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9 Russian Jews Baptized

NEW YORK – Christian missionaries have recruited 127 Russian Jewish children to attend a Baptist summer camp and at least nine of the Jewish campers have already been baptized, Jewish officials say.

The parents of at least one camper have already refused to honor a pledge they made to have their son undergo a ritual circumcision, maintaining that he is now a Christian.

Baptist missionaries lured the Russian Jews to the camp – located in Ashford, Conn. – by charging their parents $5 a week for the facility.

Russian-speaking missionaries lurk around the boardwalk in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn and even knock on doors of Jewish residents in the area in the search of Russian Jews interested in sending their children to the Baptist camp, said one Jewish official.

Meir Okunov, chairman of the Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe, said his group first learned of the camp’s activities when a Russian Jew failed to bring his son for a scheduled ritual circumcision. The Russian told Okunov that his son won’t need a circumcision anymore because he has been baptized and is being raised as a Christian.

The camp has been identified as Camp Evangelical Baptist. The baptism of Russian Jews was performed during a ceremony earlier this month.

Jewish officials investigating the camp said the Russian Jews have been targeted by several missionary groups for conversion to Christianity. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, said the Russian Baptist movement and the Russian Orthodox Church have been involved in the missionary effort to the Jews. In addition, he said, the American Board of Missions to the Jews have supported the effort.

What aids the missionary attempt to convert Russian Jews are the immigrants’ lack of knowledge and interest in their religion. In the Soviet Union, the teaching and practice of Judaism is essentially forbidden.

One official familiar with the missionary effort said he feared that reporting the extremely low price of the Baptist camp might induce other Russian Jews to enroll their children.

The camp reportedly offers a full range of sporting activities with 30-minute “Bible lessons” in the morning and evening. A caller to the camp was told that sending Jewish children to a Baptist camp did not pose a dilemma because there are 127 Jews already enrolled in the facility.

Negotiations have started to counteract the missionary effort, but no action against the camp has yet been reported by Jewish officials. One Jewish official said the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York is considering offering its summer camps to Russian Jewish youngsters at the same price offered by the Baptist camp.

A spokesman for FREE said his group is working to “infuse the spirit of Yiddishkeit into Russian Jews, particularly in the case of one-parent families and other borderline situations that make them susceptible to missionary offers.”

Related: Missionaries themselves acknowledge the success of FREE’s activists in pulling Jews out of the their clutches

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