I was raised by Jewish parents in the San Gabriel Valley, California. Jewish observance in my household was modest. We observed four Jewish holidays a year. We lit candles and exchanged gifts for Chanukah, drove to High Holiday services at the temple, and had wine and matzah for Passover.
My parents sent me to Sunday school at the local synagogue. The only Hebrew I ever learned was “Shema Yisrael.” Sunday school wasn't too interesting. Amid arts and crafts and children's Bible stories, it became a place to meet friends and hang out. From sixth grade onward, I mostly remember seeing grisly Holocaust films. My sense of spirituality was like an empty glass, wanting to be filled but not knowing how.
My sense of spirituality was like an empty glass, wanting to be filled but not knowing how.
Meanwhile my Christian friends in the public schools I attended were enjoying the festive and colorful holidays of Easter and Christmas. When you're one out of three Jewish kids in your school, there's nothing worse than going to other kids' Christmas and Easter parties, knowing that when you go home, you won't get to continue the fun. I grew up hating being Jewish and feeling different.
Religion in my home was not a household word. Unless I brought home a non-Jewish boyfriend, that is. For some reason unbeknownst to me, this really bothered my parents. We hardly ever drove to Shabbat service Friday night (I never knew there was such a thing as a Saturday Shabbat service), but my non-Jewish boyfriends became a big issue. Now that I'd discovered something important and meaningful to me – guys -- it was condemned. Another knock against being Jewish.
After high school, I attended university and my spiritual void deepened. I became an English major reading dozens of famous works including Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, and the like. Swinging back and forth between Why I am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell and Confessions of St. Augustine, it's no wonder I was so confused about the existence of God. The atheistic model worked for me, and my mantras became "absolute power corrupts absolutely" and "live for today, because you might get hit by a turnip truck tomorrow!"
A few years later, I met a non-Jewish man through friends. He had been a non-practicing Christian for many years and, like me, was content just to believe in one God. That worked for me. We were married by the rabbi of the temple I had attended as a child. My parents were ecstatic. After five years of anguishing over relationships with various ethnic backgrounds, they were at this point happy -- even if he wasn’t Jewish.
Sometime after our marriage, I became interested in enlarging my spiritual life. How that strange idea entered my mind, God only knows. By then, I believed in some kind of Higher Power, but who was He or She? And what was Their trip? I had come to believe, for myself, that God dwells within us, and not in religious dogma. I hated organized religion, because it seemed to be used by people to control and hurt others (the Spanish Inquisition and Crusades come to mind).
In my own personal experience, I perceived that religion had been used against me by my parents. It was only important to them when it was convenient, or when it came to something important to me, like my boyfriends, or missing a school event to have to drive to the temple for a high holiday. There was never any Sabbath experience or spirituality in my house. My dad always brought his work home to do on Saturday. My mom lit candles until I started high school, and then quit. There was a spiritual emptiness that I'm not even sure they were aware of.
In my college years, I tried the Eastern religious thing, dabbling in Zen meditation, Buddhism, and Taoism. I even took Kung Fu for several months. So this time, I decided to investigate the truth about Christianity, because it promised eternal salvation and, most importantly, a direct one-on-one relationship with God, which is exactly what I was looking for.
During my inquiry, I talked to ministers, co-workers, and even went to a Bible study at a local Calvary chapel. My husband already knew the Christian drill, having been raised Presbyterian, and having had an ex-wife who was a Baptist minister's daughter. His view was that "God doesn't need a middleman" and was simply waiting for me to come to the same conclusion.
Somewhere along the line I also tapped into Jews for Jesus and started getting their newsletters. Ah, Messianic Judaism, that's the ticket! It all made sense. If the Bible predicted His coming, the rabbis lied. It was right there in black-and-white in the Prophets. Or so I thought.
Then one day while Web surfing, quite by accident, I washed upon the shore of an anti-missionary Web site, Jews for Judaism (http://www.JewsforJudaism.org). I started exploring and found a complete, line-by-line refutation to all the proof-texts that Christians use to proselytize. I could not believe it. On an online inquiry form, I entered my name and number, clicked the submit button, and waited for someone from this crazy outfit to "provide me with additional information."
Someone in Jews for Judaism gave my phone number to Mark Sanders, one of the outreach speakers in the organization. An ex-evangelical minister, Mark had converted to Orthodox Judaism. Now, that's a stretch! Over several phone calls, he gently explained the nature and style of proof-text propaganda the Christians used (and indeed he himself had used) to draw non-religious and unknowledgeable Jews (like myself) into the fold. He spoke with me in a practical, non-threatening way. I was astonished, to say the least, and impressed with his knowledge.
But there was one problem: My husband was still not Jewish.
I read, studied, and read some more. After a few weeks, I came to the conclusion that, indeed, Christianity was a man-made religion that took many of its beliefs from Judaism and turned them into something completely different. I felt relieved that my search was over. It was time to be Jewish!
But there was one problem: My husband was still not Jewish. Believe it or not, he told me that he had always believed in the Old Testament only, and would be honored to become a Jew. Wow, how's that for a willing spouse?
My husband recently converted, after a two-year process, through the Beth Din of Los Angeles. Since I had to study our curriculum with him, I often feel like I converted, too. Our wonderful community made a beautiful chuppah for us that day in our shul. As I observe Shabbat, festivals, and daily rituals, and as I talk and listen to the Almighty in my prayers, the connection to my 3,000-year history and heritage grows clearer every day. Every act I take to follow my faith is another glass of water filling that old, once empty spiritual glass. It's good to be home.