Escaping the Occult! Finding My Way Home
“You will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart,” wrote God through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 29:13). Let me tell you how that proved true in my own experience.
I was raised by Jewish parents in the South. They were both academics who sought to raise me with Yiddishkeit.* My mother was fluent in Yiddish; my father was bar mitzvah and grew up in a Conservative Jewish home. We celebrated Shabbat, Passover, Purim and Hanukkah and attended synagogue. On Shabbat and the holidays, my father would often invite friends over, many of whom were “nominal” Christians. From a very young age, I believed that God had parted the Red Sea and performed many miracles. I loved the Jewish prayers and liturgy and the stories I was told.
An unhappy home
But my parents were not happy. They had a volatile marriage and eventually divorced. My mother became suicidal and developed an eating disorder. I wanted to know why everything God had done seemed to be in the past. We urgently needed Him to do something now in our family. Ritually observant, we were desperate for God, but He seemed so distant. No one seemed to have the answers.
After my parents’ divorce, we became a little more Reform in our practice, and I started asking questions: Why did seats in synagogue cost so much on the High Holidays? If going to High Holiday services was so important, why wasn’t it more affordable? Why did we need to be there to hear the Kol Nidre, anyway? Why did Orthodox Jews throw bread in the water to atone for their sins? I didn’t get any answers.
But the most perplexing question to me was, how could fasting atone for one’s sins? The rabbis taught us to fast on Yom Kippur, but my mother had anorexia. Obviously, fasting was not the way to atone for sins. In her case, it could kill her!
Throughout junior high and high school, I was very depressed. My mother became severely anorexic and another relative “came out of the closet.” I used to imagine that I was the blonde cousin in The Munsters, thinking, They are weird. I am normal. But the truth was that there was a hollowness inside me. In a poem, I wrote:
To be lost within, and to feel the void,
Spiritual existence unknown,
A functional half-life,
I felt isolated and hopeless and even attempted suicide.
After high school, I attended college, but life still felt bleak and meaningless. I took a college class in the Bible but couldn’t focus. I dropped out of college and started reading occult books, looking for answers. I spent a lot of money supporting occult endeavors.
I also spent those late teen years in therapy, trying to determine why I was so unhappy. I went to a psychiatrist to see if I could get some medication for anxiety, only to have him tell that me that nothing was wrong with me. I was very disappointed!
My New Age guru
In an occult bookstore, I met a man who offered me a book about an “alternative school.” At first wary, I eventually decided it was worth investigating. I had started to believe the New Age mantra that “when the student is ready, the teacher will come.” I even prayed for a teacher/soulmate. As I was drawn to this man, I began to meet with him to discuss the school, thinking he might be my “teacher.” But after several months, all his promises proved to be self-serving, and he “took advantage” of me. I was broken and became disgusted with myself.
Jesus shows up
I had hit an all-time low. But after this, for some reason, Jesus started to crop up in my thoughts regularly. I began to listen to Broadway musical scores like Godspell, whose song, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” really moved me!
I began to write poems about being spiritually dead or asleep and Jesus being “the Way.” I hadn’t even read the New Testament, nor had I ever entertained the thought of going to a church. These were private thoughts, deep within me.
During this time, I began to realize specifically how I had broken the Ten Commandments, which I had learned in synagogue. The mixture of grief and guilt was heavy to bear, but I had nowhere to go with it.
On the evening of February 28, 1990, I felt this weight acutely. I boarded a subway train in midtown Manhattan to head home to Brooklyn, and soon I was lost in thought. I kept thinking, Doomed! I had a very real sense of my emptiness within and of my own doom ahead. I recounted all the options before me: college, marriage, career. But after imagining each milestone, I concluded that none would bring me lasting happiness. I decided that the problem lay within me; something was missing. It felt as though I had a cancer that I couldn’t root out but needed to be removed.
As I was pondering my fate, a thought came to me—Passover!
I saw in my mind my family sitting around the Passover table, discussing the endless miracles and goodness of God. But where’s God? I thought. Where is He?! I believe God parted the Red Sea for my ancestors. I believe God poured out plagues over the Egyptians. I believe God delivered our people from bondage. But where is God for me, and where is He now? I have to know and I have to know now.
At that very moment, I heard a still, small voice in my heart say, “Alisa, you have a choice. You can either trust Me, or you can go your way . . . to your doom!”
The mysterious stranger
Well, that sounded simple enough. Fearful and amazed to have heard a reply to my inner cry, I said in my heart, Okay, I will trust You. Until this point, I had been so wrapped up in my thoughts that I didn’t realize that I had missed my subway stop, and now the train was pummeling on towards the Bronx, deep in the opposite direction of home. I told God, I am lost and it’s late. I am scared. I am going to get out and ask a stranger for directions. Please get me home safely, and I will trust You!
As I got out of the train, almost instantly a man walked out of the subway car next to mine. The odd thing was that that car had seemed empty before. I told the man I was lost and asked him how to get home. He seemed different from anyone I had ever spoken with. He answered rather cryptically, with no emotion, “Go all the way down, turn all the way around, and you will find your way home.” When I asked if there was an easier way, he repeated, “Go all the way down until you can’t go anymore. Turn all the way around, and you will find your way home.” Then he started to walk away.
I stood stunned and then called out, asking his name. He simply replied, “Angel.”
Then he was gone.
The end of the line . . . and the beginning
I went to the end of the line. When I got out, it was about 1 A.M. A lady was standing there passing out flyers. Flyers, this late? I thought. I took one. I got back on the return train, sat down and read, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The words jumped out at me. While the language was not exactly what I would think of as Jewish, the pamphlet discussed passages from the Hebrew Scriptures about the need of a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins (Leviticus 17:11).
I now understood that Jesus had made that blood sacrifice for us by his death. This resonated with every fiber of my being, and I knew what I was reading was true. I read on and believed.
The thought occurred to me, What will my parents think if I believe in Jesus? But they didn’t have the answers for their own misery. I got off that train, bowed my head, acknowledged that I fell short of God’s standards, and asked His forgiveness, based on Jesus’ sacrifice for me.
A happy ending
It’s been many years now, and that was the best decision I have ever made. I’ve never been depressed or hopeless since. The Lord has continued to heal me, deliver me and amaze me with His Word (the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament), His love and His mercy. Although it has sometimes been difficult to be a Jew who believes in Jesus, I have no regrets.
What will you do with Jesus? Seek him with all your heart and you will find, as I did, that he does indeed give new life!
*a sense of Jewish identity