Who’s that Knocking at the Door?

Israel Restoration Ministries is back in town, and Ruth Guggenheim of Jews for Judaism, among many others, is concerned.

“This is the same group that blanketed us a year ago, it’s disturbing,” said Guggenheim. “They think they can come in and disrespect our community. … They are spiritual predators, they are preying on our community, and it’s offensive.”

Guggenheim particularly had a problem that some of the solicitors — who are targeting Jewish communities and leaving literature at doorsteps offering “salvation” by way of belief in Jesus — had gained access into senior buildings. Her organization, she said, received about a half-dozen calls from concerned seniors.

Anita Brown, community manager for the Weinberg Manor East and West properties in the Park Heights neighborhood, said she had not received complaints from residents.

“Not at all, not one resident,” said Brown, “and trust me, if they have problems, they will complain.”

Brown said of the solicitors, “I’ve never seen them. I’ve not received an alert [notifying that the group is in town], but if anything could threaten a resident we’re notified.”

Michelle Devastey, regional property manager for the Weinberg properties, also has not received complaints from any residents or heard about it from any of the property managers. She explained that most, but not all, of the buildings have “no soliciting” signage at entrances, and it is not tolerated in the buildings. Devastey also offered to forward an email alerting property managers of the IRM team’s presence.

Roy Kiewe is asset manager at Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. (CHAI), which manages the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg senior housing properties.

“This [solicitation from IRM] happens every year … Ruthie [Guggenheim] is usually how we find out about it,” he said. “And they are also going door to door in the neighborhoods, we know about that too, we have our contacts.” He added that the buildings are secure, but that “any resident can let anyone in.”

Guggenheim later explained that senior residents she spoke to had alerted doormen at the buildings, making them aware of the IRM presence.

It is clearly outlined on the Israel Restoration Ministries website that Baltimore’s Jewish community, along with Jewish communities in several other cities across the country, are identified target areas for door-to-door solicitation of their message. This summer, they are depositing DVDs and 100-page booklets on doorsteps and in mailboxes in concentrated Jewish neighborhoods. The DVDs have an additional Russian translation component this year.

The persistent solicitation to Baltimore’s Jewish community prompted the Baltimore Jewish Council to pass
a policy statement earlier this year condemning deceptive proselytizing.

“For centuries, attempts have been made to convert the Jewish people to Christianity, and the Jewish community has always resisted these attempts,” the statement said. “In that vein, it is disconcerting that these ‘Messianic Jews’ or ‘Hebrew Christians’ have created a false and misleading setting that purports to allow Jews to retain their Jewish identity while at the same time embracing Jesus. The Baltimore Jewish Council condemns these tactics and views these mis-representations as objectionable and socially unacceptable.”

Arthur Abramson, BJC president, said in the past his organization had received a flood of calls, but that isn’t happening this time.

“I have not gotten anywhere near, not even one-tenth of the regular emails and calls,” he said, attributing it to the fact that the community is much more aware now and taking action to alert each other of the IRM presence.

Abramson said that though legally the solicitors have a right to be on public property, when they enter onto private property they can be asked to leave. He said the community is well aware of their presence, and because of what he has heard from within the Jewish community, IRM is targeting different areas than last summer, such as Owings Mills. He added, “We’re not dealing with a community that is unaware, and they’ll act accordingly.”

Abramson said one of the biggest mistakes IRM made was to use logos of several Jewish organizations on their last mailing without permission, including the JT, and that definitely helped grow the awareness of their presence in the community.

mgerr@jewishtimes.com

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