A Conversation with a “Hidden Believer”

by Tova Joy | November 13 2020

I was first introduced to Esther* in the winter of 2020, not long before the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown began last March. Since then, we have been meeting and studying together regularly on Zoom. Recently, I asked her if she would be willing to talk with me about her spiritual journey, especially of her coming to believe in Jesus and what it means to follow him while continuing to live and work in the Haredi community. Here is our conversation:

Tova: Thank you so much for your willingness to share your story with me and others. Can we start with you telling me a bit about your family growing up?

Esther: I grew up in a very religious family in New York. I live with my family in a mixed Modern Orthodox and Chasidic neighborhood. My parents are quite observant; my dad attends various shuls, but we are not official members of any one group. I am the oldest of eight children, and all but one of the girls in my family attended Bais Yaakov through high school. After high school, I also took a year of study in Israel. Today each of us has chosen different levels of observance.

Tova: When did you first begin to wonder about what you were being taught with respect to G-d and what He requires of His people?

Esther: It was when I was a young teenager, about 14 or so. I was attending Bais Yaakov and I didn’t like all the rules, nor did I understand why G-d would command us to follow many of them. My family regularly attended shul and strictly observed Shabbat and the holidays. I knew all the prayers, and the order we were to routinely recite them; but since I didn’t really understand Hebrew, I wasn’t totally able to follow what was going on or understand the text.

Tova: So, what happened when you became of age to marry?

Esther: I did not want to marry and begin having children. Thankfully, since we weren’t strictly Chasidic, there was no arranged marriage for me, and it wasn’t forced on me.

Tova: Why didn’t you want to marry?

Esther: I didn’t like what I saw in marriages, and I didn’t want to just be a wife and give birth to kids. If I ever had a child, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to raise him or her in a religious community.

Tova: How do you feel about that now? Would you like to marry and have children?

Esther: Someday I would, but not now.

Tova: Okay, so what happened to perk your interest in the New Covenant and Jesus?

She told me about Jews who believed in Jesus, and that I could find them on Facebook.

Esther: I work in an Orthodox Jewish residence for special needs adults where most of the staff are also Jewish. There are, however, a few who aren’t. I had one co-worker who believed in Jesus. She would talk about it all the time, even though I told her I didn’t believe in G-d. But when she began talking about the book of Revelation in the New Testament and told me some of what was predicted to happen in the future, that got my attention. She also told me about Jews who believed in Jesus, and that I could find them on Facebook under “Jews for Jesus.” That really surprised me as I was taught simply that the Christians killed us for many years so we don’t believe in it, and I never questioned that before. I checked it out online, and after contacting one of their local offices, I was introduced to someone who understood Orthodox Judaism and really knew the Bible. We began to study together and talk more about Jesus.

Tova: When did you start believing that Jesus could actually be the Jewish Messiah?

Esther: Not immediately. It took some time. At the beginning, I had no idea who Jesus was, but I was curious, so I wanted to learn more. Soon things began to make sense, and I believed it was true and prayed a prayer of receiving Jesus as my Messiah. But something in me was still questioning and wondering if it was really true. At one point, I even took a break from studying for a while.

Tova: What made you explore this again?

Esther: I think just life experiences brought me back to belief. Then the time came when I was really struggling with my eating and was “binging” every night; I couldn’t control it. I came back to Jews for Jesus and met someone there who also has issues with food but found recovery through her faith. She talked a lot about prayer and asking G-d for help with the food.

Tova: What happened in your life relative to how G-d has helped you with your eating?

I began to ask G-d for help, and that worked (to my surprise!).

Esther: I started taking it much more seriously as it was presented as a key to stop binging. I began to ask G-d for help, and that worked (to my surprise!). Over time, as I prayed more and continued to talk and study the Bible, I began to believe more and more strongly.

Tova: What does your faith look like today?

Esther: I know I still have a lot of growing to do, but I am reading the Bible more regularly and can see that I am growing in my faith and have a personal relationship with Jesus. I regularly pray now, especially for wisdom and guidance, and for a good future. And I am finally reading the Bible not as a religious obligation, but enjoying it as it connects me to the truth and G-d. I am becoming more comfortable with what the Bible calls “grace,” that G-d’s love for me is not based on my earning “merit” or “performance,” but simply because I am His child. Today my relationship with G-d is much more personal, and I grow through reading the Bible and applying it daily.

Tova: Do you have any books of the Bible that have really spoken to you?

Esther: Aside from Revelation, which brought me into my search, I have recently discovered and LOVED the wisdom literature: Song of Songs; Proverbs and Psalms in particular.

Tova: What is it about these particular books that has captured your interests?

Esther: They are about wisdom and give me wisdom for life. Everything in the book is perfect and applicable to everyday living. That’s what got me started reading Proverbs and Psalms! I started reading, and I was hooked! It was so interesting! Now a favorite teaching of mine is from Proverbs 3:5–6: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

My other favorite comes from Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 6:33]. He tells us to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” It reminds me all the time that what is most important is seeking him first as the highest priority, and then other things fall into place.

Tova: I agree that those are great verses. Are there other Bible resources have you found helpful?

Esther: YES! I love the YouVersion Bible daily stories, although I don’t read them every day. They are short, but meaningful.

Tova: Okay, last question. Is there anything you would like to say to other women like you who might be seeking to know the truth about Jesus?

Esther: Yes, I have a few things. First, I would say that religion can be confusing, and it doesn’t always make sense, but my advice to you would be to just start reading the Bible and find people you trust who you can learn it with. When you start reading it on your own, you will begin to see it in a different light. You will see it more as a book of wisdom for life than a book of manmade rules/religion. It’s truly a tool for life!

G-d wants us to live a life in relationship with Him…. What’s the point of religion if you don’t have a relationship?

Second, I now understand that G-d wants us to live a life in relationship with Him, and that isn’t religion. What’s the point of religion if you don’t have a relationship? I have come to see that following the “religion” of the rabbis and seeking to please them is no substitute for relationship. They don’t have all the answers. It’s not wrong to look up to the rabbis, but never exclusively.

Finally, I would also encourage any women who have doubts about getting married (or feel that they don’t want to) should take that very seriously, as you don’t want to live a life full of regrets.

Tova: Esther, thank you so much for sharing your story with me. I hope you have a great day.

What’s your hope?

Are you questioning the beliefs that you were taught up until now? I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me here ›

If you would like to read the stories of Yeshua on your own, you can find them at yiddishnewtestament.org.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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