Fitting a square peg into a round hole had become my specialty over the years. “I’m a flexible person, able to adapt to any situation,” I thought. Change my Christian lifestyle over to my newfound Messianic Jewish one? No problem! My Sunday morning worship to Shabbat? Easy peasy. No more bacon, shrimp or exotic foods that I have trouble pronouncing? Piece of cake – eh, um … kugel! I got this!
In fact, I did so well fitting into my new community that I was more than willing to brag about my Chanukah decorations to anyone who would listen. It was a fascinating story to tell with a large, ominous Star of David outside my house, blue and white lights hanging from the eaves, a large menorah in the window and my nine foot Chanukah bush in the middle of my living room! “What a great witnessing tool,” I reasoned with myself.
There’s something to be said about authenticity; a lesson to be learned about presenting who we are in Messiah in a way that changes someone else’s life besides our own. With sincere intentions I made this transformation, but sentimental traditions are hard to part with so, every year, I assembled that bush, hung the ornaments and ignored that still small voice inside me that said, “Are you willing to walk with Me in the fullness of your Jewish identity?”
I, personally, have nothing against Christmas trees. I understand the arguments for and against, but I have a large family and none of them relate to our Jewish heritage. We were not raised Jewish, so Christmas is important to my brothers and their families. Even my agnostic dad and atheist mom cherished this beloved holiday. Yet, every year was becoming a challenge for me to express my Jewishness during the holidays until I finally acquiesced to that voice in my head. I decided to leave the tree in the box!
It was that very year that I got a knock on the door from an orthodox rabbi who saw my menorah in the window. Covered in black garb, he and his family came into my home, sufganiot in tow, to express their delight in the large chanukiah in my window! That man carefully inspected my home while we chatted, looking for signs of “Jewish pride.” This was a test that I needed to pass. After asking more questions, he left, satisfied that our family was Jewish. He saw, heard and felt the voices of my ancestors in my home. It was the beginning of a good friendship and a great witness, over the years, of our Messiah.
Why did I wait so long to let go of something that would never draw my Jewish community into my home, but quite possibly push them away? After the rabbi left, my family looked at me and remarked, “Aren’t you glad you didn’t put that Chanukah bush up this year?”
Yes, I am.