Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Like Any Good Jewish Book,

It goes from back to front. But if you want to read it from the beginning, just scroll down to the bottom.

Easter, 2005

The emotions of that last week before entering the Catholic Church were so intense I think I went on autopilot again. We were at the church almost every single night of Holy Week, because in addition to the Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil and Easter, we had a rehearsal on Tuesday...and something else I can't remember, on Monday...and, oh yeah, one last meeting with Fr Hickey. I was ready to bring an air mattress to the church because there was no point in going home.

On Good Friday, the Life Teen kids presented a very moving Passion, and there was the Veneration of the Cross. I found that service difficult. There are still quite a few Catholic practices that seem weird to me, ( like human relics, etc). Fr Bryce Sybley , late of A Saintly Salmagundi, uses the word POD (pious and over devotional) to discibe this sort of thing, and I guess I am not all that POD.

So Holy Saturday came, and I prepared to get drenched. This parish uses a modified garden pond as a dunk tank, and you kneel in it. As I wrote before, I was already baptized and it was probably kosher but there was no record of it, so Fr. Hickey used the language of "Conditional Baptism." To be honest, all I remember of Holy Saturday was being nervous, getting wet, changing into my nice silk suit, running back up the back stairs to the altar, getting annointed, (and getting a nice olive oil mark on the back of my silk suit when the Padre gave me a hug! infact all of us new confirmands had the identical oil stain!), candles being lit, and finally going home and getting out of my high heels. I don't actually even remember Communion, but I remember the Litany of the Saints.

The really miraculous thing about coming into the Church at Easter, happened afterwards, in the following weeks. I felt a growing peace, a real happiness, and a thorough love for Jesus developing in me. This was really confirmed for both my husband and me, with the passing of Pope John Paul II. As he lay dying, on Friday, April 1st, our parish was holding our monthly Adoration. I went in the afternoon, and said a rosary, and later, when my husband came home I told him about it, and he really had the need to go and pray. So we went, spent an hour with the Lord, and then went to our current favorate restaurant, where we toasted John Paul with a great martini. (Was it Chesterton who compared the Catholic Church to a steak and a cigar?, For me it's a steak and a martini!). Adoration is such an incredible blessing.

We both feel that it was his leadership which was instrumental in bringing us into the Church. For me, the fact that he visited Israel was huge, and I remember hearing about it from the Israelis. It was huge for them , too. I'd like to think he is now up there praying for the modern nation of Israel, and maybe he is even their Patron Saint.

That whole week of coverage was amazing. I got up very early to watch the Funeral Mass, but I couldn't rouse my husband! Silly man, he missed one of the most moving experiences, let alone a moment of history. I actually feel I participated in the Mass, and made a spiritual communion. What an honor. I was especially moved, once again, by the Litany of the Saints. And when they tilted the coffin up and all the crowds waved good-bye, I lost it completely.

I made my boss (I work at a jeweler's) buy a few John Paul medals, and although to date, we haven't sold any, I am sure we will. He thought I was nuts, and maybe I am. I also had a wonderful Ex Voto created in Mexico to mark the event. This is what it says:

"Estamos muy agradecios por el milagro de que una muchacha judia y un joven
protestante del Norte de Irlanda hayan tenido un feliz matrimonio durante23 años cuando entraron a la Iglesia Catolica bajo el liderazgo del Papa JuanPablo II el Grande. Pedimos su intercesion y el de todos los Santoa para tenermuchos años mas de matrimonio"

Which translates ( roughly) as:

"We are very grateful for the miracle that a Jewish girl, and a protestant boy from Northern Ireland were happily married for 23 years, when they entered the Catholic Church under the leadership of Pope John Paul the Great. We ask his intercession and that of all the Saints to have many more years of marriage."

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Chapter 24

The weekend of Palm Sunday was fast approaching, and with it, a little conference in New York called "Jews & The Church". This was sponsored by The Association Of Hebrew Catholics, a group I discovered early on. I had been corresponding on their Mailing List, reading, argueing, asking, and generally getting to know a few other Jewish Catholics. My experience, as I think I have noted before, was more mainstream Jewish than many of the people I corresponded with, but I had begun feel a real kinship with the group.

I wasn't going to go, because, of course, I had to be at Holy Family for Palm Sunday. After my dream, however, I knew I had to go for the Saturday session, at least. I was going to take one of those China Town buses but the schedule didn't work, (and then one of them caught fire and my husband wouldn't hear of it). In fact, believe it or not, it is very hard to get to Boston from New York late on a Saturday night! So I ended up having to leave really early, before all the Klezmer, New York catering, and good times!

But I was able to hear Roy Schoeman, author of Salvation is from the Jews, Ronda Chervin, Author of a lot of stuff, Rev. Joseph Koterski, S.J. from Fordham University (terrific guy), and Mark Drogin of Remnant Of Israel, former hippie and now father and grandfather to multitudes of Catholic children. His talk on Saint Joseph ( it was the Feast of Saint Joseph) was really good.

The very best part, though, for me, because I am a delinquent, was hanging out in the Ladies Room and kibbitzing with Dawn Eden.
The fact that my old digital camara took such lousy pictures inspired me to buy a new one immediately! I also met many of the people I had been corresponding with. It was really great, and what was so refreshing was how normal everyone was. That may sound strange, but I have been to a variety of events like this, everything from the UMJC Conference, the Christian Embassy Conference, The Judeo-Christian Zionist Conference in Freeport, Long Island, and the Jews For Jesus " Ingathering".

Without exception, every one of those events, although fun and with a few highlights, could be characterized as long on emotion (and emoting) and short on scholarship. Thank God there were no beribboned tamborines at this thing! I mean really, you could actually be seen in public with these people! With all due respect to these fine ladies, but would you show this picture around the office?

Chapter 23

The Dream and What Followed

This appeared here on March 14. I am reprinting it with some modifications as Chapter 23.

I had the most extraordinary experience, just before I woke up that day. I share it because it is so odd and so unlike anything that has happened to me.

Just before I woke up I had a dream. This is what happened:

My mother and a Jewish woman I know were living in an assisted living place. (they don't in reality, and don't even know each other) The woman was suffering from depression, and my mother asked what she should do. We were sitting at a table in a conference room, and I said " She wears a rosary during the day,(?) BUT, she should actually wear a Miraculous Medal, during the day and while she sleeps so she will know someone is always watching over her."My mother walked out of the room a little annoyed and said, "I knew you'd give an answer like that!"

Then I woke up, and told my husband about this very explicit dream. He told me maybe I should try it, because I tend to get a little depressed. So when I got dressed I pinned the Miraculous medal they gave us at RCIA inside my clothes.

Later that same day:

I was at work, and the carpenter came in asking for my boss."Tell him 'an angry Jew' is here" (he was kidding around) Turns out he is actually an active duty sniper on temporary leave from the army, and just back from Iraq. He was raised Chabad, and was very frumuntil he entered the army eight years ago. Now, you have to understand how unusual it is to meet someone like this in Southeatern Massachusetts. He was a really funny guy, and when I told him I was a Christian, he said..."Well, I'm a Jewish carpenter and you'll have to answer to me one day!"

When he told me he was probably going back to Iraq I reached into my wallet, and without thinking, I gave him one of my most treasured possessions, my segulah (amulet)from Rachel's Tomb.Now, long before Madonna discovered the Red String Bracelet, Jewish mothers have beenpinning red ribbons on their chidren to protect them from the Evil Eye.

Stay with me, this IS going somewhere. I had a laminated card I carried in my wallet, with a piece of red ribbon from Rachel's Tomb, that came from an Israeli charity called "Refuah/ Yeshuah".(Isn't that lovely? "The healing of Jesus", although they meant it as "The healing of Salvation"). Just for the record, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the "Kabbalah Center".The Jewish sniper was very touched and said he was sending out a care package to another Jewish buddy in his unit, and he would include it. I was thrilled and even though I have carried this card for about 15 years, I felt this was the right thing to do. Besides, there is nothing I like better than Kick-ass Jews.

I had a feeling this was somehow related to my Miraculous medal.It wasn't until I came home and looked up Rachel's tomb, that I realized my two Compassionate Mothers are in league together!!

"Only a mother who bore a child in her own womb could plead on
behalf of her children with such passion.
, the Matriarch of Israel, is always there for us at the road
to Bethlehem, praying for her children.Let us pray that we be found worthy of
Rachel's petitions, and for G-d's forgiveness".

