Baklava Meets Bagels

English: Six Braided Jewish Challah with sesame.

Delicious Challah Bread (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been blessed by some truly unique experiences in my 55 years of life. One of the most grace full experiences I have had is the privilege, as a Greek Orthodox Christian, to work inside of a Jewish synagogue.

For five years I was the events coordinator of a very beautiful, large synagogue in the heart of my hometown city. It was and still is a place of amazing beauty and the object of much love from its congregation.

When my friend and future boss interviewed me seven years ago, he said “You are perfect for this job”. I said “What IS the job?”. He said, “Events Coordinator”. When he showed me the schedule I almost fainted.

The schedule was filled with meetings, services, Bar Mitzvahs and Kiddushes. I thought “What the heck?”  I told my boss I knew nothing about Judaism and he said “Everyone will be very patient with you while you learn”.

And learn I did. I learned about celebrating Shabbat, Chanukah, Passover, and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. I learned all the components of a Jewish wedding including a beautiful chuppah. I worked with a great team of people, including the rabbis, who bent over backwards to plan perfect events for their attendees. They taught me many things about the traditions and meanings of the holidays. They opened my eyes to many spiritual things.

I grew a great respect for the Jewish culture and the race as a whole. Jews are very hard workers, dedicated and loyal to their faith. The congregation did great acts of philanthropy- donating food, stepping up for causes I had never even heard of. It was an amazing experience for me to see such expressions of unselfishness and love.

On a softer note, I came to also love the food of “Temple”. Because there was a large gathering hall and many food events, there were always great leftovers. I grew to love brisket and potato latkes (with a dab of sour cream or applesauce!). Bagels with a smear of cream cheese, a sprinkle of capers, a slice of onion and a filet of smoked salmon are awesome! I became a huge fan of hamenstashen (a cookie filled with fruit) and rugelach.  I can still get excited over a good loaf of challah bread! In turn, I brought in homemade Greek baklava at Christmas to share with the staff and congregants. They loved it and told me so.

Once, I met with a mom who was planning her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah luncheon. We went over many things and she was very organized. I only helped her to bring it all together and plan the final execution. When we were done talking she said, “You must have a Jew in your tree.” I laughed and said “Well, I’m Greek Orthodox so I don’t think so….!” She said “Well, you know what they say, “If you shake the tree hard enough, one will fall out!” I took this as a great compliment.

I did come to understand and respect the customs and way things were done. And in many cases, certain congregants became like family to me. When I first arrived at my job, several of them stopped by my office to welcome me (and to check me out!). When I won them over, they brought me gifts at various times of the year, fussed over meeting my husband or other family members, and filled me in when I didn’t understand something. I felt loved and accepted there no matter what.

I hope other religious institutions would be so accepting towards one not of their faith, working within their organization in such a deep and personal way. In my willingness to explore a different perspective other than my own, I gained a huge new understanding of God, love and faith.

May you have the opportunity and the willingness to do something that truly opens your spiritual eyes. And may you grow from it!

Have you ever had a unique experience outside of your own faith? What was it like?

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13 thoughts on “Baklava Meets Bagels

  1. Gallivanta

    Baklava meets Bagels; a great title for your post. Your account of your work in the synagogue is so loving and grace full. I do believe that our contact with other faiths enriches our own, whatever it may be.

    Reply
  2. Cathy McElhaney

    Love this post! I have always been interested in other beliefs and feel they all have beautiful traditions and customs. It’s sad that I doubt many Christians would be so welcoming without trying to convert you. Accepting who you are and your beliefs. I have ‘studied’ the bible with both the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons. I learned a lot about their beliefs and while I believe differently than they do, I respect their beliefs. The one Jehovah’s Witness stops by periodically to see how I am. I feel it’s sad that she has to be kind of deceptive to do it though. Since I wouldn’t ‘convert’, we can’t be friends, so she has to make up an excuse to stop by…usually it’s an article in their latest flyer that made her think of me. I really enjoyed our ‘studies’ because she is open minded and accepting that I believe differently and she actually tries to understand where I am coming from. The Mormon’s weren’t quite so understanding! They kept telling me to ‘pray on it’. I told them I had been and they said ‘pray some more!’ I said ‘what until I believe the way you do?’ and they said ‘yes’! I then told them we were done because that was not going to happen, ha ha!
    I have also looked into Wicca, which is a beautiful religion dedicated to preserving and using things of the earth. It has gotten a bad rap and has nothing satanic to it, I just believe differently.

    Reply
    1. KatherinesDaughter

      Dear Cathy, I love your plethora of faith experiences. It speaks well that you are open and receptive to many different perspectives! I have never heard of Wicca; I’ll have to google that one!
      Have a wonderful day. It is always good to hear from you! xo Joanne

      Reply
    2. Peg Richards

      Cathy, I am so sorry about your experiences with the “Mormon” missionaries. Unfortunately, sometimes, they are so young and inexperienced. Not all “Mormons” are like that. I am one. 🙂

      I have an interesting family. My dad is a Latter-day Saint (as we call ourselves instead of “Mormon”). My mother is an Episcopalian priest. My oldest brother is a Lutheran pastor. My oldest sister is a convert to Catholicism and a teacher at a Catholic elementary school. My youngest brother is a lay monk in the Catholic church, teaching music to disadvantaged children in homeless shelters across the country and into Mexico in a program he developed. My youngest sister has an evangelical singing ministry that takes her around the country, singing in prisons, women’s shelters and at church camps, etc. We have interesting family gatherings–quite ecumenical, don’t you think? None of us try to convert each other.

      Well, my dad gets sad about everyone except for me leaving for other churches, but I’ve told him: “Look at all the good everyone in the family is doing in the faiths they have chosen. I don’t think you have to worry about any of them. They are great, loving people, serving the Lord the way He has given them to serve.”

      Blessings,
      Peg

      Reply
  3. Marianne

    What an interesting job that must have been.
    What I have come to know is that there is one Eternal Being and we are Its children. If we could come from the place of love there never would be problems, or feelings of separateness from God or each other…

    Enjoy a wonderful day, Joanne, full of sunshine no matter the weather,
    Marianne xo

    P.S. I like the title of your post.

    Reply
  4. Peg Richards

    Joanne, your title caught my eye. I wasn’t disappointed. What a wonderful experience for you! When I lived in Iran,

    I learned that most Moslems I met were kind, loving people. My father-in-law was one of the sweetest men I’ve ever known. The book I’ve written is about those experiences in Iran.

    I, too, am salivating over your description of the foods you learned to love!

    Enjoy your sabbath.

    Much love,
    Peg

    Reply
  5. Cathy McElhaney

    Thank you Peg! I do not judge (I hate that word!) Mormon’s on that experience. I simply believe differently and wish they would have been more open minded. They were 2 young men eager to share what they believed, just not willing to hear any thing different. Your family gatherings sound quite delightful! I am always willing to learn another belief system!
    I love what Marianne said!

    Reply
    1. Peg Richards

      Cathy,

      I love discovering how others worship, too. I’ve gone to services with everyone in my family except for my youngest brother (because he lives quite far from me.) I loved going to my oldest sister’s midnight Christmas Mass, my youngest sister’s continual prayer service, and my oldest brother’s Christmas services (played my flute for his church in two separate services that evening.)

      Much love,
      Peg

      Reply

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