Ex-missionary who returned to Judaism now helps cult victims

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Daniel and Harav Yoav Robinson, in the Chabad yeshivah in Ramat Aviv

Man who spent years identifying as Christian now helps other Jews who have fallen into cults, as he had, to understand their mistakes.

Arutz Sheva Staff,  08/03/20 13:17

Daniel Attia was born on Moshav Yatzitz near Rechovot. At the age of 10, he began questioning the meaning of the world’s existence and his role in it. The answers he received from his parents and teachers were unsatisfactory, and he began searching on his own.

Using key words like “soul,” “existential” and “Jew” to search the internet, he reached a site run by Christian missionaries who presented their theology in a Jewish wrapping. Daniel had no idea that he had fallen for a ruse.

The deeper he immersed himself in the material, the more he accepted the “New Testament” and Christianity.

“The missionaries presented it as a package deal,” Daniel recalls in anguish, describing the manipulations used on the sites and in the missionary congregations he visited, which presented themselves as Jewish.

His worried parents, who understood to what depths their son had sunk, tried to get him to talk to the Rabbis. But these conversations never lasted more than a few minutes before he stormed out in anger. Daniel accused the Rabbis of “deceitfully stigmatizing” the missionaries and their teachings.

The years passed and Daniel, now a man, decided to leave his job in an aluminum siding factory on his moshav for calmer work. He committed to stay on for a short while to train his replacement, another youth on the moshav named Lidor.

The transition took a month and a half, during which time the two became friends. “Lidor had a religious appearance – kippah, tzitzis, beard. From time to time he asked me why I never came to shul and I explained that religion didn’t speak to me. As the transition phase was about to come to an end, I felt we had become close enough friends that I could tell him the truth. I said that I had cut myself off from Judaism and was a Christian in every sense of the word. I opened my shirt and revealed the cross hanging from a chain to prove that I was serious…

“To my great surprise Lidor told me that three years earlier, before he became religious, he himself belonged to the ‘Messianic Jews’ cult that I was a member of. Lidor told me the story of how he’d gotten involved with the cult, and how he came to understand that it was all a lie. He said that he’d received help from Yad L’Achim and suggested that I meet with them to discuss theology and understand where I was making a mistake.

“I didn’t see a problem with that since I was confident that I could outsmart any Rabbi on the subject.”

That evening, Daniel met with Yad L’Achim’s Rabbi Yoav-Zeev Robinson for a discussion that lasted nearly six hours, and left him in a state of shock.

“All of the winning arguments that, regrettably, I used to convince other Jews to join the cult, were defeated. Rabbi Robinson who is thoroughly familiar with the ‘New Testament,’ showed me the lies, the contractions, the forgeries, and undermined everything I’d come to believe in. I felt cheated and asked for time to think things through.”

The two met the next night, and the one after that, for further deep theological discussions on the essence of Judaism, the Written and the Oral Law. After three almost sleepless nights, Daniel understood that he had been living a lie and announced his desire to return to the Jewish people.

“By the end of the third night I had completely lost faith in all that I learned in almost 20 years. At that critical moment, Rav Yoav turned to me with an open book and asked me to read from it. It was the introduction to the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvos and it listed the development of Halachah: Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Yehoshua, and Yeshoshua to the Elders… that was the moment I burst out in uncontrollable crying. It came from deep inside me. It was a cry of pain over the lost years and investment in Christianity, and at the same time a cry of Teshuvah and awakening. At that moment, I decided to make a 180-degree turn in my life, with Rav Yoav serving as my spiritual guide.”

Two weeks later, Daniel arrived at a yeshivah in Tel Aviv, where he began immersing himself in Torah and chassidus from dawn to the late hours of the evening.

This week, two years after he entered the yeshivah, he had another turning point. Daniel asked Rav Robinson if he could volunteer with Yad L’Achim’s counter-missionary department. He wanted to talk with Jews who, like him, had fallen into cults, to help them understand their mistakes.

In his first assignment, Daniel was asked to meet with a Jewish adult who belonged to a Christian cult. The cult member has a long way to go, but at the end of their first meeting, he agreed to take reading material from Yad L’Achim, in the hope and prayer that before long he will also find himself returning the embrace of Judaism, and the G-d of Israel.

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