Last week we reveled at Joshua Nelson’s ability to cross racial, religious, and cultural boundaries by his personage and music style which blend Jewish and gospel traditions. In our present day divisive world, the ability to embrace and yet unite diversity in such an uplifting way is beyond wonderful, true healing to our societal soul.
On the heels of the section of the Chagigah program that had just introduced Joshua Nelson , the host went on to discuss a unique characteristic of the incoming Biden administration. He noted that Kamala Harris’ husband Douglas Emhoff is Jewish, and that each of President Elect Biden’s children married Jewish people, so Biden’s grandchildren are Jewish. The host’s comment was what a wonderful result to have Jewish influences as part of the White House world.
That eye opening Sunday morning program gave me such a different perspective on a piece of news I had heard earlier in the week. The results of a recent survey were being discussed highlighting that with the current rate of Jewish intermarriage approaching 74%, the Jewish religion’s very existence was in jeopardy. The point was a negative one that Jews would be so assimilated that Judaism could even cease to exist.
Perhaps this conclusion is understandable from the viewpoint of Orthodox Judaism. Having just finished watching the first two seasons of the phenomenal Netflix series “Shtisel”, I was even more sensitized to this fear of secularization not through intermarriage, but rather, from the Haredi ultra-Orthodox viewpoint which advocates almost complete insulation from the secular world in order to remain Torah observant Jews. That view of protection of the Jewish faith is on the continuum as one extreme, with intermarriage somewhere, and perhaps loss of faith in God at the other end. Yet is the need for insulation, whether the extreme ultra Orthodox viewpoint or simply fear of intermarriage, the most meaningful perspective?
Joshua Nelson’s life and music demonstrate one way a Jewish person can live as a Jew, comfortably living and sharing in a Jewish or Christian environment, the harmonious yet unique beauty of the listeners still engagingly retained, Jewish and Christian. Similarly, blended families such as the Bidens don’t diminish or erase the religious identity of the members, but rather, allow each to feel the glory of His Presence which without such intermarriage may not have been possible so intimately. The increasing number of intermarriages may actually result in more committed Jews, even as some Jewish people are comfortably introduced to Yeshua, the greatest Jew of all, by their spouses. In our synagogue’s experience, the Jewish members of our intermarried couples often become more observant than before they were married, and through that marriage, more deeply rediscover their Jewish faith as well as learn of their Jewish Messiah.
Rather than having to, or wanting to change the identifiable cultures of others, we are encouraged to embrace the differences, to share the light of our faith with listeners of different backgrounds able to hear Him from their own religious and cultural perspectives. By expanding our worlds to embrace the other we shine His light outward, not just inward within our own communities. I am reminded of the wonderful ad of the ‘70s for a Jewish rye bread picturing an American Indian gentleman stating, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levi’s real Jewish rye.” So too, you don’t have to be Jewish to believe in the God of Israel, for He is the God of all people. He meets each person where he or she is, just waiting to be recognized, in the ways, and from the religious and cultural worldviews, that each chooses to see, and hear, Him.
As we light our Hanukkah lights and share our light with others, we empower others to make the choice to see, and hear, Him.
Happy Hanukkah and Shabbat shalom.