Marcus James: My People, Place, & Purpose (Part 2)
“Daddy, I have found my people, my place, and my purpose!” These were the words that drew me to Israel, which eventually led me on my own journey with Judaism.
Upon returning from my third trip there, I set about locating the local Jewish community -the people. While conversion was a possibility, I decided not to make that decision for a couple of months. I needed to be sure conversion was the right decision for me and I was making it for the right reasons.
What I did know, is that as the result of my personal experiences in Israel, and my reading all I could about the history of the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the Tanakh, I felt more drawn to Judaism all the time. Yet, I was largely approaching it from an academic angle. What was needed was to start doing what Jews do. So, I just started showing up.
I began with the weekly Torah Study. I did not know there was a difference between a Torah Study and a Bible Study. I was delighted to find that no one was preaching! Instead, Rabbi Cohen was expertly (and sometimes patiently) leading an open discussion. I have come to very much respect Rabbi Cohen. His preparation for each week’s study is impressive. I continue attending to this day. I have learned so much!
Early on I met Stephen Stone and we soon became close friends. His gentle spirit and friendly nature are such a gift in my life. A true mensch! I dearly cherish our friendship.
I have met so many wonderful people, and I would list them all, but then this blog would be the length of War & Peace! If I fail to mention you by name, please understand you mean very much to me. One individual I must mention: Rabbi Ira Youdovin. Ira has become such a great friend and mentor to me. I am very lucky to have him in my life. Our discussions about Israel and other matters have meant so much to me. I look forward to more time spent with Ira, circumstances permitting.
I also started attending Shabbat services. I recall Rabbi Brenner extending a warm greeting to me. I am so grateful that CBB has the open–door policy it does. It allowed me to show up and feel welcome, no strings attached! I really looked forward to being there every Friday night. I miss it terribly. I imagine I am not alone in missing it. May we soon be able to gather again safely. CBB is also very lucky to have Rabbi Brenner, but you all know this.
I began studying Hebrew with Renee Golan and met Rabbi Arthur Gross-Schafer and spent time at Community Shul as well. Later I continued Hebrew studies with Alisse Block (her husband Joel was a teacher to both my daughters). This led to eventually joining the adult B’nai Mitzvah group -this was not planned, it just happened! Alisse has become a dear friend and she has been kind enough to continue teaching me conversational Hebrew.
I also began Melton Adult Learning, and I cannot recommend it enough! Sign up! You will thank me! Just do it! JUST DO IT!
I encountered nothing but positive signs along my path, but one stands out. It was at Friday night services and I was sitting in my usual spot. Next to me were Devora Sprecher and Bernice Weider. Rabbi Cohen stopped by to welcome us with a “Shabbat Shalom” and then Cantor Mark began to lead us in prayer. Suddenly I became very emotional and tears of joy began to flow from me as I felt this deep sense of belonging. I was home! Devorah and Bernice were unaware that I was having this very special moment two seats over. Yet, they had just as much to do with that moment as anyone or anything else to that point. I knew I was with my people.
In July of 2020 was the Beit Din where I was accepted as a member of “The Tribe”. Over thirty people came to Goleta Beach to witness my “mikvah in the surf” and see me emerge from the waters a Jew. Over 30 people attended -and this is was during COVID! My daughter and her husband were there from Israel, and so was her sister and many other family members, as were many friends I have made here. I felt so honored. The next day a Minyan was held in Rabbi Gross–Schafer’s yard and I was called to the Torah.
In November of last year, I was again called to the Torah at CBB with the Adult B’nai Mitzvah group. It was a wonderful experience! I can now say with pride I had a Bar Mitzvah! My youngest daughter Katie James was there to support me. She has been so supportive during my journey.
So, along my journey I had come to learn who my people were, and what my purpose was. As far as “My Place” my heart was being called to return Israel -permanently. To Jerusalem specifically. Even if I did not have a daughter in Israel, I think this would still be the case. The pull is that strong. Jerusalem has captured me. I am its servant.
When I discussed my Israel plans with my youngest daughter Katie, she said “Great! Now I will have two reasons to visit Israel!” Which is wonderful to hear. You see, in the months leading up to her sister’s wedding in Israel, they got into a few arguments about Israel. Katie is a self-educated young woman in the liberal vein, so, all her knowledge about Israel was viewed through news accounts and Western opinions. I finally told her sister in Israel to stop trying to make a point and “Let the people and the land speak for themselves. You don’t need to be the sole advocate!” For the wedding we all lodged at The Field School in Kfar Etzion. Also staying there were quite a few IDF soldiers. Katie ended up getting to know a few of them and they invited her for beers in the home brewery they had set up. She received a firsthand, and up-close education about Israel. Now she has a broader view of Israel and understands it better.
But my heart is also going to break when I leave. There is nothing like this wonderful Jewish community of Santa Barbara. My people exist in both lands, but I will miss being close to you all. Be sure to look me up when you are in Jerusalem!
I soon may be far away, but I won’t be a stranger -COVID has taught us all how to stay in touch regardless of distance or circumstance. I hope the weekly Torah Study maintains some sort of virtual presence going forward, so I can still attend. I will also come for visits.
From the bottom of my heart, I wish to thank everyone of your who have been so welcoming and loving towards me. You know who you are. You are in my heart forever.
Also, thank you, Monica for asking me to share my journey with everyone. I appreciate being able to tell my story -so far…
[I plan to produce short videos on the history of Jerusalem and the land. Keep an eye out for Jerusalem Dispatches on YouTube (shameless plug there.) ]
Marcus James was raised in Isla Vista and is the happy father (divorced) of two daughters (grown) and feels lucky to have a wonderful dog named Frodo. A lover of learning.