The “synagogue of Satan”

A story of a much younger me.

Memories of the exuberance of my first year of college stay with me. I remember how exciting it was to sit down with a new friend at a café right across the street from our dormitory. How adult we thought ourselves, as we ordered our chai lattes (that was the first time I’d ever had one). Everything was so new and fun.

My new friend Adam was a devout Christian, having grown up in the ‘Church of Christ’ in Dayton, Ohio. He was truly a pure soul with deep faith. We became fast friends, and as I was often attending social events organized by our local chapter of the Jewish fraternity, he would cheerfully come along with me and hang out with the Jewish fraternity brothers, totally at ease in our company. Antisemitism was not in his heart; in fact, he hadn’t had any Jewish friends until coming to college.

The brothers extended a bid to him, as they did to all the other freshmen who were interested in joining. While the international ΑΕΠ fraternity is culturally Jewish, many chapters have non-Jewish members, and ours was no exception.

Adam, after some consideration, accepted the invitation and became one of my pledge brothers (probationary members). In fact, he was one of two Christian pledges that year (the other, Kenneth, was a Catholic). Sadly, when the pledge period ended some five weeks later, Adam dropped out due to religious considerations after he’d consulted with his family.

The incident

One incident involving Adam remains unforgettable to me.

Before Thanksgiving break, Adam and I were hanging out in my dorm room when he started to cry. I was shocked. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “You’re such a good person,” he responded between sobs, “I don’t understand how you can be going to hell.”

I remember talking to him, reeling from the realization that my friend actually believed I would be sentenced to eternal damnation for being Jewish. I told him that I was sorry he felt this way, but there simply wasn’t anything I could do about it. I was a Jew, and my belief system was different than his. Judaism doesn’t put much emphasis on an afterlife, and the concept of hell is not part of our faith.

Following that exchange, I was deeply shaken.

I went over to speak with Kenneth, my other Christian pledge brother, who told me that while he too believed that Christ is the Messiah, it was his belief that those who do not currently accept Jesus as God cannot be faulted. His view was that once Jesus returned, all of humanity would be expected to accept him, and only those who continued to reject him would be damned to hell. Ken’s understanding made more sense to me.

Interestingly, after we’d returned from Thanksgiving break, Adam had also found peace after consulting with his family’s pastor, and he’d somehow decided that I wouldn’t necessarily be going to hell… Our friendly relationship continued, but neither of us ever broached the subject again, and we didn’t spend as much time together as we once had. After that first semester, Adam left our university, and I never saw him again; I think he transferred to a Christian seminary.

That was more than two decades ago.

My take

I have never had a problem being friends with anybody who doesn’t have a problem with me.

Here in Israel, I very happily wish all of the Muslims I interact with a ‘blessed Friday (جمعة مباركة) and ‘generous Ramadan (رمضان كريم). I have fewer interactions with Christians in person nowadays, but I’m happy to wish any that I meet a ‘Merry Christmas’, and I once attended Christmas services at a Lutheran church in the Old City of Jerusalem with friends of mine.

I’m always curious to understand other people’s faiths and cultures and am eager to engage them in conversations about our respective worldviews.

Notre Dame de Paris. 3rd statue (from left to right) on the West Entrance, source: Wikipedia

Since college, I’ve learned quite a great deal about Judaism, and while I am no scholar, I have a solid understanding of the history between Jews and Christians throughout the centuries. I am aware, for example, of the beliefs represented by the crowned Ecclesia and the blind, defeated Synagoga statues, which feature prominently before some of the medieval churches that I’ve visited. In truth, I find such beliefs more a curiosity than offensive. After all, I walk the earth as a proud Jew, and I don’t feel defeated in the slightest (quite the opposite).

In short, a person’s humanity is of much more interest to me than their religious affiliation. In my four decades, I have met wonderful people of many different faiths (and many of no faith at all); and I have also encountered some horrible people who earnestly couch their xenophobia and horrid behaviors in religious language.

The Blogosphere

I created this blog for myself, my friends, and my family, giving no thought to other people’s blogs, intending only to pour out my thoughts and centralize the 51 posts that comprise my kaddish journey following Papa’s death.

Inevitably, I suppose, other bloggers began interacting with me, and I was drawn to read their pieces of prose and poetry. Many of our subsequent online interactions have been very rewarding and have fueled some interesting thoughts.

