Judaism and Christianity: a personal account, by JL
Today we welcome a guest. Judith Leader has been a Christian friend of mine for some years. She became a Christian many years ago while training as a nurse. Below, at my eager invitation, she shares a very personal account of the combination of Jewish and Christian tradition in her life.
My father (from an observant orthodox Jewish family) married out i.e. a non-Jew. For the uninitiated this was not good news. It could have been worse, his mother could have treated him as if he had died. (I can only assume she didn’t, as my mother told me that he did visit her whilst my mother sat in the side-car of our motor bike and waited for him.) As Jewish identity passes down the female line (notable exception is the biblical Ruth) my brother and I were not Jewish and my father’s mother did not acknowledge us as grandchildren.
The 1930’s was not a good time either, some Jews managed to escape Germany, and the Jewish community (many of whom, like my father’s family, were extremely poor) helped to support them. The treatment of the Jews by the Nazis therefore was common knowledge. The accusation that the Jews killed Jesus, a myth that persists today (the Jews were under Roman occupation) kept antisemitism alive and well, up to and including this present day.
My father never talked about his early life so the information given is from my mother who was not a reliable historian. No one told me dad was Jewish, but I discovered it when the adults were talking. Asking my mother was useless as she just said I wasn’t a Jew so I grew up mixing and working with Jews, and enjoying their company including debate, which I love (others called it being argumentative). Rejection played a large part in my life: that of my grandmother and other relatives and also my mother denying part of my identity. Positively, I found discrimination of all kinds an anathema.
It was only as I got older that I wanted to know more, and when we moved to Nottingham and my neighbour used to pass on the Jewish Chronicle (JC) I learnt more about Judaism. It was through nursing in the neonatal unit and taking on the extra role of cultural awareness co-ordinator that I met Rabbi Moshe Perez of the Hebrew independent orthodox synagogue. He was helpful in many ways, not least when my mother died in 1994 and I read my father’s diaries up to his death in 1969, he was able to explain some of the terms my father used that I did not understand. When I attended shul (synagogue) with an organized group, Rabbi Perez recognised and welcomed me and said I could come any time.
I was anxious to explore my Jewish side, however I was a little afraid to go on my own as I feared rejection. I wanted to connect and understand and it has been a long journey throughout my life before I eventually entered the doors of the synagogue, but it has been worth persevering as I have received so much more than I ever expected.
So I started to attend but found the prayer book difficult to follow, however rejection never came and I discovered that neither could many of the women follow the prayer book either (I am not sure about the men). Shul isn’t like church, someone would shout up to the women what page we were on, whilst the Rabbi carried on with the service which is in Hebrew with English translation. I have come to love the way the service is conducted and am now accepted as a regular (that means I go once or twice a month). I am filled with awe as the Ark is opened and the Tora scrolls are brought out, and reading several chapters helps get God’s laws in context. I have learnt what it means about keeping the Sabbath holy, not because it is preached about, but seeing things differently. The sermons (in English) and illustrations are often better than some church sermons. The odd thing is that the women and men are separated and I actually enjoy this. We all come together after the service for refreshments.
Of course it is Jewish not Christian, but there is a Jewish woman who became a Christian at 16 and attends both Shul and Trent Vineyard and everyone knows and they don’t mind. (In the distant past when Jews became Christians it was common practice to go to both until our saintly forefathers told them they couldn’t because “the Jews killed Jesus,” they too didn’t know history). There are two other Christian gentiles who come regularly and I am surprised and delighted how welcoming the people are to us waifs and strays.
Judaism is like Christianity and Islam and other religions, there are different types of synagogues: think of the many Christian denominations.
I wanted to connect with part of my heredity that had been denied me and in doing so discovered a richness and a closeness to God my creator and saviour that I did not envisage. I have also found friendship which I did not expect to find.
The rejection that played a major part in my life does not disappear overnight and despite the welcome both at the synagogue and church I am never free of the fear that I will be rejected.
This has not meant to be an explanation of Judaism indeed it would take more than a blog to do that and not by me. This is just a part of my personal journey to discover the other part of my parentage.
Thank you, Judith.
Love from the PPI Blogger