From the Black Church to Synagogue

fromtheblackchurchtosynagogue

One woman’s journey from yelling “Thank you, Jesus!” in church, to making plans to raise a Jewish family.

by Ardia Adah-Bush

Like many girls, growing up I often dreamt about what my husband might look like, the number of children we would have, their names, and how great it would be to have my own family. As a young woman, I have realized the exact particulars of my husband’s appearance are not as important as I once thought, and I can not do justice to my children by simply providing them with nice names or ideal Sunday afternoons with crustless sandwiches for lunch. Rather, I would have to try to give my family a strong foundation, and for me that means establishing a firm sense of self that is guided by spirituality through my connection to the Jewish people.

I was born into a Black American family, where the phrase “Thank you, Jesus!” was common. Generally speaking, my mother raised me to be a Christian, but we did not belong to a specific denomination. When I was about eight years old, my mother and I began attending services at a Baptist church, and it was there that I was baptized. It was the typical Black American church with people “receiving the Holy Ghost” in the aisles, the preacher becoming hoarse from shouting his sermon, and southern-born grannies clutching their Bibles while shouting “Yes, Lord!” I remember always feeling out of place and having many unanswered questions.

A number of circumstances pulled my mother away from church, and if she was not going to go, I, at the age of ten, certainly was not either. Although the Trinity and morality were present in my home, in the seven years since I had last attended a religious service, I grew to regard myself as spiritual but not religious. It was not until my senior year of high school that that would begin to change.

From the Black church to Judaism

In high school, I had a conversation with friends regarding true belief and the contradictions we had encountered growing up as Christians; for example, abiding a deep love for Jesus—a Jew—but having disdain or outright hate for Jewish people, or the contradiction of having statues in places of worship when the Bible forbids graven images. By the end of the conversation, I found myself saying, “I’m going to become Jewish.” I said it half in jest, but the idea grew on me. I had concluded, over the years, that the struggles of Africans in America were not so different from the struggles of the Jews throughout history. Because I thought Christianity was an offshoot of the Jewish religion, it made sense to me to return to the source. It seemed to me that Judaism was more or less unchanged by pagan religions or commercialism, and allowed for a direct connection with G-d, and thus the self, other people, and nature.

From then on, I tried to read, watch, and listen to anything and everything dealing with Judaism. I remember the very first book I bought was a copy of Judaism for Dummies by Rabbi Ted Falcon and David Blatner. In time, I would move on to titles such as One People Two Worlds by Ammiel Hirsch and Yosef Reinman, To Be a Jew by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, and movies like O Judeu, a Portuguese film about Jewish poet Antônio José da Silva. Gradually, it all began to make sense. I would eventually attend a Catholic university close to home, due to financial reasons rather than theological, but I made a fair share of Jewish friends who welcomed my enthusiasm, patiently answered my questions, and pointed me in various directions.

One certainty: raising a Jewish family

I graduated college in 2007, and since entering the workforce, the prospect of marriage and family has become a bigger reality than ever before. Yet, in choosing Judaism, a new set of questions and dilemmas arise. For example, I am Black and have no ties to the Hebrew bloodline, but is that important to me? Why or why not? Would marrying someone of Jewish ancestry, as opposed to another convert, make my family’s identity more concrete? Up to this point, I have been studying and absorbing as much as I can through books, lectures, discussions with Jewish friends and their rabbis, and services to which I’ve been invited. I’m still far off from completing the conversion process. The answers to my questions evolve as I continue my education, but I am certain that I am going to raise a Jewish family.

My perception of a Jewish family is based on a combination of messages from the Torah given to me by rabbis, from books on the subject, witnessing the workings of loving Jewish homes when I was a welcome guest, and being friends with the young women and men that are the products of them. I have concluded that a good Jewish family, first and foremost, begins with two strong people who love each other and are confident in the strength of their union. A family that claims Jewish identity must obviously be proud of that identity, and should impart how that identity has shaped the lives of individual family members, and the people as a whole. Not every contemporary Jewish family may be religiously observant, but the Jewish identity sprang from a family that was. The acknowledgment and retelling of the history of the Jewish people informs how the world has come to view and treat the Jews, how the current family came to be, and why the trials and triumphs of the past have allowed for continued accomplishments of Jewish people to this day.

The Jewish family provides each of its members the necessities for becoming an authentic, autonomous self; this self, of course, drawn from opportunities to exhibit maturity, intelligence, creativity, charity, diligence, honesty, humility, and opportunities for giving and earning respect. It’s a family that seeks peace in and out of the home, by which the parents not only communicate with their children and fairly discipline them, but also teach the children how to be fair, communicative, and disciplined on their own. It is a family in which children are encouraged to be lifelong learners, to strive for excellence, and to be passionate about justice and life. Ultimately, a Jewish family is one in which the adults provide a working model of what they teach and expect from their children. Some might say that these are the ideals that make a family of any religious or cultural background, but it is my belief that they are ideals that originated with, and are epitomized by, the Jewish people, thought, and doctrine.

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