My son, the Christian?!
CHAPTER 2: I want what he's got !
Just to recap, we left our perplexed Jewish mother challenged by her son to test the God of her ancestors. How does she react? Let us see.
My first problem was, "Did God exist?". Steve told me to pray to him, but surely I needed to know that he was there to start with? I hadn't given him much thought in my life. I had accepted that there had to be 'something out there'. He hadn't figured in my life, certainly never in the synagogue or in any festivals we had celebrated. We would rush through the religious bit to get to the food. Hymie, too, never discussed God in any prayers that he speedily read in Hebrew. Sometimes I would ask him, as he raced through the pages, hurrying to get to the lochshen soup, 'what does that mean?' or 'what did you just say?' He would reply that it was not important to understand, as he never questioned what the Rabbis had told him, and that was good enough for him. He just did what he was taught. I questioned many things throughout my marriage, always asking Hymie, 'why do we do this or that?' He always gave me vague answers, he never mentioned God. When he dropped a prayer book by accident, he always kissed it. 'Why kiss a book?', I would ask. He said something about respect. How does one respect a book?
I had stopped going to schul (synagogue) many years ago other than a simcha (a joyous occasion), because again I would question, 'why am I here?' I didn't understand the prayers or the Rabbi. God was not a presence that I felt.
Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) was a time to make sure your synagogue seats were booked, as this would be the only time this place of worship would be filled. But what did it mean to me, other than a new set of clothes? You couldn't be seen in any old thing as it was an opportunity to look around at all the latest fashions. What a lot of hypocrisy! I stopped going.
So when Steve asked me to pray to God, I wasn't sure he was there, or whether he would hear me. But I did have something to pray about. I did have a problem, a pressing problem. You see, Hymie was going into hospital the following week, which would mean that I would have to spend the whole week on my own. This was a nightmare thought that I was dreading. No-one knew of my fear of night-time, and the fears that the dark brought to me. I had always hidden this fear. So that night, eager to try anything, I prayed a simple prayer to Steve's God and asked for an answer .... within a week, as promised. Now my situation seemed hopeless. I couldn't go and stay with the kids, as I was needed constantly at home to run the business. But also, I was ashamed of this weakness and my family did not realise my fear. I always had to appear confident, when inside, sometimes, I was a quivering jelly. And this was such a time.
Amazingly, within a couple of days my prayer was answered! A phone call from a Sister in London Hospital asked me, as I was one of the few relatives of an elderly aunt, whether she could convalesce in my home. On February 21st my Auntie Bessie came out of hospital. On February 22nd, Hymie went in. That was both a shock (my prayer's actually been answered) and a comfort (no nights on my own). I told Steve this. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say, 'I told you so', but I could see he was impressed. He gave me a Bible.
Yes I was impressed. I'd only been a believer for 18 months or so and out of the 'honeymoon period', when life was rose-tinted and God seemed to show His powers and provisions daily. This is the first time when I'd witnessed first-hand someone else's answered prayer. And the amazing thing was that she wasn't even a believer, she'd just started out on the road of discovery. God must have wanted her badly! It's not that I doubted the prayer, it's just that I was surprised that He answered it!
Ever since the day I'd finally given in to the pressure of the evidence and the promptings of a patient God and became a believer in the Jewish Messiah, Monica (who had been a Christian for quite some time) and I felt our lives moving into a new dimension. Within the space of a few weeks my work situation changed dramatically. The morning after praying for a drastic solution to our money problems, I was made redundant and sent home from work with a P45 and a wounded ego. One step back and two steps forwards, because I became a freelancer, immediately doubling my potential income, and haven't looked back since. There were, and still are, many other stories, but I won't bore you here. One last thing. It was at a meeting with some friends that I was told by an Angolan Christian about that time that all my family were going to become Christians. Now there's a thought, but quite ridiculous. Or was it?
Two or three weeks passed. Hymie was home from hospital and all was well. Steve and I had not shared his faith with Hymie yet, I decided to find out more myself first. I needed more information before breaking the news, as I knew he would take this badly. So I read the Bible that Steve gave me, which I had covered with brown paper, so as not to be found out. I had never read the Bible before, not even the Jewish part. It was just words, beautiful words, good stories, lots of information. But meaningless words to me. What did it do for me? Nothing. It was just facts, and more facts. I was entering a different world, a Christian world and I was a child, just beginning infant school. I found it hard. I wanted to believe, I wanted to understand and know Jesus. But it was difficult.
I had a big struggle, as I am not, by nature, a bookish person. I am a people person, a mixer, I like talking, hearing people's opinions. I knew that my search was not going to be in a library (as it was for Steve), but through getting out and about. But, for now, Steve was on call at all times to answer as best he could my endless questions.
And, boy, did she go on! Phoning me up at all hours, with the most ridiculous questions. But I was patient, though it's not something that comes natural to me. Then someone else came onto the scene, quite unexpectedly, and the situation became even more interesting. But first, let us go back 16 months ...
