How I Became a Zionist:
A Spiritual Odyssey
Mary Pinkney Parnell
am a Gentile, a goy, a shiksa--maybe. I remember
my first encounter with Jewishness. I was six years
old and my father was going into town to see Jakey,
the Jew. Jakey ran a wool, fur, and scrap metal
business in the little town in North Dakota where
I grew up. The entire town called him Jakey, the
Jew. When I first heard the name something stirred
my heart. Later that day I asked my Mother, "What
is a Jew?" My mother struggled to answer. "It's
a religion," she said. I wasn't satisfied.
"But, what is a Jew?" I didn't know it, then, but
I was looking deeply within my soul.
"They are a people," she answered. She still didn't
tell me what I wanted to know.
It is strange that my mother, a faithful Bible reader,
could not tell me then, that the Bible came from
Jews, that Jesus was a Jew, and that Mary was a
Jew. Perhaps she had not made the connection either.
She read the Bible each day looking for a promise
of survival, of hope. Eagerly we went to the promise
box, like a magic charm, to find the Word of the
day. If the promise was good, and it was, she was
gladdened with renewed strength.
My father, on the other hand, was of another religious
species, some sort of Rosicrucian, New-Ager, who
spawned so much anti-Semitic rhetoric that I am
surprised I was not affected.
The Jews, a handful, control all the money
in the world.
Jews control the world.
Zionism is the greatest evil ever to be foisted
on the world.
Zionism must be stopped at all costs.
His sources: his sister, an ardent Jew-hater who
denied the Holocaust; The Cross and the Flag
of the John Birch Society; and various other Rosicrucian
secrets passed on only to the highest initiates.
Somehow, even as a child, I didn't believe a word
of that rhetoric and, when older, reading the Merchant
of Venice, thought that Shakespeare maligned
Shylock, just a little. And since I wasn't a Christian,
either, I didn't mind Shylock saying, "I hate him
for he is a Christian." Maybe I was still influenced
by my father who didn't like Christians anymore
And then there was Mrs. Phillips, the wife of Jakey
the Jew, the mother of the three handsomest, young
men in our town, Hyme, Morrie, and Dave, better
known as Harpo. Hyme was a pilot shot down in WWII.
When in high school, I had many an occasion to work
for Mrs. Phillips. She was a Russian immigrant with
a thick accent, spindly legs, and the ample bosom
much parodied by Harvey Korman on the Carol Burnett
shows when he dressed up as a Jewish mother. Working
for her was an adventure, a sweat, and a trap.
Now the three handsome men were long gone from the
home and Jakey was dead. She needed much help. I
would read the directions on the Jell-O box as she
was illiterate and had forgotten how to make Jell-O.
Then I swept and cleaned and washed, and soon it
would be time for her to show me her diamond rings
and the furs that smothered in a small wardrobe
"Jakey bought me thus and thus when . . ." and the
stories would be told.
I am sure hers were the few diamonds and minks that
ever found their way into our poor, rural town.
After the tour of her moneyed bedroom, I would make
my attempt to go, and she would detain me with,
"Would you dust the china closet before you
"Yes, Mrs. Phillips."
"Would you dust the top of the ceiling fan before
"Yes, Mrs. Phillips," and the jobs spun on until,
at last, she let me go with three quarters in my
hand. I was glad to be finished until the next time.
Still I liked to go to Mrs. Phillips. Something
in me always wanted to ask her what it meant to
be a Jew, but I didn't dare, and there seemed to
be nothing in her home that spoke of religious significance.
So time wheeled its cycles: I was a student, a wife,
a mother, a single mother, and circumstance brought
me back to my home town to live. I was to become
employed at a small junior college as an English
and literature teacher. The house I bought for a
pittance was about 100 years old and had a lovely
stained glass window in the living room. A beautiful
Star of David graced the pattern. I paid no attention
to it, not yet knowing God's greater design and
sense of humor.
The spiritual adventure that began at six was on
hold until 1981 when I met Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah.
He became real to me as God and very God. I devoured
the Bible, not knowing yet about church or Christianity,
probably from my strange upbringing. So each Sunday
I would listen to the earnest TV preacher and ask
Jesus into my heart, even while slightly disdaining
the program I watched.
The Bible became alive; it leaped from the page.
