It’s hard to share the story of why I converted without offending somebody. I know this, I’ve accepted this, but it still bothers me because no one likes to lose friends. There’s just no way to share how I was born Jewish and became a Christian without implying that Judaism just wasn’t good enough, or is insufficient as a standalone faith. I don’t intend to speak for all of Jewish experience when I talk about my personal frustrations and struggles. But I understand how doing so can be perceived that way.
I’m too aware that Christians are taught to view Judaism as a rigid, out-dated set of rules. The term “pharisee” is used negatively, when in fact Pharisees established modern rabbinic tradition. There essentially wouldn’t be Judaism today without them.
So how do I share my story without enforcing negative stereotypes about what Jews believe and practice? I would hope that this goes without saying, but I will say it anyway: my story is mine alone. Other Jews, fully engaged in their faith, will not relate to it at all.
The decision to follow Christ was not a result of missionary tactics or manipulation. It was a fully informed decision that I would make again, but I did so knowing there would be tension with my Jewish roots. I may spend the rest of my life figuring out what those roots mean to me, but they shaped me and continue to shape me.
That’s happening as my love for Christ deepens and grows, and it’s an odd tension I’m never not holding.
A Disconnect Between Beliefs And Actions
When I went to Israel with a Cleveland youth group, the disconnect between religious practice and lifestyle choices was glaring. I bunked with people who talked about promiscuity and drug use in ways that shocked my sheltered, naive teen self. But these same people also kept kosher and a stricter sabbath than I was used to.
Even then, years before my conversion, I felt like something was off. I didn’t understand how Judaism could affect my diet and what I could or couldn’t do on the sabbath, but not who I slept with or what other substances I put in my body. The Judaism I knew was so intertwined with popular trends and attitudes to a point that there was little distinction between a Jewish life and a New Age or completely secular one. I craved something a bit more…consistent. I drew comfort from the Christian teaching that the God of the Bible is the same today as he was yesterday, and will be tomorrow and beyond.
I didn’t see the Christian God as a cosmic cop who didn’t want me to have any fun. Rather, I saw him more like a parental figure looking out for me, placing boundaries around my behavior the way parents use baby gates to prevent toddlers from tumbling down stairs.
I was already thinking of Judaism through Christian lenses without realizing it. In Judaism, actions trump belief; in Christianity, both go hand in hand. If this is how I thought of faith, perhaps Judaism didn’t have space for me.
Leaving But Still Loving Judaism
I hope it’s clear that my story doesn’t describe the spiritual practices of all Jews, which are often pigeon-holed as legalistic. This is the personal experience of a girl who hungered for God for as long as she could remember, and how the environment she was born into didn’t have the tools she was looking for in order for that relationship to flourish.
Judaism set me on a path toward God the father. I deviated from my intended destiny by falling in love with his son. That meant making an uncomfortable but necessary step into foreign territory: a different sort of Exodus than the one I was taught.
Photo by David Holifield on Unsplash
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