Who knows how many stories, conversations, and connections were made at the 2009 UMJC Conference? UMJC stands for the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (umjc.net) and we just met in Miami.
This was an eventful UMJC for me. I passed my last remaining exam for smicha (ordination as a rabbi) and received smicha on Saturday night in the havdalah service. I taught two classes and manned a table for MJTI (Messianic Jewish Theological Institute). And I enjoyed conversation with some learned and devoted friends.
These are the stories of a few conversations.
Learning to Sing the Torah
I met with Jeff Feinberg, from Chicago, whose Sing the Sidra turned out to be the most valuable tool out of many I tried in learning the trope melodies for chanting the Torah this past year. He had to examine me to see if my knowledge of the trope melodies was sufficient, a qualification for rabbinic ordination I put off for last. As we worked through a few passages of Torah, Rabbi Feinberg reminded me that singing the Torah changes the way you read the details and helps you see relationships in the words of Torah.
Discusssing Rabbinic Literature, Modern Media, and Halakha
I spent hours talking with Carl Kinbar, my rabbinics mentor and also the Provost of MJTI. We often manned the table together for MJTI. The conversation turned to his specialty, rabbinics, and also his great interest in changes in media due to the dynamics of the internet. He reminded me that the greatest revolution since the Gutenberg printing press is underway right now. He expressed some thoughts about the challenges for the future of Messianic Judaism and I enjoyed the chance to pick his brain for an hour or two at a time. The challenges to the future of Messianic Judaism are nearly overwhelming and I see the need for more interaction between younger leaders and our predecessors.
How to Live Out Torah and Be Practical
I had dinner and a cab ride with Boaz Michael and Aaron Eby of First Fruits of Zion. I talk often with Boaz, so this was a rare chance to talk more with Aaron Eby. I learned a lot as we dialogued intensely about the more Orthodox end of the observance spectrum versus my more lenient ideas. He was very challenging. He also introduced me to a concept that may show up this week in my Yeshua in Context podcast (about going beyond the legal requirements of the commandments). Boaz challenged me regarding the importance of materials instructing people in keeping mitzvot and other practical, rather than academic, topics.
Feeding Elderly Jews in Israel
I had coffee at Starbucks with Michael Schiffman of Chevra (chevrahumanitarian.org) and we made plans for me (and my synagogue as well) to be more involved in helping Chevra provide food and help for elderly and needy Jews in Israel. Our synagogue already supports Chevra, but as Rabbi Schiffman and I talked, we could see that there are ways I can immediately be of help. I think our synagogue will be excited about hosting an event in Atlanta. This is a tikkun olam (repairing the world) undertaking we truly believe in.
Reemerging as a Movement and Seeking Unity
The Shabbat message was challenging to say the least. The Torah portion was the beginning of Deuteronomy: Moses explaining some history to the new generation about the enter the land. The rabbi challenged us, like them, to reemerge as a movement. Messianic Judaism needs to reemerge, he said, to get out of the place we have been stuck. We need a divine dissatisfaction, just as God said to Israel, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain.”
One of the rabbi’s main points for moving ahead and reemerging as a movement, is that we need a much deeper sense of unity and working together — with groups whom have different emphases and with whom we sadly overlook our common vision.
Shortly after that, I was in a Torah study led by Julie David and mostly populated with 20’s and 30’s. Their voice was refreshing. I heard them saying, in response to the Shabbat message, “We need to learn from the wisdom of our predecessors in Messianic Judaism, but not carry their burdens.” They spoke of that unity, of reconciling divided groups of Jewish Yeshua-followers. Several are involved in prayer and friendship events with 20’s and 30’s in the MJAA. One, a son of a prominent UMJC leader, said we need to reach out to those in the Jews for Jesus movement.
The younger generation is more likely to overlook differences, something the older generation has polarized over. I am in the middle, a young 40-something. have focused on differences. I have neglected to emphasize the fact that a large part of our vision is in common.
My heart was strangely warmed by this talk of a greater unity. What will happen to Messianic Judaism if we seek this greater unity? How can we do this and avoid assenting to things that harm what we most care about? I am not for unity at the expense of vital issues (I’m not ready to sing Kum Ba Yah with Christian missionaries to the Jewish people just yet), but I also want to believe that through repentance and divine empowerment, diverse groups could gather more around what we share in common: a vision of final redemption through Israel to the nations by the work of Messiah.
Is greater unity between various groups of Jewish Yeshua-followers possible? What about movements that are largely non-Jewish but also share the passion for final redemption through Israel to the nations by the work of Messiah?
What would change look like: on my blog, in my relationships, in the size and power of what Messianic Judaism could do if factions worked together?