Messianic Jews, while not properly acknowledged as such, are Ba’alei Tshuvah, ‘sons of repentance’. Upon accepting Messiah Yeshua as King, even Go’el (Redeemer), we often find ourselves on a path to greater appreciation of our Jewishness, our membership in Israel, and towards greater observance of the Mitzvot (commandments). This is both an individual and a communal path that the Messianic Jew and his congregation are on.
I wonder if my own story might be illustrative.
A Sephardic Bar Mitzvah in Cairo
I begin with my father Elie’s bar-mitzvah, in Egypt, before he was even 13 due to the exigencies of the war. A number of years ago my father related to me that he was Bar-Mitzvahed in Cairo at 12 with his older brother Albert (13) in Sha’ar Hashamayim Synagogue (I found it on the web, here), in the morning weekday service (this would have been a Monday or Thursday), taking the opportunity the family had before all the uncles (his mother Victoria Forte’s brothers) went to work. In Bombay where they sat out the war, my father had already been taught to read the Torah, no doubt laining in the Iraqi style.
They were in Cairo before Israel’s independence (the UN vote would occur just before my father’s 13th birthday)and already the Arabs were getting riled up against them and cursed them as they made their way back from the synagogue. Aunty Etty yelled back at them, which caused her husband no end of consternation. When they got home, Uncle Marco prayed a Psalm (you can guess which one!) and had my father say אמן at the end.
In the afternoon when the uncles came back from work there was a small celebration and to their surprise, Albert and Elie were given gifts. My father, the more ‘scholarly’ one, had prepared a special speech, at his Uncle Marco’s insistence, just before the event. He had to put pen to paper and after a short while was surprised as the thoughts began to flow and he was able to put together a tolerable speech that gained him some applause at the party. Sadly, we don’t have a copy. After he was done he thought ‘enough of that’ and tore it up and threw it away!
A Hebrew Christian Bar Mitzvah in Vancouver
A few years later, Elie came to see that Yeshua is Israel’s Messiah. In accordance with expectations of the day he stopped laying tefillin and became involved in the Church. Later, he married a Jewish woman from Berlin who had survived the war (hidden) and had become a believer in Yeshua after moving to London. I was born and thirteen years later, 1974, in Vancouver, took part in a very humble Bar Mitzvah celebration in our Vancouver living room. In that day there were no Messianic congregations in Vancouver, no Torah scrolls to be had or borrowed, and no other Messianic Jews to celebrate the occasion with, although some of our Jewish friends did thankfully take part. I remember being a little dismayed by it all. How did this fit with my ‘Christianity’? It was all a little too quiet, as if Christians in general might not sympathise with a Jewish family’s attempt to keep at least some of their people’s customs.
A Messianic Bar Mitzvah in Seattle
Fast forward two decades, and my wife (a Jewish girl from the ‘valley’ in LA who, like me, believes in Yeshua) and I had the privilege of celebrating our son’s Bar Mitzvah. Jeff was a bit of a terror, but we were so proud of him as we held a traditional torah service at which he read from the Hebrew (thank you, Mr Bean, for that instruction!). My parents came, his mother’s mother came along with lots of other good friends and relatives. But something was odd. We held the service ourselves at an ‘off’ time and managed the invitation list carefully. Sadly (maybe a commentary on us, sadly), we felt that the regular Messianic Synagogue service at Emmaus was just too Gentile. Very few members were Jewish, and the whole atmosphere of the services was like a circus. I wish now that we had just recognised all the good that was there at the time.
A Messianic Bar Mitzvah in London
Another two decades and it is 2010 in London. My son Samuel is called up to the torah. A packed Messianic Synagogue, with over 60 members and guests over-spilling into the garden behind, on a warm, sunny Shabbat. My Son can’t lain properly, but he has memorised (imperfectly, but still very well!) the Sephardic cantillation for his portion, within the auspicious Nitzavim-Vayelech at the end of the torah. The full roster of olim are called up to the torah, and the service goes off splendidly. Much to his delight, presents are still flowing in months later.
What has happened? Step by step we have wound our way back towards the faith of our fathers and our own people. My experience and that of my family, is of course anecdotal. Nevertheless, it also reflects broader trends in society. 1946 Cairo was chaotic, but it presaged the establishment of the Jewish State – which laid the groundwork for the resurgence of Messianic Judaism following the Six Day War of 1967. My Vancouver Bar Mitzvah of 1974 was in a city with 12,000 Jews but no more than a dozen Jewish followers of Messiah. Today there may be 30,000 Jews in Vancouver, but also a thriving Messianic Jewish community, part of the hundreds who see Yeshua as Messiah. Still, there is no torah scroll in Vancouver, but some day there will be. The Seattle experience reflects the Messianic community that rapidly grew up in the intervening years. Rapid growth = immaturity. We wanted maturity, so we tried to create our own closeted ad-hoc community for Jeff’s Bar Mitzvah. London, however, is where we are today. Today, a Messianic Jew can hold a traditional Bar Mitzvah in a Messianic Synagogue, just as any other Jew can do within their own tradition.
Messianic Jews – we have made teshuvah and turned to Yeshua. Now it is for us to continue making teshuvah as we return to our people. It is only as part of our people that we can be part of the Jewish people, the part that knows and worships the risen Messiah. Maybe, just maybe, Messianic Judaism has reached its Bar Mitzvah?
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