JNF quashes Messianic Jews plan to plant a forest in Israel

NEW YORK — The Jewish National Fund has cut down plans by a Messianic Jewish group to plant trees in their name in Israel.

As part of its ongoing quest to blend into the Jewish community, an umbrella organization of so-called Messianic Jewish groups sought to plant a forest in Israel through the JNF.

The JNF agreed to plant the forest of about 100,000 trees, which would have brought the organization $50,000, and to put up a plaque with only the initials of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America-Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations of America.

But then the JNF changed its mind.

In its initial agreement, the JNF forbade the Philadelphia-based group to use the words "messianic" or "messiah" in any of its promotional materials related to the forest, said JNF spokesman Mark Cohen.

But even that restriction, he said, would not change the fact that the organization devotes itself to converting Jews to a belief in Jesus as the messiah.

Jewish experts on the subject say evangelical Messianic Jews desperately seek mainstream Jews' imprimatur in order to claim legitimacy in the eyes of the Jewish community.

When an article exposing the proposed forest appeared May 3 in the Forward, a New York-based Jewish weekly, an outcry arose that led the JNF to rescind its agreement.

The Jewish organization issued a statement May 13 reporting that "in response to a strong outpouring of protest from longtime friends and supporters, including…lay and National Rabbinic Council leadership, [we] acknowledge that [we] made a mistake."

This was not the first time the JNF accepted donations from messianic groups, who many say are nothing more than Christians dressed up in Jewish clothing.

In August 1995, Baltimore's messianic congregation Rosh Pina donated $5,000 to the JNF.