By Cantor Lee Degani, Congregation Shirat Shalom, January 4, 2018
It is over three years now since the mother first called but only now that I publicly share the story….
She began by telling me she would just speak from her heart. Her family was very active in a non denominational church in Kentucky which very much honored the Jewish people as Jesus was Jewish. She and her husband wanted their son to learn Hebrew and become a Bar Mitzvah, the rite of passage for Jewish teenagers. This would help them all as Christians to understand the roots of Jesus.
As you can imagine, she was quite nervous telling me all this. I replied by sharing what we teach our children in Hebrew School, “There are many paths to climb a mountain, we all reach the top and are together there. All Sacred Paths are to be respected. ” I also told her that Rabbi David and I are instruments of G-d. If her family was brought to us, it was for a reason.
We began teaching the boy Hebrew and the Jewish perspective of the Torah through our online tutoring program which uses a form of video chat. As with all our students we developed a bond with the entire family. As we progressed I wasn’t quite sure how a Bar Mitzvah ceremony would be performed for at that time it wasn’t in the plans to have Rabbi David and me there. I thought we would work with the pastor and have him conduct some kind of brief ceremony for the church members which would include the boy reading his Torah portion from a child’s size Torah. We have one of these replica Torahs in Hebrew School and it is easy to purchase.
But one thing led to another and the family decided they would like us to come to Kentucky to perform the service. It was going to be very expensive to fly both of us to perform the ceremony so we decided only Rabbi David would go. This was somewhat disappointing as I felt very close to the family and as many know, we are a team, used to doing services together. But I also kept getting the message, the inner knowingness that I was to go also.
One morning before another Bar Mitzvah service I prayed and said, “Okay, if I am supposed to be there, please give me the financial means to do so.” After the service, the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy, put cash in my hands, enough to pay for 2/3rds of a ticket! The next week I received money I wasn’t expecting which paid for the rest of the ticket!
Once we arrived in Kentucky we were welcomed as such honored guests! Even the invitations said our names with the words “honored guests!” Everyone was just thrilled we were there including the pastor and his wife.
We set up a sanctuary in a Fire Hall meeting room. One option was to have the service in their church but they didn’t want us to feel uncomfortable. The Fire Hall became a beautiful sanctuary which I thought was so appropriate since the mystical teachings tell us the Hebrew letters of the Torah are written by black fire on white fire. The boy and his grandfather even built an ark for the Torah!
We conducted a Friday evening service and explained all the prayers as we went along. The congregation of about 100 was mostly made up of the church members who participated in every part of the service by singing along with the Hebrew transliteration and English as well! There was actually one Jewish couple there but most of the people had never even met a Jewish person before, including the grandparents of the boy!
When Rabbi David spoke to the boy he told him that he is a bridge between two sister religions. At the end of the service, we invited the pastor of the church to give his blessing over the challah after the boy did the Hebrew blessing.
The pastor broke apart the bread and said, “We have been broken.” He then put the bread back together again and said, “May this now be the beginning of our people coming back together.”
There was something so profound that happened at that moment! I can only describe it as Waves of Love that came into the room deepening and expanding the Sacredness that was already there. Each person’s heart was truly touched that day….
But that is not the end… For each time I have retold the story of the Pastor’s Bar Mitzvah Prayer people share how their hearts are so touched by this! I have come to understand that with each heart touched, there is further healing of a broken past….
And so I share this story now with you…. Perhaps your heart will be touched too….