The Mysterious Us and Them
The Mysterious Us and Them
I was born in London, England, on June 21, 1947. My grandparents came from Russia (paternal) and Poland (maternal) and arrived in England around the turn of the nineteenth century. I have a brother who is four years older than me.
From age five, I attended children’s Shabbat services and Hebrew classes. Ours was a kosher home and we celebrated all the festivals. Pesach was my favorite, as all of my mother’s family gathered at grandma’s house for the seder. My uncle (the oldest male) sat at the head of the table reclining against a large pillow. The women were mostly in the kitchen, helping grandma prepare the meal. As we read through the Haggadah, grandma would pop her head out of the kitchen and ask in a stage whisper, “Nu, nu? How much longer? The food’s ready.” One year, it was finally my turn (as the youngest child) to ask the four questions. I had practiced and felt I could read them without stumbling too much. As I found the correct page, another uncle said, “Okay, Michael, let’s go.” Michael was a younger cousin and, technically, it was his turn. I quietly fumed. A small consolation was when I was asked to open the front door. Maybe this would be the year Elijah would appear?
Who is Little Lord Pom-pom?
In December of my first year in elementary school, our class was taught some songs. I had no clue what the Christmas carols meant, and one afternoon I went home and sang one to my mother. “Who is little Lord Pom-pom?” I asked. It took her a few moments to understand that I was referring to Jesus. Her reply was to govern the following years of my life, “That’s something they believe in.” Thus began the mystery of us and them.
My brother was bar mitzvah and, afterwards, stopped attending shul. There was no bat mitzvah at that time. Our family moved to a more Jewish neighborhood, and I didn’t like the new, unfamiliar shul. I had passed an entrance exam at age eleven to a prestigious public girls’ school. I was incorrectly registered as Catholic. Everyone, except Jewish students, had to attend one weekly church service. It was the Church of England and everything was unfamiliar. It was boring and so quiet. In shul, the gossip of the women in the upstairs balcony often reached loud levels. One of the men downstairs would turn and hiss, “Sha, sha.”
One day my Latin teacher asked me, as she peered over her glasses, “Are you one of them?” I knew by then what she meant and felt very uncomfortable, so I muttered, “I don’t know.” My best friend Pavla was a gentile, but we never discussed religion.
We were given hours of homework even on weekends, and I didn’t feel any inclination to attend shul. My father needed to work on Saturdays, but encouraged me to go. “This is hypocritical!” I raged. “We keep a kosher home. I go to shul, but nobody else in the family does. You can’t pick and choose what bits of religion you want. It should be all or nothing.” Ah, the tactful words of a teenager! I didn’t attend shul anymore and only went on Yom Kippur. Many years later, my father admitted that he had agreed with me but had felt there was nothing he could do.
You’ll Meet a Nice Jewish Boy…
I finished high school and planned to become a simultaneous translator (French/English) in a multi-national agency. My mother wasn’t encouraging, saying, “Why bother? You’ll marry a nice Jewish boy, have children, and bring us naches.” I chose a university program but found that the French classes were awful and that I had to take Mandarin Chinese. So I dropped out, took some bookkeeping and business classes and got a job as a personal assistant. That’s where I heard, for the first time, anti-Semitic jokes and remarks.
My parents insisted on meeting the boys I dated, so I mainly dated Jewish boys. I would meet the occasional non-Jewish boyfriend away from home.
I saw an advertisement for jobs in New York. I had wanted to go to America for a long time. The company would pay for my one-way ticket and obtain my work visa. I was chosen as one of five women out of 200 applicants. I completed all the paperwork, without mentioning any of this to my parents. One Shabbat dinner, with complete lack of tact, I blurted out, “You need to sign these papers. If you don’t, I can sign them myself, as I’ll soon be 21.” The expected outraged chorus ensued, including the calming tones of my brother and his new wife.
I arrived in New York on July 1, 1968, not knowing anyone except the woman who had hired me. I intended to stay for one year. As I began to meet people, I was invited to parties and was amazed when an occasional man would mention that he was Jewish. That was not the norm in England.
So Much More to See . . .
