• ISRAEL \ Aug 28, 2001
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    Haredim worried by schoolbags donated by `messianic' group
Haredim worried by schoolbags donated by `messianic' group For the last three years the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry has been handing out to schoolkids book bags donated by a group called Vision for Israel, which is based in Savannah, Georgia. But after a Bnei Brak father of one of the children who got a bag discovered that the group are "messianic Jews," the ministry stopped handing out the bags.

According to the group's Web site, they were aiming to hand out 12,000 bags this month and next, raising money for the bags through $25 donations.

The Bnei Brak man found out about the origins of the bag because in addition to a full pencil case and other basic school supplies, it contained a letter to children asking them to write into the organization.

The legal adviser to the ministry, asked for his opinion by the ministry, said he saw no reason why the project could not continue as long as the letters from Vision for Israel were removed. The organization said it has yet to receive such a request.

According to the organization they have donated more than 8,000 school bags over the past three years, and Labor and Social Affairs Ministry officials say they are worried that if children did indeed write into the organization, the group now has names and addresses of impressionable children.

"Our intention," said a spokeswoman for the group, "is only to help needy children. We are involved in charity and humanitarian efforts and are not missionaries. Our personal beliefs are not part of our activity."

The organization's Web site specifically says it donates the bags to Jewish, Christian and Muslim children in Israel. The spokeswoman said that both Jews and Christians donate money for the project.

Last year, four school districts received school bags - and then minister Ra'anan Cohen took part in one of the giveaways, in Petah Tikva.

Labor and Social Affairs Minister Shlomo Benizri was asked about the affair yesterday during an interview program on one of the Haredi radio stations. He denied his ministry was working with any "missionary group."