TO PLAY WITH FIRE: One Woman's Remarkable Odyssey
Weight: 1.10 kilograms
TO PLAY WITH FIRE: One Woman's Remarkable Odyssey
by Tova Mordechai
Softcover, 447 pages
Urim Publications, 2002
Urim Publications, 2002
Winner of the WordWeaving Award for Excellence
Winner of the WordWeaving Award for Excellence
"My life is being driven by an unknown force. I must allow myself to be driven, because if I don't, I fear the outcome. My whole life has never been what I want, but always tainted with what He wants. Sometimes, it has only been slightly colored, other times fully dyed, but there has always been at least a tiny show of color somewhere. Dear Father in heaven, You know all about me. You read me like an open book. I see myself as a dirty, crumpled book, tattered and torn. The contents of the book are superb-- but the only thing is, the pages are so dirty you can hardly read the writing. But You can read it, Father. You know every word. Only You in this whole wide world can help me. I think I'm in a bigger mess than I imagine. I know it's my fault. I don't blame You for one moment. I don't blame anyone. Only myself."
How does Tonica Marlow, an envangelical female minister, find her way to becoming Tova Mordechai, an Orthodox, practicing Jew? To Play With Fire is the riveting tale of one who rose through the ranks of her religion, educated and ordained at a noted theological seminary - not only as a minister, but as a "prophetess" of her faith - while remaining unfulfilled, despairing and numb inside. Born the daughter of an Egyptian Jewish mother and a British Protestant evangelical father, Tova Mordechai presents the powerful real-life account of her tumultuous journey to Judaism as she grapples with Christianity and finds freedom in her Jewish roots.
About the Author:
Tova Mordechai resides in Safed, Israel with her husband and four children. She is the assistant to the directors at the Chaya Mushka and Machon Alte seminaries. Tova also lectures throughout the world on being Jewish in contemporary society.
Praise for To Play With Fire:
"To Play With Fire is powerfully relevant to all of us because it is the story of our lives. Tova Mordechai's life odyssey with its bizarre twists and turns - Christian artist, composer and preacher, born to an evangelist father and an Egyptian Jewish mother - amplifies the essence of our own strange journey, through darkness and light, chaos and order."
- Simon Jacobson, author of Toward A Meaningful Life
"The spiritual struggle documented in To Play With Fire is an unbelievable testimonial to the triumph of a Jewish soul over unspeakable odds."
- Basha Majerczyk, Algemeiner Journal
"Here at last, for those who've waited.... To Play With Fire vividly describes the author's painful ordeal in her transition from Christian pietist to Jewish observer. Never does Tova Mordechai preach. Candidly, with depth and a good deal of humor, she describes the conflicts "which ultimately led to her breaking away from the shocking, repressive routine within the college. To Play With Fire is a superb behind-the-scenes account of this belief". This book is highly recommended."
- Simcha Mandel, Country Yossi Magazine
"The saga of a Jewish soul is always a good read, and seldom is a neshama as articulate as in this book. Tova's story is compelling, her prose captivating - her heart very much in evidence. To Play With Fire is a great book."
- Rabbi Manis Friedman, author of Why Doesn't Anyone Blush Anymore?
"I have read numerous "journey" narratives over the years, from pedestrian chronicles of returns to Judaism, to emotional accounts of young Holocaust survivors "saved" in Christian homes or by clergy, of converts with truly fascinating stories, but I have never read as tortuous a tale as Tova Mordechai's To Play With Fire. I was as repelled by Tova's circumstances as I was awed by the power of the "pintele Yid," the Jewish spark that appears to be able to struggle through the most powerful forces to assert itself as a functioning Jewish neshama.
That Jewish spark made Mordechai's life hell. Through her various incarnations, as Tonica Marlow, daughter of an Egyptian Jewess who converts to Christianity and an English non-Jewish father, an ordained pastor, passionately devoted to the church; then as Joy, an evangelical minister in her own right, she is tormented by that spiritual "fire." Tonica's first memories are of Sunday school, where she first encounters Jesus. She spends the next 20 years or so of her life desperately searching for the peace and happiness promised her if she cleanses herself of sin. Alas, peace eludes her, and that "pintele Yid" follows her from home to Holy Fellowship College, perched on her shoulder, whispering "Jew" in her ear at every inconvenient opportunity.
