracts to those who’d take them, and talking to whoever would speak to them.
Clutching a notebook and a pen, I approached one of the pamphleteers to interview her. As I started to fire questions at her, she looked a bit bewildered.
“Could you take off your sunglasses?” she asked me. I apologized and I took of the sunglasses, and continued questioning her. She said that she was not Jewish, but she was helping the group to spread the Word. “Holy chutzpah,” she called it, after handing me a tract with the title, “CHUTZPAH.”
“People think that if you’re Jewish and become Christian, you’re not Jewish anymore. But if you become a Buddhist, you’re still white,” she said.
The woman declined to be named but she said that she was one of a couple dozen folks who were witnessing across the city. Their message was not always thoughtfully received, she said, confessing that she had received negative responses from Jews and non-Jews, one of whom said, referring to the Crucifixion: “You killed him!”
Now I must admit that I feel for these people, because my parents were Holy Rollers. My late father was an elder in the Presbyterian Church, and he also was a Gideon—yes, one of those guys who passes out the little New Testament Bibles on college campuses. I’d never seen him pass them out, but it’s pretty similar to passing out tracts, I think. I imagine you sometimes catch guff from people who don’t appreciate your message.
The Jews For Jesus volunteers who are out in force in Pittsburgh are part of the organization’s “Behold Your God” campaign. Volunteers for the five-year campaign, which is in its fifth year, are visiting 60 cities across the country that have populations of 25,000 or more Jews, said Garrett Smith, the director of the Boston branch of Jews For Jesus who has been in town for the campaign. About 25 volunteers are witnessing on the streets of Pittsburgh, and numerous churches are involved, he added. “All kinds of folks are involved at various levels. Our outreach is to the Jewish community of Pittsburgh, but it’s open to everyone,” he said
Pittsburgh is home to about 50,000 Jewish people. One of the groups involved in supporting the Jews For Jesus effort is the Messianic Jewish congregation of Yashua Ben David.
So far in what will be a two-week stop in Pittsburgh, members of Jews For Jesus have trod the streets of downtown Pittsburgh, Oakland, Squirrel Hill and South Side. To display its message locally, the group has bought space on seven billboards and a few transit shelters.
Originally from San Francisco, Smith said he had never heard the message of Christ while he was growing up. He became a Christian 12 years ago, while he was in Israel. “A Jewish boy goes to Israel and becomes a Christian,” he said, laughing.
Isn’t it questionable to try to change someone’s born religion, I asked Smith.
“If you believe there are consequences to your religion, then it becomes something of a lot of significance. What we believe is important,” he said.
But why do Jews need to know about Jesus, if they worship the same God as Christians?
“Jewish people believe the message of the Gospel doesn’t apply to them. We believe that Jesus is for everybody,” Smith said.