Rabbi Buchwald's Weekly

I never realized the connection between Mary and Rachel. Now I am convinced that Rachel isn't weeping for me anymore, because I have returned from Exile, through Mary's intercession. Yes, I really wrote that....And Rachel became my Patron Saint.

Chapter 22

Thursday nights came and went (and we loved them), and every Sunday we'd go to the 9 o'clock service and get dismissed with a blessing, before Communion. I hated sensing the eyes of the whole church on us as we left . I won't miss those Sunday sessions with the "Team" members. Make no mistake, they are all wonderful and well meaning people, but I don't respond well to little candle-lighting ceremonies and guided visualisations. I hope I don't sound self centered, but judging by what various people said to me, they got more out of my contributions than I got from them. I did, however, get to know some terrific people .

There eventually came an evening when I threw a real wobbly. We were reading the passage about the sheep and goats, I think, and about who is righteous and who isn't. I can't really remember all the details but I felt I had to make a defense of all my observant Jewish ancestors. I said they were more righteous than the supposedly "good" Catholics who had attacked them, in Poland. Weren't these people Catholics who attended Mass all the time? Surely they went to Confession? Did they confess the murders of faithful Jews who clung to their faith in God? Surely the faith of those Jews was not in vain. I was angry and I was crying and I was challenging Fr. Hickey and all of those in the room.

To my utter amazement, Fr. Hickey agreed with me. So I came back the next week. I still felt as though I would bolt. Each landmark in the journey was approached with trepidation. Fr. Hickey always told me I had that "deer in the headlights" look and I am sure I did. I think I still do when I go up for communion. Some part of me is still terrified I am doing it wrong.

In February we were taken to the Cathedral to meet the Bishop, at the official "Rite of Welcome". I Think, from that point on, I put myself on autopilot until after the Easter Vigil. I knew I believed and I really wanted to go through with it, but I also couldn't handle it. I don't know how to adequately explain that. I had to do it all as if I was observing someone else, which may be why it is difficult to write these last bits.

I threw myself into making a dress to wear to the Easter Vigil. I threw myself into my blog. I became involved in poor Terri Schiavo's story. I threw myself into trying to find a Patron Saint. This was particularly difficult. It was like....imagine th Ulster Protestants are the Catholic Church, and Cromwell is a favorite saint......

On March 14th I had a dream and a situation which I believe came from God. It helped me to know i was on the right track.

To be continued.......

Chapter 21

So every Thursday we became more deeply convinced we were doing the right thing. One evening, after a class about Christ's presence in the Eucharist, my husband said something I thought was really profound.

"Jesus said 'I am with you always' , always....that's Him in the Eucharist"

And it just made all the sense in the world. It was the big turning point for him, and, indeed his spiritual life has changed dramatically. I was deeply affected by the changes I saw in him, as well.

But the reality of actually going through with it is altogether different. There came a time when we were "welcomed" as catechumens, to the parish. This involved a ceremony where we were to knock on the door, and say "we seek Truth", and Fr. Hickey responded "We have Truth". From there, our sponsors would pray over our eyes, our hands, our hearts, our feet, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us. We were then all given crucifixes. It was a very nice ceremony, but it was also weird.......... I took a deep breath and thought to myself, "okay....just get through this".
My dear sponsor remarked afterwords that she really felt God's presence during this thing, and I'll have to take her word for it. I just felt scared.

There also is a really great thing about this parish. The priest made himself so available to everyone. We were encouraged to schedule appointments with him so we could just hash things out. This was especially important for me, as I was forever finding strange antisemites hiding in good Catholic sites all over the place. Once, I followed a link from A Saintly Salmagundi, Fr Bryce Sibley's sorely missed Blog, to something about relics, which then led to a site about St Gemma Galgani........and I discovered it was hosted from a cesspool. I had found my way to a stench filled pit of the most vile antisemitism. So I did the right thing, and alerted all the sites who had linked to it. I got platitudes back in my emails. I mean........please, I know a thing or two about this stuff.

At one point, I had an open house at my studio, and the director of the RCIA program came. It was alot of fun and a friendly conversation stared when a fellow parishioner showed up. He informed us that he'd had 12 years of Catholic education, and that he loved the movie "The Passion of The Christ". Especially, he said, because it showed who REALLY killed Christ, 'if ya know whadimean' (wink wink nudge nudge)............

So I said, "yeah, you mean the Jews, right?", and turned to the RCIA director and asked how it was possible that he got through 12 years of Catholic school, and never learned Christ died as a result of everyone's sin? After she pulled her jaw off the floor, she responded that it was a damned good question. To which I responded, "Welcome to the life of every Jew in the whole world".

Chapter 20

So began our Thursday routine. Every week we'd meet in the dank basement at Holy Family in Rockland, where Father Hickey would take us through Church history, doctrine, prayer, "The Reforms" (his name for Vatican 2), a little Gaelic, some stand-up (he'll kill me for that), and a whole lot of of incredible insight. At least half of the roughly 25 people in the room were the "team", the sponsers and fellow travelers who couldn't get enough of the energy generated in that room.

We'd begin each class with a touchy feely prayer session. We'd hold hands and sing an awful song the padre is very fond of and then go around the circle with our prayer requests if we felt comfortable enough. I am not the biggest fan of this sort of thing, but I am in the minority in this group. Fr. Hickey would then launch headlong into his lesson/monologue/routine.....

I need to discribe this particular priest. He is a wirey working class Irish boy from Dorchester with the broadest Boston accent you could possibly come across. He's loud, earthy, honest, extremely humble, extremely bright and well read, and because of his leadership, this parish contradicts everything you have all been reading about Boston. The parking lot is always full, the congregation breaks records for giving, and every Mass is always ALL ABOUT JESUS, because Hickey is all about Jesus. It's hard not to become a Hickey gruopie, and we all fight that temptation.

Needless to say, by the third week, my husband was chafing at the bit to get to class, and falling in love with the Catholic Church. I on the other hand was very skittish. They all tell me they were sure I wouldn't be there the next week, but I always came back.

Chapter 19

Having found this cross in the street, I showed it to the two friends from the base who were in Tel Aviv with me. One of them was a Dane who had seen military action in all sorts of scary places and the other one was a "film maker" (not a real successful one, let me add) from California. They both told me "Throw it away, you don't want that, not here!!!" But I did want it.

It was early Autumn when I got back to the States. I really didn't think I could go through with it. This is the Catholic Church we are talking about here....Then big old scary original one, and I'm Jewish....... While I was in Israel, my husband attended an RCIA class one of the parishes here in town. It was not a resounding success. There was only one other inquirer, and the "team member" was woman with a classic Boston "Yes Fathah, anything you say Fathah" type attitude, and the priest, although a very wonderful person, was barely comprehensible in English. So we let it slide for a bit. My knitting group of mostly reform Jewish women was not overly enthusiastic as you can imagine, so the idea sat for awhile.

By January I was really hungry to find out if the Catholic Church was the place for me. I had been reading all the Catholics I could online, and I had encountered one or two orthodox Jews who were Catholic, or wanted to be. One fellow, a black hat type I was writing to. was attending Mass, sitting in the back in his kippah, and really believed with all his heart, but couldn't imagine a life with out study at the Kollel.

So I got up the guts and knocked on the door of the other parish in town. I just drove up to the rectory, rang the bell and said, "can I talk to someone about RCIA?" I was introduced to the director of religious education, and we proceeded to have a two hour gab fest. My first words to this wonderful woman were "I am absolutely terrified." She informed me that classes would start in the Autumn, and would actually be at a church in a neighboring town. She took my number and that was it.

We began to attend Mass, and familiarize ourselves with it. Some priests were more interesting than others, some were just doing their jobs, but almost every single one gave a homily that was based on the text. We found that very refreshing. We also received all sorts of bad advice from the Catholics in the pews, like......"Of course you can receive communion, everyone can", but we knew better.

In June, we got a call from the woman I'd met in January, with the date of the RCIA class in September. I duly wrote it into the calendar, and informed my husband. In September I said to my husband "RCIA starts this month"

He replied "That's nice"

The week class was to start, I said to my husband "We start RCIA this week"

He replied "That's nice"

On Wednesday, I said to him "We have RCIA tomorrow night"

He replied "Oh yes, that's right."

On Thursday morning I said "Class is at the church, at 7 p.m.", and later that day I called him to ask if we should take two cars, or would he pick me up.

