A Jewish Christmas Story
Author’s Note: This piece was originally posted on December 22, 2013. Today, on Christmas Eve 2014, I am reposting it again because last year I was so uplifted by the positive feedback I received through personal emails from readers.
My love for politics is only exceeded by my passion for religious and faith issues.
So with Christmas upon us, here is an intriguing tale of religion and faith that happens to be my own tale of religious freedom.
It is during this time of year that I most enjoy reflecting upon my 40-year relationship with Jesus and my ever-growing love for HIM.
What makes this statement unusual is my Christian faith-walk is not a traditional one given that I was born and raised Jewish with the very Jewish last name of Kahn.
My conversion from Judaism to Christianity was extremely problematic for my parents even though neither of them was at all religious.
For decades my mother would say, “We just won’t tell the neighbors,” and “PLEASE take off that cross when you visit.” Then my father would angrily chime in with the question, “Why do you insist on upsetting your mother?”
This round of conversation persisted after my parents retired from the Boston area and settled in a newly built, “adult community” in South Florida where everyone was Jewish. I remember asking my mother how she managed to find a new home community that was 99.9% Jewish. Her answer: “I asked the builder for a list of all the residents’ last names before we bought the house.”
My father, was not only a non-practicing Jew but extremely anti-religion. In fact, he believed religion was the root cause of all the wars in human history.
About twice a year I would visit my parents from where I lived in the Washington D.C. area.
During one visit when, as usual, my mother was upset about the cross around my neck, the doorbell rang. As I proceed down the stairs to answer it, she screamed that I was not to go near the door for fear a neighbor would see my necklace.
This scene upset my father because I had upset my mother, but prompted me to ask, “Dad, what religion was Jesus?” He answered emphatically, “Jesus was Catholic.”
It is also my contention that my mother would have found it easier to admit to her “mahjong girls” that her daughter worshipped Buddha, practiced witchcraft, dressed in a burka or was a lesbian – rather than reveal that I attended church and believed Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. THAT would have been too heavy a “cross to bear” and a sign she and my father had failed miserably as parents.
So how did I manage to cause my parents such grief and disgrace?
The actual conversion from Judaism to Christianity occurred while I attended college at Ohio State University from 1973 -1977 and it started slowly without anyone teaching or guiding me.
Then around 1975 Jesus’ presence became SO strong that I literally had no choice but to follow HIM. The way I have always described the experience was that HE had put a ring through my nose and was pulling me toward HIM.
Doubt and resistance were never options nor even contemplated. The only problem was I knew nothing about this “force” that was pulling me — ABSOLUTELY NOTHING — for I had never picked up a Bible in my life.
So, feeling inspired but clueless, in June of 1977 as I was graduating from college, I wandered into the closest church and told the pastor that I wanted to be baptized — and I was.
Years later, reflecting back upon these events, I realized that I had been blessed with faith before knowledge.
Additionally, and it sounds totally absurd to even write this now, but I honestly thought that I was the only Jew in the world who believed in Jesus. I thought this until 1985 when a friend told me she knew of another Jew who believed in Jesus and I remember feeling very relieved.
Decades passed, and as my knowledge and faith grew I recalled three seeds planted by HIM in my early years that were HIS way of preparing me for that “ring through my nose” in 1975.
“THE THREE SEEDS”
The first seed was when I was nine-years old and my parents took me to the 1964 New York World’s Fair, a major national event that year. One of the Fair’s main attractions was a viewing of Michelangelo’s Pieta’.
My memories are of standing in a long line for what my parents told me was one of the most valuable pieces of art in the world, carved hundreds of years ago in Italy by someone named Michelangelo. Finally, when we reached the moving walkway, my young eyes gazed upon a white marble sculpture of a woman holding a dead man. I vividly recall thinking it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen — but had no conception of what it symbolized and did not know that the sad woman and dead man even had names other than Pieta’.
Nevertheless, the Pieta’ left an impression on the nine-year-old me that was indelible.
The second seed was planted when I was twelve-years-old in the sixth grade in Needham, Massachusetts.
Our class was rehearsing Christmas carols for the upcoming concert. (Back in public school in the 1960s everyone sang Christmas carols regardless of their faith.) At that moment we were singing, The First Noel with the refrain, “born is the King of Israel,” and this phrase totally confused me.
As a young Jewish girl all I knew was Jews did not believe in Jesus, and that was the reason we did not celebrate Christmas. In my mind this was extremely unfair and very depressing, for Hanukkah was no match for the joys of the season that lit up the storefronts in the suburb of Needham and made the old streets of Boston come alive.
So while singing about Jesus being “born the king of Israel” I wondered why Jews did not believe in HIM if he was, in fact, what the words of the song described, born the King of Israel. Then, further complicating matters, I knew Jesus was Jewish making it even more difficult for me to understand why I was missing out on all the Christmas gifts and holiday hoopla.
That evening I asked my mother why we did not believe in Jesus. Her answer was filled with Jewish scholarly wisdom, “We do not believe in Jesus because we are Jewish and Jews do not believe in Jesus.” Scratching my head, I retreated into my bedroom and played the latest Beatle album that I had received as a Hanukkah gift.
The third seed was when I was 15-years-old and a sophomore in high school. My boyfriend was Catholic and on Christmas Eve he asked me if I wanted to attend Midnight Mass. I had never been inside a church and was very excited about going. My parents granted their permission, probably thinking it would be a cultural learning experience and off we went.
The beauty of the Mass in that old church impacted me greatly even though I had no understanding what was actually taking place. Thinking back, it had to have been the combination of music, singing, candles and all the people filled with the Christmas spirit because for the first time in my life I felt apart of a season that I had always been deprived of until that Holy Night.
There is no doubt that Jesus planted those three seeds in my young life, and I was completely unaware that they were even within me and growing for years.
Finally, when I was 20, and Jesus slipped that “ring through my nose” pulling me towards HIM, HE knew the seeds had sprouted and I was ready to follow HIM the rest of my life. I however, was just following a force that had overtaken me oblivious to those three seeds.
Now at 58, (update 59) with great faith and knowledge garnered through decades of church attendance; Bible Study; numerous trips to Holy Land and the world’s holy sights, I can proclaim what I believe is the true message of the season:
Praise to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, “born the King of Israel.”
Merry Christmas everyone!