As I read about Elisha crossing the river Jordan,
I could see it scatter hither and thither. I began
to understand Jewishness as I read about Abraham,
my favorite, and his faith to go into an uncharted
land, the land that four thousand years later would
be a home for his descendants. Abraham, the Father
of Faith, "Abraham believed God and it was counted
to him as righteousness." What a revelation, all
one had to do was believe!
And then, Moses, with the rod of power in his hand,
making the waters of the Red Sea roll back; and
I could see the waters roll back like a scroll.
Then at Marah, the bitter pool, he threw in the
stick to make the bitter waters sweet, and I knew
that wood, etz in Hebrew, was a foreshadowing of
another Etz upon which the Passover blood would
be shed--the final sacrifice--designed to make all
that was bitter in life, sweet.
And the offering of Isaac foreshadowing another
"only begotten son" and a resurrection. Then, lamb
after lamb led me to Seh ha Elohim, "The Lamb of
God that taketh away the sins of the world." So,
before a year had passed, I had been through the
Bible with the help of the Ruach ha Kodesh, and
I knew that I had become a Jew, grafted into the
olive tree. I was one of the myriad sands of the
sea and stars in the sky, the heritage of my Father
Abraham; I was a chosen generation!
So the relationship was begun and I sailed into the uncharted seas of
the Spirit and of the knowledge of God.
The next phase of Zionism came in March of 1995. A flyer from Derek Prince
came in the mail. It read: Could this be your appointment in Jerusalem?
My heart began to pound. Could it? I couldn't stop the pounding
of my heart. My brain reasoned, you always wanted to go to Paris
or Venice. You don't really want to go to Israel. But
the heart had reasons that reason could not know.
I met Hannele Pardain of Christian Friends of Israel, USA, and the trip
was in the works. It would not be long before the CFI family would become
the family of my heart. We flew TWA in early May of 1995. I did not know
what lay ahead of me. When the plane landed in Tel Aviv, we all applauded,
but something else was happening. Tears spurted, unbidden, from my eyes.
I got out into the pressing heat and an overwhelming feeling came over
me. I was home. This land was my land! I was consumed with the
desire to know everything. We had a wonderful guide, Naftali Cohen, who
put me in mind of the Phillips boys. I had to know it all, everything
about my country and Naftali would help immensely.
I met another important person on this trip, Dr. Faye Sinclair, a former
medical missionary, and veteran of many trips to Israel. She would become
my mentor in all things Israeli, including Hebrew. I thought I had to
know Hebrew also, and tried very hard to master a few phrases. I admired
Hannele's grasp of languages. A native of Finland, she spoke Hebrew effortlessly.
I was later to learn what an incredible scholar she is. Fluent in several
modern languages, she is able to read even ancient languages like Proto-Canaanite,
probably the Zursprache.
Faye gave me my
reading list. I devoured O Jerusalem when I returned
home. I learned about the talit and tzitziot from Faye.
I found I had a new Bible. Instead of names that I tended
to "spiritualize," I realized that these names were places--my
God had a geography and a history! On that trip I first
heard Jonathan Settel, the sweet singer of Israel. I met
Barry and Batya Segal and listened to their music. Who
would forget Jerry Ginn, our singer and worship leader.
Jerry looked like the veritable Lion of Judah, himself,
with his craggy head and close-set eyes. After them, no
other praise would do, it had to be Jewish.
But, I digress. First we traveled the land. I relished
Galilee, the color of a blue crayon in the box of 8. The
Jordan was fabulous, rushing down from the Springs of
Dan--it was pure aquamarine. The Dead Sea was glorious,
the air was bracing, and the waters were sure to silken
your skin for months to come. We had to learn to float,
and there was much talk of what to do should we tip over.
Should the salt get into our eyes, drastic measures would
And the food! There is no breakfast on the planet like
the Israeli breakfast. Tables groaned with fruits and
vegetables and salads and yogurts, and crusty breads and
cheeses. And the falafel. We ate tasty falafels near Jericho.
We had cups of delicious Turkish coffee and hot sweet
tea, and baklava that melted in the mouth, a treat from
Mishel, our Arab bus driver.
But, nothing would compare to Jerusalem. We drove up from
Jericho in the bus singing the Psalms of Ascent. I now
understood what that meant. All roads to Jerusalem go
up. We went up and up. The bus parked slyly on top of
Mount Skopus behind some very tall trees. We got out;
I walked in front of the tree barrier, and there lay Jerusalem
spread out below me like a jewel. She was white and shimmered
and sparkled and glowed in the reflection of some other
Sobs sprang forth from some deep well within me. Naftali
and Hannele took turns comforting me. They had seen it
before; they understood that I was torn with the first
throws of intercession. I was to intercede for Israel,
plead for Israel, and spread the word about God's people,
the Jews. I did not know the scope of all He had in mind
for me then. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, my heart knit to hers.