He replied "I'll pick you up at 6:30"

At 6:45 he rang up to say he was just leaving the office, but was stopping to pick up a bottle of scotch and he'd be home around 7:15.

Me: "Okay, but we'll be late for RCIA"

Him: " Oh that's right!! I completely forgot!!!! I'll meet you there!"

Can you say "Ulster Protestant Mental Block", boys and girls?

Chapter 18

During that second trip to Israel, I took a trip to the Galilee, and was very moved by a visit to Capernaum, especially an overlooked site, the probable house of St Peter's mother-in-law. Now, mother-in-law jokes aside, this little, nondescript house/church was renovated and fussed over for centuries before falling into disuse due to the Moslem Conquest(...........tell me again about "imperialism"?) I found that to be very interesting, even though the site is marred by a flying saucer, I mean church, on stilts, built over it.

By far, the most astonishing thing to happen as far as I was concerned, occured on the street in Tel Aviv, on my second weekend. I was staying downtown, near the beach and the U.S. Embassy. As I walked to my hotel I looked down, and there in the street was a palm sized, wooden crucifix. More properly, it had been a crucifix, but the Corpus was missing. What remained was the little silver titulus crucis and the silver wire crown of thorns.

I picked it up in amazement, to find this in the very middle of Tel Aviv! I knew it could be interpreted in two ways. Either the Cross is garbage, so throw it away, or the Cross is treasure, masquerading as trash. I took it to mean the latter, and also I felt something else. I felt it was not only a confirmation for me that I was on the right path, but also that Jesus is intrinsically tied to his native people. He's hidden there, within the Jews in some mystical way. I don't understand it all, but that is what I understood, at the moment I found that cross in the street. I knew at that moment I believed in Jesus beyond a doubt.

Chapter 17

Several amazing (some terrible) things happened during that second trip to Israel, most of them on one particular night. First of all, I went to Mike's Place,

Mike's Place

on the beach in Tel Aviv, to have a beer and toast the memories of those who had died in the bombing there, about six months before. As I raised my glass, I saw a sight which brings fear into any heart familiar with the Middle East: a News crew...... They were with Thomas Friedman who had come there to interview the bartender, a survivor of the blast. He and his crew then decided to interview the soldiers we were with, so there went dinner.

Thomas Friedman at Mike's Place

Then my rented cell phone rang and it was my mother in tears. Was I alright? There'd been a suicide bombing outside an army base. Yes, I'm fine , I told her, I am on the beach in Tel Aviv,

The beach in Tel Aviv

near the American Embassy.....Perhaps not the smartest thing to tell my worried mother. That same night, a lovely little cafe in Jerusalem was bombed, killing a bride to be and her father, as well as a Palestinian Christian who worked there.

As I was there three weeks, I had two weekends. The first was spent in a Jerusalem neighborhood about two miles as the crow flies from Ramallah.

Beautiful, but only a couple of miles from Ramallah

I spent Shabbat with some very old, close friends from our days in the Messianic Movement. Around the dinner table on Friday night were an assortment of very Orthodox looking people. Men with beards, tzitzit, black pants, white shirts, women with head scarves and long sleeves and several babies, the full kit. However out of this whole crowd, only one other person, beside myself was actually, really and truly Jewish.........This was Messianic Role Playing at it's very finest. And it's hard to be too harsh about it because as we celebrated the Sabbath, the sounds of sirens and helicopters flying toward the Mukata would interrupt the proceedings. I also discovered that in the real Hasidic community in Israel, there are not a few hidden Christians, several of them Catholic.

to be continued.....

Chapter 16

With Gene Robinson installed as the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, my husband broke with the church of his childhood. The pastor called him to ask what was wrong. (Gee, you'd think he could figure it out?) My husband said "This is not my Grandfather's church anymore" to which the pastor replied, "No...It is not". Well, since Grandfather had been a very respected clergyman whose faith was a model, I guess the case was closed.

So now what do we do? I was getting ready for my second trip to Israel with Sar-el, and since we already considered ourselves catholic (as in Oxford Movement) we contacted the local Roman Catholic parish to find out how one went about joining. We had a lot of trepidation and I for one, was absolutely terrified. Most of what I could learn, I was getting from the internet sites I mentioned in Chapter 14. I don't know why, really, but I decided to teach myself the Rosary. I decided that my trip to Israel would be a time of prayer, and that I would learn rosary, using a diagram found on a Catholic site. I told no-one about this. I also bought a wonderful icon to take with me. It was painted by the rather heterodox Robert Lentz but it is one of my favorites. It shows Mary behind the barbed wire of a concentration camp, and wearing a yellow star of David. Jesus is shown in her womb, dressed in a Tallit, with a Torah scroll. It is based on a very famous icon called the Madonna of the Sign. Three guesses as to why this particular icon appealed me.

I was learning more and more about the Catholic faith, and I was fascinated by it. I wanted to read about, or talk to observant Jews who had become Catholics. This was actually more of a problem than you might realize. Many of the Jews who have become very public converts are from nonobservant, very assimilated or atheistic backgrounds. I am not all that interested in their testimonies, because, frankly they never knew a whole lot about being Jewish in the first place. Many folks I read about couldn't even be described as culturally Jewish. There are a couple of famous 19th century converts but there again, they were fancy assimilated German Jews. I'd had enough of them in Reform Judaism! I wanted to talk to someone who had what the orthodox call "Ahavat Yisrael". I'm not a very cerebral person, I just wanted to be able to relate to someone! That is, in part, why I am writing this.

Also, Jews in the Church tended to be low key, and not want anyone to know they were Jewish. You have probably come to realize that wouldn't describe me. I joined Steve Ray's forum, and the Association of Hebrew Catholics and basically introduced myself by asking if there was anyone from an observant Jewish background I could talk to. Some of you reading this may remember that.There were one or two who came out of the woodwork.

I also asked for prayer for my upcoming trip to Israel. At the mention of Israel, all the trolls came out! Once again, welcome to every Jewish life. But equally many really good people assured me of their prayers.

So with my Rosary and icon packed away, I took off for Israel once again, and my husband took off for the first class of RCIA at a nearby parish. I fell in love with the Rosary. I don't pray the rosary enough, but what an absolutely precious devotional tool it is! I was in Israel during the Hebrew month of Elul. Elul is the month before Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippor, the High Holy Days. Therefore it is a penitential month for introspection and prayer. One of the custems is to blow the shofar every morning of Elul.

I would be sitting there on the base early, before breakfast, in a secluded spot learning the Rosary, and a rooster somewhere would crow. Then I would hear a distant shofar sounding as an observant Jew conducted his Elul devotions. What a magical sound, echoing off the hills in Israel. This was all preparing me for what was to happen next.

Chapter 15

Many cradle Catholics have told me they never thought of Catholicism from a Jewish perspective, and have learned alot here about Jewish Law and tradition. This is understandable, especially for those raised as Catholics. For me, however, unless I could see how Catholicism was Jewish, it didn't count.

I admit to a certain bias here. I really believe that the Jewish Covenant came from God so it's going to take something more than just some Christian saying so , to convince me that Jesus is not only the Messiah, and divine, but also that the Catholic Church is the place to be. If I can't find the Jewish roots, fuhgetaboudit.

That is why, when I came upon an article about gehenna at the Aish haTorah website I was especially intrigued. Here was the Jewish teaching on a subject I had thought was uniquely and strangely Catholic, Purgatory! There it was, all laid out. The reason we say the Kaddish for a year after a loved one's death is to help our deceased through the purification neccesary to enter the presence of God. Now the Sages, unhindered by minor details like "We have no way of really knowing" taught that only the most utterly wicked spend a whole year there, and since only God knows who the truly wicked are, we err on the side of caution and pray the whole year for everyone.

My dad died about a year and a half ago so this subject was on my mind. Another distinctly Catholic thing, that gets Protestants all in a twist, is the veneration of saints. Well, there again, it's an old established Jewish tradition this former Reform Jew had no idea about. All over Israel, and infact, all over the world wherever Jews have lived, are the burial places of famous rabbis and sages. Many observant Jews, and especially Jews from the Mediterrenean areas, will visit these tombs with regularity, and pray the Psalms there. Basically the rabbis tell you that you can ask God to grant your prayer request based on the "merit" of the saintly sage whose tomb you are visiting.

