Born in post-World War II Germany of Polish holocaust survivors, my longing to find an earthly place I could call home began early in life. My parents, victims of Hitler’s atrocities, had been thrust from their homes and forced to find new ones. Germany was for us a place we were but temporarily transplanted. From there we would eventually sail to the United States to establish more permanent roots. And so the Bronx, New York, became our new home. But we soon learned that anti-Semitism hadn’t ended and, of course, never could end merely with the collapse of Hitler’s regime. The Nazis had ceased abusing my father, but the same satanic spirit resided in my pseudo-Christian Gentile neighbors, who on several occasions beat me up simply because I was Jewish.
While we had made a home, we were not home. In time, though my parents remained in the Bronx, I left—first, to the faraway island of Manhattan. Later, as a blossoming flower child of the late ’60s, having embraced Yoga and Eastern religions, I responded to the beckoning of India and Ceylon. But my anticipation of spiritual ecstasies was dampened by the pervasiveness of abject poverty. How, I wondered, could such so-called enlightened philosophies engender such darkness? Cutting short my stay at a yoga retreat in Ceylon, I headed for Israel—eager, yet at the same time, very reluctant. I had had my fill of Judaism. Its empty rituals were tiresome, and Jewishness was a source of shame to one as assimilated as I had aspired to become. (I had forbidden my mother to speak Yiddish to me in public. I wanted so much to be a Gentile that the highest compliment anyone could bestow upon me was to tell me that I didn’t look Jewish.) Consequently, all that really interested me about Israel was the prospect of experiencing communal farm life on the kibbutz.
But God had other plans. (Was it mere coincidence that the night before leaving mostly Buddhist Ceylon, the only movie in town was The Ten Commandments?”) Flying into a breathtaking, golden, Jaffa orange Israeli sunrise, I was overcome with emotion. But why was I, who rarely cried, crying? Why did I feel like kissing the ground? This was not my country. I was an American.
My intended brief stay turned into ten months. I loved the kibbutz life, and I thought I might return to live in Israel after completing my college education in the States.
But I felt so uncomfortable among the Orthodox Jews at my college that the very idea of living in an all-Jewish State was abhorrent to me.
Still determined to find a home, I then fancied that the West Coast would provide me with what I was looking for. It wasn’t. Meanwhile, a subsequent return trip to Israel in 1977 convinced me that it still was no more than a nice place to visit.
In early 1982, however, everything changed. I received a pamphlet on a street corner in New York. It was put out by Jews for Jesus, and I felt compelled to write a letter to them. I soon received a phone call from a Jewish woman who invited me to attend a service. It was a fascinating experience seeing very Jewish people singing praises to Jesus. I stopped running away from my Jewish roots. That was when I found my Messiah. With his abiding love, he set into motion the process of my discovering my true home.
In August, 1982, I was able to return once again to Israel—this time to help with the Lebanese war effort. As a volunteer with the Israeli Army, I was blessed with the opportunity to spend an entire month with the courageous defenders of that tiny country that is God’s earthly promise to the seed of Abraham; to clean tanks and machine guns; to pack duffle bags; to help my people; to learn about the agony and the heartache of continual war; to help protect my country.
How strange, yet how comfortable was this new feeling of love and loyalty which overcame me. God had certainly changed the heart of this would-be Jewish anti-Semite. For the first time in my life, I felt that I was truly home. Indeed, from God’s point of view, I was home:
“But you, O mountains of Israel, will produce branches and fruit for my people Israel, for they will soon come home.” (Ezekiel 36:8, NIV)
My return to New York was difficult because I now knew what had motivated my search for an earthly home: I was in the Diaspora, outside of God’s promised land, and in exile. At the same time, however, I realized that before coming to know Yeshua, I had also been in a spiritual Diaspora—cast out from God’s promises by my unbelief. But God, by His abundant grace, was true to His promise:
“I will put my spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land.” (Ezekiel 37:14)
He put His spirit in me, and I came alive, and subsequently settled into my spiritual inheritance through my faith in the Messiah of Israel. Although still living in New York, I pray that one day soon I will also physically settle in the land of my forefathers. But in the meantime, I know for certain that wherever I am on this earth, I am at home in the Lord.