8 Tishrei 5781 / Saturday, September 26, 2020 | Torah Reading: Ha'azinu
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Unhidden Faith    

Unhidden Faith

The minister’s faith could not be hidden. It came out into the open, to the agony of many, but also gave comfort and inspiration to those who dreamed to be courageous too.


Strangers No More, Part 2

This is a very personal story. It flows from the deepest levels of my being and as such, perhaps should be hidden from the world. But like a string on an instrument, when it begins to vibrate, it creates sound waves whose immediate effect can be heard and even seen. So it is with the vibrations of my life – they touched my environment resulting in far-reaching decisions that affected my family, my work and my future. My faith could not be hidden. It came out into the open, to the agony of those who disagreed, to provide comfort and inspiration for those in a similar situation, or to those who can relate to my questions. Allow me, as a stranger accepted into the family of Israel, to remind the Jewish people how precious is the gift that God gave, when He invested in us His Holy Torah and entrusted us with the beautiful Shabbat. Another gift God gave to His people is Eretz Yisrael. I am lucky to live in this land and I want to show more people the importance of making aliyah, to settle in the land of Israel.
Sharing my personal story with a broad public has a purpose. Knowing one’s own identity is a human right, even a necessity. The search for it, I found, is closely connected to religiosity. We are what we believe, and if we don't know what to believe, we are like a grain of sand on the beach, lost in the multitude of pluralism.
It is all too easy nowadays to lose oneself in traditions and rituals. But sooner or later, there will come a time for soul-searching, a time to find meaning in the ritual and the story behind tradition. Lost souls must find their way home. I want to feel alive and I want my soul to find its proper place. My story is a search for the identity of my soul. Therefore I direct my thoughts to the Giver of life, to the One who placed my soul within me.
This book reveals a long journey, the starting point being the world of Christianity, in which I served as a minister in a Lutheran Church, and the destination point being Judaism. It could also be described as a search for the God whom I knew from the Tanach (the Hebrew word for Bible, Tanach is an acronym of the words Torah [Pentateuch], Nevi’im [Prophets] and Ketuvim [Writings]), but who still seemed so far away.
My life as a Christian minister was filled with memorable experiences. I will share some of them in this book. My time in the Church also gave me work experience in another continent. Born under the Northern Star in the cold country of Finland, I sojourned with my family for five years under the Southern Cross in the land Down Under. Why wasn't it satisfying to be a Christian, or enough to be a respected minister with job opportunities around the globe? Why give up all these privileges for something so difficult and so different? Why leave an easy life in Finland or Australia to move to Israel? Finding an answer to these questions will take a lifetime, but I still want to share the decisions that I had to make, and the reasons behind them, because I believe that sharing my experience may help somebody realize or rediscover the preciousness and uniqueness of Judaism, and the importance of living in Israel. I am now proudly waving the Star of David as my flag.
Our generation has seen the deepest humiliation of the Jewish people, but we have also witnessed the success story of establishing a Jewish state. "For he that touches you touches the apple of his eye," says God (Zechariah 2:8). Painful experiences throughout history have made it difficult for so many to keep their faith. I want to convey my strong conviction that we are going to see a mighty revival of Jewish values. Amidst growing anti-Semitism we are not far from the time when nations – not only Jews – will realize that “out of Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of the Lord from Yerushalayim” (Isaiah 2:3). Now we can look forward. The future will prove what Jews have always proclaimed, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy. 6:4).
The story of Ruth in the Tanach comes to mind when I relate the experiences of our family. Ruth is the famous convert in the Tanach. Her road to Judaism serves as a source for some of the major halachot regarding conversions. Ruth’s life is also about commitment and dedication to the people of Israel and their God. The Book of Ruth is read during the synagogue service every Shavuot. There we learn that she became the great grandmother of King David, and therefore of our future Moshiach (Messiah). Her faith and conviction serve as a model for all of us. I wish to reiterate the famous statement by Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi that echoes the deepest expression of my innermost faith and dedication to our new people: "Where you go, I will go and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Where you die I will die and there I will be buried" (Ruth 1:16–17). I will add another quotation from much earlier in the Tanach, and from another story, that of Joshua. This takes place at a critical moment when the people had to be reminded whom to serve. Towards the end of Joshua’s lifetime he gathered the people at Shechem and presented them with two alternatives: Either you serve foreign gods or you serve Hashem. Then Joshua himself set the example when he expressed these words that I also want to make my own: "as for me and my house, we want to serve God” (Joshua 24:15).
These words are not only a statement but also a prayer for our children. May God keep you and safeguard you, may he protect you and bless you and instill in you the satisfaction of knowing who you are, so with pride and inspiration you can convey the legacy of our fathers to future generations.
To be continued.
(Strangers No More, by Shlomo Brunell. Reprinted with courtesy of Gefen Publishing House 2005 www.gefenpublishing.com)

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