Her formative years are dominated by father-substitute and church leader Raymond Webster - Daddy Raymond - who has held her own father in thrall for years, virtually indenturing him and his family into Webster and his church's service. His is a branch of the Protestant Church which seems to have as much to do with Webster's selfish and egocentric personality as it does with Christian dogma.
Though Mordechai does not directly accuse Webster - and his equally grasping and cruel family - of any wrongdoing, it is clear from her description of her life for nine years, until she "escapes" at the age of 25, that she has been exploited at the very least, and her talents as preacher and artist used to expand the college's coffers and prestige. Her minutely detailed descriptions of her daily life, her spiritual struggles as she vainly attempts to maintain herself as a God-fearing disciple in the Webster version of Christianity, are both hair-raising and heart-rending.
The reader knows she can never satisfy that God, because He is insatiable in His appetite for obedience, and is, at the same time, at odds with the Jewish God who lives on the other side of the walls of her college.
For years, Tonica/Joy strive for possession of Tova's soul. It is a battle royal, and the Jewish side is, ironically, aided by Daddy Raymond's penchant for observing the Jewish festivals in a perverse kind of way, thus acting as a constant reminder to Tonica of her denied Jewishness.
During the latter years of her confinement at the college, Tonica begins to surreptitiously attend Shabbat services at the local synagogue. While it is relatively unwelcoming to the oddly-dressed stranger who appears so unJewish, it whets Tonica's appetite to know more about this religion which is drawing her to it against her will.
Although one may be repelled by the excessive enthusiasm with which Tonica pursues Jesus and her Christian God, one is mindful of what has brought her to this, ultimately, false zeal: She was cast from her family as an unsophisticated and impressionable teenager to serve Daddy Raymond and his church. She is well-schooled in the ways of obedience, which imprison her for a great many years.
Her escape, her fortuitous meeting with, first, the intuitive, sensitive and kindly Rabbi Shmuel Arkush, then others with whom he puts her in contact are fascinating - and more familiar - reading.... Our journey with Tonica is reflective of the power of her Christian upbringing and the enormity of the struggle to be free of its iron grasp. That Tova was clearly scarred by that struggle seems evident in the scant attention she is able to give the years from the time of her marriage to Chananiah Mordechai in Safed - an update on the last 10 years would have been of interest. Her relationship with her parents is still clearly fraught with insoluble dilemmas (she cannot bring herself to tell them of her marriage until she is five months pregnant with her first child), though it appears to have been softened by the tolerance that comes from reaching a measure of peace and happiness."
- Shirley Zauer, Jerusalem Post
"Tonica Marlow (now Tova Mordechai) was born into an assimilated Egyptian Jewish family. Her grandmother Antoinette Mordo, although married to a religious man, Raphael Mordo, taught at a Church of Scotland Mission school to make ends meet. Influenced by the missionaries, Antoinette and her daughter Sara converted to Christianity. Sara met her husband James Marlow, a British born-again Christian serving in Egypt during World War Two, at the mission hall. They married and settled in Britain where James devoted his life and that of his whole family to missionary work.
Tova chronicles in great detail her own spiritual growth within the Church until she becomes a prophetess and minister, having the incredible spiritual power to give up all money and material possessions and pray for everything she needs, which miraculously turns up. However, despite her awe-inspiring power, Tova suffers greatly, not only from the cruel and corrupt evangelical set-up, but also from grave spiritual doubts. She may have spiritual power in the Church, but the spiritual peace she craves evades her until she finally returns to Judaism with the help of Rabbi Shmuel Arkush, of Operation Judaism.
However, I have a feeling that the final chapters of Tova's gripping story have not yet been told. I have the impression that the guilt of her Christian past is blocking Tova using her full spiritual potential within a Jewish framework. When that happens, I am sure she will have more still to contribute to Jewish spiritual life than just the story of her past. Meanwile, this present volume provides gripping reading."
