Top 20 Billboard recording artist Dana Mase’s career spanning collection – The Colors of Black and White (Water Records/UFO Music) was recently released and will be available in stores in the summer of ‘07. Dana’s music and songs have been featured on hit TV series Dawson’s Creek and Joan of Arcadia as well as numerous other film and TV shows over the past decade. Her last album, Thread of Blue, featured the Top 20 radio single – “Tear Streaks.”
This is Dana’s Jewish story…
How many Jews do you know that have to become Christian before they know what it is to be a Jew?
I never really connected with being a Jew. My family loosely celebrated the main holidays by having matzo (along with rye bread) on Passover and chicken soup on Yom Kippur (woops!). As a child I went to a reform temple in the suburbs of Cleveland every week for “Sunday School”. I really hated going because it had no meaning for me. I would hide in the girl’s bathroom with a few of my friends, talk about boys and smoke cigarettes. When my mother couldn’t afford to pay the annual dues because she was going through a devastating divorce, the synagogue directors told us not to come back. After I was “confirmed” I never returned. This was my early Jewish education.
By the time I was sixteen, I had nothing left in my life that was remotely Jewish. But still, somewhere in my soul I longed for deeper meaning. Unfortunately without any wisdom or guidance, this desire for something more drove me into self-destructive actions that would ultimately leave me in pain.
During my senior year in high school, I had a remarkable spiritual experience. It was a spring day, and I was cutting school and hanging out at my friend’s apartment. As I was getting ready to leave, I became overwhelmed with dizziness and had to lie down. For some strange reason as I lay there with my head spinning, I was also having an internal battle. I kept telling myself that there was really no such thing as right and wrong, that it was a man-made concept so it didn’t matter what my actions were. But I was struggling with another other inner voice that was telling me to stop fighting myself and listen to my heart for a change. I allowed a new concept to enter my thoughts – maybe there was a G-d in this world after all. Suddenly, I felt a dramatic awakening. I experienced a sensation like a dam bursting open from deep inside of me and felt surrounded and enveloped by a bright, magnificent holiness. G-d was telling me to trust in Him. He would guide me, and He loved me. I became aware that I was being given another chance as well as being warned that if I continued walking in the direction I was going, I would be facing my own destruction. Warm tears starting streaming down my face. I was lifted into a new place that I had never known before. I don’t know how long this experience lasted or how long I lay on that couch but after I left that apartment that spring morning, I knew my life would never be the same. This experience changed the direction of my life. I had a new perspective on the world. I felt whole and clean. I had so many questions about G-d and the purpose of my life. I felt as if G-d had personally reached into my darkness and rescued me.
At this time, my only sources of G-dly wisdom were my other crazed teenage friends. I never considered looking further into Judaism. My past experience of Judaism had taught me that it was an empty and dead religion. One day I confided in my girlfriend about my desire to learn more about G-d. She was Catholic and also had an interest in finding out more about G-d. At my friend’s suggestion, we both went to a Friday night Christian coffee house. There was lively music, happy people and chocolate chip cookies. A nice older man approached me and explained that J.C. was the messiah and that I would find my Jewish G-d in Christianity. Because of my lack of religious education, I was very naïve and therefore very gullible to his suggestions. He began to convince me that I had experienced a Christian revelation. He quoted biblical verses (out of context, though I couldn’t have possibly known) to demonstrate the truth about what he was saying. I had no Torah knowledge to really understand the meaning of what he was talking about. I also didn’t have much to lose. My life was not going too well, and I desperately needed a new start. So I made a decision to dedicate my life to G-d. I was so sincere that I decided to become a Christian missionary and help others find “inner peace” like I was hoping to find.
A few months later I arrived at “Trinity Bible School,” a small missionary college in North Dakota. While studying the Christian bible and preparing for life as a Christian missionary, I began to realize that something was terribly wrong. This may be the first place that I experienced blatant anti-Semitism.
The student body was from all over the country. Many of them had never seen a Jew before. In both books and lectures, the Jews were depicted in the worst stereotypes and, of course, all Jews were destined to spend an eternity in hell because they rejected Christianity. How ironic it was that here in this closed and intensely Christian environment my Jewish roots began to take hold. I was singled out by some as the Jew, yet instead of feeling ashamed, I began to feel proud.
After a year and a half at this college, I decided to transfer to Oral Roberts University in Tulsa Oklahoma, which was another fundamentalist Christian college. I studied pre-med with the hope of becoming a medical missionary and looked forward to blending in with a larger student population. I never counted on being the only Jew among 10,000 students!
The Christian counselors saw great spiritual potential in me and chose me to lead the prayer services in the chapel as well as give Bible classes in my dorm. I soon became the dorm chaplain. At this time, I also became more emboldened as a Jew. While drowning in a sea of crosses, I began to wear a Star of David around my neck. I even tried to attend a Seder with a Jewish family. Sadly, I sat there awkwardly the whole time in limbo – unable to relate to the Christians, unable to relate to my own people. I prayed with all my heart for the truth to become apparent. What did become apparent was that I didn’t believe in the Christian doctrine. And I very much missed being with Jews. While I was in the Christian college far away from the Jews, I was longing for my Jewish roots for the first time. I continued to pray to G-d that He help me find a way back home.
Around that time, my sister was in Manhattan learning about being a true Jew. She went to classes on the Upper West Side made for people with no background and eventually went to Israel to learn. Through heated religious debates with my sister, I slowly learned more about a Torah life and that Jews are truly spiritual people who have an eternal strength and a deeply rooted faith in God. I began to see Judaism from a refreshing, honest perspective and found a profound beauty within it.
I graduated from Oral Roberts University, moved to Manhattan and made two feeble attempts to go to church. Providentially, both failed. I now channeled my energies into reviving an old passion of mine – training horses. I got a job at Claremont Stables and spent the next year working with horses on the Upper West Side. I still had a deep faith in G-d, but I felt burnt out from my Christian experience. My sister had some Jewish philosophy books that I began to read, and she would invite me over for Shabbos meals. I would go to her apartment on Friday nights with my boyfriend (who was Jewish), and we would eat by Shabbos candlelight. I found it very beautiful in a peaceful way. I just felt comfortable. It was like coming home after a long tiring journey.
One Friday night I decided to light the Shabbos candles, and a new candle began to light within my soul. And so began another journey.
Two years later, I married the man I had been dating, and we decided that we wanted to build a Jewish home on Torah values. I am now living a Jewish life with my family in New York. I am trying to raise my children with a closeness to Hashem and a love for being Jewish.
It is a miracle that I am where I am today. I look at my family, and I am amazed at the goodness of Hashem. Every day I thank Hashem for the life that He has given me. Although I am not the only Jew who has stumbled on the wrong religion, I thank G-d that I challenged it and ultimately rejected it. This recognition of falsehood enhanced my appreciation of truth. Every Ba’al Teshuva has his own unique story and reasons for turning to Judaism. You never know where that person has come from or to where he will go. There is enough for us to do to accept and love one another as best we can. There is a holy spark in each Jewish Neshama that sets us apart from other people. I don’t understand it, but I felt it burning inside of me during this experience. A Jew will always be a Jew – even if she had to become a Christian to realize it!
Dana began to write music as a child. Music is a way to express deep emotions that cannot always be put into words alone. She writes music to express her relationship with Hashem as well as her feelings about the world around her. She tries to be honest within her music and sometimes it is filled with hope and sometimes it is filled with sorrow as well as a whole human spectrum of emotions. She has come a long way on her journey in this life and hopefully has a long way to go. Her music touches a place in all of us. You can visit her website at DanaMase.com
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.