FROM MATZAH BALLS TO COMMUNION WAFERS by Gail  Baker

FROM MATZAH BALLS TO COMMUNION WAFERS

How a not-so Kosher Jewish Girl Fell in Love with Jesus
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A personal memoir of a Jewish woman’s search for spiritual solace in Christianity.

Debut author Baker grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, wary of her proselytizing Protestant neighbors. Her father embraced his identity as a Jew culturally but was thoroughly secular at heart and even once confessed to being a nonbeliever. The author continued this legacy when she married her husband, Steve—a devotedly nonreligious man—in a ceremony performed by a rabbi. However, when her 9-year-old son, Michael, began to struggle with a series of emotional problems—including depression, eating disorders, ungovernably defiant behavior, and, finally, drug addiction—Baker found that she needed a kind of spiritual support that her secular worldview couldn’t provide. She turned to the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and interrogated the religious contours of her inherited, secular Jewishness; then, she became drawn to Christian teaching, particularly the ways that Jesus’ ministry explained the nature of suffering and the guilt that she didn’t realize that she harbored. She was ultimately baptized, but she was afraid that her conversion to Christianity would draw disapproval from her family members and Jewish friends, so she largely kept it secret for the next 15 years. She found that those who were closest to her were the least receptive to her conversion, including her husband, who saw their shared irreligiousness as one of the bedrocks of their relationship. Nevertheless, she says that her newfound faith helped her to cope with her son’s troubles, the death of her father, and her mother’s serious illness as well as her own diagnosed PTSD.

Baker writes with a deeply felt spirituality, her prose often elegantly taking on the form of prayer: “I continue to write so that I can better know what I feel and think about a matter. As a form of communication, it resembles prayer—reaching deep into my psyche and speaking to a subconscious part of my soul.” She artfully braids revealing, confessional memoir with thought-provoking reflections on the nature of her spirituality, which dwells in the convergence of mystical Judaism and Christianity. Her search for faith is a rigorously intellectual one, conducted through the meticulous study of not only the Bible, but also philosophy and theology. Still, her remembrance never devolves into an arid, scholarly study. However, the author does have a tendency to bombard readers with a rapid-fire succession of quotations; this can be engaging at times, but it also produces a sense of distance from the author, as she communicates too frequently through the words of others. Her recollection is still powerfully moving, though, and told with courage and self-effacing humor. With great nuance, Baker describes the profound consolation that she found in Christ as a Jewish woman, and in the process, she makes a valuable contribution to a deeper understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Finally, her account of abandoning earlier skepticism offers a fresh take on the possibility of détente between faith and reason.

A beautifully written and provocative account of a woman’s spiritual journey.

Page count: 168pp
Publisher: CreateSpace
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2018




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