PASSING ON A HERITAGE
Tikkun Staff Writers
In a recent article, Dr Daniel Juster wrote about the need for an authentically Jewish cultural expression in our congregations and ways in which to increase and encourage its development. We want to pick up on those points and write briefly about the need to create a Messianic Jewish identity that can be passed on through the generations.
One of the consistent marks of our people across the centuries has been the concern for dor l'dor - generation to generation - passing on our heritage for each successive generation. This has been such a concern that many stories come down to us of parents that have forgone all luxuries and much of what we would consider essential in order to provide their children with a proper Jewish education, an appropriate shidduch - marriage partner - and a place in the Jewish community.
Somehow, within the church world, much of this has become lost as each generation in turn sees itself as the last generation before Yeshua returns. This has led both parents and congregations to focus on short-term targets and goals, ignoring the possibility that we may still have a little while longer to wait and that in the meantime, the next generation needs a clear identity, purpose and sense of calling in order to function. Jewish identity, as those of us that are still working on ours can testify, doesn't suddenly appear overnight.
It is absolutely crucial that we think generationally. Do we want to put all our eggs is the "Yeshua is coming very soon" basket, or do we want to prepare for a future, including our children's future? If He does return in our time, well and good! But what if we are not in the last of the last days? What are we going to leave our children in the area of Messianic Jewish identity that will not only preserve, but also deepen, our movement?
After all, we have been waiting for Messiah to return for a long time and if the current generation is wrong, then the next generation will be lacking in essential life, survival and growth skills in order not only to continue the movement, but also to see it develop and mature. Worse, without a strong Messianic Jewish identity, they will polarise towards either the church or synagogue, losing our unique position as the bridge God intends us to be, or feeling that both positions are so weak as to not be worth bothering about, will abandon the struggle and drop out of religion altogether.
Jewish Congregational Personality
First of all, we need what Dan calls a "Jewish congregational personality." Our music and way of worship, our prayer, our liturgy, our very language should all speak of our utter devotion to Yeshua and our authentic Jewishness. While we should never compromise on truth, our congregations should have an atmosphere that Jewish people can recognize and identify with. For some congregations, that will be a mild Jewishness suitable to the more secular Jews. For other congregations, that will mean moving into more of a synagogue mode that will be recognizable and encouraging to Jewish families that have deep synagogue connections, with a rainbow of expressions in between.
The important thing is for us "especially our congregational leadership" to know why we do what we do. Why do we say the first line of the Shema but not the V'ahavta? Why do we, or don't we, pray the Amidah. These are core expressions of liturgical Judaism without which a service is not recognizably within the Jewish family of worship. Why do we use little or lots of liturgy, lots of church music versus essentially Jewish-flavored music? Are we integrating more Hebrew into our services? Do our services communicate either to secular or to religious Jews in terms they can understand?
Jewish Family Personality
Second, we need a "Jewish family personality." Without getting into the issue of the place of Jews and Gentiles in our congregations, it is common sense that identity will not be formed by once or twice a week exposure. Families need to incorporate Jewish practices and blessings, Pesach and other family-oriented celebrations, abstaining from non-kosher foods, keeping Shabbat, and involvement in Jewish life-cycle events such as Brit Milah, girl's naming ceremonies, Jewish weddings, and Jewish mourning.
A life that is worth living is worth living all the time - our children will sense what our real commitment is, from our overall life-actions rather than our words or our pastimes. Something that we talk about and agree with on Shabbat, but then fail to put into practice in our homes and families has no real part in our lives and the next generation will quickly see and observe how importantly we value our Jewish family personality by the level of priority it has in our lives. When we switch our focus from, for example, the months in the Gregorian calendar and become concerned about each passing Rosh Chodesh and the cycle of the mo'edim - G-d's appointments - then we demonstrate that our Jewish life is for real.
Third, we need to connect with the visible Jewish community. This means taking classes at the Jewish Community Center or Adult Education at a nearby synagogue, going to Jewish music concerts, going to an occasional synagogue service, or whatever way fits in with your personal interests. This sort of contact is essential in learning how to communicate well with Jews who don't yet know the Messiah.
This can be daunting to those who are not familiar with the way that the Jewish world ticks, but the relative anonymity of cultural events and classes often allows such an introduction to pass without too much difficulty, while one develops one's Jewish Community social skills. Any form of communication takes time to practice before becoming proficient, and as Hillel said: if not now, when ?
Fourth, we need to be learners - in our congregations, our families, and as individuals we need to be learning some aspect of Judaism, Jewish history, Jewish culture. We need to encourage the learning of Hebrew at every level.
It is only by learning that we can immerse ourselves in our past, our centuries of heritage, our writings and history - and filtered through Yeshua and guided by the Holy Spirit we can connect to the people that we are and the people in whose shoes we now stand as a part of the Jewish people. Having the humility to learn with and from others places us in the right position to be an integrated part of the Jewish people and to gain acceptance from our brothers after the flesh.
The overall effect of all this will be to create a pervasive atmosphere that values our Jewish heritage. If our children see us taking these things seriously - and not just on Shabbat - it is more likely that they will, too. Our hope is that they will receive from us a heritage that they will deepen and pass on to our grandchildren and beyond.