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.
Steven

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,
David

64 thoughts on “The “synagogue of Satan””

  1. I’m trying to come to terms with the title and to reconcile it with your fascinating relations described in your blog.

      1. My overarching point is that whereas I would have once felt threatened by Steven’s message (when I was 18) because I didn’t know much about either Christianity OR Judaism, I now feel very comfortable in my own shoes, and I now have much more understanding about where a Christian might be coming from 🙂

      2. Yes i understood you note as you described. I was concerned about the title linked to the fact that i have in the past read about symbols, signs and certain body language associated with satanism. Who assigned these thoughts i don’t know and neither have i sat in a priestly or pastoral lectures regarding these topics. I also recognise in your paper how the relationship between the two women have changed, altered and been restored through the years. Amazing how differently the bible and other sacred texts are received, taught or imparted in various regions of the world. I have the feeling that there is a new excitement in the earth to talk about these relations.

      3. Actually, Abi, since you made that comment, I’ve decided to put quotes in the title of this post – I think it’s more clear that way. Thank you.

  2. Believer in Jesus with Jewish background here : ) Cool to see what you’ve shared here about your friendships and interactions with Christians.

  3. Interesting post Ben. The older I get the more questions I have regarding God and Faith. You may have seen them coming through on some of my poems. I am a Christian and feel the Bible has much to teach us about life and death. At my age, I find passing judgment on what others believe is not my responsibility. I am honored to have you as my blogging friend and greatly enjoy your thoughtful comments and responses. Thank you for being my virtual friend!
    Dwight

      1. Thank you Ben. In this time of little social interaction our connections on the blog make life just a little brighter. I appreciate your kind words of affirmation.

  4. Your graciousness is appreciated. I have a lot of painful experiences surrounding these issues myself and seem to be able to discuss them online with strangers in a way that I can’t with family or local community. I can’t say I agree with the commentators assumptions and interpretation of this passage but everything has looked very different to me from the place I find myself. Of course some would say I am blind. I just really think that “only the fruitful thing is true” so I no longer look at the labels people give themselves. There are all sorts of people who profess to believe that Jesus is the Messiah but who seem by their deeds to know more of Satan.

  5. Ben, your writing is open and insightful. Thank you. I appreciate how much I learn about the Jewish faith from your posts. I also love this sentence: “… a person’s humanity is of much more interest to me than their religious affiliation.” Engaging writing. 😀

      1. Exactly. Hope we can teach next generation the importance of humanity and it’s utter need at this time, because current one is reluctant to that behaviour.

  6. This is a beautiful post from a beautiful human being. It reminded me of my old golden days of college. In fact, we always wanted to have some Muslim and Christian friends in our circle to enjoy their festivals and delicacies. And now I got a Jewish friend as well. But really I’m learning a lot from you and your experience. Thanks as ever 😊

    1. That is one of the most unexpected things for me about WordPress blogging – it feels so rewarding to provide others with a window into my culture and my world – and I also love reading about India and Hinduism through your 👀!

  7. Beautifully written.Assimilation is main virtue of Judaism and Hinduism.now you can understand.these both culture( now named as religion) has love other religions and accept like the friends of any person having religious faith.

    1. I both embrace assimilation, and I am also concerned about it… when it comes to Judaism.

      I would not want all Jewish people to assimilate and cease being Jewish – I love my heritage, and I want to see it preserved.

      I think with Hinduism this is less of a concern because of the numbers… There are 1.25 Billion Hindus, and only 15 Million Jews…

      It is therefore more likely that Judaism will become lost than Hinduism (simply by virtue of the numbers, as I pointed out)… and that is a real fear of mine.

      1. Why is the thing of fear?dear ben.!!Hinduism is only in India and never force to accept the Hindu religion.it is a liberal religion.yeah.now a days- it is becoming conservative because of politician of India.it is sad thing for me.

      2. We may be talking about different things. I’m not suggesting that anyone should ever be forced or even encouraged to become Jewish – that is not the Jewish approach.

        I am simply saying that I want Judaism to continue to exist, and that can only happen if enough Jews remain Jewish… so some degree of “conservatism” is necessary in my view. Tradition is not something that I treat lightly.

      3. It seems to me that we’re having difficulty understanding one another because of language difficulties, but I have no problem discussing these topics with you (or with anybody else). I’m glad to talk about them.

      4. No,dear ben!! I am not feeling the difficulty to talk on same topic.here is not language difficulties.as you say to tell on other thing then i say that okay.plz don’t feel guilty.all things are clear.I am too glad to talk about them.😊

      5. Dear Aruna,

        This is what I wrote:

        We may be talking about different things.

        That does not mean that we should not continue our conversation.

        It means that while we are having one conversation together, we seem to be speaking about two different aspects of the same subject, and that, it seems to me, is why we are having difficulty understanding one another.

        Again, when I write that “We may be talking about different things” that is not a suggestion that we should change the subject.

        I was being descriptive, not prescriptive.

        Again, I am MORE than happy to continue our conversation.

      6. I understand your point.sorry,dear!!actually I have go to prepare the dinner.so i answer you soon.here i am enjoying to talk on same point.but after dinner.okay dear!!

      7. Yeah.as you told that is not the Jewish approach.your Judaism is exited.but dear,I don’t know about Jewish’s existence in India as you told it’s number is less more than Hindu.here i apologise to you.

      8. Aruna, I am not upset with you at all, nor do I have any reason to be upset with you. You do not owe me any apology! From my perspective, we were simply have a respectful conversation and getting to know more about one another’s cultures.

  8. 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:) 🌺

  9. 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)

  10. 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. True love is a high bar, but it’s better than accepting “love” that yells, shakes, undercuts and insults.
        Oh, wait, maybe that’s not love…

      2. 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.

      3. 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?

  11. 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.

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