- Doreen Wachmann, Jewish Telegraph
"To Play With Fire: One Woman's Remarkable Odyssey is the fascinating, autobiographical story of Tova Mordechai, a woman, born of a British Protestant Evangelical father and an Egyptian Jewish mother, who made a long journey of transition from being an evangelical female minister to becoming an Orthodox Jew. A deeply spiritual, revealingly candid, intensely personal story about many choices, decisions, and needs that divide one's soul, To Play With Fire is engaging, thought-provoking, highly recommended reading on the subject of what it means to be Jewish in the world today."
- Betsy L. Hogan, Midwest Book Review
"To Play With Fire records Tova Mordechai's odyssey as she moves from being an evangelical female minister to becoming an Orthodox, practicing Jew. The daughter of an Egyptian Jewish mother and a British Protestant evangelical father, Mordechai devotes her life to service within her church. Ever conscious of the differences between herself and the outer world, Mordechai continuously attempts to stifle her need to connect and to fit in.
For many years she maintained a double life between home and school, and later work and the religious campus where she lived. When her service was rewarded with a promotion and added responsibilities on campus, Mordechai cuts most of her ties to the outside world. Yet she never could completely stifle her desire to deepen her spiritual connection to the One God, and to explore the religion of her mother.
Nine years in the ministry lead to depression and disillusionment with her peers, and an inability to touch the enthusiasm she once experienced. Always aware that something was still missing from her spiritual life, Mordechai buries herself in work and service. But eventually she must do more. Forbidden by her church to explore her Jewish roots, Mordechai eventually leaves behind Protestantism to pursue the freedom of her Jewish roots. Author Tova Mordechai pens her extraordinary spiritual journey from Pentecostalism to Judaism in To Play With Fire. While her story is intensely personal, it is also universal in her search for a relationship with the God of her ancestors. Her gift with prose brings the story a sense of immediacy that makes for fascinating reading as she exposes both her joy and her disillusionment with her Protestant beliefs. A must-read for all spiritual seekers, To Play With Fire earns the WordWeaving Award for Excellence."
- Cindy Penn, WordWeaving.com
"This story of one woman's journey from evangelical Christianity to Orthodox Judaism is intriguing and loving. She's now Tova Mordechai, but she began as Tonica Marlow, the British daughter of a Pentecostal preacher father and an Egyptian Jewish mother (who herself had become a Christian). Raised in a strict Christian household and sent as a teenager to a theological college, Tonica wanted desperately to serve Jesus, but even as she faithfully went to church and studied Scripture, she was dogged by questions about Judaism. As a young adult, she began to periodically attend synagogue and correspond with an Orthodox rabbi. She eventually ran away from the theological college and immersed herself in the worldwide Hasidic community, living with a Jewish family in London and studying at a Hasidic institute in Minnesota before settling down in Israel.
Two features distinguish this memoir. First is Mordechai's evenhanded treatment of her Christian roots; for the most part, she paints a sympathetic picture of her childhood, neither vilifying or caricaturing her parents' faith. Second, she does not romanticize the process of embracing a new religion, but honestly recounts the bumps on her road to Orthodoxy (such as challenging the narrow-mindedness of a rabbi who likened Jesus to Superman and other "childish fantasy heroes").... Jews will enjoy following Mordechai on her journey, and seekers of other faiths will recognize in Mordechai's particularities the universal pieces of a spiritual quest."
- Publishers Weekly
"To read this book is to embark on an extraordinary journey. When I picked it up...I expected to lunge into the tale of a passage from darkness to light, on a gradually ascending slope from the errors of Christianity to the truth of Judaism. Instead, Tonica Marlow's odyssey took the course of a paisley pattern, with twisting detours of doubt at every corner. Instead of a Cinderella "from rags-to-riches" fairytale, I encountered a saga of an agonizing quest for spiritual meaning, an account of tormenting qualms, recurring in a seemingly endless, spiral struggle to reach the apex.
