The Candles in My Heart

Chanukah MenorayThat the spark of G-d within us will ponder G-d, what is the surprise?

But when the animal within us lifts its eyes to the heavens, when the dark side of a human creature lets in a little light, that is truly wondrous. How can darkness know light? How can earth know heaven?

Only with the power of He who is beyond heaven and earth, and so too is neither darkness nor light.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Dark Knowing Light”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe,
Rabbi M.M. Schneerson

The Candles in My Heart: An Unusual Chanukah Story

I think there must be something wrong with me. I don’t know what it is exactly, except I keep getting that square peg in round hole feeling. It happened last night, the first night of Chanukah (it’s early on Thanksgiving morning as I’m writing this), when I realized that my wife had lit the first candle in the menorah and hadn’t called me in to watch. Actually, I was a little surprised.

She was supposed to be back from work by mid-afternoon Wednesday night, but didn’t make it home until nearly sunset. I thought about getting out the menorah and setting everything up, but lately, she’s gotten a tad annoyed when I’ve intervened in “Jewish” matters around the house. So I let it be. I saw that she had bought candles but wasn’t sure if she’d light the menorah on the first night since she was late.

But she did and I missed it…

…and I miss it.

That’s what I mean about being strange or out-of-place. I, a Christian, going to a Baptist church, meeting with my Pastor for private talks every week about Christianity, and I still miss seeing the menorah being lit on the first night of Chanukah.

It’s almost like I’m this person (although, of course, I’m not Jewish).

Two years ago I was in Baltimore on business, and happened to pass by the public menorah in front of Johns Hopkins University just as the first light was being lit. My eyes welled with tears. Although I was raised a secular Jew, my family has always celebrated Chanukah. To be away from my family that first night of the holiday felt cold and lonely. Now, seeing the lights of the first night’s flames of that big menorah, my heart lit up also, and I felt the warmth of my people all around me.

-Laura P. Schulman
“The Menorah That Lit Up My Life”

The story goes on about how the next day, Ms. Schulman was approached by a Jewish “young man in a black hat” and asked, “Excuse me, are you Jewish?” The transaction between them, as well as the gift of a “Chanukah kit,” complete with menorah, candles, and instructions, sent Schulman on a journey to rekindle the Jewishness of her soul and the unique covenant connection she has with God.

And she’s not the only one:

We talked about friends we had or hadn’t kept in touch with from high school. “You know, I talked to Artie right before my trip,” I told him. “He says he went to Hebrew school, already knows all about Judaism, thinks you’re flipping out, thinks I’m wasting my time. But you can’t believe how much I’ve learned in the last couple of months that he has no clue about – about Jewish law, and philosophy, and the meaning of historical events, and the return to the Land, and all that. He thinks because he knows something, he knows everything – and he knows practically nothing!”

Then Jake said, “That’s what I think about you!”

-Eric Brand
“When God Sends You a Message…”

jewish-handsIn this article, Brand talks of reuniting with an old friend after a lengthy separation, and discovering his friend had moved to Israel and “become religious”. His friend Jake, or rather Yerachmiel now, was thought to be crazy, even by his own mother. Brand thought so too for a while, only to realize that at a critical moment in the conversation over pizza, Yerachmiel was just a messenger. God was talking and calling Eric back to Him.

I think God calls to all of us, Jewish or not, to come to Him, but for Jewish people, it’s especially unique because Israel was called out of the nations to be a treasured people to Him first. I can see it in my wife. It’s like God flipped a switch and sent a signal to a homing beacon in her soul and she had to return to Him.

Granted, it comes in stages, as it does with the rest of us, so I can only hope and pray that as time goes on, she’ll move more in the direction God wants her to go.

Sometimes, because I’m not Jewish and particularly because I am a Christian, I think I get in the way of how far she could go, the distance that people like Laura Schulman and Eric Brand have traveled.

But then, if Jesus is indeed the Jewish Messiah, then ultimately, he’s the King to both of us, as he is to everyone. Ultimately, there will be no dissonance, even though, in the present age, the disconnect is huge.

An Israeli immigration judge has ordered the deportation of a Messianic Jewish man from England who was arrested last week for taking part in an evangelistic event in southern Israel.

Barry Barnett, 50, a worker with Jews for Jesus UK, was ordered on Sunday (Nov. 24) to leave the country by Dec. 3. Barnett, who is based in England, was volunteering at the Jews for Jesus “Behold your God Israel” campaign around the city of Be’er Shiva when he was arrested Wednesday (Nov. 20) at about 4 p.m.

According to his wife, Alison Barnett, six immigration control officers took him from Be’er Shiva, 125 kilometers (78 miles) south of Jerusalem, to an immigration office in Omer, just outside of the city. He was held there for several hours without charge, then transferred to an immigration-holding unit of a prison in Ramle, near Tel Aviv. He spent four days in jail before his court hearing.

-from “Israel Orders Deportation of Jews for Jesus Missionary”
Christianity Today

The thing is, Barnett hadn’t done anything illegal. According to the article:

…the ultra-Orthodox, anti-Christian group Yad L’Achim had followed the Jews for Jesus teams to their campaign sites in Israel since the event started. Yad L’Achim has a long-standing history of links with sympathetic government officials who issue legal actions on their behalf.

In the past, I’ve written quite a lot about Christian supersessionism or the theology that “the Church” has replaced Israel in all of God’s covenant promises. This is a reprehensible artifact of Church history and I deplore its continued expression in any sense in the community of Jesus.

But there’s a flip side to all of this. It’s an understandable flip side given the history of enmity between Christianity and Judaism, but it results in such actions as Barry Barnett’s illegal arrest and detainment without charges in Israel because he represents Jews for Jesus.

