Beliefnet
ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 5 (AP) - A Christian theme park that re-creates the Holy Land during the time of Jesus opened Monday amid protests from critics who say the attraction is aimed at converting Jews.

An actor in a white caftan welcomed the first guests to the $16 million Holy Land Experience with several blasts from a shofar, or ram's horn.

Visitors were greeted by two actors dressed as Roman soldiers in armor, who talked about the history of Herod's Temple. Workers in robes hawked ritual prayer shawls, menorahs and cold drinks from kiosks.

On the steps of a re-creation of Herod's Temple, a half-dozen actors in biblical-period clothes sang songs about Christian persecution by the Romans and how Jesus would come back to save them.

Outside the fences, the leader of the militant Jewish Defense League, Irv Rubin, called park founder Marvin Rosenthal a ``soul-snatcher.''

``His whole raison d'etre is to recruit Jews, to steal our souls,'' said Rubin, leading a three-man protest.

Rosenthal, a Baptist minister who was born Jewish, said there is no hidden agenda at the park other than to spread the teachings of the Bible to people of all faiths.

``The idea that we're targeting Jewish people is fallacious,'' said Rosenthal, who calls himself a Hebrew Christian. ``We would be thrilled if Jewish people came to these facilities. They won't be buttonholed. They won't be coerced.''

Although Hebrew Christians consider themselves Jewish, mainstream Jews do not recognize them as such because Hebrew Christians -- also known as Messianic Jews -- believe that Jesus is the Messiah.

Previously, he said profits from the park would go toward evangelizing Jews in an effort to get them to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Rosenthal runs a ministry called Zion's Hope, whivh aimed at Jws and is located adjacent to the theme park.

Leaders of Orlando's Jewish community, which has about 25,000 people, chose to ignore the park's opening. However, they have gotten the word out to Jewish communities around the world to avoid the park, said Rabbi Merrill Shapiro of Congregation Beth Am.

``Mr. Rosenthal says you can be Christian and Jewish at the same time, but that's not true,'' Shapiro said. ``We have a great interest in not attracting a lot of attention to this park.''

It was too late for that Monday, as dozens of reporters attended the opening and about 800 people of varying Christian denominations paid $17 each to roam the 15-acre park.

``I haven't seen anything that trivializes religion,'' said David Graber, a Mennonite pastor from Sarasota. ``We're different from many denominations but I feel comfortable here.''

The park's gift shop, The Old Scroll Shop, sold shofars - blown during the Jewish High Holidays - and books with Jewish themes, such as ``The Chosen'' and ``The History of the Jews.''

Marge McQuiston, a Lutheran visitor from Lakeland, saw the park as an opportunity for Christians and Jews to better understand each other.

``If we can't get along in a theme park, how are we going to get a long in a place like Israel?'' she said.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus