A Christian family who reportedly integrated into an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Jerusalem is being outed for conducting missionary work in Israel and thereby breaking the country’s anti-proselytizing law. Beyneynu, a group that keeps tabs on missions activities in the country, announced over the weekend that it’s been “investigating the case of a covert missionary” in the French Hill neighborhood “for many years.” The revelation was sparked by “one of the missionary’s children proselytizing in school.”
Beyneynu says it had kept the case quiet while working to verify evidence. “We did not want the father to move to another neighborhood [to continue his work], and we wanted to get his citizenship revoked,” says Yoni Kayman, a community member with knowledge of the investigation.
Family Allegedly Conducting Missionary Work in Israel
The man, identified only as Michael, is reportedly from a Christian family in New Jersey. His late father, who presided at Christian weddings and has links to a Mennonite congregation, was buried in a non-Jewish cemetery.
Michael’s family, whom Kayman says “looked completely ultra-Orthodox,” has been in Israel since at least 2014. When Beyneynu confronted Michael that year about conducting missionary work in Israel via social media, he reportedly confessed his identity and said he’d stop. The organization lost track of the family, who somehow then integrated into French Hill.
In that community, Michael served as a rabbi, priest, scribe, and even a mohel, performing circumcisions. His children attended Orthodox schools and were “partners” in the ruse, according to Beyneynu. Only when a daughter recently slipped up and mentioned Jesus to a classmate did the organization make its investigation public.
“For five years, we have been supporting them,” says Kayman of Michael’s family, “paying for their groceries, school buses, for everything, and they deceived us.” When the wife recently died of cancer, community members collected tens of thousands of dollars for the family. Though Michael’s wife claimed to be descended from Holocaust survivors, no proof has been provided, according to Beyneynu.
Community in Shock Over the Deception
Shannon Nuszen of Beyneynu says the organization was obligated to verify all information before making its findings public. “We can’t inculpate an entire family of being missionaries without scrutinizing every detail first,” she says. “It can cause damage to future generations.”
Nuszen says the burden of proof rests with Michael, who’d also need to obtain a permit from Israel’s Interior Ministry. “They have no proof that they’re Jews,” she says, “while we have proof that they’re non-Jews.” Beyneynu says the family apparently forged documents allowing them to emigrate under the Law of Return, the 1950 law that grants Jews worldwide the right to live in Israel and gain Israeli citizenship.
Michael’s current job is at a Jerusalem gym with ties to a Christian organization. Investigators say he’s been deleting social media posts and pulled his children from the community’s religious school.
Many evangelical Christians are strong supporters of Israel, but the country isn’t necessarily considered a missions field. Israeli laws forbid gift-giving that’s meant to prompt conversions, as well as any proselytizing aimed at minors without parental permission.