"Do you happen do be Jewish at all?" I'm standing in a kitchen with my friend when the Orthodox Rabbi asks me this. The first evening of Passover is approaching, the sun about to touch the horizon. The Rabbi wears a white button-down shirt, black slacks, a cream prayer shawl around his hips, and a dark kippah on his head.
These were his pre-Passover clothes, which he eventually switched out for his full ensemble. He's the real deal.
"Uh… I mean I have a history on my dad's side." It's true. Both my Grandpa and my Great Grandpa were German Jew refugees to the Netherlands right around the time of World War II. They were taken to concentration camps but survived.
The Rabbi lets out a sigh in frustration. My Jewish ancestry doesn't mean a whole lot to an Orthodox Jew since traditionally Jewish lineage is passed down through the Mothers side. Unfortunately for him, my mom's family is pretty Scandanavian. Very gentile. "Hmm… okay. We're going to have to perform some loopholes."
He proceeds to turn around and pick up a heavy, large cardboard box that appears to have appliances in it. "In Jewish law, to eat with a gentile would normally mean a visit to the closest mikvah for a ritualistic cleansing of all of our food appliances. Without this, the meal would be unkosher. Since the nearest one is over half an hour away and the sun is beginning to set we'll have to settle for this."
Once the sun sets, it is officially the Sabbath. For Orthodox Jews, this means no phones, no cars, no cooking, no turning on the electricity, even no moving benches in your lawn. The Sabbath is a holy day, where no work is to be done.
The Rabbi 'gifts' me all of his appliances. All of them. He stacks them high in my arms so I can 'lend' them to him temporarily. (He careful not to accidentally touch my hand since this is also forbidden; touch is reserved exclusively for spouses.) This loophole makes the instruments kosher, even though I am considered a gentile.
This, of course, was only the beginning of a long night of rituals such as these. There was the way we washed our hands (alternating three times, left to right) from a natla, the forty-five minutes the Rabbi's wife spent drying individual pieces of lettuce to make sure their water didn't contaminate the matzah, and the careful reading of the Seder booklet which walked us through the Yiddish prayers, songs, and eating rituals we would engage in.
It was all very jarring for me. This was, after all, my first time celebrating Passover.
From my earliest memories, my family was entirely engrossed in 'the ministry.' It began in the Netherlands where I was born but eventually moved us to Cape Town, South Africa for Phase 2.
Looking back on it, one may consider this ministry 'Charismatic' in nature with a tinge of 'Pentecostal.' We were all about free-flowing services that would last hours, sometimes days. There was no structure. We despised words like 'religion' or 'ritual.' Every part of our life was 'led by the spirit.'
For all of that looseness and freedom, we did have quite a strict view on the path to a relationship with God. Let's not get confused, that was only possible by professing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
But here I was with a Rabbi and his wife, entirely devoted to a set of laws. They clearly loved God and wanted to serve Him entirely. At one point, the Rabbi's wife accidentally switched off the lights with a shoulder, which meant that they believed they couldn't turn them back until sunset the next day. That is dedication.
They acknowledged the mitzvot (laws) that they followed over the Passover Seder were silly at times but repeated again and again that this multi-hour meal we shared was not about the laws. None of Judaism is. It was about obedience. It was about thinking through every action we took. It was about intentionality in all facets of life.
In many ways, this intentionality felt opposite to my experiences as a young child in Holland, South Africa, and later in America, traveling between Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Florida. I felt that the way to God was all about not thinking too deeply, but letting things happen in blind faith. God wanted each one of us to jump up and down in worship, speaking in tongues we could not possibly know, and fall to the ground in tears, right?
These were all things I had experienced in my own life, and yes, they were very moving and impactful.
So how then could I interpret the intentionality in which this religious leader sang Yiddish songs about being led out of bondage? How could I reject the meticulous way in which his wife removed all traces of water from lettuce coming in contact with the matzah? How could I ignore the white tape plastered across the kitchen, ensuring no cross-contamination came between plates that had touched bread (yeast) and the vessels used for this holy week?
Though Jewish law stipulated that the meal ends before midnight, we stayed up late that night talking about God, follower to follower. No, we did not eat (there, was, of course, a law to uphold), but we did enrich ourselves with fellowship, laughing, and pouring our hearts out. Our cup ran over.
Here I was, a Christian girl, unsure where her faith would lead her next. I was sitting at a plastic table in an Orthodox Rabbi's living room admitting that I could not fully understand God like I thought I once could. And there he was, accepting the same.
Growing up, I was taught that church had nothing to do with a building or meeting place or location. To say that you couldn't 'reach' individuals because of the cost associated with a piece of real estate, suggested you were defying Christianity's true teachings. The true church was when two or more gathered in community to honor God.
In a strange way, that Passover night felt more like church to me than most services had felt it my life. It was an honest connection between people. It was a genuine connection between faiths, rambling past two in the morning.
It's easy to get caught up in the fog machines and fancy projectors of new-age churches, especially in modern 'Spirit-Led' American church culture. I hope we don't mistake these recent technological advancements as a purified form of worship, tossing away the hymn books and ritual, moving further ahead in our relationship with our Creator.
Ritual and tradition, though we may abandon it, still represents a cornerstone of religious life for many. Though much of it is misunderstood, much of it is very much understood by those who exercise their faith in this way. Ritual is internalized. Ritual is done intentionally.
Rather than shielding ourselves and asserting blame, let us use these moments of difference to open dialogue between perspectives and bridge the gaps in our understanding.