The Rebbe's Tomb

I experienced this directly back at the Lubavitch retreat I attended. The highlight of the visit was a field trip to the Rebbe's Tomb, quaintly called in Hebrew "The Rebbe's Tent" harking back to Abraham's Tent. We were encouraged to write our prayer requests down and once there, we would pray, tear up our paper with the requests and scatter them over the graves of the Rebbe and his father, the previous Rebbe. I had a whole shopping list, and I am pleased to report, that most of the things I prayed for were granted.

All around the graves were people devoutly praying the Psalms. All kinds of people, some clearly religious, some clearly not, and some clearly not Jews at all. Coming up in a couple of weeks, on the evening of May 26, the holiday of Lag b'Omer will begin in the Galilean town of Meron and tens of thousands of Jews will decend on the place, to pray and party at the tomb of Rabbi Simon Bar Yochai. Okay, so it's not the Festa San Gennaro (warning, musical website...)
but it's certainly more exotic !

So many people think Catholics pray to the Saints, (including that Lag b'Omer article I linked to above) instead of with them. I thought so too, until I began to understand the Jewish veneration of saints. Now I really love the Saints. To me, the Litany of the Saints was one of the best parts of both the Easter Vigil, and John Paul the Great's funeral.

More tomorrow......I usually take a day off but next week my house will be filled with various Ulster relations who have no idea we're catholic so...I have to be cagey........

Chapter 14

All day yesterday I was experimenting with the title for this thing. First I was calling it "Matzoh Ball Cinderella", a name I came up with in the shower and that has no particular meaning. I like it. Now I have dubbed it "Once a Chicken, Now a Fish" and I felt I should explain.

The title refers to the punchline of a very old Jewish joke, which reveals alot about Jewish attitudes about conversion, Catholics, and other things I can't quite put my finger on. But here is the joke:

An old Jewish man lived next door to the church for years and one day he decided to become a Catholic. So he went to the priest and said "I vant to convoit". So the priest said, "You're an old man, you've been happy your whole life being a Jew, you don't need to convert". But the old man insisted. Again, the priest tried to put him off. The old man came back yet again and said "I vant to convoit". At this point the priest was fed up with him and said, "Okay I'll make you a Catholic, but remember, Mass every Sunday and NO MEAT ON FRIDAY!".

So the priest raised his hands over the old man's head and intoned "Once a Jew, now a Catholic. Once a Jew, now a Catholic. Once a Jew, now a Catholic". The old man went home and was very happy.

Some months later the priest dropped in to visit him on a Friday, and the delicious scent of chicken soup filled the man's apartment. "Irving", he cried, "You are a Catholic! NO MEAT ON FRIDAY!"
to which the old man replied "it's not meat" and he raised his hands over the pot and chanted "Vonce ah chikn, now ah fish!"


So I came back from Israel, determined to go back the very next year. I put together a powerpoint presentation, and brought to the local Reform Temple, where a few idiots decided to pontificate about what a racist state Israel was, based on their visit there as college students back in the "golden age" (ie. the 60's). The best talk I gave was at a ritzy private school. I showed them this picture, and asked them who they thought these guys were.

Most of them said, "Palestinians?" "Arabs?" and I was able to tell them, no, Israelis. One guy's family escaped from Yemen and the other guy's family escaped from Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Episcopal Church was racing headlong into obsolescence. My husband began to get more and more dissillusioned with it. One day, we had a conversation with someone who not only sang in the choir, but was on the Vestry, and was very involved with the church. Her very liberal and unorthodox views prompted the question " What makes your beliefs any differant than the Unitarians down the road?" She replied "very little, just the aesthetics". And there you have a brutally honest assessment of what the Episcopal Church is all about: Unitarians in Catholic clothing.

And then of course, there's the thorny little issue of Gene Robinson. The church of my husband's youth was rapidly become unrecognizable. He stopped going. The people in our community thought it was because of some internal parish politics, and for some reason the issues facing the larger church were simply ignored.

And I was undergoing an internal change as well. I wanted to be in a religious environment where it was okay to be devout. I wanted a devotional life in community like I saw amongst the orthodox Jews. I also wanted the stability of tradition. I started to read all sorts of things on the internet. I discovered the wonderful "Ask Moses" site, where you could get an answer from a Lubavitch rabbi any hour of the day or night. I don't know how, but somehow I found my way to the Catholic Bloggers (See you guys? it's ll your fault!).

At this point, it is only appropriate to thank people like Fr.Bryce Sibley, Kathy Shaidle, and Rod Dreher with whom I corresponded and who helped me along the way. I also want to thank Mark Shea, who I think deserves a kick in the keester, especially about Israel, but whose website also provided alot of good information. All of these writers have at least two things in common: they are catholic, and they appreciate a good vintage. Most of them have cool taste in music and movies, important stuff like that.

I began to see that Catholicism is kosher. I mean that much more deeply than just a cute phrase. Catholicism has the devotional life of the Orthodox Jews, and many of the very same attitudes about things. Catholicism has Halacha, certain rules which are there to benefit the spirit. And you can daven, with various devotions like the rosary. There are sacramentals, earthy mnemonic devices to help your prayer life.

But best of all, Catholicism has the Blessed Sacrament. In every synagogue, there is an ark with the Torah in it, and over it, the "Eternal Light" or ner tamid, as we call it. When the Torah is taken out, everyone stands and reverences the Word of God. Also there is a lovely tradition, now imitated in Reform Temples where no one pays any attention to the Torah, of touching it and kissing your fingers, or with the fringe on the prayer shawl. In the Church this has become the Tabernacle, and the Word of God Himself reposes there. And you know He's there because the ner tamid is lit by the Tabernacle.

To be continued.........

Chapter 13

Israel awakened my spirit. I was there during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. I really felt I was on a mission to encourage the Israelis, but what I got was so much greater than anything I gave. I remember one night, a bunch of giggly young new recruits, mostly girls, were working late. I was intrigued and wanted to meet them, so I asked their commanding officer if I could help out. I sat down with a table full of fresh faced Israeli girls a year or two older than my girls and we sat, packing small packets of pills. It was Cipro, in a dosage for infants, in the event of a biological attack.

The girls.

On that visit , part of our work was to ready the emergency kits which would be distributed to all Israelis, and put in their sealed rooms. Many Israelis had no idea there were volunteers who came to help, and almost everyone I met was near tears when I told them why I was there. One young soldier told me "Today you changed my life. We complain about this work, but you came here for to do it for nothing, and from America!!" That is when I knew that what I was involved with was bigger than me, the soldiers, everything. I knew it was about God. I was embarrassed that the Israelis made such a fuss over me. After all, what is the big deal about taking time out of a nice comfortable middle class life for a lousy three weeks when these people live with this fear every day?

Its so easy to live a Jewish life in Israel. Everywhere else, being Jewish is like a "special condition", but in Israel the rhythm of life flows from the Jewish perspective. Even if you are the most secular atheist, you still live according to those rhythms. The weekend starts on Thursday night, everyone buys flowers for Shabbat, and many things close before sundown on Friday. All the Jewish holidays are the secular ones too.

I was there during Chanukkah, and Chanukkah was what it ought to be, a national festival celebrating an ancient military victory, not a shadow Christmas. You'd walk through the street and you'd see the chanukiot, menoras, outside, where they are supposed to be, lighting up the streets. The next day many of the little glass oil lamps would be laying broken on the pavement the way pumpkins lie smashed after Halloween. All the restaurants have menoras out front, and when you drive through the hills around Jerusalem you can see enormous menoras atop some buildings, lit with gas flames....beautiful.

Chanukah concert for the soldiers on the seventh night of the festival.

I knew how much I loved Israel, and my heritage and culture, but I also knew that if I were to live the Jewish life I wanted, I would have to go it alone. My husband's heart was not in orthodoxy, and I myself didn't know how I could ever learn to keep kosher, and follow all the rules. I love spending Shabbat with my observant friends, but in order to have that life, I'd have to leave the one I have worked so hard at. I'd have to sacrifice a wonderful marriage to a man I am still in love with, and I would have to alienate my children. Why would God want me to destroy these precious lives? He wouldn't.

And then there were my other issues with Halacha, Jewish Law. I won't go into a long discussion here, because I am not a theologian, but there was one issue that really bothered me. In Jewish law, there is an issue that rarely gets a mention, that of the mamzer, the illegitimate child. Now, Jewish law in this regard is not like modern law, in that illegitimacy is not the same as "out of wedlock. In Jewish law, a child born of adultery or incest is considered to have an inheritable spiritual defect which follows through all subsequent generations. A mamzer can only marry another mamzer. This isn't a rabbinic interpretation, its right there in in Deauteronomy 23:3. Leaving modern sensitivities aside for the moment, we've been around as a people a very long time, and most of our records are lost. How would anyone today know if they had this "spiritual stain" in their background? This is a very tough issue in the observant community when it comes to the children of an adulterous relationship. "Adultery" can happen very easily if one partner ceases to be religious, and gets a secular divorce. If the religious partner remarries and has children, those children are considered mamzerim.

