Israel the Man, Jews the People and Jesus the Contradiction

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Israel is a man.

The Israelites, now called Jews, all came from Israel, the man whose name was changed from Jacob, to whom God promised a land.

Jews have been termed as everything from an ethnicity and a race to a religion and a culture. Jews have been defined by actions ranging from laughing at Yiddish jokes and eating matzoh balls to teaching their children about the Scriptures and praying three times a day. In an attempt to save our dying people from the brink of extinction, a great many things are allowed now that would previously have resulted in swift excommunication from our ranks. I say “our” and “we” as if I have not already committed one of the few remaining sins.

You can be a Jew and reject all evidence of your Judaism in an attempt to blend better with your peers. You can be a Jew and hate the land that was promised to you as your inheritance in the covenant that defined your ethnic label. You can be a Jew and practice all manner of eastern religious rituals, believe in all manner of pagan ideology and worship all manner of modern idols. You can be a Jew and not believe in the Scriptures which legitimize the word “Jewish” as a description of any substance. You can be a Jew and not believe in the God of Israel referenced in the first commandment as the one true God.

The great and obvious irony is that the genesis of Judaism, in whatever form you choose to define it, is God. Without God and the Words He has given us about our heritage, the title “Jew” is worthless. There can be no Jews without God because He tells us who we are. What use is there in calling yourself by a name which ties you to words spoken by One in Whom you do not believe? Without the calling God placed on us and the land He promised us and the name He calls us by, the word “Jewish” means nothing more than a bloodline which traces us back to a character named in a mythical book. It is a mark of stigma and death. Why carry it at all?

This brings up bigger questions in the increasingly Godless Jewish world, especially for those of us in the diaspora outside of Israel. Who are the Jews? Why is it relevant that Jews be defined at all?

“Jewish” was the most definitive adjective I applied to myself for most of my life. Until I married a Brazilian, it had never occurred to me that I was even an “American”. The fact that I am Jewish had defined me more than being a woman, being “white,”  and being born in the United States. Nothing had ever defined me as thoroughly as being Jewish had.

Although each of my grandparents comes from a different country as a first-generation American, I have always identified most strongly with my Israeli grandmother’s heritage. For most of my life I romanticized the idea of being a sabra, a Jew born in Israel, and was very proud of where we came from. We are descendents of the Baal Shem Tov and our family helped found the Israeli city of Sefad. I learned Hebrew from Israelis in a small Chabad school in which many of the pupils were children of two local rabbis. My grandmother’s older siblings returned to Israel, as did her mother, and I have many cousins there now who were born in the land.

I grew up feeling like an alien most of the time. As Moses said, “I have been a stranger in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22). This was my concept of the world around me. The fact that I did not belong was a fixed point in my mind.

I went from the conservative Hebrew school to a small Chabad “Academy” when I was 5. We attended a conservative synagogue until I was 7, then we switched to Chabad. My Zayde, my father’s father, was an Orthodox rabbi in New York, but my father’s practices were not the same as Chabad although they were closer than conservative Judaism. Even among those who were supposed to be “mine,” I never fit. Aside from the rabbi’s children, I was the most orthodox of any of my friends and my knowledge of anything related to Judaism usually exceeded my peers. Being Jewish was never something I had to convince myself of or prove. It was intrinsic, inextricable and plainly evident.

Vividly, I remember two defining marks in my life as a Jew.

My head was resting on the doorhandle of the car on the way home from synagogue on a Saturday morning. We drove, although my father had grown up walking, because the synagogue was 20 minutes away. There was tall grass growing on the side of intersection and I felt a sense of pure incredulity as I processed a phrase. The light was red. I don’t remember the context. These words left my mouth: “How can you be a Jew for Jesus? That makes no sense. If you believe in Jesus, you’re not a Jew anymore.” I could not have been older than 10.

At 16 years old, I had been devouring everything I could get my hands on by Alice Walker, Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. Something in me profoundly resonated with the slavery and the systematic stripping of identity these women wrote about. This was my people. We were once slaves in Egypt and now we are free. “But what if they came for us…” Suspended before me sat this familiar fear. Well-instilled and firmly rooted was the knowledge that in recent history we had been exterminated. As quickly as it presented itself, it was answered. “If I wanted to, I could pass for something else. The color of my skin would not betray me as it did these women.” Yet, even as I knew this was true, I knew this was not an option. If I ceased to be Jewish to save myself, I would be lost. They could take my skin, but they could not take what made me a Jew out of me.

I not ashamed to say I am Jewish. I do not renounce the adjective because it is dangerous or inconvenient, although both are true. Because I call a Jewish Man who was born and died in Israel my Messiah, there are many who would say the word is no longer applicable to me. I am neither offended nor deterred by their opinion. Pledging my allegiance to this Name has not won me any acceptance or decreased my exposure to scorn, quite the contrary.

There are others like me. You may be surprised to know that the most conservative estimates of Jewish believers in Jesus in Israel now number us at 20 thousand. More recent estimates suggest the number is closer to 30 thousand.* The number of Jewish believers worldwide is around 350 thousand.** Whether or not we are called Jewish is irrelevant. God knows us. He knows the songs in our hearts and the blood in our veins. We are the growing “problem” in the Jewish world. We are the hushed words on everyone’s lips. We are the paradox whose explanation threatens the current understanding of Judaism itself. Whatever you want to call us, we are here.

I long for a land I have never lived in. I wait for a world I have never seen. I bleed the blood of a people who have disowned me. I carry the soul of a sojourner as I walk in my hometown. Rife with apparent contradictions and against all odds, I am a Jew and I serve the God of my fathers.

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2 thoughts on “Israel the Man, Jews the People and Jesus the Contradiction

  1. Oh my gosh!!!!! Thank you for this!! I am a Jew, who at 12 years of age, yes 1 year before the celebrated 13, accepted this Jewish Man as my savior. I too was disowned by family and for years told I was no longer Jewish!! This made my heart cry. Thank you for so eloquently expressing my heart.
    Your beginning paragraphs expressing all the acceptable strays away from Judaism created a feeling an indescribable feeling inside that bubbled up so fiercely. We accepted Jesus, but we never walked away from our God!!! Can’t they see what they have done?

    Bless you, my precious sister!!! Dana Sudburough was my professor at EPIC Bible College. I learned SO MUCH from him. It was his share on FB that brought me to this writing.

    Thank You,
    A Jew for Jesus
    Lori

    • Wow, Lori! You sound like you have quite the story to tell. I can’t imagine what it would have been like accepting Jesus before my bat mitzvah. Professor Sudborough is an amazing man of God, indeed. We miss him a lot. Thank you so much for sharing!

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