Missionary Impossible - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Missionary Impossible

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Monday, August 2, 1999

A video and curriculum guide teaching Jewish youth how to 
recognize and respond to missionaries

Created by HUC-JIR rabbinic students 

Missionary Impossible, an imaginative video and curriculum guide for teachers, educators, and rabbis to teach Jewish youth how to recognize and respond to "Jews-for-Jesus," "Messianic Jews," and other Christian proselytizers, has been produced by six rabbinic students at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's Cincinnati School. The students created the video as a tool for teaching why Jewish college and high school youth and Jews in intermarried couples are primary targets of Christian missionaries. Featuring a wide-ranging cast, the film is shot in various campus, home, and youth group settings.


This video developed out of a Fall 1998 course on Christian Missionizing taught by Dr. Michael J. Cook, Sol and Arlene Bronstein Professor of Judaeo-Christian Studies and Professor of Intertestamental and Early Christian Literatures. Rabbi Samuel Joseph, Professor of Jewish Education at the Cincinnati School and widely-known educational consultant, co-advised the video's script and accompanying curricular guide.


"Missionary Impossible" is also the name of the commando team of rabbinic student actors in the 45 minute video who teach Jewish youth how to recognize missionaries and, together with other actors, model how best to respond to proselytizers. Simulated dramas underscore the peer pressure and insecurities Jewish youths may face during encounters with cult recruiters.


The video presents four riveting yet engaging vignettes with accompanying lessons and exercises in the curriculum guide. The vignettes pose genuine situations where Jewish youth may encounter missionaries, how they might respond, and then how they should respond. By utilizing actual Jewish college and high school students as well as rabbinic students rather than professional actors, the video works well with its intended audiences, according to Dr. Cook, "since the viewers can more naturally connect and identify with those in the film. While the video is technologically expert, its homemade flavor also appeals to viewers because they feel the film reflects real circumstances, rather than anything staged or contrived." Despite the sober subject, the video manages to be highly entertaining, in places very humorous. Adult viewers say they have found themselves remarkably enlightened, particularly parents who can now better comprehend both the approaches of missionaries and how more effectively to alert their youngsters.


In addition to presenting lessons and exercises to accompany the video vignettes, the curriculum guide includes discussion questions, an exercise on the differences between Judaism and Christianity, an exercise on Freedom of Religion and its limitations, programming ideas for camps, and material on recognizing missionaries. In order to prepare viewers for missionary tactics, the curriculum guide also presents Jews-for-Jesus material and Biblical texts that are often corrupted or mistranslated to endorse messianic cults. Transcending any preoccupation with the "prooftexting" game, however, is the emphasis on the conceptual framework and practical strategies Jewish youth can realistically internalize to render themselves virtually immune from missionary encroachment. More so than other anti-missionary materials available, this production emphasizes conceptual understanding, and does so in ways that are easily assimilated.


The video and the curriculum guide conclude with positive, affirmative Jewish cultural and religious celebrations and texts, encouraging viewers to learn and experience more of their authentic Jewish heritage. "Realizing that they may not have all the Jewish answers can serve as an incentive for Jews of all ages to deepen and enrich knowledge of their faith," Dr. Cook observes. "The video's culminating message is that the Jewish vibrancy of our camps, of Israel, and of our observances and spirituality is a compelling reminder that nothing missionaries offer can match the substantive excitement of what the Jewish experience and legacy already afford us."


The video and guide have been tested, and are recommended, for synagogue religious schools, adult education courses and retreats, UAHC camps and kallot, secular college and high school classes, and Jewish youth programming of all sorts.


Missionary Impossible (the video and curriculum guide) is available for $20 at

HUC-JIR College Store
3101 Clifton Avenue
Cincinnati, OH, 45220-2488
phone (513) 221-1875, ext. 322.

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu