Jewish Journal

California’s lost Jewish mission

by Brad A. Greenberg

April 16, 2012 | 5:45 pm

Photo by Wikipedia/Неизвестен

The problem with April Fools news jokes online is that the fake news stays live long after April 1. Case in point, I just got around to reading a feature on the LA Review of Books Blog about Santa Zipporah de la Culpa, “California’s only Jewish mission.” The story only gets more ridiculous from there, explaining that the mission was founded by Father Shmuel, who went by “Father Sarah.” And then:

Little is definitively known about the charismatic padre. Born in Castille in 1776 to a fishmonger and his bride, Shmuel was a musical child. He entered yeshiva at seventeen with the intention of emulating the heroes of his youth and becoming a cantor. The few extant records suggest that Shmuel left seminary soon afterward, possibly after his pronounced Castilian lisp produced giggles during the shema.

Undaunted, young Shmuel looked elsewhere to find his calling. Still fierce in his faith, he may have briefly joined the Tskites, a now-vanished splinter sect of young Jewish monastics who took a vow of near-silence and only spoke after sulking, and even then too softly to be heard.

But Shmuel longed to share his faith with the wider world. Undeterred by Judaism’s traditional disinclination to proselytize, he took ship for the New World. Legend has it he brought with him only his Torah, his phylacteries, and a cassock knitted for him by his mother.

After first being excited about what I thought was a real lost California mission, I got a good laugh out of this piece. And it’s unlikely that anyone who knows even a little about Judaism would be confused by all the apparent contradictions. But, still, if I hadn’t noticed that the date at the top of the feature, I would have been left wondering whether I was wrong to consider this a joke. (Maybe Father Sarah was part of a group of Messianic Jews.)

So what about all those people who don’t know anything about Judaism? Would they be Sidd Finched? It seems possible, and suspect that is why Sojourners changed its headline about Jim Wallis joining the Tea Party to “GOTCHA!!

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