I was born in Pretoria and our family moved to Johannesburg when I was four years old. Both my parents are Jewish, and from my earliest years I had a sense of pride regarding my Jewish heritage. I can remember a keen fascination with the figures that emerged from the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Joshua. What impressed me most about these men was that they had a vital and dynamic relationship with God. He communed with them, and they communed with Him, the King and Creator of the universe.
As a young boy, I can remember thinking about God’s command to Abram in Genesis 12, Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” This was a difficult command, but Abram so readily obeyed. I imagined myself walking and communing with God as my forefathers had. I yearned for a dynamic, intimate relationship with the God of Israel.
Since I could not see the same presence in my life, I reasoned that the possibility existed that I was not “religious” enough, that I was not observing the laws of Judaism closely enough. I endeavored to do this more sincerely and became more actively involved in the life of our religious community in Johannesburg. However, the God of the patriarchs still remained distant and seemingly unreachable.
As time passed, my religious involvement was maintained, but the deep yearning of my soul persisted. Like the majority of Jewish people, I was antagonistic to anyone who suggested that there might be another facet to the God of the Jews. I was especially resistant when people expounded other faiths to me.
But I surprised myself the day I accepted an invitation to attend a Gospel service one weekend in 1973 at Edenvale Baptist Church. I attended the pre-service Bible class on Ezekiel 38 and 39. To my astonishment, I could not fault what the teacher had to say! To make matters worse, he quoted from Jewish sources and challenged the class to check the validity of his teaching by looking into the texts themselves.
We then went on to the worship service. Pastor Derek Stone’s sermon was about Naaman the Leper. Most Jewish children learn about Naaman, as I had. I was affronted that a Christian had the audacity to expound on the Jewish Scriptures so accurately! It was also interesting that both teachings that morning centered around the Old Testament. Had the teaching been from other sources I might not have been as willing to hear and listen.
Although I was certainly unsettled, I had to admit to myself that both the Bible class teacher and Pastor Stone seemed to have the type of relationship with God for which my heart yearned. But I was unnerved by the fact that they believed that Jesus was the Messiah for whom my Jewish people were so patiently waiting.
I remained troubled afterwards for some days. I went so far as to obtain a copy of the tape from that Sunday’s messages and, after listening to the tape, I knew without a doubt that the Jesus spoken about was the One who could bring me into a relationship with God. I didn’t need to look any further or strive any harder, because Yeshua the Messiah had come to me. He was no longer unreachable.
Dr. Leslie Berman is a radiologist in private practice in Pretoria, South Africa. He has served on the Board of the Radiological Society of South Africa. Presently, Dr. Berman serves on the Board of Jews for Jesus in South Africa. He and his wife Wendy and their two children., Robert and Claire, attend Beit Yeshua Congregation and Rosebank Union Fellowship in Kingsmead, where Dr. Berman serves as a church council member.