Walk the Land- Chapter 2
God speaks Hebrew
I can’t tell you if I was born religious, or if my earlier encounter with what I knew to be the God-man led me that way. But I had a spiritual fire inside of my soul that yearned for something greater than this life had to offer, even at the tender age of ten. I was Jewish, but my parents were not members of a temple, and the cost of membership at a conservative temple in South Florida back then was in the thousands.
Conservative Jewish temples were set up that way. Membership entitled you to many things in the temple. The best seats at High Holy Holidays, prestige within the temple. You were not somebody unless you were a member, yet even back then I had a sense that this was wrong. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the concept of pay to pray, and I was never able to sit in the main temple on holidays. I was always relegated to some side room or location. One Yom Kippur, we even had service in a movie theater. The tickets for service were cheap there. I didn’t mind, it still got me a ticket into God’s kingdom.
Only the wealthy people sat in the front rows. Only those that paid got first rites to the main synagogue on High Holy Holidays. If God had not invaded my intellect, I would have hada very warped sense of who He was and who He loved. But thanks be to God, I knew better.
I had a Jewish identity but I was not sure what that entailed. Could I still be Jewish if I did not belong to a temple? Did I have to be Orthodox and follow all of God’s 613 commandments in order to be fully Jewish in the way God intended? Not being fully part of a Jewish community gave me a sense of tenuous faith, I was close but not close enough. I wasn’t angry though, I was grateful. A seat at a service was still a seat, and if God was omnipotent and omnipresent like He said He was, then He was everywhere. Even as a child I had a sense of that. I felt closest to God in the temple, but He was also close in other places for me- at home, at school, and in my writing. He was over all.
I grew up in a predominately Jewish neighborhood, sprinkled in with our beautiful multicultural neighbors who completed my circle. I watched week after week as many of my neighbors went to shul, something I so desperately wanted to do. Both of my parents were Jewish by birth, but not religious, and had no interest in going to temple, but they had no problem agreeing to take me to temple and allowing me to participate in services. Even better than that was the fact that my temple offered a Saturday morning youth service, filled with eager Jewish children who were ready to celebrate and worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As Jewish children, we were bonded in history, community, and ancestry, a long bloodline of our Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs who led the way for future generations to lead wholly Jewish lives that honored God, Adonai, the King of the Universe.
Every Saturday morning my dad would drop me at the corner street of the temple. I’d get ready for service like I was getting ready for a wedding, my best dress, best smile, and ready heart to enter the temple of God. And although my parents did not go with me, that was no matter to me. Their generosity and love in allowing me to spend time with my God were enough to show me how much they loved me.
I did not own a siddur of my own, I did not even know if that was something that I was allowed to have as a female. I was ten and still a child, just so happy to hold a copy of this ancient Jewish prayer book in my hands. Upon entering the room for service which was held in a small room and not in the main temple, I knew I had entered a holy place. And although so many children were there with their siblings and friends and I was alone, I felt embraced by the Holy God who I only knew from a vision. Surprisingly, being by myself in those services only solidified my bond to this God who lived in the heavens. He did not feel close back then, but He did feel real- real enough that I must have heard the call in my heart to be standing in temple by myself as a ten-year-old child. I felt purpose and passion and peace in that room, as we sang prayers in unison and gave worship to the God of my ancestors. Being Jewish was not just my culture, it was in my blood.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Missio Dei to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.