I was talking to my brother on the phone the other day: “You know, lately I’ve been thinking about the anxiety Mom had when we were growing up, about Nazis coming to America. And we all thought she was crazy.”
“She wasn’t crazy,” he said. “That’s just a story we like to tell.”
“Okay,” I responded. “I thought she was crazy. But maybe she was on to something.”
That was anxiety talking, I realize now – something that runs in my family. Both my maternal and paternal ancestors fled to America from Poland and Russia during the pogrom era, before the Holocaust started. But that doesn’t make the anxiety any less real. Holocaust Panic is just a side effect of being Jewish, in this day and age.
In the company of Jewish friends, I went way out into the wilderness where I could see my tradition through their eyes instead of my own. They taught me what messiah means to a Jew, which is quite different from what it means to most Christians. They taught me things about Second Temple Judaism and first-century life under Rome that enriched my understanding of Scripture. They gave me a whole new view of Paul. But they also showed me places where the followers of Jesus twisted the truth about Judaism or at least wrote things in such a way that their interpreters could. Once I understood that the gospel writers had not told me the whole truth about the Pharisees, I wondered what else they had not told me.
— Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church
When I started learning Christian history as a Christian, many source materials painted a simple dichotomy: Jewish law = primitive and legalistic, Jesus Christ = freedom.
This dichotomy was enforced when I went to Israel for the first time and met my extended relatives, who didn’t do much to hide their judgment of my secular, Reform family. I got dirty looks for accidentally putting my meat dish in the dairy side of the sink, and for showing up to dinner with damp hair on Shabbat – evidence that I had taken a shower, which is forbidden.
I’m no longer the same person I was when I wrote Confessions a Prodigal Daughter, yet it continues to be my best-selling book. There was a purpose for the journey I had made up until that point, and I’m grateful that it still speaks to people today.
But back then, my belief system was as rigid as it was fundamentalist:
There are some books I make a point of rereading on a regular basis, and Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner is one of them — a short but profound book on certain Jewish rituals and practices that Christians ought to consider incorporating into their spiritual lives. Her memoir Girl Meets God was also the catalyst that inspired me to write my own.
I started rereading Mudhouse this morning, and thought: why don’t I create a list of all my favorite interfaith resources — books, concepts, practices, people to follow on social media?
Reform Judaism is dying, according to an article by Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin in Forward. As secularism increases, the number of synagogues decrease. The same happens to churches, too, except Christians don’t make up less than 1% of the population like Jews do.
Jewish converts to Christianity wouldn’t be nearly as controversial if not for the minority status of Jews worldwide. Consequently, I lived for years with tension between following what I believed to be true, and not wanting to dishonor my ancestors, who were persecuted for their Jewishness.
I’d be lying if I said that tension was fully resolved.
I have written before about what I believe it means to practice Christianity “Jewishly”: that is, by asking hard questions and expressing spiritual doubts. But there is another, and perhaps more important, way of doing Christianity “Jewishly” — one that doesn’t involve rebranding Jewish theology, or the mistranslation of certain texts so they appear to point more directly toward Jesus.
It has to do with recognizing the lens through which you read Scripture. Depending on who is reading, the focal point is what changes: Christians read the Scriptures and see that everything points to Jesus, whereas Jews read it and see that everything points toward Israel.
Does this mean that one group is correct, and the other is wrong?
“Bitter” is a negative buzzword in Christian culture: it’s holding on to anger and resentment, refusing to let it go. It’s the opposite of forgiveness.
In some circumstances, what some Christians call “bitterness” is actually trauma, depression, or anxiety. But good Christians aren’t supposed to be “bitter”; they’re supposed to reflect the joy they have in Christ, always.
If this sounds like an unhealthy, warped church environment, you’re right. I could dismiss it as fringe, if only I didn’t encounter it so often, both in study groups and on social media.
If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you may be aware of the controversy regarding Donald Trump declaring Jerusalem the official capital of Israel. This is a controversial move for spiritual reasons as well as political ones. It’s interesting that the same issues that plagued interfaith relations 2000+ years ago are just as relevant today. As anti-semitism continues to increase around the world, interfaith dialogue becomes more and more necessary.
That’s why I need your help. I started writing about interfaith issues six years ago because I was fed up with the lack of source material in both bookstores and online, from people with backgrounds similar to mine. If you are able to do so, I would be highly appreciative if you would consider donating via Patreon so I can continue to write full-time about issues that drive a wedge between Jews and Christians. This isn’t just a career concern for me — it’s rooted in a deeper desire for peace.
Can’t afford to donate? No problem! Another thing I’d greatly appreciate is if you reach out to me via the contact form on my website with topics you’d like to see addressed on the blog in the future. In what ways do you think Jews and Christians can work on their relationship to each other? What can each group do better to help build bridges? No idea is too small or too silly! I would love to hear them.
Thank you again for following along on this journey!
This may sound strange, but when I was growing up, I wanted to be Joan of Arc.
Or rather, I wanted all the fame and glory that comes with being Joan of Arc (minus the arrest, trial, and tragic execution). Leading a revolution is complex business, to say the least, and I didn’t have the slightest idea how one did that. All I knew was that I wanted to change the world, and maybe, somehow, end up being the first Jewish saint (yes, I was a very strange kid).
So when I saw an article in the New Yorker comparing Parkland shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez to Joan of Arc — or at least, to Renee Maria Falconetti, who is an older doppelgänger of Gonzalez in her role as Joan of Arc in the 1928 silent film — I had to laugh, because my 17-year-old self would have been blazing with jealousy.
Growing up Jewish, it was not unusual to hear about humanity’s mandate to care for the environment in synagogue, in addition to hearing about God. In fact, I learned more about basic ways of caring for the earth in Sunday school than I did in public school. To be Jewish and an environmentalist was treated as one and the same.
In Genesis, Adam and Eve were given dominion over the animals and the planet. Humans were tasked with picking up their baton, to ensure that the world would be in good condition for future generations to come.
Which is why it baffles me that so many Christians are in complete denial of climate change, the amount of plastic in our oceans, and carbon footprints. More mind-boggling is how these concerns get dismissed as some kind of liberal, secularist propaganda — as if we don’t all share the same planet.