From apple trees you get apples and from Jews you get Jews…even if they do believe in Jesus.
A child’s first realization that someone does not understand him often causes much wonder and confusion. I remember that day so clearly; I was standing in the girl’s bathroom at Coldwater Canyon Avenue Elementary School.
It was right after lunch and I was combing my hair. Janice Cohen was also combing her hair, with short, uneasy pulling motions. She was staring at me with something between fear and dislike. I’ve since then learned exactly how closely the two are related. The edge of bitterness of her voice seemed to be the only thing holding back Janice’s tears.
My mother told me that what you said isn’t very nice.”
I stopped combing my hair. “What I said about what?”
Her voice trembling, she responded. “What you said about Christians going to heaven and all Jews going to hell.”
“Janice, I never said that!”
“Linda Rubin said you did,” Janice accused.
I approached the situation with my usual fourth grade tact: “Well you can tell Linda she’s nuts, because if I thought all Jews were going to hell, I’d go too. I’m Jewish, you know. Why would I say a thing like that?”
“But you’re a Christian; you believe in Jesus.”
“So,” I said, “you never heard of a Jewish Christian?”
“No. They’re opposites. You can’t be Jewish and be a Christian.”
“Yes you can,” I said, “I just told you—I am!”
Janice looked confused and not altogether convinced. She never asked me about religion again. But I found out that alot of the kids didn’t believe that I could be Jewish and Christian and some of them made fun of me when I said that I was. I couldn’t figure out why they thought that they were Jewish and I wasn’t. After all, I lit the menorah at Channuka and at Pesach I had peanut butter and jelly on matzoh because we weren’t supposed to eat anything leavened. But more than that, my parents were Jewish. So what else was I supposed to be?
I wondered if anyone ever told my parents that they weren’t Jewish because they believe in Jesus. At age ten I didn’t see how anyone could possibly disbelieve anything that my mom and dad said. I just didn’t realize that being a Jew for Jesus was such a controversial thing. To me, it seemed perfectly natural—like breathing, almost. I was born Jewish, and when I was six years old, I accepted Jesus as my Messiah and became what is commonly known as a Christian. I had no reason to believe I was no longer Jewish, any more than I had reason to believe I was no longer an American citizen. I’d burned no flags, no Mogen Davids.
Now, nearly sixteen years later, the desire to communicate what I believe to be the truth hadn’t faded. Handing out free pamphlets on a busy street corner, I was confronted with angry questions, and with looks of mingled fear and dislike from my own people who somehow thought that I hated both myself and them. For an instant, the events of my childhood came crowding into my consciousness and I was reminded of my conversation with Janice Cohen. But now it no longer astonished me that people did not understand. And I knew that the words, “Jews for Jesus,” in bold print upon my tee shirt were indeed controversial. As I offered to any interested passers-by the written suggestion that perhaps Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, a couple stopped to ask me a question that wasn’t really a question. “And what do your parents think of all this?” It wasn’t really a sincere question because it was intended to be an accusation. They had assumed the answer already—that I had broken my parents’ hearts. Hoping that my answer might generate some real interest, I replied, “Actually, my mother and father are proud to see me standing up for what I believe. They know it isn’t easy. You see, they’re also Jews for Jesus.”
“Oh, well there you are, that explains it,” the woman told her husband. Then, turning to me, “Not one of you are Jewish, not you or your meshuggeneh parents. You aren’t Jewish and you shouldn’t wear those silly tee shirts that say you are. It’s a disgrace!”
“Besides,” her husband added, “it’s Shabbat. If you’re Jewish, how come you’re not home lighting candles?” l calmly pointed out that I didn’t seem to be the only Jew who wasn’t home lighting candles on Shabbat, and they colored a bright shade of crimson. I hadn’t meant to embarrass them, but only to pose the question, why must a Jew for Jesus be twice as Jewish as anyone else to be considered a Jew?
People tell me that if I marry and have children, they won’t be Jewish. I suppose that when my parents decided to believe in Jesus, they were told the same thing. And yet, should I have children some day, I will be just as surprised to discover that they are Gentiles as I would be to discover peaches growing on an apple tree. From apple trees you get apples, and from Jews you get Jews…even if they do believe in Jesus.