I even read a comment on the blog commentary for this story published at rosh pina project where a Jewish gentleman called Barnett a “murderer.”

So I suppose, putting things into context, me being not invited to the lighting of the menorah on the first night of Chanukah in my own home isn’t so bad.

candleBut I still miss it.

I find reading “testimonials” like those written by Ms. Schulman and Mr. Brand heartwarming; Jews being called back to Judaism and to God. Why don’t I have the same sort of feelings about people being called into the Church and to Christ?

It’s not as if I’m opposed to my own faith, but the cultural context gets in the way. No, it’s not like I’m in any way “culturally Jewish.” I’m about as white-bread American non-ethnic anything as it gets.

But I’d rather spend the festival of Sukkot once a year in a place like Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship than all the Sundays there are in a traditional church setting. No, I don’t disdain worshiping with other Christians in the body of believers, but the music, the patterns of worship, the traditions, the prayers, the Torah readings, all call to me in a way that Christian hymns seem to lack.

I know I sound ungrateful. I’m not, really. I appreciate the opportunity God has afforded me to be with my fellow believers, to hear my Pastor preach each Sunday morning, to participate in Bible study after services in Sunday school, to meet and speak with people far closer to God than I.

But I’ve called myself a Gentile who studies Messianic Judaism for a reason.

I don’t know why, but when God set off my own “homing signal,” it called me in an unanticipated direction and that direction continues to pull at me. No matter where I am or whoever I’m with, I cannot be diverted from that path. Even if I never see another Shabbat candle lit, never hear another Hillel in Hebrew, never am present when a Torah scroll being removed from the arc, I cannot become that which I am not.

I’m not Jewish. I’m not Israel. I completely understand that. My wife once called me a “Jewish wannabe” and although that still stings a little, I can’t completely deny the validity of that statement. I just don’t know why it’s true of me.

I also can’t be a “traditional Christian,” although I think it would make my Pastor’s life a little easier if I’d just give in and assimilate theologically and culturally into the church environment as it exists in our little corner of Southwest Idaho.

I may never be invited to see the Chanukah menorah lit in my home or even the Shabbos candles, but I am not in darkness. God lights them in my heart and it’s by their illumination that I am guided to Messiah, particularly during this season.

For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

1 Corinthians 7:16 (NASB)

And then, last Thursday evening, amid the frenzied activity of getting Thanksgiving dinner ready (and it was a wonderful repast), everything stopped as we all gathered around the menorah and my daughter said the blessings and lit the second light of Chanukah. And we, as a family, were blessed. May the lights of Chanukah and the light of God illuminate you.

3 thoughts on “The Candles in My Heart”

  1. It is an awkward position, we know what we aren’t and can never be on the one hand (Jewish) and yet can never quite fully reconcile ourselves to be what we “ought” or what makes the most sense for us to identify with (Christianity). Messianic Judaism is obviously the goal, but it is a distant one. Until such a time as we are able to participate on a large scale in the synagogue, I think we are in a similar situation as the Apostle Paul. There was a place of wonderful fellowship and divine worship at Solomon’s colonnade, but he chose to spend his life trying to create the world he knew would come one day, with yehudim and goyim together.

  2. About that square peg in a round hole thing: I think those round hole drillers are akin to idol makers. Perhaps since pastor is a good friend and seems to sincerely want to serve his God, he could see his role as facilitating each of the members of his congregation in walking according to their divine destiny. I am not saying that is an easy thing. In any case, since the world is not our home, it is better we don’t get too comfortable here, and it seems like a bit of compromise and conformity can only lead to more. You must sense that this church is the right place for you now, as an ambassador, but also to receive from them. I believe it is the deepest desire within the hearts of most of us to be known as we truly are and still loved and accepted. In many cases, that isn’t possible, and probably more so in a religious community. I wrote an article about that, how we sort of parcel out pieces of ourselves to relate to different aspects of who we are; well, at least that has been my accommodation.

    I am familiar with Yad L’achim, and they have been responsible for having Jewish believers in Israel fired from their jobs, kicked out of their apartments and sometimes subject to violence. Actually, they lost a lawsuit where they had posted photos, addresses and phone numbers of known believers. They have been involved in kidnappings, both of believers and others who had acted in ways that displeased their religious parents. Now, I can understand this accusation of murder, in relation to the history of Christian antisemtism, but there is a lack of equivalency that they can’t see, surely due to personal experiences.

    Back in the late 70’s, Beth Messiah in Rockville, MD, hosted Kol Simcha, a musically group from the Philadelphia congregation Beth Yeshua. Some in the congregation (I wasn’t there) were giving out tickets to the concert in the parking lot of Katz’s, the local kosher mart. Suddenly, a car drives right at them, trying to run the group over, and they quickly run to the sidewalk. The elder that was with the group called the police and filed charges against the driver. The offender’s attorney spoke with the elder, Mike Rudolph, who was an attorney also. Rudolph agreed he would drop the charges (and we are looking at felony assault, and possibly attempted murder) if his client would speak with him. So, Rudolph discovered that the driver was a holocaust survivor and saw this group as a threat to him and the Jewish people. So, in their conversation, Mike was able to explain where he was coming from and there was a resolution of sorts. Of course I am sure that this driver’s attorney told him to make nice and under no circumstances offend this person who could send him to prison for a long time.

    However, Yad L’achim, and they operate in the US too, although no so successfully, appears to be made up of bullies along with mentally ill persons, such as Jack Tietel (sp?) who murdered an Arab taxi driver and placed the bomb that injured Ariel Messianic Jewish teen Ami Ortiz.

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