So, awhile back, I wrote this post in which I promised a later post on why I embraced a Protestant faith after I had been raised as a Jew. Although I knew why, it's taken me a couple, two, tree, four years to articulate my reasoning. So, here it is, in as tight of a nutshell as this squirrel chaser can muster.
In all my years of Jewish education, my teachers, though well meaning as they were, were unable to help me to understand what it is to be a Jew - what it means to "believe in One God." And I was never one who could successfully accomplish something without understanding why I was doing it.
- What I did learn, with my young-child's mind, however, was that we "did not believe in Jesus."
- We were supposed to "remember when we were slaves in Egypt," although I had never even been to Egypt. (Though, I watched The Ten Commandments every year - best movie ever!)
- We were taught to remember the destruction of the Second Temple. The only temple I knew as a child was the brick building in my home town. It looked pretty solid to me. So I didn't know what they were talking about.
- Our Holy Days were somber, and scary to me as a child. My Christian friends enjoyed and looked forward to their holidays.
- We prayed in Hebrew. I loved the chanting - the music - but I didn't understand the words. I can still remember them, but only recently - four decades later - did I learn anything about their meaning.
When I was older - in college - Jews spoke of the Holocaust. Now this was something I could relate to, as my father was a Holocaust survivor. He wanted to me be Jewish, have Jewish friends, marry a Jewish man. I wanted all those things because I wanted to make my father happy.
As it turned out, I couldn't succeed in those ways, exactly. I tried to be Jewish. But Jewish students who were full-blood, born, and raised as Jews, said I wasn't really Jewish. Though my blood was was the same blood that flowed into the Danube at the hand of the Nazi's, it wasn't Jewish enough for the Jews who worshiped freely and obliviously near the shore of Lake Erie.
I was told time and time again, that I didn't look Jewish. I don't, granted. Not in the stereotypical sense. But having it pointed out, with a scrunchy eye, hurt my feelings. Because I was always able to see the Jew in the faces of those who didn't even know their families had Jewish origins.
Conversations around the Hillel House I visited a few times centered on trips to Israel (which I'd never gotten to experience), the great shopping "back home" in New Year, a place I'd never been, the lack of any decent Chinese food (an opinion with which I begged to differ, but was ignored),
When I tried to talk with fellow students about God, they talked over and around my head. The punch line tended to involve me not being Jewish enough.
Once, I tried to strike up a conversation with the rabbi, in my typical introverted awkward way; apparently, I said the wrong thing, and he abruptly waved me off and said to come see him on another day.
I didn't bother. I didn't know why I should. I still hadn't gotten an answer to my question of what Jews believe. And he was kind of mean to me.
Years later, after my father passed away, I sought out God again. I read the New Testament for the first time, scratching my head as to why I wouldn't want to believe in Jesus. Jesus seemed to have a pretty good head on his shoulders. Plus he was Jewish.
I remembered the very first time I'd ever been in a church - with my very first best friend - and I remembered how pleasant it was. The Sunday School teacher was nice to me and praised my picture of God (I drew a rainbow). It was the first time I ever had graham crackers and milk. It was awesome. And I thought of my friend and her family - Christians who always accepted and loved me and my family. So I decided to seek out a church like theirs, and found my way to the United Church of Christ.
In my UCC congregation, we read the Bible in English. We sang hymns that I remembered as Jewish prayers. My pastors spoke lovingly about the Jewish Jesus and the Jewish history and culture of Jesus's time, which helped to put the Bible into context for me so that it made excellent sense. We didn't read the Bible "literally," but for truth. And my church sisters and brother take the poetic interpretation of the Bible very seriously. They live it. They welcomed me. They were interested in hearing about Judaism. And most had never been to Israel or thought anything of the fact that I hadn't either. They didn't say I didn't look Jewish. They didn't seem to care what I looked like. They just took me at my word. And I regret deeply that my word wasn't very good. But I still believe in their words: that God's love is endless, and that to believe in God means to love and care for one another, and to forgive. So that's what I've been busy doing: learning to love and care and forgive - myself and others.
Ironically, it is in becoming a Christian that I have felt more proudly Jewish than ever before. It's why I'm a Jewdi for Jesus.
Oy, once again I went longer than I planned to. Sorry about that. I guess this is about the smallest nutshell a big nut like myself can manage.