The Rabbi’s Daughter Goes Gospel

November 30, 2007

“I’m looking for the Pastor’s office,” I say, aware of how bizarre this phrase sounds tumbling from the mouth of a rabbi’s daughter.

The six foot hunk to whom I have posed my question is smiling a welcome. I am dazzled by his teeth that shine fluorescent and enjoy the support of his steady hand under my arm as he steers me through the labyrinths of the state-of-the-art Morning Star Baptist Church facility.

Families decked out in their Sunday best are readying themselves for services. The women wear elegant suits with glittery accessories, feather boaters or Ascot large-brimmed hats. Pigtailed children in shiny patent leather pumps chat happily together. Rastafarians wear their dreadlocks long falling down their crisp cotton shirtsleeves. These people are dressed to praise the Lord.

As I am on the way to the airport for a 12 hour flight in the crammed coach quarters back to Tel-Aviv, I wear comfortable sweat pants and Nike airs, but am mourning the opportunity of wearing my silk cocktail outfit packed in tissue paper in my suitcase. Alas, I am so under-dressed I stick out far more than being the only white person here.

The pastor Rev. Dr John M. Borders 3rd rises from behind his mahogany desk as he sees me approach. He shakes my hand warmly, pecks my cheek and introduces me to his wife and his mother, two elegant women. I cannot help but compare this religious family to my own, my father a spiritual leader and my mother, the chic rabbi’s wife. The pastor delivers me into the capable hands of his minister and I am honored to be shown to a front row pew.

The sanctuary with a high domed ceiling is light and airy and down below I drink in the familiar scene of a congregation finding their seats before prayer. Yet this crowd couldn’t be more removed from my father’s congregants if I were on Mars. I quickly deduce that the main disparity between the London Jews and the Boston Baptists is their anatomy. The robotic British jerky movements make for a rigid atmosphere when lips move ventriloquist- like on top of stiff necks and dainty feet tiptoe along the aisles. Here hips swirl, pelvises pulsate and curvaceous bodies undulate to the beat in blissful communion.

Scattered among the crowd I notice ten African-American nurses in crisp white uniforms and conclude that there must be a hospital nearby whose staff have come to pray for their patients. I think about how my hypochondriac father loved to surround himself with doctors. With a cardiologist on one side and a surgeon on the other, my father felt safe and I am sure he would have gleefully advocated the presence of members of the healing profession in his own sanctuary.

The choir of twenty sways to and fro on stage next to the band – electric guitarist, drummer and pianist – who are funking it up for the six singers dressed in matching black and red tight fitting outfits, jiving and crying out to the Lord on high.
“I don’t care if I don’t have any money!”
“I don’t care if I don’t have any friends…because I have Jesus. Oh yea, I have Jesus.”

This chorus brings the entire assembly to their feet. Fancy shoes are tapping, ringed fingers reach for the sky, eyes close in deep communion with God, hands clap, brows furrow and perspiration drips down happy faces. I am clapping too, but limited by my constricted heritage I am off beat. This is what God really wants from us, I think, to worship Him and have fun at the same time.

Rev. Borders has taken his place on centre stage. “I met a woman,” he drawls. “Her name is Reva Mann and she has written a very honest memoir called The Rabbi’s Daughter. I want to bless her for international success.”
Applause.
I am grinning from ear to ear.
“I met her on the Urban Update TV chat show where we both appeared only forty-eight hours ago. She is from Jerusalem and ultimately we are all from Jerusalem.”
I nod. There is nothing hostile here towards being Jewish. I feel sincere acceptance.
Applause.
“She is going to sing a tune of her people today for us and then we are going to overwhelm her.”

Am I really going to do this, I think as I mount the stage and skip up the carpeted steps embarrassed by my casual attire. But my audience are smiling and radiating love. It is with their encouragement that I begin to sing my father’s melody, ‘Ose shalom bimromav — he who makes peace in the heavens will make peace on earth and for all of Israel.’ When I get to the word Shalom, a word that is repeated at the end of each stanza of my song, a word my audience instantly recognizes, they jump to their feet, swinging and singing along; Shalom! Shalom! Peace on Israel, Amen.

Back at my pew, the lady next to me is in a trance. Shouting out to the Lord, she seems to be having a religious epiphany. The commotion has brought two nurses to stand by her side. They are fanning her to cool her down from her ecstasy and circling her to protect her neighbours lest she fall or faint. The pastor is pointing to the upper gallery where he has spotted another member of his flock experiencing Jesus, thus indicating to another nursing couplet to take charge.

How naïve I have been, thinking there was a hospital nearby. I have always loved gospel music but never realized how far it can reach into the depths of the soul.

I leave the service early to catch my flight a changed woman after experiencing unwavering faith and the pure joy of worship. I want to hold onto this knowledge and take it back home with me to the Holy Land and use it to jazz up my own tefilla.

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