Among these new online friends, there are some devout Christians who write about their beliefs, and I’ve found none so sincere as Steven Colborne from London. I find his deep faith and daily drive to unravel the big questions of the universe very moving, even though he and I are of different faiths (and mine, unlike his, is uncertain).

Just two days ago, on Friday, Steven published a post titled ‘The Synagogue of Satan’, and before I’d even noticed it, he sent me the following e-mail (shared with his permission):

Hey David,
Just wanted to say hi and send my love.
I know the blog post I published this morning could be thought provoking for you. It is posted with the utmost respect for you and for the Jewish people. My intention is always to share the whole of Scripture to everyone who’s interested, because this is what I understand I am called to do by Jesus, who I understand to be God’s Messiah, and indeed God himself.
Have a wonderful day, friend.
Peace be with you! Shalom.

I was busy shopping for Shabbat on Friday (during the Winter months, Shabbat starts earlier so Fridays are quite busy with preparations), and I didn’t have much time to engage with Steven, but I shot off a quick response, letting him know that I was not offended in the slightest. Now, some hours after Shabbat has gone out here in Jerusalem, and I’ve had more opportunity to sit down and reflect upon Steven’s words, I want to offer him a simple, Jewish response:

Dear Steven,
I consider you a true mensch.
Shavua Tov,

77 thoughts on “The “synagogue of Satan””

  1. This is a very interesting post. I was raised a non religious jew… but I met Jesus in my darkest moment…

    That being said… I believe the synagogue of satan (a quote from the book of revelation) is the heart of man… of EVERY man (and woman). The heart of man is where evil dwells… that is the reason that man needs a Savior.

    It may manifest differently… to one it is murder and to another as lust and to yet another it is idolatry… as we are all cut from the same cloth and born into sin.

  2. The post seems to have disappeared but, judging from the title and the note you got, I can imagine what it said. I will praise you for your gracious response. I might not have been able to do the same, depending on my mood! “Salt and light” is a Christian metaphor but I’d use it here: you showed something worth pursuing.

    I had a similar experience to Adam but I was about 9. I may have written about it on my own blog. Maybe I’ll do a shorter piece with just that story. I am a preacher’s son and my family represented the Evangelical (dad’s side) and the Fundamentalist (mom’s side) strains of American religion. (Yes, there are differences!) And my mother told me that one of my friends on my baseball team was Jewish. I was so intellectually isolated, even though I grew up in Los Angeles, that I didn’t know what that meant! I knew there were Jews in the Bible but that was about it! Well a bit of hilarity ensued but fortunately Archie (my Jewish baseball friend) never found out about it — we kept it in the family! But I knew and that is the hard part. I figured it out by the time I got to college but it was hard. It seems like you have some kindness toward Adam and I am glad to see that. It may not be completely be his fault. It takes courage to reject what a family teachers. Sometimes that takes time and sometimes that takes heroic amounts of courage that not everyone can muster up.

    1. this is such an interesting comment – and I thank you so much for it!

      the Evangelical (dad’s side) and the Fundamentalist (mom’s side)

      could you please write a couple of sentences about the difference between the two? and is there overlap (I assume there is)?

      thank you!

  3. So many of our relationships are transitory and yet leave indelible imprints on our minds. I love how open minded you are about every other religion and worldviews.

  4. My best friend from my youth is Baptist. Her church taught Mormonism was a cult and that I would go to hell from being raised in the RLDS Faith (original Mormon church). My church taught that the RLDS Faith was the only true church. So, you can see why, even as a young person, I was drawn to study different religions. All think they’re right.
    Have you read of the Cathars?
    That’s a mind blower.
    Imagine what those Baptists would think of my studying Pagan, Druid, Taoist, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the like! Ha!!

    1. Yeah. I often wish more people could take a few steps back from their dogmas and be honest with themselves about why they are so attached to them. Believing that everything in the universe makes sense and has purpose may be very comforting, of course, but it feels very false to me personally, and I cannot bring myself to embrace the idea.