This is not the "simple" story of a convert from Christianity who had stumbled upon Judaism and "saw the light." Although growing up in a deeply religious Christian home informed by the father's uncompromising evangelical upbringing, Tonica was born of a Jewish mother. This circumstance is of no import in her church, which teaches that children inherit the religion of the father, and yet the knowledge that her mother was Jewish left an indelible imprint on her soul".
Thus begins the dichotomy that was to haunt Tonica Marlow's life....
Tova Mordechai's frank memoir, To Play With Fire, published recently by Urim Publications, Jerusalem, with its penetrating investigations into the insiduous effects of intermarriage on the children, is ultimately an invaluable contribution to our insight into the nature of Judaism."
- Professor Livia Bitton Jackson, The Jewish Press
"As the daughter of an Egyptian Jewish mother and a British Protestant Evangelical father, [Tova Mordechai] is in spiritual conflict at an early age.... I found the Jewish section in this book to have...beauty... She describes her life in dramatic detail, often describing how those around her treated her.
"I spent my adolescent years stewing in this schizophrenia of mixed feelings: sometimes crying from terror and begging Jesus to forgive my 'sin,' sometimes rebelling, kicking and struggling, and other times mocking and laughing. It would be some years before I would be able to abandon one track and live securely on the other."
"We [also] discover her deep desire to find God in all His glory and how trapped she is in her parents" religious fervor. Tova's writing is vivid and her painful ordeal is described in shocking detail. This is a behind-the-scenes account of a woman in emotional and spiritual pain. That is...what will make it compelling to some readers. This is the story of one woman's experience with two religions."
- Rebecca Read, Top 10 Reviewer for Amazon.com
"Tova Mordechai`s yichus contains two types of Jews: pious people who dedicated their lives (at great danger) to honor Hashem and the Torah, and ne'er-do-wells who bartered their souls by entering Church life because traife meat costs less and the holidays don't involve self-control in the Jewish context. Like many saga-filled family histories, Mordechai's bears the tale of a Jew who strayed into apikursus and its painful outcome. Her maternal grandmother, Antoinette Mordo, initiated the downward spiritual spiral, and then Mordechai's mother Sara Mordo (nee Sally Marlow) became further estranged to the Jewish people by marrying a Pentecostal minister. This event nearly sealed the author's fate of remaining lost to the Jewish People as well. Named Tonica Marlow at birth, Tova Mordechai was born and bred by Sara/Sally and her Pentecostal husband Jim Marlow to become a messianic minister and prophet preaching Hellfire and Brimstone for sinners (nearly anyone not of her father's cheerless faith, and some individuals who were). Horrified by their child's eventual dabbling with Judaism, their keen disappointment was outweighed by the outrage of the abusive overlord Daddy Raymond Webster, who supervised the disciples of his church's empire. The cult figurehead of The New Israel Covenant Church, Webster accused his prize prophetess of "Playing with Fire."
The Haftara of Balak (Micha 5:6-6:8), speaks of the messianic age when the Jews, scattered among the nations they had enriched with their presence, will be redeemed and purified, along with the enlightening State of Israel. The Torah portion teaches us, as it does with Akeidat Yitzchak, that God does not need our gifts, only our selves: "He has told you, man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: only to do justly, to love loving-kindness, and to walk modestly with your God." Mordechai's father, Jim Marlow, was Daddy Raymond Webster's hapless follower in the New Israel Covenant Church (an attempted hijacking of Judaism). A mercurial man of dubious mental health and warped spirituality, Webster disagreed with Micha and with G-d. Secretively, wealthy Webster and his unsuspecting, poverty-pursuing flunky Jim Marlow chose that alleged and detested path to Heaven, a personal brand of deprivation and blandishments based upon an inconsistent Pentecostal Messianism rife with manipulative mind control and the vices that hypocrisy engenders. Webster eventually destroyed the lives and Christian careers of Jim and Sally Marlow, flinging them into sudden infamy and extreme poverty. Webster's contrived esteem and unaccountable wealth, however, enabled him and his immediate family to continue traveling the globe and living in luxury while his minions slaved for him.
