I have the type of nose that identifies me as Jewish.
I sometimes get stopped by the religious radicals handing out candles to women they suspect may be Jewish. They hand me a little baggie with some tea-lights and a booklet on the importance of keeping the Sabbath. Then they whisper about the Messiah, and how he will not come back until I start practicing the Jewish customs like following the Sabbath. I used to argue with them, handing back the candles and making a fuss of the whole thing, but recently, I have taken to accepting them and committing to pray that the Messiah will indeed be revealed to the Jewish people. But I often end with the thought that seems to make them step back: I believe He has already come.
My Jewish identity once seemed external to me because it has external consequences, like being rejected for jobs that require me to work on Saturday (which I don’t do), or uneasy looks from my not-Jewish-but-in-the-know friends when I bite into a bacon cheeseburger (keep kosher, which I don’t do). Between the Jewish holidays and the grieving process known as sitting shiva and the this rather large schnoz that takes up a good portion of my face, I often am reminded that in this country where everyone is an American first, I am different, because I am a descendant of Abraham.
American Jews are allowed to do many things that were not as easily accepted in our history; we are allowed to be non-practicing, ignoring even the holiest of services if we have other obligations. We are allowed to be called to the Torah even if we are women (in some branches of Judaism), and participate in a number of customs and prayers that used to be male only. We are allowed to be gay, to be Buddhist, to be married to people who are not Jewish and have no intention of converting. We are allowed so many things, with just one stipulation – we are not allowed to believe in Jesus.
This causes a problem for me.
As I said before, my Jewish identity used to be just external. It didn’t have the internal piece that I believed it needed to really touch my life. Knowing that I had the blood of the tribes of Levi and Judah racing through me did not make me feel connected in any way to the people who had come before me. I was part of their traditions, but they did not affect my heart.
It wasn’t until I started to read their stories, their prophets, that I began to understand that I was part of something bigger. The more I got to know the books of the Old Testament, the more I understood why it was so important that God had laid them out for us. He had this plan to send a savior – someone who was going to save the people who had so failed the Law that He had given to them to make them better. The laws were not meant to be constricting, but a formula for a happier and healthier life for these people that He’d chosen. But the only success the people managed was a separation from their creator. And so He was going to send this Messiah to come and make things better for them.
And then Jesus came. And we failed to see what God had done yet again.
It was in that place that I wrapped my head around the they-to-we transition. Suddenly, these weren’t the stories of my ancestors, but the truth that is still afflicting my people. We are missing the truth of our identity. We, the Jewish people, were called to carry the line of the Messiah from generation to generation until one day Jesus was born under a terrible bright star in a terribly small stable. And then we were called to follow and reveal Him in all His glory to a fallen world. And again, all we managed to do was create a rift between ourselves and the God who has tried again and again to reach out and pull us close.
I’m reaching back.
My Jewishness is not in my nose, or my traditions, or even in my religious practices. It is in the fact that I see my place in God’s plan, where I am proud to stand among the people who would be used in such an amazing way. I am thankful that even in a world where I am told I can’t be both Jewish and a believer in Jesus as the Messiah, I know the completion of God’s law, not just for His people, but for the world. And no one can tell me that it changes who I am. In fact, it is my connection to my Jewish people.
Rachel Rothspan is a young Jewish believer in Yeshua living in New Jersey. To read more from Rachel’s own blog, check out www.redskyatmourning.com.