Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Secret Jews or Secretly Not a Jew?

A person who was a member long ago recently began sending me emails with a lot of information about the early days of this group, and some history of people and families who are still involved. It has been very informative and I have been connecting a lot of the dots. It has been interesting, to say the least.

A theme that has been coming up recently in comments and emails is the Jewish aspect of Hickman's group. Where does that stand today, and how has it evolved?

First and foremost, this is not a Jewish group. Very few of the members are Jewish, and Jack Hickman himself was not. As most readers know, Jack became interested, then obsessed with Judaism decades ago, and brought the Family through a supposed "phase" of Judaism. Like so many other things, there are a lot of differing views among family members on Judaism, and it's role in the group. Some people consider themselves Jews, a few actually are, and others don't, or at least hide any Jewish leanings they might have. For people on the outside, this can be quite confusing. I have heard people compare the Family with the Jews for Jesus group, and other so-called messianic groups, but there are too many differences to use them as comparisons. I suppose the best way to explain the role of Judaism in the Family is to go back to what was taught and followed over time.

When Jack was a pastor in the early days, this was a solidly Christian group, even though the exact brand of Christianity was quite convoluted. At least this is what I understand. They believed in Jesus, and still do. They call him Yehoshua, Metatron, and others names, but they believe in him. These beliefs veer away from conventional, such as their conviction that he was married and had children whose descendants continue to exist today, but they still believe in him. Jews simply don't. They may believe he existed as a person, and may have been a cool guy with interesting ideas, but that is as far as it goes. Jews do not read, study or use the new testament in any context with their religious convictions at all.

Even the "Jewish" things the Family follows are different from the way most Jews, whether orthodox, Conservative or Reform, do things. It really is just Hickman Judaism, just like the group has their own brand of supposed vegetarianism, where they eat fish, and for 3 weeks out of the year eat meat, because that's what Jesus did.
For instance, Hickman Jews keep Kosher, but they consider chicken and turkey to be "parve" , which means neither meat or dairy, and can be eaten with both. That is not the way it's done in most Kosher households. Also, they will mix meat and dairy now, and still consider it kosher. There was a phase in which they were much stricter according to halacha- or rabbinic law, but they no longer consider halacha valid or worthy of following. Their view is that rabbinic law was made up by a bunch of rabbis, as opposed to Torah law, which was given by God to Moses. Rabbinic law adds a whole slew of new laws on top of the basic Torah, and as a result, most Jews spend so much energy following every little rule that the spirit of the original law in Torah is lost. That is a very simplistic and general explanation of the belief, but all I want to get into right now.

I don't necessarily have a problem with that, it makes some sense to me. What I do disagree with is the way some members try to pass themselves off as genuinely Jewish and get involved with Jewish communities when it is a lie. Anonymous commented in the Introduction that it is fraudulent, and I agree. I think that most temples would agree that there is a basic expectation that if you join, and send your children to Hebrew School, and participate as a member, that you are actually Jewish. And not harboring your secret beliefs in Yeshua, etc. Maybe I am wrong, and it would be a non issue. I don't know, I am only guessing.

Not all Family participates in temples or synagogues. The majority don't, but many do. A lot of the Family disagrees with joining a temple, and others disagree with any Jewish identity being known to outsiders. They wear yarmulkes inside, but make sure they are never left on if they go outside. It actually surprises me that there are so many differing opinions on this is one group, especially one labeled by many as a cult. But it's one of those things that Jack left up to interpretation. No matter which side you fall on, the belief is that they are interpreting it the way Jack meant. If he had ever given a clear directive this subject, you can be sure it would be followed that way by everyone.

The only thing he was clear on is conversion. We are not supposed to convert to Judaism. I am unsure what the leadership's stance is on that presently, but last I knew, it was discouraged. John Hove had converted to Judaism early on, and several people started to follow suit. It was okay for John, but Jack didn't want everyone going out and joining synagogues and converting. One of the reasons given was that John converted selflessly, in order to give something of himself to Judaism. To be a light. Most other people were converting for selfish reasons according to Jack, like access to Hebrew school, or learning more about Judaism through them, or whatever. There were other reasons also, but despite Jack's obsession with his own "Jewish" identity, he had a real disdain for the Jewish community in general, and for the current State of Israel. He believed, and taught that a lot of current Judaism was false, insincere and on the wrong path. He also taught that a "Jew" and an "Israelite" are not necessarily the same thing. We, of course, were true Israelites, even though most of us would not be considered Jewish. This was another reason for the discouragement of converting; Jack didn't want people getting drawn into the Jewish way of thinking because it is a mind frame that is supposed to be much different from ours.

