Palin and the 'Jews for Jesus' Smear

Now that the rumor of Sarah Palin's support of a Patrick J. Buchanan presidency has vanished into the febrile blog archives, there remains one aspect of her candidacy said to strike Jewish voters as eminently un-kosher (apart from her right-wing politics, that is).

The Wasilla Bible Church, of which Palin and her now fully recognizable family are low-key parishioners, last month allowed a man by the name of David Brickner to speak for half an hour. Brickner is the current executive director of Jews for Jesus, a bizarre but amusing marketing brand of evangelical Christianity, whose main purpose is to proselytize Team Chosen, most annoyingly when we're on our way to work.

Taking the Nazarene to be the corporeal part of a triune God goes against one rigid admonition in Deuteronomy, and so any claim Jews for Jesus make on behalf of an authentic Judaism is laughable at best. The group was founded in 1973 in San Francisco by a Baptist minister named Martin Rosen, who was born Jewish (probably just for the jokes) but then converted to Christianity at the age of 17. Martin changed his name to Moishe (how's that for authenticity?), founded his schismatic church, and proclaimed that anyone of Jewish heritage was eligible to hear the "good news."

According their mission statement, Jews for Jesus wish to "make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide," which is sort of like saying Marx wanted to make capitalism an unavoidable issue to the international proletariat. Not that they wish you to forsake your Hebraic heritage. Jews for Jesus sprinkle their pamphlets -- which they helpfully call "broadsides" -- with Yiddish and Hebrew, they celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and they carry fun little animation sequences on their website that have nothing to do with any discernible form of salvation. "How cultured are you?," asks one cartoon quiz. "I thought I was an Olympic superstar," laments another. It's the kind of spam your mom might forward you on a slow news day.

"Jews for Jesus" actually began as a hippie spiritualist slogan in the 60s, and there is something at least superficially lovey-dovey, as opposed to sulfuric, about their "outreach." Or maybe that's because no one who has encountered a genuine Jew for Jesus takes him terribly seriously. As with the Guardian Angels, the group is most famous for its eye-catching apparel: missionaries wear t-shirts bearing silly renderings of their logo, thus guaranteeing befuddled expressions on passersby in cities like New York and Miami, where they preach to young and old tribesmen alike. Poor, sheltered friends visiting from out of town often ask me if Jews for Jesus is the name of a punk band they should catch before quitting Manhattan.

In fact, the outfit does have a musical ensemble. It's called The Liberated Wailing Wall, and Larry Kroon, the pastor at the Wasilla Bible Church, credits their transcendent rhythms with his entry into holy orders. Odd and incredible though that may seem, it's not what bloggers found so disturbing about Brickner's sermon before the Alaskan congregation. Amid the shalom-ing and doughy self-deprecation -- to which the McCain camp has confirmed that Sarah Palin was a party, albeit an unreceptive one -- Brickner suggested that a Palestinian who murdered dozens of people with a bulldozer acted out of divine "judgment" for the rampant faithlessness of Israeli Jews. This has long been the rote evangelical rationalization for bloodshed and misery in the holy land.