Missouri, Math, and Messiah: A Jewish Statistician’s Story
Beverly Jamison was the lead statistical researcher for our survey. She is 100% the mathematician, and since behind every statistic there lies a story, she agreed to tell hers for Havurah. Notice the many points of contact between her journey (and what she says about her daughter) and the results of our survey.
I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, where the Jewish community was largely Orthodox. When I was five, we changed the family name from Roskinsky to Ross and moved to California. There, I attended Jewish Sunday School, and later, the Hebrew School at a Reform temple.
My father Roland worked in real estate appraisal for the government and also taught at the local community college. He was very interested in social issues and active in the civil rights movement. My mother Charlotte was also active in social causes and founded the suicide prevention center in San Mateo, California. I have one younger sister, and she is a humanities teacher and an author of novels and short stories.
Growing up, we experienced all the sights, sounds and smells of the Jewish holidays. Since we were away from our extended family, who were back in Kansas City, we usually celebrated Passover with a local Jewish family or two. I remember the wine and candles —partly because one of my pigtails caught on fire one year while I was clearing the table! At Hanukkah, we had the blue and white tablecloth on the dining room table, and I have memories of dreidels, chocolate coins, recounting the story—and getting wax stuck in the menorah! And during the High Holidays, I remember going home and trying to be good, cleaning my room and taking out the trash. I was taught to consider what God expected of us. I think that I wanted his approval more than I wanted him to meet other kinds of needs in my life.
By high school, though, I wasn’t thinking much about God any more; I was learning about existentialism and humanism. My junior and senior years were spent in the “big city” (San Francisco) where I lived with my father and my stepmother Betty (my parents had divorced by this time). Though my father’s Jewish identity meant something to him, he was also spiritually interested in the variety of cultures and philosophies that could be found in late-1960s San Francisco. Meanwhile, my own interests lay in the somewhat newly-discovered world of discrete math and the very new world of computer science.
Though I started college at UC Berkeley, I later transferred to MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There I found a suite in which there were eight other Jewish girls, most of them from Orthodox families, who needed a ninth girl who would agree to keep the kitchen kosher. I was glad to do that and moved in with them.
And shortly afterwards, I heard the gospel. As a child, my only experience with Christians was that I had known some Catholic families and was familiar with the crucifixion, since it was a dramatic image. But that image just seemed to convey a sense, passed down through from my grandmother’s generation, that Jesus got killed, we got blamed, and it was a good idea to be careful!
But what happened at MIT was this. During a new students event, I met someone—my future husband Rick, as it turned out—who was also from San Francisco, as well as his roommate Eric. Eric made a remark about Jesus, assuming a common cultural understanding. I was puzzled, but after hearing his explanation, I had no hesitation in saying that was just about the weirdest thing I had ever heard! Taken aback, he contacted some girls from Campus Crusade for Christ (now known as Cru) and asked them to explain the gospel to me. They were a bit concerned about how welcome they would be in the “kosher suite,” but they agreed to see me.
This was the heyday of Hal Lindsey and his book The Late Great Planet Earth, and there was a lot of interest in the prophecies of the Old Testament. Because I was Jewish, the girls shared with me the messianic prophecies that showed that Jesus was the Messiah. I was intrigued, and it looked like they might have a reasonable case.
But I hesitated. All the Christians around me were gentiles, and it didn’t make sense that they would know much about the Jewish Messiah. I also figured that if I was wrong about Jesus, and the real Messiah showed up, there would be negative consequences to face! I felt similar to how I had felt at the High Holidays when I was younger: what if God was watching and what if he didn’t approve of how I was conducting myself?
Still, I was reading the Bible at this point. I remember being extremely fascinated by the book of Ecclesiastes, impressed by its sense of reality. And it meshed with my earlier interest in existentialism. In the New Testament, I found the books of Matthew and John to be the most interesting ones. By May of 1975, the end of my time at MIT, I had come to put my faith in Yeshua. There was still a spiritual “learning curve” for me, though, and there were several more times when I felt I needed to pray the “sinner’s prayer” all over again!
At the end of my time in college, I got married to Rick, the person who had originally shared the gospel with me. He was a newly-minted Navy officer and off we went to his first duty station in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. We attended a church there as well, though Rick was often away due to being on duty or out to sea. In the spring of our first year, the Liberated Wailing Wall (Jews for Jesus’ music team at the time) came to Hawaii, and we were fortunate enough to be able to hear them. Later that year, Moishe Rosen came to Hawaii as well and spoke in several churches. I came to hear him too, in order to learn more about Jesus. In addition, our daughter Ruth was born in Hawaii and that gave me even more reason to know more about how I should live as a believer.
Rick retired after a career in the Navy, designing and building submarines, to work high tech in the civilian sector. Ruth inherited her parents’ geekiness and her grandparents’ dedication to societal causes and serving the community. She works at Google and is involved in work with children at risk, the Blood:Water mission, and microfinance initiatives. And today I work in information technology at the American Psychological Situation. What I have learned over years of involvement in Christian community has been helpful in my interactions with those on my team and with the clientele that we serve. I should also mention that Rick and I continue to have a seder every year; we used to light Shabbat candles until our lives got a bit too busy. We go to a Messianic congregation for the other holidays. And as you see from this edition of Havurah, I have also had a chance to use my background to work with Jews for Jesus on understanding our community of Jewish believers in Jesus!