Girl Meets God

A convert from Judaism to Christianity is surprised to find solace among Messianic Jews.

After converting to Christianity, Lauren F. Winner found she could no more discard her Jewish upbringing than divorced couples can ignore their children or shared histories. Winner's new book, "Girl Meets God," tells the story of her struggle to wed her old traditions to her new faith. In this excerpt, reprinted with permission from Algonquin Books, she has traveled to Memphis during Sukkot, the Jewish harvest festival, for an academic conference and ends up accompanying her Christian ex-boyfriend to a Messianic Jewish temple-where the congregation claims both a Jewish heritage and belief in Jesus


Brit Hadasha is off of I-240, and the building is non-descript. If you didn't know the name means "New Covenant" you might easily mistake it for a Reform synagogue. Steven and I sit in his green two-door for a few minutes, watching the parking lot fill up with the usual assortment of minivans and SUVs, battered Hondas and old Volvos. I watch carfuls of smiling women and children parade into the sanctuary and wonder what I'm doing here. Couldn't I have done this anonymously in New York? Did I really think it was a great idea to spend Saturday at a house of worship with my ex-boyfriend? My hands shake, and I'm contemplating staying in the car and reading a novel for two hours while he goes and prays.


Steven interrupts my reverie. "I like it here because these people are pariahs," he says. "They don't fit in anywhere-not with Jews, not with Christians. Being a Christian means being a pariah, Lauren, it means not fitting in anywhere in this world. Your Episcopalians are no pariahs."

A man clad in a


, a prayer shawl, stands at a podium in the front of the room, and a small choir clusters to his right, leading the congregation through songs that are printed on a transparency and displayed on a large screen. In the corner of the room, a circle of women are dancing, some variation on the hora. I am prepared for that. I've read a recent ethnography of a Messianic Jewish congregation, and the author explains that dancing is an important element of Messianic worship services. I feel an unexpected pull to join them. I have not yet found a group of Anglicans who love Jewish folk dancing.

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