The Shmooze

'Wandering' Jews Head to Church

By Michael Kaminer

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Some Florida Jews have become regular churchgoers. No, they haven’t converted; the members of tiny Congregation Matah Chaim in coastal Palm Bay have made a local Christian worship hall their temporary base while they raise money for a permanent home, reports Florida Today. Twice a month at the Riviera United Church of Christ, “a projection screen is unfurled to obstruct images of the cross. An ark is brought out to house the elaborate Hebrew texts that comprise the Torah,” Florida Today says.

“Like their ancestors before them,” the web site reports, the 45 families of Mateh Chaim have spent years “wandering,” moving from space to space as they struggled to save money to secure one of east-central Brevard County’s few Jewish congregations a permanent home.

Mateh Chaim president Helene Simon told Florida Today she stores the congregation’s Torah at her home and brings it to services. Siddurim are tucked on bookshelves near Christian hymnals and Bibles. And while the portable screen covers up images of the cross – “a controversial icon for the Jewish faith,” says Florida Today — congregants still worship “in the presence of a red, white and blue, cross-covered Christian flag at the front of the room.” Fifty-eight-year-old member Harriet May says she’s grown used to “the oddity of it all,” telling the web site “a house of God is a house of God.”

The congregation emerged 20 years ago, “when a group of Jewish families grew frustrated with their limited options for worship,” Simon told Florida Today. Simon said if fundraising efforts prove successful, she expects the congregation to celebrate Hanukkah in its own building by 2012.


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