How would you feel if you had portrayed an historical figure for nearly two decades and then discovered that in God’s mysterious providence you might actually be related to her?
Last summer I was astonished to discover that my maternal great-grandfather, Karl Bachmann, was Jewish. Who knew? Mom’s grandfather, a German-speaking immigrant from Switzerland, died when my grandmother was a baby. My dad’s parents as well as mom’s father were Norwegian, so my sibs and I grew up in a Scandinavian tradition. But not long before my Uncle Ed died at 90, he mentioned their mother’s father’s heritage to his youngest sister, my mother. When she told us we have a Jewish ancestor I nearly fell over.
Why? Because all these years I’ve struggled with the oddity of being a middle-aged Norwegian-American preacher’s wife running around the country portraying a Jewish teenage virgin.
“I’m too old!” I said to the Lord (this when I was only 40). “And I’m the wrong ethnicity!” I whined. How can a blue-eyed Scandinavian credibly portray a middle-eastern Jewish mother?
Even Jahweh can only take so much complaining (especially when it comes from a woman whom I know now is genetically wired to kvetch.)
So when I was 57 years old, He let the bomb drop. “Too old?” He said. “You think I can’t use older people however I choose? What about Sarah and Elizabeth?
“And the wrong ethnicity? Well, my little nudnik, guess what? You’ve been Jewish all along. Mazel Tov!”
Ok, the conversation didn’t go EXACTLY that way, but I swear I heard Him laugh.
So…where does a new Jewish girl go to enroll in Judaism 101? You ask a rabbi, of course.
When I was in Washington, D.C. this past January for the annual March for Life, I spotted one. A rabbi, that is, and one most satisfyingly of the Orthodox persuasion. Black coat, distinctive flat hat, long payot (side-curls) and all. And just to make sure I didn’t miss the opportunity, he was holding a sign proclaiming “New York Rabbis for Life.”
Perfect! I thought. A real live rabbi standing right in front of me. Just the one to answer my questions!
So I ran up to him and tugged on his sleeve to get his attention. He turned around with a smile that became stern when he saw who had touched him.
(Oops, my first mistake. I think I read somewhere that women are not supposed to touch rabbis.)
“Rabbi,” I said with my best Gentile chutzpah. “It’s good to see you here! I am pro-life too and I have just discovered that I have a Jewish heritage.”
His expression became one of interest. Wagging a long finger at me, he inquired, “Is it through your mother’s mother? If so then yes, you are a Jew.”
Thrilled, I said, “So Rabbi, what do I do next?”
“Why, get yourself to an Orthodox temple to study,” he responded.
“That would be difficult, Rabbi,” I responded. “You see, my husband is a Baptist preacher.”
(Oops, second mistake. Do not say Baptist and preacher in the same sentence when you are trying to score points with a rabbi.)
You know what they say about fools rushing in, so I sealed my fate.
“I guess that makes me a Messianic Jew!” I said brightly.
End of conversation.
So I suppose that makes me a bad Jew. But you know what? God is used to schlemiels like me.
I did get myself to an orthodox temple to study. It’s called Wheaton Graduate School. Maybe it’s not quite what the rabbi had in mind, but I’m spending all year immersed in the Torah, or what we goyim call the Older Testament.
And as a student of Torah and a lover of the Jewish Jesus, I know that Yahweh can use anybody, anytime, in any way He so chooses. He always has. Always will.
Maybe He has a surprise in your future too. Mazel Tov!