Sheina’s Story: An Academic Search for the Truth
My story begins on the other side of the world in Australia where I was born. Both sides of my family immigrated there in the mid to late 1800s. My childhood was spent in a Christian home. I did not know that I had a Jewish heritage until I was around age 13, at which time my mother told me of her family background and that she was Jewish. (She had embraced Christianity when she married my father.) For years it didn’t impact my life greatly because I had no real understanding of what it meant to be Jewish. Additionally, my maternal grandmother died before I was born and I have only one memory of ever seeing my maternal grandfather. He has now been deceased many years. Then because my family immigrated to America when I was 12, contact with my family roots has been very limited and practically nonexistent. Looking back, it seems that most of my life has been a spiritual journey — a search for the truth. Now as I begin to write my story, I can say that after years of frustration and turmoil, I am finally at peace. I am attending synagogue regularly, building for myself a Jewish life and Jewish home, and everything has come full circle.
Eventually, in my new country, I went to college, married, had a son, and attended church sporadically, all the while feeling the pull to explore and understand my Jewish roots. And because of my disconnection from my roots and not having the slightest idea of what to do about it…I did nothing. The kind of search I was to eventually undertake seemed out of the question at the time. From a Christian point of view, it was forbidden to ever question the teachings of the faith. Attending synagogue wasn’t anything I thought seriously about. It was a bridge that seemed impossible to cross.
After the birth of my son, I learned about Hebrew Christianity. They seemed like the answer. I could have the best of both worlds. And because I had no understanding of what it meant to be Jewish, I was naturally drawn to them. About the same time I learned that our local university had a Judaic Studies Program. And because I had a real desire to know and understand more, I enrolled in the Department for Post Graduate Classes.
This was to become a major turning point in my life. The more I studied and learned, the more I began to look at things differently. Not because the professors were proselytizing me, but because of my own research. I began to analyze the things I had learned and was being taught and to compare these teachings to the Hebrew Bible and against history. As I began to analyze the teachings of the New Testament, a very anti-Jewish picture was emerging. Fairly early in my studies, I wrote a paper concerning “The Roots of Christian Anti-Semitism.” The writing of this paper was to profoundly change me. In the process of researching this paper, I read early Christian accounts from the documents written by the Church Fathers. The very people who were responsible for the foundation of Christian theology and who wrote of Christian love, also wrote of hatred toward Jews. The more I studied, the more unacceptable it was. More and more, the contradictions in their teachings and in the New Testament itself began to greatly concern me and were unacceptable to me as a valid belief system.
As I began to analyze the New Testament scriptures for truth or error, I became very observant of speakers and the weekly services. Academically, I continued to study and search for the truth, but my faith was unraveling. More and more a picture was emerging that was radically different from what I had always been taught and was being presented in the Hebrew Christian movement. The more I studied, the more apparent it became that it was impossible to be both Jewish and Christian. Hebrew Christians called their movement “Messianic Judaism”, but there was nothing in it even close to Judaism. What was becoming increasingly apparent was that the movement was really just Christianity cloaked in Jewish external symbols. When one got past the tallits and the music and the Hebrew language, what lay underneath was Christian theology. Hebrew scripture was being distorted to make it fit the Christian interpretation of scripture.
Although my former faith no longer existed and no longer had meaning for me, leaving the religion of my birth was not a thought I entertained lightly. Over the next 3-4 years, I continued to attend services, weighing the pros and cons of conversion and returning to my mother’s roots, along with other options as to what I should do. Over this time I read and researched and gave it a great deal of serious thought. Above all, my husband and child were of primary concern and how what was happening to me would impact them. It was a time of struggle and turmoil. I had friends in the movement who were warm and loving and kind, yet they were not enough. How could I continue to do something I felt was morally so very wrong?
Throughout my struggle, I shared openly with my husband. Eventually he was able to say to me that he would give me his blessing for me to begin to attend synagogue and that he would even attend with me.
The next difficulty was taking that first step. Although I no longer believed in the validity of Hebrew Christian teachings, it was hard to leave what I had known, and walk into a life that was unknown.
The first step was the hardest. But because I had the courage to take that first step, I am now working on building a Jewish life and a Jewish home. I now meet on a weekly basis with my Rabbi and I am preparing for my own ceremony celebrating my return to my mother’s people. I often think about my mother and the Jewish women in my mother’s family. I think they would be proud and happy at my decision and my return. Recently my husband has asked for conversion and my son is beginning to take steps toward his future. And this year I am traveling back to Australia (my first time since leaving) where, hopefully, at long last I can connect with my mother’s family.
It has been a long struggle, but finally I can say that my life is centered and has meaning for me. And at last I am at peace and I am focused on doing what I need to do, and what is right.