So who has the power to remove this strange spiritual defect?( "mum" strange; "zer" defect").
Two words: Jesus Christ.

More tomorrow........
p.s. strange and funny thing: when I did the "spell check" the word manger came up as a replacement for mamzer!

Chaoter 12

My Quest......

Did I mention I love to read the comments boxes?

Someone has mentioned that there's plenty of antisemitism in the Catholic Church, and while that is more than evident, there is a huge difference in scale between the Episcopal Church and the Catholic Church. It also helps that the guy at the top, though not perfect made it a priority to repair the damage between the Church and the Jews. Canterbury, on the other hand, which can't seem to put together a lucid sentence about anything at all, seems to find all the words it needs when condemning Israel. Antisemitism?.....Welcome to the fact of every Jewish life.

So Passover was marred by this appalling act on Seder night, and the Israelis launched the now infamous Jenin campaign. Soon the horror stories began to mount in the media. A city destroyed, a massacre of huge proportions, innocents dead, and the smell of corpses in the air. I couldn't believe it. I didn't want to believe it, and in the end I didn't have to believe it because most of what the media was peddling was a well orchestrated propaganda campaign on the part of the the Palestinians.

An Israeli reservist, a doctor, published his version of what he had seen, after he read a completely fictitious account in the LA Times. Fifty six Palestinian fighters were killed, and infact this Israeli had treated some of their injured, and 23 Israeli soldiers were killed in an ambush.

This guy was one of the survivors of the ambush in Jenin.

About two months after Sheila McVicar of the BBC had breathlessly informed the world of Israeli "atrocities", the UN and the Palestinians confirmed, there were 56 Palestinian casualties, most of them armed combatants, and although the neighborhood where they were shooting from was in sorry shape, the rest of the city was business as usual.

Of course, the pastor at our Episcopal church didn't let facts intrude on his sermons where we heard endlessly about the vile Israelis, and our terrible president......bla bla bla.... As I was sitting there, I thought......What the HELL AM I DOING HERE? And that was it. I made up my mind, there and then to go to Israel to show my support. I was tired of feeling helpless and everything came to a head. 9/11, Israel, my own life, I needed to make a statement to the world and to myself.

My husband was on the vestry, and said that as soon as his term was up he was out of there. He was fed up as well, and although he was terrified at my choice to go to Israel at a time when it looked very dangerous, he would never have stopped me, because he could see and understand my determination. I had to do this. Deep down inside, I had to do it for my daughters. They needed to see that something important was worth taking a risk for. I remember saying to people, "What's the point of living, if you can't do something that has meaning?" I knew there was risk, but I grew up believing, and still believe, that Israel is always going to be the safest place to be a Jew. Jews go to Israel, period, the end.I was appalled that the ridiculous "Reform" Jews of my area were trying to convince me not to go. I was appalled that the American Jewish community had cancelled their trips, with the exception of the Orthodox.

on the base

I did my web research and discovered a wonderful program, Sar-el. This program, which is run under the auspices of the Israel Defence Forces, brings volunteers from any background or ethnic group to Israel, to do the sort of grunt work reservists would do. This is the "epitome" (smirk alert...) of a luxury vacation: For three weeks, you sleep on a board, you eat the most awful army chow (but it IS kosher), you wear disgusting old IDF uniforms and shoes that don't fit, and you do fascinating work, like take old stuff out of old boxes and put it all into new boxes. And all you have to pay for is your airfare.

I think we were actually doing something useful, but the best part was the look on the beleaguered Israeli soldiers faces. "You paid to come here and do this for us?" It changed my life forever. I've gone twice, and in March I hope to go again.

I know the last few chapters haven't been all that funny, but I hope you are all still getting something out of my story. I promise...The Catholic stuff is coming soon!

Chapter 11

I was pretty angry inside. I felt I'd made bad choices with consequences I could not change. I didn't like where we lived, I didn't like seeing my children grow up without the kind of Jewish community I'd grown up with, I was ashamed of our romance with nutty fundamentalism, and I didn't like feeling powerless about it all. My husband was attending the Episcopal Church, and bringing our children, and occasionally I'd join them, because I actually missed the ritual. On Christmas Eve we'd go to the "Teddy Bear " Mass at Boston's Church Of the Advent. It's called the "Teddy Bear" Mass because everyone brings children's gifts for an orphanage, and they are carried in procession to the Creche. We love The Advent, the Anglo-Catholic center of the High Episcopal universe, and it plays an important role in our conversion. But more about that later.

I needed to find myself, so I returned to one of my first loves. I had read the Odyssey about seven times when I was a kid, and I still had my old dog eared paperback. I pulled it out one day and began to read it again. It's one of those things, like comfort food. You know what it tastes like, and you might even be bored with it, but you just have to have it when you're down. I realized how much I loved the story, and it was sort of restorative to me. Then, one day, while sitting on my porch and reading it, I saw something straight out of the pages of the book. I saw a hawk swoop down and capture a morning dove, right in front of me. Those of you who know your Classics, will recognize a sign from the gods right away. So, in good "New Age" fashion, that is exactly what I took it for, a sign from the gods, that everything was going to be alright.

I figured the Hawk, sacred to Apollo was probably one of my totems. I read the book "Goddesses in Every Woman" and found Athena in myself. I went to a Shamanism workshop at the local New Age bookstore. I tried to get involved with our local Unitarian place but it was too witchy and lesbian. I still really love some of the concepts about the Greek gods being archetypal of certain personality characteristics. To cap it all off, I took myself on my own pilgrimage to Delphi to celebrate a major birthday.

I had a great time. I managed to lose all kinds of weight, and I looked terrific. I loved my trip to Greece, and when I came back, I set up a "cyber-pilgrimage to Delphi". Through the miracle of the Internet I discovered Hellenic neo-pagan reconstructionists, and for a couple of years I was part of various chat groups devoted to restoring the ancient religions to Europe. My children thought I was a complete embarrassment, but they were adolescent so that's just a package deal anyway. My long suffering husband was very patient.

Little by little , it began to dawn on me that some of the people who I was chatting with online were more than a little weird. Many of the European neo-pagans turned out to be Nazis, real ones! Show me a group that traces it's spirituality to "Atlantis" and I will show you a Nazi friendly religion. Most of the Americans I came in contact with were either bi-sexual, homosexual, transexual, deviant sexual, and , thanfully, most of them were childless . Here I was, your basic suburban, soccer mom,minivan driving, pagan priestess........sort of......but with a subscription to the Jerusalem Post.

I began to back away quickly from these folks, and I removed my Delphi website after someone left the following message in my guestbook:

"Hail, Great Priestess, servant of the Gods. We will destroy the Jews, who inflicted their evil desert god on the holy peoples of Europe, and their vile slaves the Xtians."

Boy, did he have the wrong girl. I was so out of there in a hurry.

A few times a year, my husband and I would trot into Boston to hear the marvelous choir of The Advent sing the full Mass. They do it every Sunday there. Bells, smells, music, lacey priests, the whole nine yards, the full kit, and my Ulster born husband's guilty secret! The Church of Ireland actually forbids the use of incense, and I think candles are restricted. As they say, Anglo-Catholics are more "Catholic than the Catholics", and it was our introduction to the concept of the "Real Presence". There is no denying that the structure of the liturgy and the centrality of the Mass are incredibly powerful. (getting a little high on the incense doesn't hurt either). I began to recognize
that the ritual was derived from the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. I loved the participatory nature of the various pious movements the congregants engaged in. (The "fairy baseball" as a wicked friend of ours once called it!) It was lovely, but it wasn't "home". I felt like had two warring personalities within me, the Jewish one, which was so basic and solid, and the "Christian" one which was the enemy camp.....

And it really became the "enemy camp", after the Episcopal hierarchy in Boston decided to picket the Israeli Consulate on behalf of Bishop Shaw's beloved Yassir Arafat. There was Bishop Shaw, the ever politically correct Bishop Barbara Harris, and various other self righteous lefties marching around for the media in their "little pink dresses", as one of my Anglo-Catholic friends said. What made it even more egregious, was they never tried to "dialogue" (you know how they love that word) with the Consulate or anyone in the Jewish community except for a radical group of three 19 year old "activists" from the local college scene. "See, we have Jews with us!!"