Of course, the majority of the adults in the Family were raised in Christian religions, and they had a background and context to use to make sense of things. For the children, it was much more confusing.

Most of us identified as Jewish, and had no clue that our beliefs were often in opposition to Judaism. We were on Long Island, where there are a lot of Jews. Most of us went to public school because Bet El had shut down, and we just assumed we were Jewish like the other kids who were. Many of our parents told us we were. Actual Jews in the family were respected, and lots of people were searching their ancestors for any possible link to Judaism they could latch onto. Some of them claimed to be Jewish. My parents did this. As an adult, after having always considered myself Jewish, I researched on my own and found out that neither one of my parents is Jewish at all. I don't know if they were deliberately deceptive, or deluded themselves into actually believing it to be true, but either way, they lied. And I am not Jewish. And neither is anyone else in the Family with very few exceptions.

So some families involve themselves with synagogues in their communities in Maine, Colorado, NY and elsewhere. Some even work as Hebrew or religion teachers at their temples.  I do have an issue with this, unless they go through the proper channels and convert, and be honest about their history and who they are.
I can't pinpoint exactly why it bothers me so much, except that I am just sick of the secretiveness and pretending. Enough already. It's also just disrespectful to those Jewish communities to pass yourself off as something you aren't. Either be Jewish, or stay away and worship with others who actually share your beliefs. I think that if I was a parent with children at Sunday school at a church being taught by a fellow Christian, I may be upset to learn they are actually being taught by an atheist.

There is another issue, and it is a little bit more complicated. For myself and some other people in the family, leaving is a very gradual process. Some people can just cut everyone off and start new, but for me, it is a process to disentangle myself from the relationships and support systems that exist with the Family. Some of us are attempting to make new connections and new attachments separate from this group. It may be hard to understand, but a lot of us have grown up with our entire families and friends and even employers and teachers all being within the Family. If some one is living in an area like Maine, near so many other members, leaving can be extremely isolating and painful. I know for a fact that there are some areas that no matter where you go; the store, a walk to town, the doctor's office, work, you can't avoid running into a Family member. Several times a day sometimes. Once some one is labeled as an "enemy", this can be very uncomfortable, especially if they don't have a new support system or circle of friends in place. Most move away, or stay away if they are already gone for work or college.
I guess I resent not having ANY sort of "safe haven" from Family. When it comes to religious institutions, that is a part of separating for some people. I may want to convert, and join a synagogue in which I identify with to be a part of a valid community, or have that to offer to my future children. It would be nice to be able to offer something sincere to that community. Maybe it is just too simple and idealistic, but some things in life should be free from corruption.

Sometimes I would like to be somewhere without the shadow of the Family hanging over me. I want to enjoy a service, or an event without feeling like I am under scrutiny, or being reported on to the leadership. Also, I don't want to be in the presence of all the history and baggage that comes with each Family relationship.

I suppose the only real way to separate from the family successfully is to separate physically as well as figuratively. Moving may be the the most clean break after all, especially if there are children involved. There must be a better place to survive the coming catastrophe than the Rockies or the Maine tundra, right?
I keep thinking of the article from the 70's article posted on Freckle's blog:
They're Out to Grab Your Kids...

Back then Jack's group was out proselytizing just like these groups, and the Jewish community did not like it at all. The family doesn't do that anymore, and they are not trying to get Jewish members away from synagogues, but it does make me wonder; for those people still fully involved in the Family, and who have access to all of the Family's religious and holiday services and activities and schools, what is the purpose of also joining a synagogue?
John converted. Don Smestad did not.Very few did. Why are any of them going to synagogues in Maine and Upstate NY, or LI or Colorado? Also, how do they reconcile the major differences n philosophies and beliefs, like, um, Jesus?