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To Play With Fire: One Woman's Remarkable Odyssey Paperback – April 1, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
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 nor 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). Readers' only complaint may be that the book could easily be 75 pages shorter. Still, 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.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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This book was extremely powerful and touching. At times it was unnecessarily wordy and I got frustrated with her constant vacillations between Christianity and Judaism, but I suppose this just goes to show the difficulty of leaving a cult and everything you have grown up with and abandoning it for an entirely new belief system. But overall, she recounts her fascinating journey in a captivating manner, and this is a book you can read several times and get more out of it each time.
I originally read this book as someone who is considering conversion. If you are in that position, I recommend this book for inspiration and support, but do not expect it to be wholly applicable to your life. Tova Mordechai's situation is not one that most people are ever going to be able to relate to. Her total immersion in Christianity makes her more like a convert than a baalas teshuva, but the circumstances of her upbringing and the cult she was in are utterly bizarre and probably irrelevant to most people looking to convert, who may have some difficulty with their families, but not like this.
It would be nice if this book were republished with additional updates. I am particularly curious if, given her and her husband's background, Ms. Mordechai and/or her family are part of the Yechi crowd of Lubavitchers that believe the Rebbe ZT"L is Moshiach. Her town of Tzfat (Safed) is a particular hotbed of meshichism.
She made it clear that she despised Christianity not just because she was abused by so called "Christians" but also because she was rejecting the New Testament itself. She wrote openly inside her book that Jesus was a false prophet, and that Gospels were misquoting and distorting the Jewish Scriptures. She revealed herself as a very educated and knowledgeable minister quoting the verses from the Bible in order to explain us why according to her the entire Christian doctrine is wrong.
I highly recommend this book to all people: both Jews and Christians. Written in a very sophisticated English it will certainly help them to understand it other.
Also, this new edition "To Play with Fire" is much better than the old one "Playing with Fire". This new edition is longer on sixty pages and reveals more details about her experience and feelings. Even if you own the book "Playing with Fire", you certainly should get this uncut and unedited edition, too.
The church she came from is not a typical church due to the extreme abuse and military-like atmosphere, but some missionary groups or conservative Christian groups do strongly resemble much of what she recounts. The over-controlling nature of the college and people there suggest that it was a cult based on Christianity. The doctrine and culture is very similar to what you will find in many average American churches. Her insights into 'holiness', 'modesty', the 'spiritual highs' and more, mirror many of my own observations and I throughly agree with her conclusions. She is somewhat shallow on the theological basis for leaving the church, she does speak to many of the issues but this book is not a theological or doctrinal comparison of the two religions but her own personal journey. A side note: you will find no trace of bitterness in her sharing of her experiences of this time which absolutely astounded me. This is in no way a bashing sort of a book. But she treats the Christian community with respect and dignity. She is truly a pure soul.
Her experience in actively choosing to be an observant (Orthodox) Jew is also shared and her trials and adventures in school and in Israel are informative and amusing. She was hesitant to 'believe' anything and so questioned her rabbis and found her questions were encouraged and answered. She describes the confusion of being introduced to many observances and beliefs that are foreign and how she learned about them and had to grapple with the implications.
I cried, I laughed and I identified with much of her story. I recommend this book for anyone considering conversion, for friends and family of a convert or Jews wanting more insight into the mind of the convert. I thank Ms. Mordechai for sharing her story as it was so helpful to me and to so many others as well I am sure. Her courage and dogged determination to find the truth is rare. I am so glad she found her way to her people and her land.
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