Then the anti-Israel stuff started from the pulpit of our local Episcopal church. At that point, I announced I would not enter the place except for weddings and funerals. About a week after a particularly brutal sermon, a man in drag walked into a hotel Passover Seder in Israel, and blew the place to smithereens.

Tomorrow, Jenin, volunteering in Israel and more.........

Chapter 10

I made a concerted effort to live a very Jewish life. My children were already very familiar with the scent of homemade Challah for the Sabbath, something I was never raised with. (We got ours at the bakery). We lit candles and sat down to a wonderful tradition every Friday night. Then I decided it would be fun to have a sukkah, for Sukkot (The Feast of Tabernacles), and that was also a big success. Of course there was always the Seder on Passover, and so on. The great difficulty of all this Jewish doing was that it all fell to me. My husband loved it all, but in a regular ol'Jewish home, there are things that men do to help all the observance up the remember that a particular day is infact a Jewish Holiday. It also didn't help that come Chanukkah, I had to remind my own parents to send some gifts. Of course the very large boxes of Christmas gifts from Ireland would have already arrived.

It also didn't help that the members of the synagogue, I mean, "Temple" weren't all that interested or aware of most Jewish things either. They weren't even particularly interested in Israel .

When I discovered that Chabad had an outpost about an hour away, I decided it would be fun to try one of their services. So we took off to a Purim service. If you have never been to a Purim service, you may be in for a shock. Purim celebrates the story told in the Book of Esther, when Haman (BOO HISS STOMP YOUR FEET) tried to destroy the Jewish People. Now Haman (BOO HISS STOMP YOUR FEET) was a descendant of Israel's enemy Amalek, who, the Bible says will have his name blotted out because he went after the soft targets, the women and chldren, during the Exodus from Egypt. So when every the name Haman (BOO HISS STOMP YOUR FEET) is read, everyone makes alot of noise. Infact it is a requirement to carry on like this at the Purim service, whenever....... (BOO HISS STOMP YOUR FEET) is said.

So there was my Episcopalian husband, ever the polite gentleman, seated with various swarthy bearded men on the other side of the divider,( remember this is an Orthodox Jewish place), not to mention all the Israeli cab-drivers and what-have-you, amidst all this yelling and shouting.
And then things got really interesting. The Lubavitch trained rabbi instructed us that we were only to shout when "you know who" was refered to by his full family name: Haman Ben Hamedata (Boo know the drill), and not when only his first name was used. This must be a custom of that particular branch of Chasidism.

The Israelis, a rough bunch, were having none of this and proceeded to shout whenever "you know who" was mentioned, and the rabbi would tell them to stop. They in turn, would shout back at the rabbi, "No! That's not how we do it!!" Finally the rabbi gave in and a raucus Purim service was had by all. My husband was in deep shock. Talk back to the man in the pulpit? He had the time of his life.

This led to some interesting incidents. Because the rabbi now had our name and number, and because the Lubavitch exist as "missionaries" to Jews who are unaffiliated, we would get phone calls at all the most unusual times, like.........Easter Sunday, or Christmas morning.

I loved the Lubavitch, and I still think they have had the most wonderful effect on the Jewish community. They are Jews who are not afraid of piety and dvotion, and they also appreciate that it can be alot of fun being Jewish. Unfortunately some of them are reinventing the wheel, and believe the Rebbi is the Messiah, and he's coming back........remember, generally this is not a crowd that is familiar with the movie "King of Kings" so it is an interesting phenomena, n'est pas?

EventuallyI took myself on a retreat for women that was being held in Brooklyn, ground zero for the Lubavitch Chassidim. it was great. We heard Rabbi Manis Friedman, who wrote "Doesn't Anyone Blush Anymore?,"and other good speakers, and we visited the Rebbe's Tomb. On Saturday night, after the Sabbath, there was some sort of concert, and an elegant Orthodox, Israeli woman approached me.

"My frrriend, over there, he want to know....arre you marrrried?"

She was a Matchmaker!!! I immediately called my husband and told him:

"You just watch your step....there's a guy with a beard down here who wants to make a "shidduch" (a match)

He didn't really need to worry, but I said, my husband loved all the Jewish stuff but it was more of a performance he was enjoying, rather than participating in. After awhile I got tired of being the only Jewish show in town. My kids hated the Sunday School at the Reform Temple, where apparently they colored in the same picture of Moses for weeks on end, or so I was told.
My older daughter had experienced some sort of antisemitism at school, and was trying very hard to avoid anything "officially" Jewish. It broke my heart, but eventually I just got tired.

More on Monday........

Chapter 9

I suppose I should thank my daughters for our leaving the Messianic Movement. They were very very young, thank God, and I simply couldn't imagine them growing up in all this weirdness, as if being a member of my family wasn't enough of a burden.

This became very clear after a conversation with a couple who, so far as I know, are still at this congregation. They adopted a child and like many adoptive situations, there were issues. So they did what you do in those situations, they went to a woman who could "discern demonic activity". Apparently this took the form of a bunch of loopy adults sitting around a five year old, with their hands outstretched and praying over her........ The mother assured me they knew their little girl had demons because she kept looking over at the door.......

Um...correct me if I'm wrong here, but maybe she was looking at the door because they were freaking her out? At least they didn't put her in a bag and try to "rebirth " her, but it's stuff like this that made me realize just how close to the edge we had come.

So we stopped going. And we wrote a letter to the "Leadership" about some discrepancies and lies we were told. I really don't remember the specifics, but I do remember one of the elders looking at us with sorrowful eyes and acknowleging that Rabbi Rich had lied about something, but... he was the leader and there was nothing he could do.

And then I got a great letter from Rich, which I sorely wish I had kept. (I also wish I had kept the letter I once got from Cardinal Law, but did I mention I was stupid, and I threw it out?). I had once shared some information with Rich about my mother's very sad and abusive childhood, and there is was, right in the letter! Only he'd got it wrong, and thought it was me. He'd done that thing he did, where he'd pull out the most awful confession he'd heard, or thought he'd heard, and try to rope you with it.

I laughed myself sick about it, and that's when I knew our involvement with these people was well and truly over. Of course we'd get calls every once in awhile from well meaning members wishing we'd return, but after a time we never heard from any of these "lifelong" friends again.

Many years later, on my way to Israel, I saw "Rabbi Rich" on my flight! I decided to say hello, and we chatted for a long time. He was on his way to meet with, as he put it, "Vatican Types in Abu Ghosh". I said, "You mean Bishop Jean-Baptiste Gourion?". "Abbot Jean-Baptiste is a Bishop?", he replied.......typical. But I thought it was the Lord's sense of humor. Here I was, on the way to Israel, to which I am viscerally attached, and also on my way to "Rome", and whom should I meet but the one person I really need to forgive. So, that's what I did.

Back to the distant past:

We went through all the stages that you go through when you leave a cult. First we were numb, but soon we got angry. How could we be such idiots? How could we waste seven years? For me this took the form of, "How could I have ever believed in the Christianity garbage in the first place?" I would rant at my husband that this was a religion based on fear. That St. Paul was a manipulative S.O.B., using psychological tools to keep people in line. I also looked at my children, now five and seven, and realized if they were going to be Jewish, I was the only one who could teach them that.

I got involved with the local "Temple". Reform Jews have "Temples". Orthodox and Conservative Jews have Synagogues, because there is only one Temple. I didn't have much choice, because where I live Jews are as scarce as Bailey's Irish Cream in B'nai Brak. Friday evening services were usually deserted and for good reason, there was a complete absence of anything spiritual. People joined so their kids could learn a few phrases of Hebrew, and maybe have a party when they turned 13. I have determined that Jews tend to go to the temple because they "should", and Christians, even nominal ones like Episcopalians, go because they actually like it.

I suppose I have offended enough people today. Tune in tomorrow for more.

Chapter 8

The Messianic Congregation we attended was an odd group, really. There were some families who could have been described as mainstream, middle class people, but there were also the strays, the troubled, and the occasional transvestite.