This is where the former Tonica Marlow and her immediate past diverged in 1982. Despairing over Webster's destruction of her excommunicated parents, her Webster-enforced estrangement from them, her Webster-induced poverty and her conclusion that Christianity offered her no safe havens, the author claimed her Jewish name of Tova Mordo and embraced her halachic identity as a Jew.
Now married and a mother, Tova Mordechai explains how she survived the role of an enslaved poseur, fooling her family and fellow parishioners since childhood that she could "Speak in Tongues," a role foisted upon her by her father's wish that Tonica/Tova become a "Saved" Christian and eventual prophet. She surpassed her mother's lie that a gift of pajamas imprinted with fairies was actually an angel-laden talisman, and her own participation as an adult in alleged religious experiences manufactured to fool the masses.
A survivor of physical and mental abuse in the name of Christian love and pretense, Mordechai tells her tale in engaging, superb prose with a remarkably natural flow to her words. Reading between the lines, discerning readers will grasp that the author's life-long suffering is the legacy of Christian brow-beating against compliant, confused and helpless followers. Mordechai still bravely fights against the oppressive Christian culture that nearly destroyed her psyche, and much of her tale likely remains discreetly untold. A reading of her autobiography followed by a compassionate prayer for her complete achievement of menuchat hanefesh would seem to be in order."
- Yocheved Golani, The Jewish Press
"Safed: Israel. Sipping a cup of tea under a 2,000-year-old olive tree is a woman of intrigue.
Her name is Tova Mordechai.
To look at her today - now she is an observant Jew - one couldn't guess that she had her own pulpit as an evangelical minister. Or that her preacher father still laments that he and his family will go to heaven while his beloved daughter would pay the price of running away from the church: an end of fire and brimstone.
But from the first time she accidentally stepped into the men's section of an Orthodox synagogue (wearing her minister's garb, no less) - actually, even before that - something deep inside of her always knew that the church was not for her. Hidden from Mordechai most of her early life was the fact that she was--a Jew.
The contrast of this petite, soft-spoken woman with proper English manners and pronunciation and a ruggedly compelling story of a struggling Jewish soul, makes Mordechai a globally-sought speaker. The pull on her time - divided between her family and job running the office of the Machon Alte women's seminary in Safed - has only increased with the re-publication of her originally sold-out page-turner To Play With Fire; One Woman's Remarkable Odyssey. So perhaps it's best that we meet with Mordechai here in Safed, which she, her husband, Chanania and their four children, call home.
''How long was it since I left the church?'' she muses. "Let's see - when did Princess Diana get married? In July she married...and I left the church in September 1981."
The wit is just the wrapping. What's inside? The flame of a Jewish soul - hidden or lost but never extinguished. Mordechai cues the reader in from the start. In the introduction to her book she explains how her grandmother, a Romanian Jew, made her way to Alexandria, Egypt where she met and married her grandfather, an observant Jew. It was during World War II and her grandparent's home, like most in Alexandria, was open to the young Christian soldiers passing through. Influenced to the point of conversion by Christian missionaries, Mordechai's grandmother and her daughter - Tova's mother - left the Jewish fold. It was all too much for her grandfather - he ripped his shirt in a sign of mourning.
By the time Tova was born, the reader is already in England and Tova's name is Tonica Marlow - her Jewish roots a secret kept hidden by her father and mother. Thus one can imagine how strange she felt being the preacher's daughter, a rising evangelical star, having this strange and certainly un-churchly yearning to learn about Judaism.
Encouraged to write at great lengths about her years in the clutches of the ''cult-ish'' church, Mordechai gives a chilling and heartwarming glimpse into a stranger-than-fiction reality. That achieved, she feels she has a responsibility to place a warning sign in front of other wandering or searching Jews.
"I know without a doubt that I exhausted Christianity. I've explored it and lived it to the fullest. There is a vast difference between spirituality and Godliness. Within every Jew is a tiny spark that is reaching toward God. I had many spiritual experiences in the church, but none led me to God."
