Girl Meets God
A convert from Judaism to Christianity is surprised to find solace among Messianic Jews.
BY: Lauren F. Winner
prayers is one you will say again on Rosh Hashanah, and on all the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and again on Yom Kippur, when God is making His final judgments about who will live and who will die,whom He will forgive and whom He will punish:Adonai, Adonai, el rachum v'chanun, erech apayim, vrav chesed v'emet, notzer chesed lalafim, nosey avon vafesha v'chatahah v'nakeh
. "The Lord, the Lord, of compassion, Who offers grace and is slow to anger, Who is full of loving kindness and trustworthiness, Who assures love for a thousand generations, Who forgives iniquity, transgression, and misdeed, and Who grants pardon." It is a list, culled from the thirty-fourth chapter of Exodus, of God's thirteen merciful attributes, attributes that, according to the rabbis, shine mostly brightly during the season of repentance.
The prayer, a reminder to God not of our merit but of his capacity to overlook our sin, is sung to a particularly haunting melody, my favorite from the entire cantorial literature. It is minor, and repetitive, and dirge-like, and some people say that Jews wailed its tune as they walked to the gas chambers in Treblinka and Sobibor.
At Brit Hadasha, we sing a mostly-English-but-laced-with-Hebrew song also based on thatslichot
prayer, but this tune is zippy, full of rhyme and vim and pep. In the middle of the song, I slip out of the sanctuary and make my way, through the circle of dancing women, to the ladies' room, where I stare in the mirror and think. I wish for this service to be organic and seamless, but the seams show everywhere. Whatever part of me had come to Brit Hadasha hoping to find the key to marrying Judaism with the cross is disappointed. I am not going to find any answers in a church that thinks clapping and tambourining its way throughAdonai, el rachum v'chanun
is a good idea. "This must be why I hate them," I say out loud to the mirror. "I must hate them because I want them to give me a formula for how to be a Christian Jew and I know their formula will never be my formula."
After I've spent more time than is respectable in the bathroom, I return to my seat next to Steven, settling in for more praise music, a Torah reading and the homily. Across the aisle, a redheaded little girl in a white straw hat smiles at me and dances a little dance.
The rabbi is in the middle of a sermon series on the Book of Joshua. "Well, that's refreshing," I whisper. "A whole sermon series on something from the Old Testament. You would never hear that in a regular church." Steven shushes me before I can climb onto one of my favorite soapboxes, the Christians-think-the-Bible-starts-with-Matthew soapbox.
This week's sermon is on chapter 7. In chapter 7, Achan, from the tribe of Judah, steals some silver and gold and a beautiful robe; Joshua takes Achan to a valley and he is stoned to death. Ever after, the Book of Joshua tell us, that valley is known as the Valley of Achor, which means "trouble."