I grew up in a Jewish family in Northern California that believed in just about anything and everything—including Hanukkah and Christmas—and we were exposed to a lot of other types of spirituality like New Age, yoga, and astrology as well. My father is Jewish and grew up in a mostly secular Jewish family, while my mom comes from a very nominal Catholic background. There was a little bit of everything in my life growing up.
It wasn’t until I was about ten years old that my mom was introduced to Jesus as Messiah. She would go walking with one of our neighbors every morning, and this neighbor shared with my mom about who Yeshua (Jesus) is. Our neighbor told her about the sacrifice that he made for my mom personally, and after that conversation, my mom began the process of coming to faith and believing that Jesus is the Messiah. From that point on, I started going to church with my mom on Sundays and to temple with my dad on Saturdays. My dad didn’t go to church with us, and that caused a strain in our family and made me feel as though I had to choose between my parents. Could I join my dad in his sort of Reformed Jewish route, or should I follow my mother in the born-again Christian route? This spiritual confusion continued as I grew up.
My family moved to Southern California when I was in junior high, and I started going to church on my own. At first, it felt like Jesus was just one option among many. I didn’t know too much about who he was at first. I began learning bits and pieces about how good of a person he was and the great things that he said.
I started learning that he actually healed people and had wonderful things to say—but I didn’t want him to be a part of my life personally, until I started making friends with people who believed in him. I saw the difference he made in their lives and the community that was created around him. I was really lonely as a junior high kid, but I found that church was a place where I could find community and people who cared for me.
I was initially drawn to the community before I was drawn to the person of Jesus. I saw other believers in Jesus and I really wanted what they had, but didn’t necessarily want Jesus. I was pulled in by the loving relationships of those I knew who had Jesus in their hearts. What changed everything for me was when I saw the evidence of who Jesus was in the lives of people around me. I saw true community, true love, and relationships that were grounded in something that was very real. I hadn’t experienced that anywhere else in my life.
When I was just 17, one of the youth leaders in the church community passed away suddenly. He was only 22 years old and just didn’t wake up one morning. I had never known anyone who had died, and especially someone so young, without any apparent reason. It was at his funeral that I came to faith in Jesus. I prayed, “God, I don’t want to live without you.” From that point, my faith was definitely in Jesus.
But once I came to faith in him, I felt confusion and a major conflict in my identity. I thought I had to give up what it meant to be Jewish. Nobody explained to me that being Jewish and believing in Jesus were not mutually exclusive.
Jesus and Jewishness were completely separated in me at first. But I couldn’t deny the experiences I had with Jesus. It was confusing because I knew I was Jewish—that had always been a part of who I am. That was part of my identity growing up. Then suddenly I was believing this one thing that, according to my Dad and other Jewish people, was “off limits” for Jewish people. Now it felt like, “You’re Jewish, but not really.” My dad actually revved up his own Jewish identity to help encourage me to pursue more Jewish things in my life. He didn’t want me to lose that part of my identity. He never told me that believing in Jesus disqualified me from being Jewish, but I knew that he didn’t love the idea. It took me a long time to realize that the only way to receive the assurance and the comfort that my believing friends had was through Jesus. And once I put my faith in him, I began to have a peace like I never had before. Other people around me began to notice and point it out to me, even more than I could see it in myself. When I put my faith in Jesus, people started noticing I was more confident in who I was. I was less anxious than ever before, and I was more of who I truly am.
The first time I met someone who was Jewish and believed in Jesus was just after I graduated high school. I met her in a church service and saw she was reading the Bible in Hebrew on her phone. I asked her about it, and she said, “Oh, I’m a Messianic Jew.” I said, “Well, what does that mean?” She explained it to me and I said, “Well, that’s me. That’s what I am, too.” I suddenly realized there are more Jewish people who believe like me. Now I had a name for my identity: I’m a Messianic Jew. And that was pretty cool!
While I was attending a Christian college in Southern California I met my husband, Jesse, through some of our shared classes. At one point Jesse asked what my Jewish identity meant to me. Strangely enough, no one had ever asked me that before! I didn’t have a very good answer. I didn’t know what I thought of my Jewishness. That prompted me to want to know what it means to be a Jewish believer in Jesus. I started to see my dual identity as unique—not a hindrance, but an asset to who I am. So I went on a journey to figure out who Jesus was to me as a Jewish person, so I could feel completely comfortable in that identity. Jesse had just returned from a trip to Israel and encouraged my journey by suggesting I go to Israel that summer. I took his advice and, while there, found a deeper sense of what it means to be Jewish.
Jesse and I got married in 2018, and we now live in Los Angeles. We work at the Los Angeles branch of Jews for Jesus, which operates a cafe and art gallery space called Upside Down.
If you are Jewish and a new believer in Jesus as I was, you are not alone! There are many people like you. Being Jewish and believing in Jesus go together very well—there doesn’t need to be a conflict. Many others have walked before you and have discovered the joy of being in community with other Jewish believers.