Cult leader David Koresh
visited Israel in January, 1990, accompanied by one of his wives and assistant
David Schneider. Koresh’s mission: to establish a wing of his Branch Davidian
cult in Israel and to bring as many Israelis back to U.S. as possible. They
would be living evidence that, in Koresh’s words, “Out of Zion shall pour forth
Jerusalem, Koresh met a New York-born rabbi named Avraham Feld, who directs the
Maccabee Foundation, a nonprofit service agency that “fills the gaps in the
social welfare system.” Feld has made a career of helping disaffected youth in
Jerusalem who have gotten involved with drugs, prostitution, crime, and cults.
Feld observed Koresh on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehudah Street playing a combination of
Christian gospels and Hasidic melodies on his guitar. Koresh, whose real name
was Vernon Howell (Koresh is Hebrew for Cyrus, the Persian king who allowed the
exiled Jews to return to Israel from Babylon), confided in the rabbi, who was
dressed in jeans and a leather jacket. Learning of Koresh’s recruitment
plans - that the cult leader would
employ every possible coercive technique to achieve his goals- Feld decided to
surround Koresh with Jews who were firm in their Jewish identity. They would be near Koresh at all times,
monitoring his activities.
has found that the best missionary containment strategy is infiltration. “We
sent Koresh knowledgeable Jews (along with some non-Jews who wanted to be
helpful) to make sure that Koresh’s message to Jerusalemites could be balanced
with other points of view.” By listening very carefully to what the cult is up
to, says Feld, you learn how fashion a compelling response.
expressed ambivalence towards Jews: on the one hand, he apologized for crimes
committed against Jews in the name of the New Testament, yet at the same time
he excoriated Jews for not embracing the gospels.
cult leader rented a large apartment in the Old City of Jerusalem near the
Western Wall. Koresh, his wife, and Schneider, spent most of their time hanging
around bars and discos, seeking out disaffected young people who might be
attracted to their unique brand of “gospel rock music.” Koresh registered at
two Orthodox yeshivot, studying with newly observant Jews. He was a
regular participant at traditional Friday evening meals and frequented Orthodox
bookstores. His home was open to wayfaring Jews who needed a place to stay.
Rabbi Feld learned that Koresh had offered plane tickets and wads of hundred
dollar bills to at least a dozen young Israelis who were to join the cult
leader on a church singing tour in Texas, his Maccabee Foundation went into
action. Feld’s group intervened with more than a dozen people who had signed on
with Koresh, contacting their family members as well. They succeeded in all
cases except one – Pablo Cohen, an Argentinian-born Israeli rock musician who
boarded the plane to Texas arm-in-arm with Koresh and Schneider.
was forced to leave Israel after his three-month tourist visa had expired. The
cult leader confided in Rabbi Feld that he was bitter and discouraged. So many
of the Jews he had met and tried to recruit had rebutted his arguments with
compelling citations from the Talmud and other Jewish sources and all but one
of the young people who had agreed to travel to Texas had backed out at the
last minute. Koresh’s complaint came, of course, as no surprise to Feld, who
had from the start, sabotaged the branch Davidian leader’s plans and informed
the Interior Ministry of Koresh’s visa expiration.
Cohen later returned to Jerusalem for several months, but he remained a
disciple of David Koresh, now a father figure to the young musician who had
been reared in poverty by a mentally disturbed mother. Feld, who had befriended
Pablo, observed that “Pablo was a music-loving Israeli who said that he didn’t
care what words he was singing. He loved the attention he got playing in Texas
churches. Compare that to Pablo’s former life as a street musician, playing for
a few shekels on Ben Yehudah Street in Jerusalem. David Koresh made Pablo Cohen
Rabbi Feld met and pleaded with Pablo not to return to Texas but to no avail. When
the siege began in Waco Feld arranged for all the people who knew Pablo Cohen
to telephone him daily to persuade him to flee the compound. But the Israeli
remained with Koresh to the end. After the branch Davidian compound erupted in
flames last April, Pablo’s charred remained were found near the bodies of David
Koresh and Dave Schneider.