Three months after I'd made my life-changing decision, I decided that I had to tell someone in my family. The obvious person was Michele, my little sister. Nicknamed 'Korky the Cat' for some strange reason (she called me 'Scruff the Dog' - not hard to see the reasoning there for those that know me), she was the feisty one of the family. Another product of a liberal upbringing, she too grew up a rebel, forsaking the legions of eligible Jewish accountants and estate agents, for the lure of Italy and, particularly, Italian boys. She was off to Italy at every opportunity, much to the dismay of my parents, who could see their dreams of nice respectable Jewish in-laws disappearing into the mist. She ended up working in Italy, first as the clumsiest waitress in Tuscany, then as the silliest tour guide in Western Europe (you can see I think very highly of my sister, but, believe me, the feeling's quite mutual - we share a healthy disrespect for each other, though of course it's all in fun!). In the end she married an Italian, Tonino, who she brought back to England and installed in Epping as her slave. So my parents reaped what they sowed. By not pushing my sister and I into Jewish circles in our formative years and not giving us the customary Jewish training of encouraging/forcing me to become an accountant/doctor/solicitor and encouraging/forcing Michele into the arms of an accountant/doctor/solicitor, they've ended up with Catholic in-laws, Italian on one side and German on the other! Oy vay, may Great Aunt Sadie roll over in her grave!
It was in November when I finally plucked up the courage and arrived at her nice house in nice Epping for an impromptu visit. She was a mite suspicious as I don't do impromptu visits, I rarely visited at all. I was there for an hour. During that time her daughter Francesca did not stir once in her cot and the minute I had finished explaining myself, Tonino arrived back from work. It was a performance that could have been planned. In fact it was, every facet of it, but not by me! She was startled at my story, yet seemed a bit over-familiar with some things I said, something that I didn't dwell upon until much later.
So, returning to our story, we find our co-conspirators, Mother and son, plotting secretly over the phone, pledged to upset the cosyness of our little family forever. Then, suddenly, after a 16 month gestation period, out pops Michele out of the woodwork, a Bible in her hand and a strange unearthly gleam in her eyes ...
Now Michele and I, at that time, had a close working relationship, discussing many things as we travelled together to the shops. So naturally I brought up the subject of Steve and this religious business with her. I couldn't believe my ears when she said to me, softly, 'Mum, I've been searching for myself for many years, even when I was working on the Kibbutz many years ago, where I had a Christian friend.' And then she added 'and I've come to the same conclusion as Steve'. I was dumbstruck, I could not believe what I was hearing. I thought that I had brought up two children in a conventional way, expecting them to lead straightforward lives, like my friends around me. It was a dramatic blow from Steve and now I was hearing Michele confessing the same. What was my overall fear? - How do we explain this all to Hymie?
I was also amazed about Michele, as her search was totally unknown to me. As far as I was concerned I had given her my spiel some 16 months earlier and that was that. Not being a natural evangelist I never considered that my sister would need nurture and follow-up and I left her to her own devices. So here she was, by now going to an Anglican Church in Epping and well advanced in her search. In some ways I'm not surprised that I hadn't known what was going on inside her for all those months, because, as a family, we are all a bit deep. We get it from our dad. He is so deep that it would take a depth charge to bring his innermost thoughts to the surface. We didn't really discuss together the important matters. Let's face it, I'd been a Christian for 18 months by then and, apart from one hour with Michele, had not discussed this, the most important thing in my life, with anyone.
We used to go to my parents every week for Sunday lunch (it's now every fortnight - every week was a bit too much excitement for the 'old pair', now that there are five noisy kids in the family!). Forget your Sunday roast, we dined on salmon cutlets, fish balls, chopped liver, smoked salmon, chopped herring, egg and onion and cucumbers. On second thoughts, it doesn't look so good on paper, bring back Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding! Well, anyway, we used to arrive late every week. Where could we have been going on a Sunday morning? We used to run a rota of excuses - got up late, someone came round, charity work etc. My mum suspected at the time that there was something fishy ( apart from the food) going on, but my dad, the self-confessed intellectual in the family, was clueless.
They never did understand why we left the leafy suburbs of Ilford to go and live in a run down terraced house in Plaistow, in the heart of the East End. They rarely visited and banned us from inviting any relatives around. On the day that we moved, Monica's mum offered her services, but when she saw the area that we moved to and the state of the house, refused to get out of the car and sat there, hands gripped on the steering wheel, in a state of utter shock! We moved to Plaistow to be near the Church, St Andrew's Church, where we felt really comfortable. The Church was truly multi-cultural with over a dozen nationalities represented, including a token Jew, Howard, but more about him later. We knew that God wanted us in Plaistow because of the speed of the house move. Our house in Ilford had been on the market for quite some time with no interest at all from anyone up until the day, at a home group, when Monica and I were encouraged to pray together about it. So we did, there and then, out aloud. It was our first prayer together. When we arrived home an hour later there was a note in the letterbox. A neighbour wanted to buy the house for a relative and made an offer there and then. Six weeks later we were living in Plaistow, opposite the Church!
