Over the Fourth of July holiday I was able to spend some precious time with my sister. One evening we slipped away from the raunchy Comedy Central programming on the upstairs TV and took a step back in time downstairs to watch the Decades channel which was airing a 1966 episode of The Ed Sullivan Show. In addition to being reminded of the talent of a very young Sammy Davis Jr. and the innocent charm of Herman’s Hermits, we were intrigued by The Barry Sisters singing a 1940s show tune medley. Neither of us had heard of them so I looked them up in, where else, Wikipedia.
It turns out Merna and Claire Barry were really Minnie and Clara Bagelman, two children born in the Bronx of Ashkenazi Jewish parents, Herman and Ester Bagelman who like many Jews of the time had immigrated to America at the turn of the century. Also, not uncommon in that era was the sentiment by Jewish immigrants to cast off their Jewish identifiers in order to better blend in with American society. It was an interesting internal tension, however, as most Jewish immigrants still considered themselves Jewish, but for the sake of acceptance in their new home, did not want to set themselves apart. So Bagelman became Barry, Sam Medoff, the writer of “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen”, became Dick Manning, and The Barry Sisters on The Ed Sullivan Show did not sing Yiddish songs which was their claim to fame at the time.
Earlier this week my spiritual sis Cheryl shared an Israeli article she found which confirms that DNA testing now shows that many seemingly non-Jews today are actually Jewish genetically, this fact often the result of generations back when their ancestors had to convert in order to hide their religion and escape persecution. This tactic was utilized during the Crusades, the Inquisition, and was tweaked during the Holocaust as many who survived as children were raised Catholic in convents or taken away in the Kindertransport to be adopted by Christian families in the UK and elsewhere. So many Jews for generations were converted to Christianity and yet, for some, their descendants now experience an inexplicable draw back to their unknown Jewish heritage, an issue discussed in the article.
Another group of hidden Jews are some of today’s Messianic Jews who feel it necessary to hide their belief in Yeshua in order to be accepted by the wider Jewish community. Although not in fear of losing their lives as was the case for those facing the Inquisition, perhaps the consequence of denying Yeshua once known is worse than the earthly deaths threatening their ancestors. Not for me to judge but truly a thought to be deeply pondered.
Learning The Barry Sisters were really Bagelmans panged me at first, and then, motivated me to look up their many Yiddish songs which I plan to listen to and perhaps learn to play. I was encouraged that they did for at least some of their careers embrace their Jewish heritage and share it generationally through the many recordings of their Yiddish music. Again, through HaShem’s workings their Jewish identities were not wiped out despite some of their actions to hide their faith.
I do believe we are living in a time of restoration of many Jews to their birthrights as a result of discovery of past conversions through family history and genetic testing. It is a fascinating phenomenon at work beyond our abilities to totally comprehend but someday will be understood in its fullness. For the many parents during the Holocaust who put their children to safety, what parent wouldn’t do the same? And as we are discovering through the revelations in Cheryl’s article, in the end, HaShem will make it right.
Other than hypothetically, none of us can say what our decision would be if faced with the decision to die or denounce. If to deny our religious identity would help us to succeed in our careers, or to be accepted, hopefully many of us when faced with that dilemma have made and will continue to make the right choice, that is, continue to be forthright in our faith despite the consequences. Our Abba has not broken His covenant with us despite the many times it would have been justifiable to do so. Our challenge is to strive to be like Him.
We don’t have to be divine to succeed at this. For me, the searing truth that Yeshua is the Messiah is so a part of my psyche that I can’t imagine denying Him, no matter the consequences. I embrace my marginalization in the Jewish community for it incentivizes me to continue to dialogue with my Jewish brothers and sisters about the truth of Yeshua. I am armed with this passion as well as the human model of those Holocaust victims who prayed the Shema as they fell into the graves they had just dug for themselves, never forsaking their belief in God.
The Fourth of July for me this year was not so much about being proud to be an American as a reminder of how “proud” I am to be a Messianic Jew.