There is an ancient proverb that says, “You don’t meet people by accident. There’s always a reason. A lesson or a blessing.” For me, this year it was both.
Last year I joined a Christian homeschool class with seven other seventh-graders. I knew going into the class that I was going to be the only one practicing Messianic Judaism. I have been raised with Messianic Jewish values in a Christian community of friends, so I didn’t think too much about being the only one. We met once a week for a full day of learning from a classical Christian worldview. Throughout the year we discussed and wrestled with some big concepts and ideas, theology being one, which often highlighted our differences.
Keeping kosher is part of my family’s Messianic practice and something that is very important to me. It isn’t always easy or convenient and was one of the first things my classmates noticed about me. During lunch, they all shared snacks and treats with each other, while I only ate the foods that I packed for myself unless I knew a shared item was kosher. Naturally, this led to questions and about what I eat and why.
Once I explained it, to my surprise, they thought it was cool. I was able to teach my classmates about kosher symbols, and they started looking for treats they could bring that I could eat! They would go home and share what they were learning about me with their families. And when one of the mothers set up a day trip to the local ice skating rink, she called beforehand to ask if they had kosher food options. Amazing, right?! We had an end-of-the-year camping trip at my teacher’s cabin; she made sure to have all kosher foods for everyone (though I did bring the marshmallows for the s’mores.) They were even cool with waiting with me a couple of hours after eating our hotdogs before having dessert. We would never ask so much of our friends; we usually bring our own food. The fact that my friends who don’t keep kosher cared enough about me to go out of their way to make sure we could all eat together was such an unexpected blessing.
There were, however, some challenging conversations during our classroom studies. We discussed traditional Christian theological concepts with which I was unfamiliar. While they always tried to make sure I understood what they were talking about, it was usually still confusing because some of their terms were foreign. While they helped me understand what they believed and why, I could not say I accepted their beliefs exactly like my own, which made me feel a little uncomfortable at times.
During one class I was asked to explain one of their core ideas, which wasn’t easy to explain from my perspective, and I haven’t had to work the idea out in my own words in a way that would make sense, so I passed on the question. It was so awkward! I felt like some of the kids thought I was wrong for not being able to spit out an easy answer. I think it was shocking for them. The concept was simple and foundational to their faith, and it isn’t for me.
It wasn’t always awkward, especially after attending the 12-21 Winter Shabbaton in 2017, where we discussed how to answer common questions we may encounter about our Messianic faith. After one discussion, I was able to help them recognize that initially, they expressed the belief that just because someone goes to church means they are good people and “going to heaven.” We wrestled with this idea, and in the end, I was able to help them uncover some gaps in how they explained their beliefs about church attendance. My slight difference in faith and practice challenged us to think more about what we believe and why and whether there can be more than one right answer. It helped solidify my foundation. Isn’t this what iron sharpening iron looks like?
My classmates became some of my best friends. We didn’t let our differences keep us from sharing life with each other. They didn’t treat me like an outsider, nor did they make me feel as though I didn’t belong. In fact, many of them were interested and eager to understand my faith and practice. They understood what Winnie the Pooh meant when he said, “The things that make me different are the things that make me.”