Her very stones were precious to me as were all the beloved
people in the land.
Perhaps the highlight of that trip was meeting Derek Prince,
my great mentor and Bible teacher and resident of Jerusalem
since '48. More than 80 years old, he was tall, tanned,
and handsome. Hannele conspired to have me sit at his
dinner table and I was able to have an unforgettable meeting
with Derek and his wife, Ruth.
Soon Faye and I were deep in conference to go to Israel
again. So in May of 1996, after the CFI tour, Faye and
I stayed an extra week in Jerusalem at the Windmill Hotel,
one block from the historic King David Hotel. I walked
to the Old City every day to haggle for our crispy bread.
We ate bread which we dipped in olive oil and hyssop and
drank the sweet Sabbath wine in the evenings, all we needed
after the sumptuous breakfast.
We had adventures in Hezekiah's tunnel and Warren's Shaft.
We walked the walls and were watchmen on the walls of
the Old City. We walked through the city of David and
met some beautiful young Arab girls who were so full of
hope for the future. They gladly shared their ice cream
cones with us and we communicated in spite of no language.
I noted that in about three years they would be tripping
over long black dresses with veils that made it nearly
impossible to see. As we went deeper into the city of
David, some little boys came begging. I said, "la" to
them and they left me alone, but when Faye refused to
give them a handout, they picked up stones to stone her.
For Faye that was a memorable event.
Also important was our visit to the Israeli museum and
seeing the fabulous Dead Sea Scrolls. With my own eyes
I could see how readable the Isaiah Scroll was. I could
pick out a word here and there. Soon our time in the Holy
City had come to an end.
I returned home and would sit in my living room and look
at the Star of David with the sun prisming through it,
marveling at the schemes of God.
More than ever I was determined to know about Israel's
history. Israel was always in my heart and prayers. But,
certain questions surfaced:
Why was the Christian church so indifferent to its
Jewish roots? When they read the Bible, Israel usually
meant something other than Israel.
I wondered why the nation of Israel was so eager
to give away its boundaries in hopes of a false peace--a
peace that inevitably strengthened her enemies--allowing
them to regroup to return again.
I wondered at the international communities anti-Semitic
stance. Why was the terrorist always defended over Israel?
It seemed easy to kill or hate a Jew.
And I wondered at the ambiguity of the American
State Department regarding terrorism since 9/11. America
would fight, without hesitation, some nation not even
threatening its borders, yet Israel, faced with the terrorism
daily, was always urged to use restraint.
And finally, I wondered at the indifference of American
Jews to Israel, and of Israeli citizens impervious to
their own settlers and their very own HaShem.
This year, I went to Israel again. I met Hannele, Faye,
Jerry Ginn and some very special others. This trip
was not about the land; it was about the people. I met
the settlers of Judea and Samaria. I heard a little lady
tell of her entire family being hit by a suicide bomber
on a bus while on a family outing. Seven children in all.
Her baby, a month old, was found alive under the rubble;
but her little three-year-old girl was blinded and disfigured.
I heard a Jewish survivor of German and Siberian prison
camps from WWII, his marvelous 'scapes with death, his
aliyah to Israel, and his ultimate rebirth in Yeshua.
My heart was touched again and again. I knew that my spiritual
odyssey was only beginning as I felt the urgency to write
about this country and this people.
After a few discussions with others who feel strongly
about Israel, I began to wonder about my ancestry. Was
I feeling a pull of blood? I had no knowledge of my mother's
mother who died in childbirth. She was a Westphal born
in Germany. When I searched Jewish records, I saw that
many Jews were also named Westphal. Could my Grandmother
be Jewish? Then I would be 1/4 Jewish. Is that what my
six-year-old heart was discerning all along?
I don't know. The genealogy has to be done, but I know
someone who can do it, who succeeded in tracing our paternal
English ancestry all the way back to New York in 1660
and from there to the Norman Invasion. Perhaps, the pull
of blood, was not only the God of Abraham, but a lineage
of ancestors as yet undiscovered. For certain, I was no
longer a Gentile, but a Jew, if not because of my mother,
because of my Father Abraham.