      1. I’ve gotta get you a link to our original song called, Dogma. I think you may like it.
        I hear you and feel that God probably thinks very different from how we humans think. ❤️🦋🌀

  5. My Christian family deeply struggles with my rejection of the faith in which I was raised and my conversion to Judaism. My mom let it slip that she still thinks I’ll come back around, and that she and the family pray for me to return to Christ. She frequently cries about the idea of us not being together in Heaven, and I have to reminder her – again and again – that she is approaching the afterlife through her specific belief system (Baptist) and that I don’t align and don’t believe what she believes. I then remind her that we don’t know about the afterlife and she’s making huge assumptions about the future of our souls. It’s frustrating, but it sounds like you’ve handled it with class and grace. I need to take a page out of your playbook instead of being annoyed all the time! Good Shabbos!

    1. It’s so nice to ‘meet’ you Rachel.

      You know, after writing this post, and after getting feedback from some other people, it struck me that one of the reasons its easy for me to accept the Christian point of view is that the Christian members of my extended family (on my wife’s side) are totally accepting of our religious identities as Israeli Jews.

      So if there happens to be somebody in the world who is bothered by my not accepting Jesus Christ as my savior, that’s something that’s easy for more to smile at and discuss with them in a friendly way… because such people have no direct impact on my life. The resulting dynamic is actually more likely to lead to them getting upset, rather than me getting upset, because they’re the ones whose religious sensibilities are troubled: I’m the one who proudly embraces being a Jew and they’re the ones who wish that I would convert to Christianity.

      The dynamic between you & your mother (and family) must be very challenging 😦

  6. You’re such a good writer David. I wish I could give an equally thoughtful and personal response to this brilliantly conceived post (including but not limited to formatting, from start to finish), but I’d risk wearing out the size and shape of this comment field, so I’ll just have a big ol’ philosophical (love of knowledge!) enthusiastic and “right on!”-style pow-pow with you and all your good menschen, over chai latte (among my favourite drinks!) in my mind. In sum though, and as usual getting a bit emotional over things, I will say that the humanity and love and respect with which topics and people, in general, were treated in this piece brought tears of joy to my eyes. Religion has always interested me, and I learn something new every time I come here. And yes, Steven is another gem of a human being. Like you. Thanks to both of you for sharing.

  7. I have a deeply devout Anglican friend in London who introduced me to another way of viewing one of my favorite TV shows, which I found astonishingly resonant with me (themes of faith and redemption, while I’ve always emphasised it’s themes of questioning orders unethical/illegal, and building community).
    On the other hand, my family, much like your friend David, but without the complimentary tears, saw my conversion to Judaism as a betrayal, especially my father’s side of the family. So much so that I ended up leaving my native city when I needed them most, to try to build family in some other way than birth.
    Your finding of friends through your blog also gives me some hope.

    1. Wow… That’s really, really rough, Shira.

      You know… I think it’s hard for a lot of people to accept changes in others (which is why so many marriages fall apart, right?)… I don’t say this as justification at all – because I think true love is being will to accept another regardless of any changes that they may go through. But true love? Well, unfortunately, that’s a pretty high bar…

      1. Sorry if my first comment was a bit harsh. I think that true love is not necessarily being willing to accept any changes, because some changes are not good: becoming cruel (does anyone actually become that way, though, rather than having already been that way to some extent, or had the tendency?), becoming untrustworthy, becoming a person who lacks honor where once there was, that should not have to be tolerated, but love, I agree, should indeed accept changes that make one a better or more hopeful person, or even a worse person, perhaps, but not a downright bad person. I don’t know. Please accept my apologies for the rant.

        1. No apologies necessary! I did, actually, think about “negative” changes, as I was writing that, and you’re obviously right about that… but perhaps it’s not always self-evident which changes are “negative” and which are “positive” … and perhaps truly loving somebody is giving them the benefit of the doubt for some period of time to see how their changes are shaping them?

  8. This was quite insightful and interesting, especially reading about differing views and beliefs.
    I like learning different versions of certain events like creation and reading about the deities of different religions.
    And the title of this post is very intriguing!!

    1. Thanks 🙂

      The relationship between Judaism and Christianity (and Islam) is unlike its relationship with non-Abrahamic religions… and this history of competing theologies requires that people in both the Jewish camp and the non-Jewish Abrahamic camp be willing to look beyond the limits of their religious doctrines if they wish to get along with one another. (in my opinion)

  9. Ben. enjoyed this post so much and it collaborated what I already sensed about you, just by reading you and watching you interact with fellow bloggers, including myself. “a person’s humanity is of much more interest to me than their religious affiliation.” Amen and Ameen:) 🌺

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