By Keysha Drexel
This week, the Christian Holy Week and the eight-day Jewish Passover holidays overlap as followers of both faiths celebrate the deep structures and beliefs of their religions.
And while at first glance the holidays may seem to have little in common, the new rabbi of a Messianic Jewish congregation in Hoover said they are undeniably linked.
“The Last Supper was a Passover Seder, and people seem to forget that Jesus was Jewish,” Rabbi David Schneier said. “We want to celebrate the ancient roots that we all share and acknowledge that we are all one in Messiah.”
And to that end the rabbi and his wife, Rebbetzin Leslye Schneier, are hosting the Community Passover Seder at the synagogue at 2230 Sumpter St. in Hoover at 6 p.m. April 19.
During a traditional seder meal, family and community members commemorate the Jewish Exodus from Egypt in a custom that dates back nearly 3,400 years.
The seder is a full-course meal that includes many rituals, including eating Passover crackers, drinking four cups of wine or grape juice, dipping vegetables in saltwater and eating bitter herbs. The seder also includes the reading of the Haggadah, an ancient text that chronicles the Passover story.
The Community Passover Seder will also give the Schneiers a chance to introduce themselves and their religious beliefs to the community.
The couple came to Congregation Beth Hallel in November 2013 after leading Messianic congregations in Paris and the Ukraine for almost 20 years. Before that, the Schneiers were both lawyers in Washington, D.C.
It was while they were both law school students at George Washington University that the Schneiers first learned about Messianic Judaism.
“It was our last year in law school, and we were young and really had a lot of questions about life and faith. It was the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the youth were questioning everything,” said Schneier, who grew up in a traditional Jewish family in New York.
During a trip to Colorado, the couple attended an event where a Messianic leader spoke about the one God shared by both Jews and non-Jews.
“It was a truth that really struck a chord with me, so I started reading the New Testament, and the life in the words of Yeshua (Jesus) just sprang off the pages,” Schneier said.
The more Schneier learned about the Messianic Jewish movement, the more it resonated with him, he said.
“The first believers in Yeshua (Jesus), the Messiah, were Jewish and believed as we do, that the Messiah prophesied about in the Old Covenant Scriptures had come and will return,” Schneier said.
Schneier said Messianic Judaism gives the Jewish person the opportunity to accept the Messiah while keeping his or her Jewish identity.
The congregation teaches the word of God “from a Jewish perspective and celebrates the Jewish holidays, but we are not only for Jewish believers but also for the non-Jewish person who wants to worship in a Jewish context,” Schneier said.
While the congregation observes the Sabbath on Saturday, along with traditional Jewish holy days like Passover and Sukkot, Messianic Jews hold many beliefs in common with evangelical Christians, Schneier said, including the virgin birth, atonement, the Trinity and the resurrection.
“We try to break down the walls of partition between Jew and non-Jew and recognize the oneness of the body of Messiah,” he said.
Events like this weekend’s Community Passover Seder have tremendous potential to break down those barriers, Schneier said.
“Churches everywhere are doing community seders and other events that cross those lines we use to separate ourselves from each other. There are all kinds of things like that happening that we would have never thought of 20 years ago,” he said. “I think people are realizing that there are benefits to returning to your roots.”
Schneier said he think the Messianic Jewish movement has an important role to play in unifying Christians and Jews.
“The Messianic Jewish movement is very unifying,” he said. “There’s a growing silence on both sides (Christians and Jews), and we can be the bridge.”
Schneier said Congregation Beth Hallel is partnering with others in the Birmingham area to help those in need.
“One of our main pillars is to serve the poor, so we recently helped Dawson Memorial Baptist with an event and hope to do more things like that in the future as we get to know our new neighbors,” he said.
Schneier said Congregation Beth Hallel now has about 200 members. Those visiting on April 19 will get a good introduction to the Messianic Jewish movement–and to him and his wife.
The Schneiers have been married for 40 years and have four children and 10 grandchildren.
Leslye was born in New Orleans and has family from Bessemer.
“She’s also a professional artist and a very good one,” David said.
The couple met while they were in law school.
“We’re looking forward to seeing a lot of new faces (at the seder) and telling people about the joy we have discovered by realizing that yes, you can be Jewish and believe in Jesus,” Schneier said.
Tickets to the Community Passover Seder at Congregation Beth Hallel are $55 and are available online at www.shalombirmingham.com. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.