My mother was born Ruth Michaelis in Berlin in 1935. Her father was Jewish, her mother gentile. In 1939, when she was four years old, my mother escaped with her brother via the Kindertransport. By train and then boat, they arrived in England. The Kindertransport, a rescue operation implemented during the nine months prior to World War II, placed children in British foster homes, schools, farms and hostels. In all, 10,000 children, mostly Jewish, were rescued from Nazi Germany and other European nations. But not the parents.
My grandfather, Robert Michaelis, managed to escape by boat to Shanghai, China. My grandmother, Louise, stayed with her family in Germany. My mother didn’t see her parents for ten years. In 1949, her father returned to Germany and reconciled with his wife. Then they came to England together and found my mother and uncle, who were living with their foster family. It took a long time to rebuild the relationships, but the family did reconcile.
|Jewish children arrive in Great Britain via the Kindertransport from Germany.|
I grew up as a Jew in London. My father is a psychoanalyst and my mother a psychotherapist; so I think I grew up a little crazy! I loved my family, my synagogue community and my people. As a teenager, I visited Israel several times.
I attended Sussex University, where I followed in my parents’ footsteps by majoring in psychology. But my real passion was drama. I spent most of my free time acting in and directing plays with my fellow students. After completing my degree, I moved to Israel for a year and a half. I lived in Ashkelon, a coastal city about thirty miles south of Tel Aviv. I learned Hebrew and worked with Sherut La’am, a community service program.
But I didn’t know God. Something was missing. I returned to England and sometime later, during a personal crisis, I started to search for God. I was jealous of the peace I saw in others who had a personal faith, so I decided to attend a church. I found the worship sincere, so I even tried singing the hymns – leaving out the name of Jesus! I also attended a course for those exploring Jesus and Christianity, and I prayed that God would make the truth clear to me. I began to read the New Testament and saw that it was a very Jewish book and that Jesus claimed to be the Jewish Messiah and the Son of God.
As I felt my heart turning toward Jesus, I became fearful that I would be betraying my people. But then I read the story of Helen Shapiro, a famous pop singer in England who is Jewish and came to believe in Jesus. When she explained how her faith in Yeshua (Jesus) went hand in hand with her Jewish identity, the pieces fell in place for me. At age 33, I came to that same conclusion. At a Hanukkah party in 2005, I met Alison, also a Jewish believer in Jesus. We began dating and were married in 2007.
I do have a confession. Before I knew Jesus as my Messiah, I had great hatred in my heart for anyone I considered an enemy of our Jewish people. That included people who had committed so much violence against us “in the name of Christ.” That’s in part because of my family history and in part because of the zeal I have always had for our Jewish people and Israel. That hatred started to die after I encountered Yeshua. However – even though God had rescued my mother from Hitler and Jesus had rescued me from despair – some of my hatred for the Nazis lingered until very recently. But meeting Werner Oder and hearing his story has helped me to surrender that last piece of hate I held in my heart.
Editor’s note: Barry B. is a staff member with Jews for Jesus based in London.