By Rabbi Binyamin Sheldrake, of the Adat Yeshua Messianic Synagogue, Norwich
In many ways we could be forgiven for feeling that the world is in a constant state of flux right now — not just with the pandemic and how that has deeply affected us all, but also in terms of our economy, politics and, in a lesser-known arena possibly, the religious world too. While Messianic Judaism is not a direct by-product of the recent turbulence in the world today, the interest shown in it most certainly is. During the lockdown, the huge numbers of texts, calls and emails we received bore testimony to the exponential growth in interest in this modern (and not so modern) form of Judaism. Some fourteen years ago now, Time Magazine ran an article about an emerging idea that they suggested would go on to fundamentally change the world: that Yeshua was a Jew and nothing else.
For most, I suspect, even using his Hebrew name might be unusual and confusing, so accustomed are most people to assuming ‘Jesus’ was a Christian and founded a new religion. The reality, I argue, could not be further from the truth. Today many Jewish and Christian scholars are publishing large amounts of material showing how our view of history needs challenging and reorienting in the light of new understanding. The implications of this paradigm shift in the Jewish faith are what our synagogue, Adat Yeshua, is built upon and seeks to live out. We are Jews, and converts, who together form a Jewish community in Norwich, faithfully following God and acknowledging the Jewish Messiah.
Messianic Judaism belongs to the ‘radical’ class of thinking and practice. We have become used to ‘disrupters’ questioning the status quo in all kinds of areas, and, in Judaism, Messianic Jews ‘disrupt’ the accepted thinking. Our synagogue aims to take the words of the Scriptures seriously when we are commanded to ‘love God and our neighbour as yourself’. Part of our response to these words has been to develop the foodbank which has, over the many weeks of lockdown, consistently fed as many as 100 people a week. Our partners in this, the NR2 Skills Share group, have faithfully joined the dots in the supply chain for food donations and gifts, as well as providing the many delivery volunteers too, thus filling the gaps in what would have proven a huge undertaking for the synagogue alone.
The extension currently being built on the rear of the synagogue will eventually house the new modernised foodbank, plus a brand new creche area and ministry room to seat up to 50 people. We have been thrilled to receive over £100,000 in donations from our own community and other interested parties across Norwich. This has made the vision a reality and the building work has already begun. The new multi-purpose room will, we hope, in due course, meet the needs for a new children’s support area, be that in breakfast clubs or after-school homework clubs. In an area of real social need, we want to make a difference to people’s lives.
We have, however, been deeply saddened by what happened to the synagogue just a few weeks ago. The mindless act of anti-Semitic vandalism shocked our community, and the wider community of Norwich too. We were and still are overwhelmed with all the emails and letters of well-wishers and supporters across the city and region, even receiving mentions in the Guardian and the New York Times. The attack will not stop the work and acts of kindness that we are engaged in here; in fact, the opposite is true: where hate is shown we double down on showing love, the love that God has for all humanity — yes, including the perpetrator of this evil act. We must be ready to forgive, whilst rejecting hate in all its forms, including mindless attacks on people with whom we disagree. Opinions diverge, but we are all human.
All images courtesy of Adat Yeshua Synagogue
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