#10 Tikvat Israel

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This Sabbath, at 10am, I attended Tikvat Israel, a gorgeous Messianic Jewish synagogue located on the corner of Boulevard and Grove in the fan area of Richmond. Upon arrival, I was warmly greeted by a Jewish man with a "Shabbat Shalom" when he quickly recognized me as a first time visitor. The kind man engaged me in a conversation about the history and basic beliefs of the community. What I suspected was going to be a brief greeting turned into about a 15 minute pitch about the denomination. As he spoke, I felt myself falling into a passive listening mode as I honed in on the Hebrew songs that played behind the church doors beside us. The music was pulsating through my body. At some point I actually found myself tapping my foot to the beat while singing along in my mind totally oblivious to what this man was saying. He was rather nice but I must admit, I was eager to wrap up our convo and enter the area where the service was being held and see for myself what this synagogue was all about. I was excited to sit down and enjoy a good sermon. Much to my surprise, there would be no sermon, or sitting for that matter, at least not until over an hour later.

Interestingly enough, when I entered, I immediately saw the pastor, Robert Banks, from the Seventh Day Adventist church where I had attended on Patterson Avenue just 2 weeks before. I said hello and reminded him of who I was in case he’d forgotten. I was surprised to see him there... I might even go as far as to use the word shocked. One thing about the Adventists I’ve met, they are die hard Adventists. To see one at a synagogue, let alone the church’s Pastor was certainly not what I’d expect. I wondered, did the Adventists kick him out or something? Is he here as a spy? There must be some underlying thing going on here! Pastor Banks then asked if we could sit together to which I of course agreed. There was a small part of me that felt like I couldn’t be an authentic Messianic Jew for the day with him watching my every move. But I quickly stopped my silliness and decided to just be myself and let the Spirit move me. Then Pastor Banks made what I’d consider a very "Jess" comment. He said, "You know, I almost didn’t come here today." I told him that I almost didn’t either due to the nasty cold I had this week. He then said, "What a strange coincidence. It’s almost like we’re here on purpose." I’m not sure what that purpose was yet, but I’d have to agree.

When we walked into the pews, it was only then that I realized everyone was still standing. The Hebrew music was still playing and people were doing traditional Jewish dancing in the front of the room. About 10 members of the synagogue who were a cultural mix of black, white, old, young, jewish, and asian held hands in unity as they energetically sang, danced and praised Yeshua. Towards the right of the room, a huge theater size TV screen displayed Hebrew lyrics while a live band played passionately below. The majority of the equally diverse congregation sang along. The music and the dancing were beyond words. It was joyful and inspiring. Authentic and soulful. And this dance party lasted almost a full hour!

At first, I wasn’t so fast to participate. I wondered, "This is Hebrew. How can I sing something I don’t know the meaning of?" I didn’t want to be doing these Hebrew chants if they might be praising a God I didn’t know, right? But I asked God for guidance and within moments, it was like I’d known the songs for years. When it was finally translated into English, I felt momentary guilt for even being a bit concerned that it might not be in line with my religion, but I quickly forgave myself. Thank God for that whole forgiveness thing, without it, I’d be screwed. It was all in glorious praise to God, my God, their God....ALL our God. It wasn’t the normal church music (while wonderful) which is sweet, reverent, slow, and "holy sounding", instead, it was funky. It was fun! Passionate and even the content was worthy of dancing for. Songs like Zealous over Zion which is an expression of God’s true love for the city and the people who occupied it. The songs were ones of celebration. In one instance they took out two "Torahs" which were clothed in a rich blue color and danced them around the room while everyone touched them and then kissed their hands. Like this representation of a Torah was so powerful people that would get blessed just by merely coming in contact with it. This was a charasimatic bunch to say the least. And I loved every minute of it!

While still standing in this synagogue, I found myself desiring His return. Like eager for the coming of Yeshua to Earth. That’s not something I find myself wishing for, the complex "End Times." I rather enjoy this life just as it is. But for the first time ever, I was hungry for His return. And then it became clear to me... on Saturday morning, I briefly got a glimpse of what It might be like. I was "home." Without being overly dramatic, I felt like this congregation might mirror a heavenly family. I was happy. I felt like I could take my shoes off and open up their fridge without asking. Like if I went downstairs there’d be some Grandma cooking us all up something delightful! I come from an Italian family who never let a day go by where they didn’t say I love you and embrace one another with a kiss. A couple years ago, I lost my dad and Nana within a few short months of eachother. It was the first time since their passing that I felt like I was with my large Italian family again. I can’t put my finger on what it was that this congregation offered that gave me this comforting and peaceful feeling, but I want to replicate it in my everyday life.

Once the celebration ended, the Rabbi talked to the congregation about how to best read God’s Word. He suggested that we ask specific questions when analyzing scripture to get the most out of it. Who was the author? What was the context? Who was the author speaking to? After some serious and honest self-reflection, I had a bit of an epiphany.... I act like I know a lot about the Bible, but in all reality, I know so very little. What a great revelation. Why? Because now I want to read this book!

And so, even better than the feeling of family that I got from this Jewish congregation, or the "purposefulness" of seeing Pastor Banks, or even the fabulous Hebrew music, was my revelation about my lack of scriptual knowledge. This self-awareness has brought me to my next new exciting challenge: To read the Bible cover to cover in one year. I’m 2 months into this project, if I start now, I will be right around the bend toward the end. I’m SO excited!!!

To learn more about this AWESOME, hospitable group of Messianics, visit their website at http://www.tikvatisrael.com/

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2 Comments

  • Gavin

    Gavin April 19, 2010

    Hmmmm. So, how come when I play Itzhak Perlman you make me turn it off?

    http://amzn.com/B000TERCX0

  • Maureen

    Maureen July 02, 2010

    Awesome!  I’ve actually heard of the congregation wink

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