Messianic Jew turned down for Birthright Israel trip

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BALTIMORE — When she filled out an application in the fall for a free Birthright Israel trip, Rebecca Rubin checked the box designated "other" for Jewish denomination.

"I'm open if people ask me what congregation I go to, but I don't say, 'Hey, I'm a Messianic Jew,' because I don't want them to think I have an ulterior motive," said Rubin, whose father is spiritual leader of Emmanuel Messianic Jewish Congregation in Columbia, Md.

"The Web site said all Jews were eligible," said Rubin, a junior at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. "I didn't think it was relevant."

But when 22 students from her campus went to Israel last month, Rubin was not among them. That's because officials from Hillel of Greater Baltimore, the local coordinator, informed her a few weeks earlier that her acceptance had been rescinded, following the application process and two interviews.

"I felt hurt and disappointed. I didn't understand why the decision was made at that point," said Rubin, 19, an interdisciplinary studies major with a concentration in Jewish studies. "Some Orthodox Jews wouldn't consider some Reform Jews Jewish, but they don't require people to have a Jewish mother to go on this trip…Yeshua [Jesus' Hebrew name] seems to be the dividing line."

Messianic Jews, also known as Hebrew Christians, practice Jewish customs while believing Jesus is the messiah. The movement, with nearly 400 congregations, is rejected by the organized Jewish community.

More than 5,000 students internationally participated in free trips to the Jewish state through Birthright Israel. The Hillel component of the endeavor sponsored about 3,000 of the total.

David Raphael, executive director of Hillel of Greater Baltimore, said Rubin was rejected "based on the parameters written up by the Birthright Israel folks to remain within the accepted parameters of the Jewish community."

Jeff Rubin, the national Hillel's director of communications, said Rubin was the only Messianic Jew rejected for the trip. "Non-Jews were prohibited from participating," he said. "No one in the Jewish community considers [Messianic Jews] Jewish."

Sitting in a Mexican restaurant near her family's Clarksville, Md., home, Rubin comes off as bright, soft-spoken and sincere. Although she's visited Israel twice, she said she looked forward to this trip because "I've never been there with my peers. It sounded like a really cool experience."

She was officially accepted for the trip in mid-October. But at an early December meeting with the director of her campus Hillel, Jeremy Benjamin, and Hillel's Rabbi Rachel Hertzman, Rubin was told "they'd been alerted I belong to a Messianic congregation, and they asked me to explain my beliefs…I said I believe Jesus is the messiah. I don't think they heard what I was saying after that."

Rubin is a part-time employee of Lederer/Messianic Jewish Communications, which publishes and distributes Messianic books and materials. Her father is chief executive officer.

Rubin said she plans to continue attending campus Jewish gatherings.