I didn’t know I was Jewish until I was about 12. It didn’t mean much to me even when I found out . I think my dad told me when I found these little black doily-looking hat things in a drawer. My dad (who is not a Jew) told me that Jewish men wore them on their heads. I thought that was weird. There was no visor so how do you keep the sun out of your eyes? He called it a Yamaka. The name sounded as weird as the hat looked. I didn’t like saying it. And I had no intention of ever wearing one.
I had one Jewish friend in grade school, his name was Randy. I remember going to Hebrew school with him one Saturday and then being invited to his Barmitzvah. I was only 12, so mom and dad had to take me…there was lots of food and lots of presents. I remember thinking this being Jewish thing might just work out…except if I had to learn Hebrew and sing it in front of hundreds of people. But just now I wondered if mom wished that Brian and I had gotten Barmitzvah’d. Hmmm…I’m not Barmitzvah’d so that would mean that I’m still a child…which would explain a lot of things…
Back when mom was young it wasn’t very cool to be Jewish. There were slurs and racial prejudice back in the 30’s just like today…so she never said much about it. It was mostly Dad who would tell me about my Jewish relatives. How they were doctors and business owners and in general pretty successful. Even though most of them lived just 30 miles away, I only met a few of them growing up. It wasn’t until I was in town visiting my parents that I finally met that side of the family. All the living ones that is. We had a meal at mom’s aunt Bell and uncle Irving’s place after the Kaddesh for Irv who had passed away about a month earlier. I remember a lot of talking and “Jew food”, as Bell called it. Sweet noodles, borscht and all sorts of other stuff. It was a glimpse into a world that was so different from mine but one that I was part of in a deeper way than I realized at the time.
Mom was never a practicing Jew. What does that even mean? If you practice being a Jew do you actually get better at it? Anyway…her dad wasn’t Jewish either. The story starts to get more interesting when I tried to understand the genealogy…or what little I could find out about it. Apparently my mother’s, mother’s relatives came over from Russia. They lived somewhere around the Caspian sea. Mom would tell me the city was Vilnev, but the closest thing I can find to that name is Vilna (Vilnius) which was in ancient Russia/Lithuania depending on the borders at the time you asked. I guess there were sort of musical borders depending on the political environment at the time. But the intrigue and mystery stops there. Mom doesn’t know (or remember) any more and anybody in the family who might, is either dead or just can’t remember like mom. So I’m a Russian Jew….I guess.
OK ..so my mom is Jewish…how Jewish am I really? Turns out you can’t get any more Jewish. I will die a Jew. The line is always passed through the mother. The Jewish father gives other things…the name…an inheritance, ect. But the “being Jewish” part comes from the mother. Hard to believe because as a society, the Jews are very Patriarchal but in all my study reading a lot of Rabbi’s…there is agreement that any child born of a Jewish mother is Jewish.
So I am Jewish…how would that play out for me in…lets say in Nazi Germany around WWII? I did some reading on the Holocaust…and the purging of the Jews in Germany. Had I been living in Germany under the Hitler regime, I would have gone to the ovens with all the other Jews…even if I had been a Christ follower. Hitler went right to the genealogy. He knew who was a Jew and who wasn’t. If you were a child of a Jewish mother…you were a Jew and you were to be eliminated…killed completely to death. That is pretty sobering to think about even now in 2013.
The fact that I’m Jewish, while tremendously significant, has never really impacted my life. Other than maybe as conversation…and.. Kathy occasionally calls me Rabbi …oh…and I have an odd aversion to pork…(not really) and… I don’t pay retail…(I really don’t…)
There is a part of me who really wants to understand my heritage better and a part of me that says what does it matter now. I’m a Christ follower and my eternal future is secure because of what Christ did on the cross for me despite what my ancestors did to Christ to put him there.
So is there a point to me prattling on about my Jewish-ness? I don’t know. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about. I guess I could feel entitled in a way because I’m one of the “chosen” or I could feel “betrayed” by my own people because I know Christ as Savior and I can’t believe my ancestors missed him when he was walking in the flesh with them. But what I really feel is grateful for being both a Jew and a Christ follower.
The question is (and has always been) …So what? What do I do with this great treasure?
We all have back stories. Some we’re proud of…some not so much. We all have family. In some, the relationships are good…some not so much. We all deal with chains that hold us back or hold us down. Some of us break free…but some are still in bondage.
Where are you?
No matter what your back story is…if it’s rough… if you feel trapped…you don’t have to be defeated. Jesus told us he came to set us free. Free being a spiritual freedom that enables us to celebrate right where we are and know that regardless of the circumstances we can rejoice in what Christ has done for us on the cross. Even in bondage we can live like we are completely free.
If your life is pretty good right now…thank God, and then get ready for some trials. No matter what our circumstances we as believers are called to suffering.
Matt 20:20-28 Jesus told us that he didn’t come to be ministered unto…but to minister…and to give his life as a ransom for MANY
Romans 8:17 – If we are to share in His glory…then we must also share in his suffering.
I’m not even sure I can legally call this a devotion. I don’t know if any of it will resonate with anyone else but me. But still I hope someone is encouraged. I hope someone will be challenged to be more than who they are today. And I hope and pray that if any reader doesn’t know Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior they will consider that they can know him today. If you are interested…please follow the link below.