3.01.2006

what it means to be a jewish christian

I'm reading Girl Meets GOD for the second time, although the first time I didn't read it in its entirety. I was reading it while traveling through Europe and my mom snagged it and started reading it, and I never got around to finishing it. I felt the need to do so in the past few weeks, so I've started it again and am already finding it incredibly informative, rewarding, and close to my heart. Thus, I want to share some of my favorite passages with you.

First of all, Girl Meets GOD is a memoir about "the child of a Jewish father and a lapsed Southern Baptist mother [who] chose to become an Orthodox Jew. But even as she was observing Sabbath rituals and studying Jewish law, Lauren [F. Winner] was increasingly drawn to Christianity. Courageously leaving what she loved, she eventually converted. In Girl Meets GOD, this appealing woman takes us through a yea rin her Christian lief as she attempts to reconcile both sides of her religious identity"--according to the back of the book. Now, on to her story.

"I gave away all my Jewish books and let go of all my Jewish ways, but I realized, as I spent time with other Christians, that Judaism shaped how I saw Christianity. It shaped the way I read the Bible, the way I thought about Jesus, the way I understood what He meant when he talked about the yoke of the law. I found my heart sometimes singing Jewish songs. I thought I had given away all my Jewish things, but I found that I hadn't. I'd just given away some books and mezuzot and candlesticks. I hadn't given up the shape in which I saw the world, or the words I knew for God, and those shapes and words were mostly Jewish."

"No one in my family--not my Reform Jewish father, nor my lapsed Southern Baptist mother, nor my older sister Leanne--talked about God. Leanne and I knew we were Jewish; that was part of the bargain my parents struck as the first intermarraige in either of their families, that the kids would be Jewish. No one noticed that according to Jewish law, according to Orthodox or Conservative Jews, Leanne and I were as Jewish as Betsy Ross, Judaism being passed to children by their mother. But still, Leanne and I would have checked off Jewish on a list: Southern, Jewish, Tar Heels, Democrats. That checklist translated into a menorah next to our Christmas tree, and we got to skip school on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We went to Sunday school at the temple in Asheville. We had a Passover seder every year."
In addition to the Passover seder and the Christmas tree, I had my own religious rituals. I made up a prayer, and said it every night in bed, after the lights were out, never deviating from the text I'd set: first one section of 'thank yous,' and then a section of 'what I'm going to try to do better,' followed by a list of things I wanted. And no matter how much I wished to skip ahead to section three, I always forced myself to get through the gratitudes and the repentances first."

(This part is especially for Elyssa. Hehe.)