Michele and I had always been close, discussing all things, so now we had something more in common, my search and her discovery of Jesus. I felt, at that time, that we were speaking of two different people. Her Jesus was a Gentile, mine, I believed, was a Jew. For so many of the things that we discussed, I was not satisfied with her answer as it did not fit in with Jesus as a Jew.
Those next few weeks were exciting, as well as building up my business, I was reading the Bible and all the books Steve gave me, although it was a bit of a trial as they were mostly over my head. I knew what my next step had to be. I had to go to a Church, to see what it was all about. Because I had never been in a Church other than as an architectural experience, I thought maybe I'll find God in one. So I prayed, my second main prayer, that God would provide the circumstance. This was a more difficult situation than you might think, as Hymie and I were always together on Sundays, and I couldn't just say to him, 'won't be long, just off to Church'. He would die on the spot, as he still didn't have a clue about Steve, let alone Michele.
The prayer was answered. This time, to help the prayer to be answered, Hymie was rushed to hospital with a complication left over from his earlier operation! But this time I felt anger. I was angry with God for allowing this to happen. He would have known that I did not want anyone to suffer for me. I then realised what I had been doing. I had been using God as a sort of a 'genie', just like rubbing the lamp for my wishes to be answered. What I felt, too, that he was telling me was to think hard before you ask for something, as his thoughts are not like our thoughts. It was a lesson I never forgot. Hymie was not seriously ill and was out in a couple of days. But I was able to visit a Church that Sunday!
So my mum was brought to earth. I wonder what my dad would have thought (and what he's thinking now, reading this), as he lay on the hospital bed in agony, worrying not just about the pain but the money he was losing through missing work and the hospital food he was having to endure. My dad's two great loves, after his family, were (and still are) food and money, which helps us to understand the problems he was later to have coming to terms with spiritual things. The supernatural pales into insignificance when your mind is unwilling to think about anything deeper than your pocket and your stomach!
Anyway there he was, lying on his bed in Whipp's Cross hospital, thinking of cholent (Jewish hot pot) and what he was missing in Brookside, totally unaware that the Almighty God, Creator of the Universe, had conspired with his loving wife to put him there so that she could mix with a few Gentiles. It's just as well that he didn't believe in God, otherwise he might have got a bit angry.
On the first night he was in hospital we had a small meeting in their house. My mum and Michele were there, as well as her husband, Tonino and my mum's friend, Helen. I brought along Howard, the only other Jew in St Andrew's Church, and still smarting with the shame that he had lost his 'token' status, though happy with the thought that he would no longer be consulted on such issues as the hermeneutics of the Hebrew Scriptures, advanced Yiddish and the theory of keeping kosher. This mantle had passed to me as Howard had somehow dented the myth that all Jews had an innate understanding of religious matters. It wasn't his fault that he was brought up in a totally irreligious household and that he wasn't even barmitzvah'ed. He didn't have a Rabbi Jacobs to impart gems of Jewish knowledge to him. The problem was, as St Andrew's Church soon found out, I was equally incapable at answering their questions, and so the myth of Jewish spiritual superiority was totally destroyed.
So Howard did his stuff at the meeting and he was pretty good. Though not exactly blessed by the Beth Din, Howard was Jewish enough to impress my family, particularly my Mum. He answered her questions and she went away satisfied. The reaction of the others was not so positive. Helen seemed totally untouched by it all, but Tonino, as Michele told us afterwards, became quite angry at the whole thing. As it turned out Tonino had had a hard time in his youth at the hands of the institutional Catholic Church in Italy. He'd seen the corruption and the greed and, to him, all religion was tarred with the same brush. He wanted to know who was making the money, because that was what religion was all about! Well, Tonino, looking back now, from my own experiences, I can tell you than no-one makes money out of their beliefs, unless they're into some dodgy dealings on the side - like the Italian Catholic Church 30-40 years ago, perhaps!
That night my Mum stayed at our house and, on the following day, a Sunday, she went to our Church.
So I went to Steve's Church. I was not impressed, it was so Gentile, so 'Christian'. I was disappointed, I had expected something 'spiritual', something that would bring me closer to God. Instead I heard a lot of dreary hymns that I did not know and a sermon that I did not understand. I saw nothing that was worth the sacrifice Hymie had (unwillingly) made for me. What was a Jew doing in a place like this? What was the point? I was confused. And there was one thing that made it worse. As I sat there in the Church, facing me on the wall behind the minister was a huge wooden ..... cross. That made me uncomfortable. Why did this cross upset me so? The answer, I believe, has something to do with our Jewish history and what had been done to us in the name of that cross. I asked Steve to look into it.
Where to go next
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