An immersion tale

It is such a blessing to be able to volunteer my time at Camp Or L’Dor. Over the years the younger leaders have taken on some of the many roles I have previously held and now, as Sid says, we are the Bobbe and Zayde, Grandma and Grandpa, of the camp.

That is only partly true, since in addition to helping to brainstorm the inevitable questions that arise, I also truly love interfacing with members of the staff of our Jewish host camp. My experience has been that if we are blessed to be able to be at the same location for more than one summer, the conversations develop more naturally and are deeper as relationships are formed with our host camp leaders. Yet this year offered up a special surprise of wonderfulness despite it being our first year at Camp Laurelwood.

Our primary contact from their camp was a good natured middle aged Jewish man, we’ll call Joe to protect his privacy. He and his co-leaders were always cordial and friendly, wanting to make sure our stay was a good one. The entire experience was so different when compared to our stays from 10 years ago, even 5 years ago. This year we did not feel like the mainstream Jewish campers and leaders were looking at us and analyzing us, as outsiders. We just all enjoyed being part of a great outdoor camp experience together. We respected each other’s times apart and interfaced when together. Even further, the evenings of our music drew great praise from their leaders who expressed admiration for our spirit and beautiful music. They thanked us for letting them share the experience.

As camp nears its end each year, Rabbi Nathan asks our teens if anyone wants to accept, or reaffirm his or her faith in Yeshua, and if so, the camper has the opportunity to be immersed at camp, typically in a lake that is part of the grounds. This year during the service when this question was asked, all those present, campers and counselors, came forward to reaffirm his or her faith in Yeshua, and two campers asked to be immersed. As you probably know, in Christian vocabulary, this is a baptism. In Jewish verbiage, it is comparable in some ways to the mikvah. Yet to most mainstream Jews, this ceremony would strike them as very Christian, any Jew undergoing such a ritual for the purpose of believing in Yeshua easily seen as a major step toward conversion to Christianity. This ritual specifically, due to forced conversions especially in the Middle Ages, often strikes a negative emotional reaction by Jewish people, even those who seem to understand the place of Messianic Judaism within the boundaries of Judaism.

With that as background, when “Joe” told Rabbi Nathan he would like to attend the immersion, Rabbi Nathan and I were a bit challenged. No matter how open minded this place is, can it really withstand hosting and Joe watching this ritual, clearly a baptism from a traditional Jewish viewpoint? We don’t hide our faith in Yeshua, nor our testimonies, but this may be a little beyond understanding given the forced baptisms so much a part of our more painful Jewish history. Oy!

As Rabbi Nathan and I processed this dilemma on the way to the event, and prayed, we approached the venue and there was Joe with three life guards (presumably also Jewish.) All I can say is HaShem put the right words in Rabbi Nathan’s mouth. He was brilliant as he put the immersion in Jewish space and explained its use even today at mikvahs to symbolize rights of passage, here not from Judaism to Christianity, but rather, from not believing in Yeshua to believing in Him, or reaffirming personally one’s commitment to Him.

After the immersion, I went up to Joe and said, “So this probably struck you as similar to a Bullwinkle Fractured Fairy tale.” Luckily Joe was old enough to get the reference and burst into laughter. For those too young, it was a segment on The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle show where a typical children’s story or fairy tale was changed to include a story line that was always a little, or a lot, off when compared to the real story line.

Joe explained to me that to the contrary, he loved the service and that he loves learning more about us. He likes to be educated and appreciated our including him. WOW! What a better world this would be if our brothers and sisters had an attitude like that!! My back had been to Joe during the immersion ceremony but I was told later he actually was smiling and clapping during the music while intently watching.

In these days of disparaging headlines of those different than ourselves, as we feel the sting from our own personal experiences of marginalization, I encourage you to remember this vignette, one of hope, the absence of judgment, the quest for truth, the appreciation of those who are different. Be encouraged that the hearts of our Jewish brothers and sisters are changing. And for each of us, as we see growing understanding of the vast breadth of Jewish space, may the soon-to-be memory of being an outsider help us to be all the more welcoming to all of His created beings.

Shabbat shalom.

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