Interview: Christian Group Seeks to Convert, Move to Yesha

MK Shemtov claims: A group of hundreds of American Christians want to convert to Judaism, serve in the IDF, and take up residence in Samaria.

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David Lev, | updated: 10:27

Lea Shemtov
Lea Shemtov
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Hundreds of American Christian converts to Judaism could, if a plan works out, move to Israel, serve in the IDF, and take up residence in Samaria. It's not pie-in-the-sky, but a plan being developed by a Portland, Oregon radio host called Baruch Avramovich, claims MK Lea Shemtov.

With about 1,000 followers already signed up, Avramovich recently contacted  the freshman MK, a member of Minister. Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu party, asking for help in settling his flock in Samaria. “It's a very exciting development,” Shemtov told Arutz 7.

The story begins with the phenomenon of Avramovich himself, who was raised as a Christian and discovered by chance that his mother was actually Jewish. “A few years ago I wanted to get married, and decided to  look into my family tree. I found that my mother was Jewish,” he told reporters, and then visited Israel a number of times.

Avramovich, technically a Jew if his mother was halakhically Jewish as he claims, has remained a practicing Christian. He has simply begun taking on Jewish practices – and has brought along on his spiritual journey hundreds of followers who listen to him weekly on a radio station in Portland, Oregon.

Ironically, the idea received a major push last summer, when some 70 Christian preachers across the U.S. condemned Avramovich for his “Judaizing” ways, which were leading Christians to adopt Jewish practices. The resulting publicity just increased the number of individuals who were interested in the idea, with the result that some 1,000 people have signed on a letter of intent to actually convert to Judaism and move to Israel.

Shemtov said that she has brought the issue to the attention of the relevant authorities. “These are educated, Zionist people, and they are planning to undergo Orthodox conversion and serve in the IDF, so I think this project should be encouraged. They are still in the U.S. have already taken upon themselves some Jewish practices, such as keeping Shabbat and learning Hebrew.”

The group's progress is being supervised by an Israeli rabbi, she told reporters.

The group has specifically mentioned Samaria as a destination, for several reasons – their presence in the region will strengthen Jewish life there, they say, and the open spaces will allow them to build suburban and exurban communities in which they prefer to live.

Shemtov said she had already met with officials in the Yesha Council, and said that they had made positive progress in working out a practical plan to absorb the group. With that, a Yesha Council officials aid that there was a need to examine the numerous issues involved, including the conversion to Judaism which is an individual and not a group process. “That families from abroad wish to settle in Samaria is certainly a positive development,” the officials said.

David Ha'Ivri, Samaria Council spokesman, says flatly that the story is not true. Reaction among other Jewish Israelis to the report has been mixed, with some enthusiastic and others suspicious of the possibility that the group will not renounce Christianity as their leader did not, and act as a Christian missionary fifth column, infiltrating the Jewish people and the IDF in order to spread Christianity.  The Jews for Jesus have attempted to do just that and their applications for citizenship through the Law of Return have been denied as a result.  

Shemtov does not believe that this is the case, but her experience with the phenomenon of missionary work in Israel and abroad is limited.  Unlike  Evangelical missionaries, Shemtov says, the group is willing to convert under Orthodox auspices, a step that most Christians would refuse, to say the least. “This is a positive event, and I really hope they go through with it,” she said.