After much begging, pleading, and offers of bribery, I finally accepted Emily’s offer to visit her Messianic Synagogue, for no other reason except to get her off my back.
I had no idea what to expect, but I was skeptical. Would it be a normal evangelical service with traditional hymns, but with a side dash of Hebrew? Would the preacher simply don a talit and yarmulke and consider that Jewish enough? What if I hated it…or worse, what if I ended up liking it?
I was especially irritated at having to get up early on a Saturday for it–yep, the Jewish Sabbath. But Emily, darn that charm of hers, talked me into it by promising me Starbucks on the way. There’s hardly anything I wouldn’t do for Starbucks.
The first thing I noticed, once inside, were the women: they looked considerably Orthodox with their mid-length shirts and long skirts. Some even wore head coverings. The men wore suits and talits draped over their shoulders, all decked out with the same Messianic Seal I was wearing around my neck (I figured that was the most acceptable place to wear it).
The service opened with the same Hebrew chants I knew by heart. I’ll try not to be too judgmental here, but I have to confess: it did bother me that the rabbi (Minister? Preacher? What is the proper title for a Messianic Jewish leader?) kept mispronouncing certain words. Aha! I thought. You must be a gentile, too! But I wisely kept my mouth shut. The thing was, I could force my mouth shut or my mind to stay open, but it was really hard to do both. You’d think I would feel right at home in a place like this, but everything from the Israeli flag at the podium–next to a cross–to interspersing prayers with cries of Yeshua HaMoshiach! just felt…forced.
I wanted the seams of my identity to blend nicely with the rest of the fabric, but this was not the way to do it. This felt like a child forcing a puzzle piece into a space it didn’t belong. I don’t know how else to explain it.
It’s tradition to kiss your prayer book and then touch the Torah with it as it is carried down the aisle mid-service, so as not to soil it with grimy human hands. But the Torah was being lifted from the Ark just after singing a song about Jesus. For some reason, as much as I believed in Christianity, I could not touch the Torah with my prayer book after that. That seemed like way more heresy than I could handle, and I already handled quite a lot.
There was even a rendition of Hava Nagila, a song and dance number usually reserved for weddings or bat mitzvahs, at the end. It was truly an effort in self-control not to groan out loud–like, how many Jewish traditions can you squeeze into one service?
This wasn’t Jewish. This felt Jew-ish.
But it meant a lot to Emily, whom I liked and respected. When she asked what I thought, I told her “It was interesting,” and left it at that.
I’ve met many Christians who use the phrases “Jew for Jesus” and “Messianic Jew” interchangeably, not realizing they are two completely different groups. Jews for Jesus is an evangelism campaign founded in 1973 by a man named Moishe Rosen–a Jewish-born Baptist preacher. Messianic Judaism is a unique branch of Christianity that initially began as a safe haven for Jews who believe in Jesus. Its popularity has grown due to a surplus of Protestants developing an interest in their faith’s Jewish roots (2,000 years belated, in my opinion). This “denomination” now boasts a growing number of gentiles, like Emily, who want to see the Church return to her Jewish roots.
I agree that it is completely necessary for pastors to educate their congregants about Judaism, but I have many mixed feelings about the Messianic way of doing it. I love Chinese food, but I wouldn’t be fooling anyone by calling myself Chinese. I can’t help feeling the same way about Christians who “feel Jewish” because they love Judaism.
I recently bought a ring with the Yiddish word bashert engraved on it. Traditionally, bashert has been used on wedding bands and is interpreted as “soulmate.” An additional interpretation is also “meant to happen,” which I’d like to believe is an appropriate summary of my spiritual journey. Jesus refers to the Church as his bride in the Scriptures. No matter what label I call myself, Jesus is my bashert.
Excerpted from the revised edition of Confessions of a Prodigal Daughter, now available on Kindle for 99 cents: http://amzn.to/1rBYIe5