There I was, on a speaking gig at Temple Beth Tikvah in Roswell, Georgia — and I needed some coffee.
Oh, c’mon — I always need coffee.
So, I googled “best coffee, Roswell, Georgia,” and that search brought me to the Crazy Love Market & Coffeehouse.
As I was waiting for my latte, I wandered around, and took in the interior scenery in the coffee house.
Yes, there was coffee, and muffins — but also, books, T-shirts, and artwork.
It did not take me long to figure it out.
The “crazy love” that this coffee house was selling was not only a “crazy love” of caffeine.
It was selling a crazy love of God — mostly, as expressed through quotes from Isaiah and Psalms that adorned the walls — and, more specifically, a crazy love of Jesus.
So, my inner alarms going off, I talked to the employees. I asked them point blank: “Does your shop have any political message?”
Read my column from last week about right-wing evangelicals, and you will understand my fears.
The young woman working behind the counter smiled. “No, we are non-political. We are just here to sell coffee, and our other merchandise, and the message of God’s love.”
She told me that sometimes, groups use their space for small meetings and programs. Their web site advertises Bible study groups. All very soft sell; what we Jews would call “haimish” (sweet, informal).
The place was packed with people of all ages, and from all walks of life.
A few takeaways from my visit.
First: What does it say about the nature of faith today — that my warning bells went off? That I could only imagine that a place that is selling coffee and faith is also selling a right wing agenda on the side?
Second: What does it say about Jews and their relationship with God — that we automatically become suspicious about a proclamation that God loves us?
There are three words that rabbis rarely say to their congregations.
“God loves you.”
It’s not how Jews view Judaism and God either.
Once upon a time, it was.
But our history has bruised us and battered us and it has forced us to be deaf to our own beautiful traditions.
To quote the late chief rabbi of Great Britain, Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: Once upon a time, we saw ourselves as the people that God loves. Now, all too many of us define ourselves as the people that gentiles hate.
This is a pathetic distortion of our faith and our fate.
I googled the words “God loves you.” Within a nanosecond, I got 574 million hits.
I have been going through them very slowly, and as of this today, I can safely report that every time that term appears, it appears on a Christian web site.
Having obviously far too much time on my hands, I then googled the phrase “God loves the Jews.” That brought 35,000,000 hits. Also, by the way, overwhelmingly on Christian web sites.
Think of this.
The only people in the world who are saying that “God loves the Jews” – are gentiles! The very idea that God loves us has wound up in the garbage disposal of history. We have forgotten and abandoned this sublime and comforting idea, and we are the poorer for that amnesia and abandonment.
The truth is: Judaism invented the idea of a loving God, and that divine love is all over our scriptures and, even more so, our liturgy.
Henry Slonimsky, one of the most ignored and unheralded Jewish teachers of the last century, put it this way: “God is primarily a great heart, caring most for what seems to be important and sacred to us, namely, our loves and aspirations and sufferings.”
And, finally: Why aren’t Jews doing this — serving coffee, and God’s love?
Seriously. The contemporary Jewish world is now open for all kinds of new institutions. Jewish community is constantly re-shaping itself, and the paths to engagement are constantly renewing themselves. There are new kinds of Jewish worshiping communities, and social justice collectives, and programs for the arts, and…
So, imagine Jewish coffee places. Jewish quotes on the walls. Jewish books and art for sale. The purpose would not be to convert gentiles to Judaism (though that door is always, historically, open). The purpose might actually be to “convert” Jews to Judaism — to offer new kinds of spaces for classes, meetings, working.
I left that coffee house with some good coffee memories.
But, more than that, I left with inspiration, which I suspect was the real purpose of that place anyway.
The inspiration to make God’s love more real, and the inspiration to get others to think about: How do we deliver Judaism’s message in the 21st century?
One thing is for sure. I admired the utter lack of self-consciousness that I saw in that store. It was what it was, with no apologies and no embarrassment.
We Jews could use some of that.
God’s love is pretty big.