It became time for me to plan my return to England, but I wanted so much to see more of the U.S. I made a friend who was willing to accompany me, and we set off in March 1969 and traveled around the States. There were glorious beaches, interesting people and lots of adventures. One Saturday in August 1969, a friendly woman named Shar invited us to stay the night at her home in Western Washington. We met her husband and their two young children, and later that evening, her brother, Jim, and his wife came over to visit. Jim was attending Bible school and proceeded to tell me of my need to “receive Christ and be saved.” Even though I had no idea what he was talking about, I told him I wasn’t interested.
The next morning, we were awakened by the two kids jumping on us in our sleeping bags in the living room. “We’re going to church today!” they gleefully announced. To be polite, we offered to go with their family.
The church experience was, as I expected, boring. We sang a few hymns, the choir sang and announcements were read. I pondered the meaning of a “potluck,” something I’d never heard of. Then the pastor got up to speak, and I prepared to daydream, as none of this would apply to me. He was talking to them. But at one point, he aimed his finger at me (or so it seemed) sitting in the back row and said, “I wonder if there’s anyone here today who’s lonely?” Not me, I thought. But I knew that, since high school, I hadn’t allowed anyone to get too close to me. He continued, “I wonder if there’s anyone here today who has everything in this world, but doesn’t have anything?” That stopped me. I had everything I needed: a car in England, a man who wanted to marry me, the ease of getting a job. What more could anyone want? I knew though, deep inside, that there was a hole, an emptiness.
My Outer Shell Was Cracking . . .
At the end of the service, we all lined up to shake hands with the pastor as we exited. As I reached out my hand, tears suddenly started dripping onto his hand. My outer shell was cracking. The pastor gently asked if I wanted to go back into the church and chat. I didn’t, but found myself doing so. He asked, “Did you know that Jesus wants to be your friend?” “Hmm,” I mumbled. “Did you know that he knows all about you and still loves you just as you are?” Hmm, that’s interesting, I thought. I don’t remember his next words, although I’m sure he talked about sin and my need for a Savior. Ultimately, he asked if I wanted to pray. I replied, “Sure, where’s the prayer book?” “You don’t need one,” he explained. “Just talk to God from your heart.” I folded my arms across my chest, looked upwards, and said, “God, I don’t know who You are. But I’m tired of doing it by myself, so You have a go.” Pause. “Amen?”
The pastor thought it was a good start. I went outside and, following his instructions, though still not understanding the implications, I told Shar that I had invited Jesus into my heart. Shar was ecstatic and took me to various friends, encouraging me to tell them what had happened. I was overwhelmed by the Christian terminology: “You’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb! The blood has cleansed you from sin! You’ll join him one day in heaven!”
I smiled and welcomed their friendship and joy although I still didn’t understand. In fact, I was rather repulsed at the thought of all that blood, remembering how my mother had ensured that all blood had been cleaned from meat when she koshered it.
Jews in the New Testament?
Shar’s father gave me a modern version of the New Testament. I’ll read anything, so I opened it to the first page. I read the names in the genealogy of Jesus and was stunned. I know these names. What are they doing in their Bible? I continued and came across the fact that Jesus was in the synagogue when he was twelve. Could that be a bar mitzvah? As I continued to read, it struck me: Jesus is Jewish. No one had ever mentioned that. Lately, I hadn’t been too strong as a Jew, but I wasn’t too interested in becoming one of them. But I knew that Elijah, whom I had expected when I opened the door as a young girl, would come to herald the Messiah. And now I knew that the Messiah was Yeshua (Jesus).
Initially, my parents were appalled at my beliefs. But they continued to love me and even accept my husband, a gentile, also a believer in Jesus. Children followed, then seminary and a missionary appointment to Ivory Coast (West Africa).
At first, due to past experiences, I was hesitant to reveal being a Jew. But as I studied the Bible, I relaxed into who I am. I gave several talks, led a few seders, and delighted in teaching non-Jewish Christians about their Jewish spiritual roots. After we settled back into the United States, I began to attend services in Messianic congregations and churches and events at Jewish Community Centers. I tell my Jewish brothers and sisters my story in the hope that they too will recognize Jesus as their promised Messiah.