A Dream Shared
I realized I couldn’t turn my back on all the injustices around me.”
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath caused the iniquity of us all to fall upon him.”
“I have a dream…” The stirring words of Martin Luther King, Jr., filled my thoughts. He spoke for black people, he spoke for poor people. And, though I was neither black nor poor, I felt like he spoke for me, too. I realized I couldn’t turn my back on all the injustices around me. Even if it didn’t accomplish much, I felt that it was my responsibility to do something to help in whatever way I could.
Maybe I felt that way because of my Jewish upbringing—I don’t know. But I put my thoughts into action. The next few years were filled with many trips to Washington, D.C.: civil rights marches, marches against the war in Vietnam, marches against poverty. Yet I knew there was more I could do on a more practical level. I campaigned for local candidates who I thought could change things through the legislative process. Stuffing envelopes, calling people—somehow it all had to make a difference.
Then I joined a local theater group. We did original plays on the streets of New York, bringing issues to people’s minds that were on our minds: the war, the high prices in the supermarket, Kent State. People did stop and listen; people did stop and take our handouts.
I was president of the block association on my street on the upper west side of Manhattan. We organized the people on our street to be a community. We had block parties, we raised money to put in some trees and a dog-run. I worked most weekends at the recycling center that we set up, crushing glass and aluminum. The nickels and dimes we raised helped beautify our neighborhood and pay for the security guard that patrolled the street to ward off junkies.
“…I felt that it was my responsibility to do something to help in whatever way I could. Maybe I felt that way because of my Jewish upbringing…”
Somehow I saw hope in all of these activities. I saw a better future. And as far as I was concerned, it was people that made the difference, people doing the work of peace, not just spouting the proper slogans.
I guess that’s why I had little patience for the Christians I was about to meet. Mostly out of curiosity and through the invitation of a new friend, I went to a Christian meeting. I remember being amused that everyone there seemed to project that same euphoric glow. “Didn’t they know what the real world was like? Didn’t they know that there were kids up in Harlem that were being bitten by rats? Didn’t they know that it was people, not prayers, that made a difference?”
I sat and listened to the folk-music-style songs and extemporaneous talk by the minister. I watched as people bowed their heads and prayed. My biases crept in as I mused to myself, “Well, they’re gentiles, and besides, I suppose it’s better that they be into Jesus than into drugs.” I knew that this lifestyle wasn’t for me, not only because I was a Jew, but because I was a realist, a doer. I believed in the future, not in never-never land. However, I went home that night with a question I didn’t have earlier in the day: “Should there be a spiritual side to my life?” I just had never thought about it. If there was a God, I figured I’d find out eventually. More than that, I felt that if there was a God, then my doing right things would mean more to Him than my saying proper prayers or attending synagogue regularly. Yet the question of my spiritual need gnawed at me. I took the Bible out of my bookcase and opened it. Here I was, 20 years old, and never had I actually read it through. I read Bereshit (Genesis). I was absorbed. My interest grew as I continued to read. I wondered: “Did these Bible events really happen? Did the prophets like Isaiah really speak for God?” Deep down I was hoping the answer was yes. I kept on reading. By the time I had read most of the book of Isaiah, I was convinced that God cared, that He spoke through the prophets. Then I read the words of Isaiah: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath caused the iniquity of us all to fall upon him.”
“All we like sheep” included me, too. I had gone astray. I had wandered in my own way. In all my social activism, I’d never concerned myself with the question: “What does God want?” It wasn’t just the murderer, the thief or adulterer. All of us had gone astray, even those of us who were regarded as being respectable. I had turned away toward the idols of humanism and social need.
“I believed in the future, not in never never land. However, I went home that night with a question I didn’t have earlier in the day…”
No, it wasn’t that I had made a conscious decision not to believe in God, but I just had never concerned myself. In that moment as I read, I was conscious of the fact that the King of Eternity was confronting me. He said that I was like a sheep who was going astray. Either I was going to believe Him or not believe Him. In one brief moment of time, I realized that I was a rebel and that my rebellion was against God. However, the rest of that 53rd chapter in Isaiah offered me good news. It told me that God had provided One to bear the punishment of my rebellion. That One accepted my punishment, the death penalty, that I might live. That One, as I was to learn later, was the greatest source of love a person could know. That One was Jesus. God sent the greatest force for change, more powerful than a demonstration, community project or a campaign—that force was personified in Jesus. He never turned His back on the impoverished. He loved those who were socially crippled by discrimination. He never ignored the victims of a sinful society. He gave more than just a vague hope for a better future. He offered an abundant life and bounteous love, the spirit of joy, to everyone, and I lifted my hands to receive the gift of God. He gave to me the reality of life here and the strength to face it.
Yes, Jesus makes the difference. He did in my life. Social and political activism are no longer my idols. It’s still important to me that people have their stomachs fed, but I know there is also a spiritual hunger that must be satisfied. Some people, like myself, don’t recognize their spiritual hunger until they’re presented with spiritual food—the Scriptures. As I read more and more in God’s book, I recognized my need and longing for Him in my life. And the more I read, the more I recognized the necessary avenue for me to have a relationship with God. I must come to Him through Jesus, the Jewish carpenter, the Messiah, the Son of God.
Some people may ask, “Why is a nice Jewish girl like you believing in Jesus?” My answer is simple: “He met my needs.” He can meet your needs, too. If you’d like to know why I believe this, please write to me. I’d really like to tell you.
Note: The above monograph was written in 1977.
Director of Communications, Missionary
Susan Perlman is one of the co-founders of Jews for Jesus. Susan is the associate executive director of Jews for Jesus and also director of communications for the organization. She also serves as the editor in chief of ISSUES, their evangelistic publication for Jewish seekers. She left a career track in New York City to help launch Jews for Jesus in San Francisco in the early 1970s. See more here.