Missionaries at Maryland

Ryan Karp, head of Chosen People Ministries, serves latkes, sufganiyot — and a Christian message — to Jewish students at the University of Maryland. Photo courtesy of UMD Hillel
Ryan Karp, head of Chosen People Ministries, serves latkes, sufganiyot — and a Christian message — to Jewish students at the University of Maryland.
Photo courtesy of UMD Hillel

While walking by the student union building at the University of Maryland last week, freshman Talya Janus caught sight of a Chanukah table advertising free latkes.

“I was with my friend, and I said, ‘Great. Free food,’ ” she recalled. The two students went over to check out the latkes and sufganiyot (Chanukah donuts). As they partook, Janus overheard the person manning the table speaking to a man about Isaiah from the Bible.

They walked away and noticed Rabbi Ari Israel, executive director of the University of Maryland’s Hillel. He informed Janus and her friend that the reason for the table was not merely to wish students a happy Chanukah.

That table, he said, was sponsored by The Chosen Ministries, which is working to convert Jews by talking to them about the Christian gospel.


“It was actually very upsetting. I felt tricked,” said Janus, an Orthodox Jew from Silver Spring. The pre-nursing student noted, “I also felt stupid. I didn’t know to look out.”
Israel, as well as others on the College Park campus, was alerted to the presence of this group after viewing a video on the Internet, which very specifically states that Chosen People Ministries was coming down from New York to target Jewish students in the D.C. area.

That video, which can be viewed at the HomeofShalom.com, states there are 30,000 Jewish students in the D.C.-Baltimore area, and “over 7,000 Jewish students at the University of Maryland alone.”

“Our goal here is to reach them with the Gospel of the Messiah Yeshua,” it states in the video.

Israel said the presence of the group on campus during Chanukah is “tragically ironic. It is corrupting Chanukah and trying to snatch Jews from their religious freedom. You get your latkes. They talk to you, and then they say, ‘I am here to talk about the gospel.’ ”
Israel strongly criticized the group. “If you are pretending you are Jewish, that’s devious,” he said, noting, “Free speech exists, but there are boundaries.”

The Hillel director said he was confident that the group will have little, if any effect, on Jewish students. “We are, first of all, unified as a Jewish group on the campus,” he said of group’s like Hillel and Chabad. “We are sharing information. We are working vigilantly to impress upon our students of this challenge.”

Israel has been involved with the Hillel at Maryland for close to two decades and is only aware of one person who converted after being approached by missionaries.

Also, he noted, the university administration and Christian groups on campus also are helpful. Israel said he received “a beautiful email” from a Christian chaplain on campus, calling what the Chosen Peoples Ministry was doing a misrepresentation of the Christian faith. The chaplain wrote in the email that he stands in support of efforts to end proselytizing.

To Israel, it’s really not about confronting or arguing with people trying to convert Jews. The best way to keep Jewish students Jewish is to “keep our eyes on the prize and help students on their own Jewish journeys,” he explained.

Ryan Karp and his wife, Jessica, head the group now active at University of Maryland. In a telephone interview, Ryan Karp strongly denied pushing his religion on anyone. Instead, he said, the students here are bright and can decide for themselves what to believe. He is just showing them the gospel for them to accept or not, he said.

“Our goal is to give people information with which they can make a decision.” Karp said. As for the Chanukah table, Ryan said, “All we did was have a table and wish students a Happy Chanukah” and give out latkes with applesauce and sour cream. There was a card on the table about a student group called Metro Moses and anyone interested could look into it, he said.

Karp, who has a Jewish father and a Christian mother, added that Metro Moses had “only a handful, not too many members” and that he was its leader.

“I kind of resent the term ‘sucking them in,’ ” he said, when asked a question about his efforts by Washington Jewish Week. “I am just spreading Chanukah cheer.”

“These kids are really, really intelligent and really smart,” Karp said. “They aren’t so vulnerable.”

Karp said he conducted a Passover seder on campus earlier this year in which 100 students, both Christians and Jews, attended. The Chanukah table was his group’s second event, but he noted that, “I work with students individually on campus.”

Karp said he planned to hold another seder this coming Passover.

“I don’t convince anybody of anything,” he stressed. “The evidence comes from the Tanach [the Jewish Bible]. If they decide Yeshua is the messiah,” that’s their decision, he said. “If not, that’s okay. I won’t force anyone. I am not into any kind of coercion.”

Karp, who grew up in the D.C. area, recalled how he was on a Taglit-Birthright trip when, on the fifth day of that experience, he told another participant he believed that Yeshua was the messiah. “That person’s roommate cursed me out. Later that night, the leaders of the trip told me I had to leave. They kicked me out,” he recalled. “It broke my heart.”

“I am talking about a Jewish man,” he said, referring to Jesus. “The most famous Jew in history was somehow a dividing line between me and my religion. He takes my sorrow. He takes my pain. I can feel joy with him. That is the message.”

There currently are about 6,000 undergraduates and almost 700 graduate students who are Jewish at the University of Maryland, Israel said.

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  1. This seemed like a relatively reasonable article. Unfortunately I was misquoted toward the bottom and another comment was taken out of context. First, my comment regarding the vulnerability of Jewish students on campus came in response to an accusation that I was, “preying on vulnerable young people.” Secondly, I did not say that Yeshua was a, “dividing line between me and my religion.” I said he was for some reason a, “dividing line between me and my people.” It is important to note this because the implication from the misquote is that I left Judaism. I was married under a chuppah, had a bris for my son, don’t eat pork or shellfish, there is a mezuzah on my doors at my home, and I have a tremendous faith in the God of the partriarchs. I don’t think anybody ceases to be Jewish when they believe Jesus as the Messiah. In fact, the concept of the Messiah is very Jewish. If anything, I think I embrace Judaism even more because of Yeshua.

  2. And here is a bit of news for you Ryan: You can have a bris for your son, have a mezuzah, or wear payes and a shtreimel and call yourself a Satmar Husid. If your Messiah is Jesus, you are by definition a Christian, period.

  3. Hi. Non-Messianic Jewish professional here. I understand the sentiments of people who are worried about Jewish-Christians being present on campus. But what, exactly, is so different about this group when compared to MEOR or Chabad? Both are presenting ideas, on some level hoping for Jews to gravitate towards them, and they genuinely believe they are doing so for the betterment of humanity. You can think they’re wrong. 5,980 out of 6,000 Maryland students can think they’re wrong. But if 20 become happier, more fulfilled people as a result of this, is that so bad? And to Michael’s comment…you’re missing his fundamental point. Ryan clearly believes that being Christian does not preclude being Jewish. Argue with him if you’d like…but saying that he is “by definition a Christian, period” misses the point.

    I keep waiting for the day that non-Messianic Jews will actually engage in discussion with Messianic Jews as opposed to slandering them without any knowledge. There’s a facebook group called “Messianic Judaism” that I joined, and the conversation there has been incredibly enlightening for me. The Jewish knowledge present in the conversations is at a level just as high (and on occasion significantly higher) than in other Jewish facebook groups I am a part of.

    Our entire community has decided it is okay to paint all Messianic Jews in broad strokes. They’re all just trying to convert everyone. All of their Jewish stuff is just a disingenuous, half-assed front to lure people in…etc. Assuming an entire group of people is a bunch of liars is discrimination. It is prejudice. Whatever word you want to use. We shouldn’t do it — whether you consider Messianic Jews part of the Jewish people or not.


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