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Mary Pinkney Parnell

How I Became a Zionist:
A Spiritual Odyssey
Mary Pinkney Parnell

I 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 than Jews.

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 upstairs.

"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 go?"
    "Yes, Mrs. Phillips."
    "Would you dust the top of the ceiling fan before you go?"

    "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 be required.

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 Son!

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.

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