For most of my childhood and adolescence, I had considered myself to be a Christian, but it wasn’t till I was 15 that I received what I thought was “The Holy Ghost” at my Pentecostal high school’s church and started taking my faith more seriously. One of the events that spurred this was attending a “passion play” the church was holding just in time for Easter. My science teacher of all people was going to play Jesus, my principal Pontius Pilate, my English teacher Nicodemus, etc.
I almost didn’t go. I could’ve done so much other stuff on a Friday night besides watching a play about a story I already knew, but for some reason, I felt spiritually compelled to attend. Once I arrived, I took my seat and the lights dimmed. Then, out of the darkness, a light appeared onstage and the first thing that caught my eye was near the ceiling. This church’s sanctuary normally has a small cream-colored cross just underneath the ceiling.
In place of this cross was a star of David.
And then the music started.
A bunch of actors in Biblical era clothing gathered on stage, some I recognized from my school faculty and student body, some I had never met from the church. A lively Yiddish musical soundtrack began playing, and everyone on stage danced around and singing in Hebrew. I could make out what they were saying: “Hevenu shalom aleichem.” I knew the last two words, but later found out the whole sentence means, “We brought peace upon you.”
This was my first live experience with Jewish music, and sitting there in that dimmed sanctuary hearing a language that was mysterious, yet somehow very familiar deep down in my soul, was totally mystifying. It was joyful and echoed centuries of love and life and learning with each beautiful chant. It even brought me closer to God, just not in the way I was used to as a Christian. I loved it. It fulfilled a part of me that conventional Christianity didn’t, and I wanted more.
This was most likely the event that spurred an “applied” interest in Judaism. While I never began studying Hebrew, I started referring to Jesus as Y’shua. It made me feel more authentic as a Christian and as an ethnic Jew. I researched Messianic Judaism, and the idea that I could marry my Christian upbringing with Jewish belief and practice made me absolutely joyous. Of course, my following research into why non-Messianic Jews rejected Jesus made me realize why the two religions aren’t compatible, but you get my point. It reawakened an interest in this part of myself and led me to where I am today.
Case in point: I was at Friday night Shabbat service this past week, and during the oneg, the Rabbi led us in some light singing to accompany our noshing. One of the songs was “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem.” A wave of nostalgia ran over me, and I couldn’t help but laugh to myself. Here I am, 26 years old, sitting in a Reform synagogue with a Sephardic kippah on my head, equipped with a different (yet equally fulfilling) relationship with God, singing a Hebrew song that I heard for the first time in a Pentecostal church.
It’s kind of funny: Those actors really did help bring peace upon me.