This blog post will be different from others you’ve read on Neshama Women because it’s me you’re getting. I lean far more to a practical faith and I’m not an incredibly spiritual or even vaguely pious woman; I’m just sometimes funny. But I want to tell you a story. It has a beginning, but so far, no end. The chapters in between the book’s covers are oddly-numbered, because they go back and forth and some repeat themselves. Others are in danger of being remembered fondly, but wrongly; and some are in need of repagination because history repeats itself, and then it doesn’t. This is a story about growth with purpose, but not because that growth was intentional; it just simply happened. It was organic on a level that even Whole Foods couldn’t have invented. It surprised me at the beginning when it started and continues to surprise me even now.
In 1999, I had a quiet but rather full life living in Skokie, Illinois, working and living within the Jews for Jesus community, on the JFJ staff 12 hours a week, raising two almost-adult daughters and managing our household and the life of my very handsome, peripatetic husband Jhan. We didn’t have a large house; it was just about large enough. Now that I think about it, it wasn’t really quiet, but it was in the ‘burbs.
It was the week before Rosh Hashanah and I was thinking about brisket. The Midwest KNOWS beef. But if you buy a stingy little three or four-pound brisket it won’t have enough fat on it and it’ll be dry – tantamount to being a Jewish sin. So, I bought 12-pound briskets; two of them.
Who to invite? My daughter came home from college with two hungry friends, which led me to think of her friends that were going to school locally. Rosh Hashanah is not a national holiday in the USA and so school is only closed for a day – if at all. Most of my daughter’s friends did not have the luxury of having their Jewish families nearby. We began inviting students from the Jewish Studies Program at Moody Bible Institute and North Park College; stray “orphan” messianic students whose families lived in NYC or Florida; Northwestern University Jewish preppies, and anyone else we could think of. We asked our friends if their friends who lived outside Chicago had children going to school in Chicago. We got many names.
As things unfolded, I was afraid we had too many names, not enough chairs, and perhaps only just-about-enough brisket.
And so, they came. Some I recognized, many I did not. But the experience of having a Rosh Hashanah meal, combined with Hebrew blessings and Messianic fellowship, filled much more than their bellies. It was apparent that their souls were aching for community, and all it took was the purchase of too much brisket (there were even leftovers) and several borrowed tables and chairs to provide the space in which questions could be asked and relationships sought.
At the end of the meal we asked if they’d like to get together again, maybe not for 24 pounds of meat, but what about Shabbat? What about a Passover seder (the story of the 46-in-our-living-room-for-seder will wait for the spring; I haven’t yet totally recuperated from it). Whatever we suggested, they said yes, and we took that affirmation to heart. Their studies had left them hungering for food for the soul and a chance to meet other Jewish believers who were in the same student boat as they.
Why am I telling you this story, Neshama Women? I’m not nearly as spiritual as my dear friends Heather Rosenberg or Diana Levine, and so writing a “normal” devotional didn’t seem fitting for me this time. Yet, the banner line for this Facebook page reads “Women Connecting to G-d and Each Other” and that sums up one of the greatest gifts women can provide for others: connection.
The High Holidays offer us a chance to use our best china and the tablecloth that’s only used for special occasions. We pull out our old favorites and then some new recipes and I look for the honey server Jhan and I bought in Tel Aviv at the Bauhaus Museum (see photo). But if we as Messianic women – single or married – invite in the stranger, the disenfranchised, the student, the friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, we may do more than have just a memorable evening. We might ignite the beginning of a community that will endure and testify to the reality of the Messiah of Israel, the Redeemer of our souls, the One who stands ready to forgive and turn us from sin to a righteous Messianic Jewish life.
It’s 20 years later and so much has changed in my life; I am often breathless as I recall all that G-d has done. A brisket dinner in 1999 was the start of a ministry to young adults that I had never envisioned. Jhan and I hosted countless Shabbats, holiday meals, New Year’s Day gatherings, game nights, Bible studies together in Skokie and then in our Brooklyn Victorian. Now my Los Angeles condo – so much smaller than any home I’ve ever lived in, where I now live alone – is rising to the adage, “If you feed them, they will come.”
So, this year, let’s feed them, whoever they are, with the truth of the High Holidays: we have been granted the privilege of having a High Priest who has made an eternal sacrifice, beginning in the heavens and extending through His hands and in fellowship with others who do or will believe in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah. And perhaps this year will be the one when we can say, “If we feed them, He will come.” L’shana tova!