At sundown today Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins.
For many it is a time of reflection, family gatherings, sweet food and for one Nikiski woman, a foray into sharing her celebration with curious Christian friends.
Kristine Dohse’s journey into discovering the “Hebraic Roots” of her faith, her religion and her family roots began nearly a decade ago with a bible-study exercise and an experimental Passover celebration and has led to a fundamental change in the nature of her beliefs.
Dohse’s body almost vibrates with excitement when she talks about her journey; her hands trace invisible shapes in air, punctuating sentences bookended by her quick smile.
But, despite her joy, Dohse said she realizes people think she is strange.
Some of her friends at the Kenai Bible Church don’t understand when she forgoes pork, or advocates a celebration of Passover instead of Easter.
And while the MoAdim fellowship she attends on Saturdays in Kenai has like-minded people who self-identify as Messianic Christians, or people who celebrate traditional Jewish holidays, Dohse said she’s still stuck between two faiths.
That uncertainty has faded somewhat in the last few days, she said.
So, she decided to hold a celebration, what she calls “Rosh Hashanah 101” for those who are curious about the holiday and her faith.
Saturday, she served apples and honey, a celebration of the sweetness of the coming year, and hollow bread braided into a circle, a symbol of renewal and the circular nature of life.
For now, she’ll continue to work between two bibles, attend church on Saturdays and Sundays, explore commonality between the two religions and help those who want guidance.
Dohse isn’t the only one in her family who has searched for Jewish roots in her life.
Her great-grandmother, on her father’s side, was Jewish. Two cousins are in the process of converting and an aunt is interested in Dohse’s research.
Because the Jewish blood in Dohse’s family is on her father’s side, Dohse said she wouldn’t be able to convert and be accepted into a synagogue where Jewish lineage is determined on the mother’s side.
Even if she could, Dohse said she’s not sure she would convert.
But, she said, it would be nice to interact with other Jewish people to get the perspective on life she missed in her own Baptist upbringing.
There is a Jewish congregation in Sterling, Briat Elohim, the only one on the Kenai Peninsula.
While the group’s web site advocates that their services and celebrations are open to everyone, Dohse said there is tension between MoAdim and the Jewish group.
She does credit the congregation with her exposing her to a traditional Passover Seder, a traditional feast that marks the beginning of the Passover holiday, when she moved to Alaska.
“They cleared everything away afterwards and started dancing,” she said. “That, as a Baptist girl, freaked me out. I backed away to the wall like ‘I can’t believe they’re dancing.’ They were doing Hebraic circle dancing and I was shocked. I felt like I was going to explode. It filled every one of those needs and questions that I had all my life about religion and hypocrisy and emptiness. It propelled me into this crazy, hard, wonderful, amazing adventure.”
For now, she sticks with educating herself on the internet, looking for inspiration from Jewish forums and other Messianic congregations.
“It’s lonely because I don’t know where to go,” Dohse said. “I know there will be people who will find inconsistencies in my life and say, ‘How can you do this?’ That’s when I have to tell them, I never said I had it all figured out. This is just what I’ve learned, this is the joy that’s coming into my life and I just want to share it.”
At the same time that she puts herself out in the community, offering to help others along her path, Dohse said she also tests the waters with her family.
“I’m trying to get my husband to give up Christmas,” she said, laughing and shaking her head. “He’s not quite going for it. That’s where we are kind of struggling. Our youngest son’s birthday is December 20 and that usually lands right in the middle of Hanukkah. It’s a crazy time of year.”
But, in the same way that Dohse values personal choice for herself, she respects that her family should be able to choose for themselves as well.
So, she’ll celebrate the new year now and in January, although her preference would be to stick with Rosh Hashanah, she said.
“These last few days, I have felt this peace that this is the right path,” she said. “I haven’t seen or felt any doors slamming shut, I just have to have the faith that I’m going in the right direction.