Throughout her travels, Mordechai has met thousands of Jews who didn't even know they were Jewish or thought they were ''half-Jewish'' because the father wasn't Jewish. She's also encountered many people who ask her how she could possibly leave one confining religion for another.
''With every cell and fiber in my body I passionately hate religion,'' answers Mordechai. ``I am a Torah-observant woman but it has nothing to do with religion. What does a Jew do? Eat kosher and keep mitzvot. That's like swimming in water for a fish. To put a coin in a charity box every day is a very Jewish thing to do. It's who I am and that's my only approach to Judaism.
"Not many people can truly understand the affliction of a Jewish soul having to spend an entire life in the church. So on the contrary, I don't feel observance is something I must do. It's something I gladly do...like running free with the wind on your face, a fast gallop...it's an exhilarating sense of freedom.''
Still she is asked: When she gave up a powerful pulpit and became an observant Jewish woman, did she not become a second class citizen?
''If you truly understand the Torah lifestyle, then the woman is held in the highest esteem,'' says Mordechai. "The future of the Jewish people rests upon the shoulder of the woman because she is solely responsible for the sanctity of the home, the kashrut of the home, the sanctity of the Shabbat and the chinuch (proper Jewish education) of the children". That's the future."
- Chana Katz, Jewish Star Times
"In her remarkable memoir, To Play with Fire, Tova Mordechai describes her unique spiritual journey from her life as a young Pentecostal minister and prophetess to a life as an Orthodox, practicing Jew who marries, has children, and settles in Safed, Israel. Although the specifics of Mordechai's religious beliefs are central to her story, the journey she describes has universal appeal. Her memoir outlines the experience of one woman who sought a spiritual haven and found it in Orthodox Judaism; yet, her experience is also representative of many who seek a belief system that speaks directly to them and provides them spiritual fulfillment.
Mordechai is the daughter of an Egyptian Jewish mother and a British Protestant evangelical father. Her maternal grandmother, Antoinette Mordo, was married to a religious man, Raphael Mordo, yet she taught at a Church of Scotland Mission school to help sustain the family. Through her exposure to Christianity at the school, Antoinette, as well as her daughter Sara, decided to convert to Christianity. Later, Sara met her husband, James Marlow, a British, fundamentalist Christian serving in Egypt during World War II, at the mission hall. After the war, they married and settled in Britain where James devoted himself and his entire family to serving the church.
During her early childhood, Mordechai and her family lived simply, devoting much of their time to church and community service: "My earliest memories are of Sunday school . . . The stories, the singing, the pictures to color -- I loved them all." Even then, she yearned for Jesus to "clean my heart from sin," and as she prayed, she pleaded, "'Please, Jesus, please come into my heart today,' waiting for the 'warm feeling' to enter me." Up until the end of junior school, Mordechai didn't mind that her family did not have a television, or that she wore her skirt several inches longer than her peers or didn't know the latest pop music stars. She believed she was richer than anyone, "because Jesus loves me!"
Beginning in her adolescence, Mordechai questioned some of the fundamentalist practices of her family and church, in part out of adolescent rebelliousness, but also out of a growing awareness. Torn between having school friendships and the more worldly life of a teenager and remaining loyal to her family and church's belief, which precluded short skirts, dating, and discos, Mordechai remains essentially alone. Ultimately, at age fifteen, she yearns to dedicate her whole life to God -- "please take over my life." Alone and lonely, she remembers, "I wanted so much for someone above to hear the cry of my heart." This plea re-echoes throughout the years that she is a practicing pentecostal Christianity without ever fully being answered.
In her memoir, Mordechai repeatedly states in a matter-of-fact style the ups and downs of her spiritual journey as first a member, then seminary student, and eventually minister and prophetess of her family's pentecostal church. Its dominant influence leads her to believe that she will find spiritual fulfillment by devoting her entire life to serving the church. As she says later when she is first learning about Judaism, "For me, there would be total commitment or nothing." What this total commitment to her church results in is total servitude without the spiritual yearning she feels so acutely ever being fully satisfied.
