Why Yoel stole a New Testament from the Israeli Defense Forces, and decided to follow Jesus.
I was born in Israel and lived here for the first three years of my life. I lived in the Caribbean, England, Paris, England again, and then came back to Israel. My mother is a proud Moroccan Jew; my father is Scottish.
We were a traditional Jewish family rather than religious. We would sit down every Friday night, and because my dad was not Jewish and I was the elder son, I would say the kiddush, the blessing over the wine. We would eat our meal and then, like any other family, we’d go into the living room, turn on the television and watch whatever series or funny program was on. An Orthodox Jew, of course, would not use any electricity and certainly would not watch TV on Shabbat! Nevertheless, the fact that I was Jewish was impressed upon me.
From the youngest possible age, I knew that God existed, and I believed that he had something he wanted me to do. Where did Israel figure? Israel was where I was born. Israel was my country. Israel was the land my mum fought for—she was part of the Israeli Defense Force during the Yom Kippur struggle.
In my teenage years I wanted to find out more about God, so I started reading. I went to the vicar at the school in England and asked him to give me some books about God, including the Koran and some Hindu writings. The real shock for me was that he didn’t try to dissuade me or tell me the gospel. As I was reading the Koran on my bed, I remember putting the book down, and the thought came to me that if God exists, I shouldn’t really need to read these books. Rather, he should just show up.
So I said, “God, if you’re real, show up.” And before me I saw the face of Jesus! I looked at it and I felt a presence in my room; and I felt afraid. I saw a clear vision of God—and ignored it. I decided it was a figment of my imagination.
When I came to Israel and met my future wife, Adel, we started discussing and philosophizing about God. We now realize we knew nothing, but at the time we were very intense and really searching to find the truth. Eventually, we decided that if we believed in God, we were being hypocritical if we didn’t do something about it. I suppose it started out as a sort of experiment. We began observing Shabbat. I would study the Torah and other writings through the night. We became more Haredi (Orthodox). We left the language school. We were living together, so gradually the idea of doing that and not being married seemed wrong. We were therefore faced with a choice: separate or get married. We knew we were right for each other, so why wait?
We began to approach the Hassidic Breslov movement, but I still prayed in a Chabad (Lubavitch) synagogue, where I began attending lessons with the local rabbi on Talmud. I wore a big kippah (skull cap) and tsitsit (prayer tassels) and grew the peot (earlocks).
We decided, as my enrollment into the army was coming up, that we would move to Jerusalem. The atmosphere was more religious there than in Tel Aviv, so we thought we would feel more at home.
We engaged in the mystical side of Hassidic Judaism through the writings of the founder of the Breslov movement, Rabbi Nachman.
Then I started reading Isaiah and for the first time became aware of biblical prophecy. At first I found Isaiah in Hebrew difficult to understand, because it’s written in high poetic language. So I started reading it in English and still found it difficult to understand. It felt like a labor of love, and I didn’t feel I was getting much out of it until I read Isaiah chapter 6.
This chapter jumped out and slapped me in the face. Because all of a sudden God told Isaiah to go and tell this people, “Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’’1 And all of a sudden, without anybody telling me, I realized the Jewish people are veiled and there’s a problem. And I asked myself the question, “Am I veiled? Am I blind? Am I deaf? Is there something that I’m not seeing?”
I kept reading Isaiah until I reached chapter 53. I didn’t understand that chapter; I was blind to its meaning. So I went to see Judy. We didn’t know it then, but she’d been praying for nine months for an opportunity to speak with us about Jesus. She’d asked God to give her a sign. So on the day when I knocked on her door and asked her to explain Isaiah 53, she knew this was the sign she’d been praying for.
My initial reaction was to think I’d been deceived. Judy kept talking, and as she talked I started to sense what I now know to be the presence of God. I recognized his presence because I had begun to notice it when I was praying in the synagogue on my own. Judy kept on speaking. I fluctuated between feeling deceived and sensing the presence of God. Then gradually the presence of God increased and I knew in my heart that, yes, this was it. This was what I’d been looking for all those years.
I said in my mind, You know what, God? If this is true, then I’m going to go with my heart—I will believe. And at that moment, as Judy was still speaking to me, I saw the same vision that I had seen three years before, sitting on my bed in England with the Koran next to me. I saw the face of Jesus. And then I knew, and I told Judy I was ready to believe.
When I saw Adel crying after reading the Gospel of Matthew, I realized that despite both of us living in Europe, where churches are found all over the place, no one had told us about a relationship with Yeshua. I’ve decided I don’t want to let others wonder why I never told them the most important thing ever—Jesus has died for our sins and risen.