We were part of the fabric of the place.... Here you can see the the podium cover (hanging beneath, only the velvet part shows when its on the podium) and the Torah curtain I made for them. The symbolism of the curtain is the "tearing" of the curtain in the Temple. Rich, on several occasions mentioned cutting this piece in half to "complete the symbolism." Not only would it then look like velvet "cafe curtains" but it would also mean destroying a piece of my artwork. He knew that would hurt me and was trying to manipulate me in every way knew.

There was most certainly, an "inner circle" comprised of Rabbi Rich, his wife (more later)several "Elders", and the leader of the "Music Ministry". She projected an aura which was like a tall fence. She was very large, and her influence appeared large as well. She acted as the secretary for the group, and really she seemed as "inner circle" as you could get. It wasn't until we were leaving for good that we realized what an act that had been, and how hurt she was.

They really wanted us in that "inner circle" because, dare I say it, we were very presentable. My husband had a decent income, a fine accent, and we had kids. But I never trusted Rich after that first attempt at counseling years before, and that proved to be our lifesaver. He was the the type who knew how to undermine people with their personal information: "Perhaps your unwillingness to accept what I am telling you is because of the abuse you experienced from your father" Maybe he only tried this with women. It's a classic tool of control freak men, and I can see it coming from a distant galaxy far far away in time to take cover.

It is that intuition that some considered to be one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I don't know, I think it may be just experience, but I know it got up Rich's nose. We just wouldn't cooperate with his plans for us.

It was about this time, my husband was faced with a choice. He was considering starting his own business, and then his parents offered their shop in Ireland. I jumped at the chance to go to Ireland for several reasons. It meant we could leave New England (Yeah!!) and it also meant we COULD LEAVE THE MESSIANIC CONGREGATION! (you have be fairly desperate to consider a move to outskirts of Belfast , Northern Ireland a step up....) We decided to give it a shot, and go over for a few months to see if we liked it.

When I announced this to Mrs. Rabbi Rich, she looked at me as though I had cast aspersions on her favorite cole slaw recipe. She was a formidable sort of person, who had never really intended to be a "Messianic Gentile".......(yeah, digest that one....) and when she'd met her future husband back at bible college, this whole Messianic thing wasn't even on the horizon. But to her credit, she was homeschooling her children, and was the only licensed driver in the household. She approached her role as the "Rebbetzin" ( Yiddish for rabbi's wife) with gusto, even if she didn't have all the information. This is why she once asked me, when I arrived for Yom Kippur services in a nice white suit "What are you all dressed up for? What's the occasion?"

I was summoned to a meeting the next week to discuss our proposed three month leave of absence. This took the form of a "Kangaroo Court" where I sat in the middle and she and her hand maidens questioned my judgment: "How can you leave us when God has just begun a work in you?" I knew I had to get out of there fast.

So off we went to Ireland.

Ireland was fun for us as a family, but boring for my husband professionally. He wasn't meant to be a shopkeeper, and I wasn't meant to drive on the wrong side of the road, but we didn't figure that out til about year later when it was time to really commit to it. My older daughter attended the local kindergarten and my younger daughter attended the free daily playgroup sponsored by the British government. (Socialists do some things well.) They both began to develop adorable Ulster accents in time for us to board the plane and come back. We fully intended to return to Ireland in about six months.

We showed up at the Congregation and I was feeling light and happy because I knew we were leaving. We found a very different place. The large woman who lead the singing had left in high dudgeon, and the transvestite, bless his poor soul, had taken his own life. After the service, Rabbi Rich approached us with a big welcoming smile and an outstretched palm. I said it looked as though it had been a tough few months for the group, what with all that had happened. He replied:

"No, it's been great. Praise the Lord. We are moving from strength to strength"

Some poor guy is dead, and the leader of the music group is gone and won't talk to anyone, but this constitutes a great few months.......hmmmm.

To be continued..........

Chapter 7

When my first child was born, it was a cosmic experience for me. The only way I can explain it is to draw a picture. Imagine that before you have a child, there is only you, standing in the world. And then God hands you your daughter, and suddenly all these women come into view behind you, in a long line, and they are all your mothers, right back to Eve. You can't see them, until you hold your own daughter in your arms and you are part of the line.

That may have been the most important day of my life.

But living in Pembroke, did not get easier. Infact, one day my husband came home to find me moving all the furniture out onto the lawn. I was moving, and that was that. I think that was the day I really did have a nervous breakdown. I never actually went for counselling but looking back on it, I was in a bad way. I wanted desperately to move but my husband wouldn't even entertain the idea. It wasn't that he was so in love with the place, but he was dealing with his own desperation, and also some different cultural norms. In the US, if you don't like it, you change it, but the British tough it out, as though there is some great reward at the end, for putting up and shutting up. The idea of moving would like being admitting to failure, and what's more, he had no idea where we'd go. What if I hated the next place? And the next? These were his thoughts, as he held his young daughter and looked at his crying wife.

He'd come home and tell me in mocking tones that he'd had a call from a "headhunter" who was trying to fill a job in Atlanta, as though that was ridiculous. I tried to explain that was really a VERY GOOD THING, but it was no use. And every Saturday morning we'd take off to the Messianic Fellowship where we'd sing "Roni, Roni Bat Tzion" and "The Trees of the Field", and dance around. We'd hear a word form the "paster" who was now styling himself "Rabbi Rich", and I would picture my brother listening and smirking. Now you have to understand, my brother can smell a phony from one hundred miles, and although he is a liberal aging hippy agnostic with whom, spiritually I have very little in common, I like the fact that he doesn't suffer fools gladly. Well "Rabbi Rich" never passed the smell test with me, but again, that was another thing my husband wouldn't leave. He needed anchors, I have come to realize, and he never really appreciated how much it hurt me, until many years later.

Two years later I gave birth to my second daughter, and by now we had an actual four door car and a dog. We were tied to the Messianic group for almost all of our social life. We even hosted a wedding at our house, the day after Hurricane Gloria, and believe it or not we were the only house on the street with electricity and no trees down! That really had to have been prayer. I often tell my daughters that I have no memory of the "Pop Culture" of the '80's because we were in a cult, and that is really what it felt like.

Every weekend after the service, we'd go house hunting in places like Brookline, Wellsley, Newton and other extremely expensive suburbs, and we just couldn't bring ourselves to move from our old farm house, which by now was looking pretty nice, to a tiny two bedroom next to the tracks. For this, we were told, we weren't committed enough to the group. We weren't "listening to the Lord". Occasionally we'd like a house in one of the more interesting South Shore suburbs, and we'd tell Rabbi Rich, and he'd frown and say it was too far away. Why we wanted his approval is one of the great mysteries of life, but you see, even intelligent people can get caught up in a cult-like group.

When we did eventually move a town over, we steeled ourselves for the coming judgement, but it was ok, because by then I was considered "disgruntled" so they didn't expect much from me.
At this time, I met Moishe Rosen, of Jews For Jesus. He had seen the podium cover I had made in London and asked me to make one for the new building J4J had purchased in New York. Of course because I was thrilled, flattered, and a true believer, made this extraordinary piece for absolutely nothing. Semi precious stones, gold plated threads from Europe, but at the time, for me, it was an act of worship.

Moishe's "Pulpit Scarf" in progress

The really big difference between our London experience, and these Messianic groups we were involved in here is the egos involved. There were so many hugely inflated egos in the Messianic Movement, it's a wonder it wasn't competing with the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. When I eventually hand delivered the "pulpit scarf" as Moishe called it, I never even got a thankyou.

I went on the make a "parochet" or Torah curtain for the new ark the Boston group had built for its newly acquired but unkosher Torah scroll. A torah becomes unkosher when it is blemished in any way, or the writing becomes faded. It should be buried in a Jewish cemetary or used only for display but there are unscrupulous dealers in these things, who sell them to Messianic groups.

Which leads me to "The Beginning of the End". The kids were still very young, and we took off to the big UMJC conference which was being held in Virginia. It was loads of fun, as these things usually are. I remember that a bunch of us went to a screening of The 700 Club, but were very put out that Pat Robertson didn't send anyone over to cover the conference. All the anti-missionary people were picketting outside the hotel. On the large mezzanine where all our book and chachka sellers were, was the guy from Brooklyn with his unkosher Torahs for sale. ANd there right at the top of the stairs, to greet you as you entered, was a Torah scroll, uncovered, open and LAYING ON THE FLOOR, with people walking around it. If you know anything about ANYTHING Jewish, that is just NOT DONE.

Never is a Sefer Torah placed - even for a moment - on the floor, no other objects are ever placed on top of it, and if G-d forbid a Sefer Torah should ever fall, it is a common practice for all who witness this event to fast.