To many, Mordechai's life growing up sounds almost nightmarish at times with its severe restrictions, the expectation of absolute obedience, the closed society of an evangelical church, and then the punitive indoctrination she endures at the theological seminary. But through the even-toned reporting of these conditions and the offsetting descriptions of a loving, caring family, her achievements at school and as a seminarian, and the occasional supportive friendship, Mordechai does not paint a Dickensian picture at all. The focus remains firmly on her spiritual journey, from her doubt and despair as a pentecostal Christian to eventual fulfillment and peace after converting to Orthodox Judaism, without any blame overtly being placed.
If, in the reader's mind, there is any blame to be found, it is with Raymond Webster -- Daddy Raymond -- the international spiritual leader of the church. Through his direct revelations from God, he is directed to take young people and train them for the ministry, change church doctrine and practices, and to order church ministers and congregants to make drastic changes in their lives on behalf of the church. In this way, Mordechai's father was told that he must sell everything, donate the proceeds to the church, and relocate to Southford to run a small community home for widowed and homeless people. This uprooting leads Mordechai to decide to go to the seminary college at age sixteen. "Now I would finally be able to dedicate myself to [Jesus] completely." Yet, in retrospect, she realizes, "I was an innocent baby leaving home."
Daddy Raymond's control and influence is felt extensively by all members of the seminary college. The eighteen-hour daily routine begins with morning prayers at 5:45 a.m., Bible study, breakfast, daily work and college duties, then evening devotional programs or classes, evening prayers at 10 p.m., and then bed, seven days a week. Any lapses or mistakes are addressed with severe reprimands, ridicule, and even instances of physical abuse. When Mordechai overcooks breakfast the day that she is to serve Daddy Raymond's wife, Mother, she is harshly rebuked, and then forced to eat the cold, over-cooked remains the following day as Mother "watched me eat every morsel with . . . interest and glee."
Despite these punitive conditions, Mordechai succeeds at her various tasks and is recognized as a minister, and then a prophetess, the highest distinction for an ordained minister. Yet, throughout her training and accomplishments, she vacillates between feeling a part of the spiritual community and feeling satisfied and having the sense that she doesn't fully belong and she's alone, empty and bereft. Mordechai provides some of her journal entries to document her innermost feelings that eventually led to her conversion: " May 31, 1981, Dear God, You have stolen my life. . . . for You made sure I was brainwashed from birth. I fear You. And You want me to love You. How can you love FEAR? . . . June 8, I feel like I'm going mad. I mean it. I can feel it coming. I can't go on much more. I hate living."
Mordechai initially becomes familiar with elements of Judaism through the practices of her church, many of which are supposedly based upon Jewish rituals and holidays. As her doubts and despair increase, her interest in Judaism increases. Her intense interest is initially confusing: "Why should I have such a sense of sympathy for the Jews? Just because my mother was a Jew?" By chance, Mordechai learns of a synagogue nearby which she visits; she reads a book about the Holocaust; and then she gets a Lubavitch House pamphlet explaining the Passover laws. This pamphlet proves instrumental in Mordechai meeting with a sympathetic rabbi, and her eventual decision to leave the seminary to stay with an Orthodox Jewish family in London.
The decision to leave the church and seminary college, which has been her home and her life, does not come easily. Mordechai portrays her change of heart and mind as an awakening of sorts to the fact that no matter how devoted she is and how much she gives of herself to the church, it will never be enough. Fault will always be found. She will never be good enough to deserve God's blessing. As her conversations continue with the rabbi, questions regarding her Christian beliefs and practices arise, and Mordechai's commitment and energy in practicing her religion wane: "I mouthed all the words to the songs, but not a sound came out. I just couldn't do it anymore. My preaching days were over."
After taking that first step, Mordechai still has quite a journey on her path to learning about the Jewish faith and integrating its precepts into her life. Her journey takes her to London, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and eventually Israel. In the process, she comes home spiritually to a way of life and a set of beliefs that bring her a sense of wholeness. She comes to realize that for herself and her fellow Jews, "Torah was big enough to allow you to be a human being. Christianity was not for human beings, it was only for the saints and the 'righteous.'"
- Sandra Tarling, womenwriters.net