"I spent the summers away from Charlottesville. One summer, I attented an academic camp on a college campus in Pennsylvannia where I took a creative writing course. There I met a boy, Bejamin, who was Orthodox; he and I were two of the maybe half-dozen kids who turned up for the Friday night Jewish service (another six or so trundled off to church Sunday morning while th eother campers played volleyball and tie-dyed t-shirts). After the service, Bejamin walked me back to my dorm, and I left the books I had been carrying--Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan and Kaplan's translation of the Torah--in his backpack. 'Don't you want your books back?' he asked."
'Oh, no,' I told him coquettishly, 'I'm leaving them with you on purpose. So you'll have to find me in the morning and return them.'"
He did that, found me after breakfast and gave me my books, and we spent Shabbat morning sitting on a bench talking about the novels we loved and what we thought about God. The next day he found me again, and wooed me with his guitar playing, and we got into a fierce argument about what had caused the Civil War, and we spent the rest of the summer in each other's company, taking long walks and sometimes just sitting next to each other reading."
Bejamin was from Washington, D.C., not too far from Charlottesville, and after campe was over and we were back into the rhythms of our school years, I began spending occassional weekends and holidays with his family. When I think back to those visits, what impresses me is his mother. I think I wrote her off ten as a parochial, dull secretary, with a Brooklyn accent as think as her waistline. Now I realize that she was generous and kind, or maybe a little foolish, or maybe just a hip hands-off parent. What must she have thought about this young, unfamiliar girl coming from Virginia to visit her eldest son? Most mothers in her position would have been made nervous by our friendship, by the hundreds of letters we wrote and the phone bills we ran up all through high school. And maybe she was nervous, I don't know. But maybe she also saw that I was stumbling my way toward God."
When I visited his family, Benjamin bunked down in a younger brother's bedroom, and I slept in his room. He always snuck in late at night and we would lie in bed kissing. Maybe kissing him, in that Washington town house with brothers and parents sleeping down the hall should have felt thrilling, or dangerous. I suppose his parents could have walked in on us at any moment, and freaked out, ordered Bejamin back to his brother's room and me back to Charlottesville. But it didn't feel thrilling or illicit or rebellious; it felt domestic. I had kissed boys before, kisses grabbed in Charlottesville bedrooms when someone's parents were out for the evening, but no one other than my mother ever saw me in a Lanz flannel nightgown."
My generation didn't have my parents' language. We didn't go steady or get pinned, but even if we had known those words, I don't think Bejamin and I would have used them. We had high-pitched conversations about the state of things often enough, but we never would have said we were dating. He never would have called me his girlfriend. Still, we both imagined getting married. My own daydreams were part The Chosen and part Anne of Green Gables. We would be like Gilbert and Annie, only we would be religious Jews. In one of the daydreams, Bejamin and I grew up to be teachers, teaching at some Jewish high school in New York or D.C., he would teach history and I would teach Bible and sometimes we would send love notes back and forth between our classrooms, carried by a teacher's pet who could be trusted not to read them, or, at least, not to tell."

"Rabbi M. was a baal teshuva, a "master of repentance," someone who had not been raised as an observant Jew but had become Orthodox. He was smart, and a little awkward, and he loved high school and college students, and he had a charming French wife and a beautiful daughter, then about seven, named Rayzl. He loved Rayzl above all else. He doted on her. He was one of those dads who even tried to learn to fix his daughter's hair. (He was hopeless. Rayzl always had bumps when Rabbi M. fixed her hair.)"
And he loved me. He loved me and he understood me. He could often anticipate what I was going to say before I said it. Over the years that I knew Rabbi M., I came to see that we were a lot alike, that we had the same strengths and weaknesses, that he saw in me something of himself. That sort of self-seeing almost makes for intensity. I see it now in the history department at Columbia. The teachers here are kind, and magnanimous, and devoted to their students, but sometimes you see a special kind of devotion, a sort of selecting out, and you know that what the professor sees in that student is something of himself. He sees himself again, anew, at some younger, fresher age. I see it myself, in the students who are assigned to my discussion sections. I have liked most all my students--but sometimes there's a special student who loves history and finds subtle questions fascinating, a student who doesn't know the first thing about antebellum Southern planters and then reads Roll, Jordan, Roll or Within the Plantation Household and finds himself obsessed with cotton and overseers and hoopskirts and slavery; those students remind me of how I was just a few years ago, and I love them for it."

"I was impressed in a literary way with this idea of Incarnation. But I wasn't persuaded by it. The rabbis had very clear expectations of what the Messiah would do. He would bring world peace, and he would rebuild the Temple, and he would gather the Jews back into Israel, and he would do it all at once, none of this not completing his assigned tasks and having to come back to earth a second time. Jesus hadn't done those things; ergo, he wasn't the Messiah. It was a good story, this story the Christians had dreamed up, but I was sure that it wasn't, finally, true. It was good story the way The Great Gatsby is a good story. Beautifully written, clever, insightful, but not something to shape your life around. Not something to pray to."


Just a few of the words that I could relate to, or found beautifully profound. Hope you all enjoyed them as well.

God (and Jesus) bless,
lv

1 comment:

tori said...

:) nice


i should like to borrow this book one of these days


sadly, i have no time for recreational reading until june


;)