None of the people in Leadership would do a thing about it. I happened to catch Andrew Shishkoff (now known as Eitan)as he and his wife were on their way to the beach. He was the president of the UMJC and his response? "It's not that big a deal, is it? Don't worry. We'll see ya when we get back from the beach"

He has since moved to Israel, where he leads a Messianic Group in Haifa, and he's a big name in the Movement. I am fairly certain that the current Eitan Shishkoff would be mortified to be reminded of this earlier incarnation.

Thus my slow departure from the Messianic Movement began.

To be continued.....

Chapter 6

We had a rough start.

With two years of marriage behind us, and no research at all, we took off for the United States. The day after we landed at Logan, we realized that not only did neither of us have the faintest idea of what we would do for a living, but that I was pregnant. And so began what was to be the most difficult time either of us had ever known.

Of course we were delighted at the thought of a baby and we figured, fools that we were, he'd get a great job in no time. Unlike many others in our position, we had a small advantage: we had sold our flat in London and the pound was strong against the dollar, so we had enough for a downpayment on a new place here. This is what we should have done (she says now, through her middle aged eyes...) : We should have purchased a condo in Brookline or Cambridge, and got involved in the life of the city, until our situation called for the suburban solution.

This is what we actually did: I had this fantasy that all of New England outside of Boston was like....I dunno....Putney, Vermont? Bennington? Amherst? You know, artsy fartsy, intellectual, academic,

But Pembroke Massachusetts turned out to be a place of uninterrupted boredom and ignorance. Today, it is a place of Garage Mahals and yuppies, but back then you could still find people who had never been to Boston, a mere 45 minute drive up Rte 3. Even the free local papers weren't distributed there. We, as I said, being young and stupid, purchased the classic money pit, a late 19th century farmhouse on 3 acres, with a crumbling barn. A week after we moved in, a neighbor asked me where we came from, and I said, "London". I will never forget what she asked me then.

" O mye Gawwd, How'd ya get ya stuff ovah?"

And I said....."a moving company?"

To which she replied "We just use mye cousin Cawnnah's chruck"

I was off to a bad start. It wasn't helped by the morning sickness , nor by another neighbor's definition of what made the neighborhood so nice. She told me "You'll like this neighborhood, we keep to ourselves, we don't live at our neighbor's houses, and we're not the type to coffee klatch"

Now you see, where I come from, we say it this way: " You'll like this neighborhood,
it's very friendly, there are get togethers and potlucks, and the young mothers meet up for coffee once a week"

I was also informed that I'd make lots of friends once my children started school, and seeing as that was about five years and eight and a half months into the future, it wasn't looking good.

I should mention here that my husband found a job, a low paying job, at a bank which no longer exists and it was to this job that he drove our wee used 1980 Nissan Pulsar. Not the glam Nissan Pulsar it later became, but a tiny hatchback standard shift with two doors. So I was stuck out there in a house that need serious work. As I said....we were young and stupid, and we thought our $10,000 we'd put aside would be enough to fix the place up.

Okay...stop laughing....we really didn't know any better. When we asked the neighbors for the name of a good , say...plumber, electrician, housepainter, handyman, carpenter, exterminator, bricklayer, plasterer, repairman, landscaper.......... there was one standard answer: "I don't know, we never call anyone for those things, my husband does all of that".

When I was about seven months along, having spent most of them up a ladder breathing paint stripper, it began to occur to me that the baby's room wouldn't be done, and since by this point my mental state was frayed I came up with what I though was a lovely solution. Lets have a work party! We'll invite all the folks from our fellowship (more details momentarily) and provide lots of spaghetti, beer wine, whatever. We had begun to attend a Messianic group which met in a hotel in Brookline, and we announced it at the next meeting.

Well, we threw a party, and nobody showed up. I was beside myself. As I said...I was young, stupid and very pregnant and very lonely, so I did what people do in those situations, I reached out to the "pastor" (he wasn't calling himself "Rabbi" yet) and this was his Christlike response:

" Well Jan, you've only been here six months and nobody really cares if your baby's room gets painted. You can't expect people to extend themselves when you haven't been here long enough for anyone to care about you."

That is when we should have walked but we were too overwhelmed to think clearly. My husband grew up in household where there was staff, so he had no idea about general household maintenance. He was also I think in a functioning fugue type state, trying to adjust to a very alien culture where the language only sounds the same, but in reality is very different. He went from knowing everyone and having connections, to having no common experience with anyone, and very little money. He was dealing with the shock of the move in a male British way, keeping it all inside and just carrying on. I on the other hand was on the road to a nervous breakdown.

To be continued

This is the podium cover I made for the Messianic group in London. I wish I had a better picture of this thing, because it was beautiful. It was made of fine linen twill and embroidered in real silk floss, with the lettering in couched gold thread. I picked up the habit of fine needlework in London because The Royal School of Needlework had excellent classes. In England there is a tradition of embroidery and textiles as an art form, "Opus Anglicanum", English work.

Chapter 5

Being the further adventures of Janjan's foray into Christianity.

I can't sleep, having had a cup to tea too late, so I thought I'd write, and since I have at least two faithful readers I hope they will not be disappointed. If you have been keeping up with this never-ending story, and you have a comment, please feel free to leave it.

So where was I.....oh yes, in North London at a Messianic Fellowship, a long way from the pleasures and fleshpots of Battersea and "SW10", the fashionable parts of London. It was there that I met some really devout and wonderful folks including many Israelis, who were what we called "believers".

Our services were more or less along the lines of Protestant non-conformists, (our pastor had been a Salvation Army missionary in Libya, of all places....) but the singing was in Hebrew, and the teaching focused alot on the Hebrew Scriptures and the Jewish nature of the New Covenant.There were also alot of non-Jewish "fellow travelers", like the Finnish fellow who smuggled bibles into the Soviet Union. There was a crazy French charismatic woman who "prophesied" that Northern Ireland would see a great Christian revival and peace would break out by 1983....which of course didn't happen. I think by her own reckoning, she should have been stoned to death for giving a false prophesy, but nevermind.

Like many small insular groups there were many disfunctional and mentally unstable people, and they were welcome. By the same token there was a marvelous Anglican priest who went on the serve a church in Jerusalem, before leaving the Anglican Communion and affiliating with the AMIA. We even met Orde Wingate's nephew!

British Jews are very different than American Jews. I have only my own theories as to why. In the United States, our middle class is broad and diverse, and can include blue and white collar people. We tend to self define whether or not we are "Middle Class". We don't really have an "Upper Class", we have very wealthy people, and at the very top we have an ever shrinking segment we call "Old Money".

In the United Kingdom, the middle class is small and conformist. It's in the middle, between the Working Class and the Aristocracy. Because there is a State Church, (which few people really attend anymore) the middle class defines itself by it's rituals. People get christened and have God-parents whose main responsibility is to give nice gifts, preferably heirlooms on Christmas and birthdays. You wear a hat to a church wedding, or morning dress if you're a man, and if you are the bride and groom, you simply sign the registry at the church and there is no need to go to town hall. And all British people have a legal right to be hatched , matched, and dispatched in the Church of England.

Of course, if you are Jewish (or anything else for that matter) you're never really part of this middle class. You haven't been to the schools where you will learn just the right accent, and you don't have a house filled with ancestral Georgian antiques, not to mention all the other little ways you don't really fit, even if Michael Howard is the leader of the Conservatives.

In the U.S. we've benefitted from all of this. Watch the news and you will see all the British doctors and scientists who live here now because of the opportunities. But listen to their accents.....regional and distinctive. It's what held them back there. Here it's considered another asset!

But I digress. I thought most of the Jews I met in the UK seemed like they lived under a cloud. They were very aware they were a minority, and most of them were tradesmen, rather professionals. They'd come in for a lot of hard times, many of them, and many of them were from very traditional backgrounds. I learned more about Jewish tradition among them than I had in all my years in the Reform Temple. (They call that the "Progressive Synagogue" over there, it wasn't as popular) And their love for Yeshua was deep, and hard won.

They thought my husband was practically the Prince of Wales, for God's sake (they used to make him read the passages all the time because of his "Oxbridge" accent), and I was treated as some sort of special guest because I was American. When we eventually left for the U.S. they gave us a big tearful send-off. We felt very guilty because we were given "going away"gifts by people who could barely afford it. I wouldn't go back to it, but it was a very special time.

To be continued.......