When I was six years old, my world changed. If I had remained in the city of my birth, Buffalo, New York, my neighbors, my friends, my surroundings, my culture, most associations would have been Jewish in the way that my parents’ and their parents’ associations were Jewish. But when I was six, my family moved South (of Buffalo, anyway) to a town called East Aurora. This was a town where the Jewish population numbered six: my father, my mother, my two sisters, my brother and myself, with my grandfather making seven during the spring and summer months. It was there that I grew up—in a friendly, educated, upper-middle class, but non-Jewish environment. I was a part of this community, yet in a way separate. Being Jewish made me different.
Our town had no synagogue, and my parents weren’t particularly religious” Jews, so I wasn’t brought up in a traditionally Jewish way. I lived in a world of gentile friends, gentile culture, Santa Claus, Christmas carols and Christmas trees, Easter bunnies and colored egg-filled baskets, and churches to which much of the community went on Sunday.
But I was also influenced by a culture and heritage not shared by my peers. These things were shared by my family…The trips into Buffalo to spend time with relatives and participate in events of Jewish life, such as going to Temple services on holidays, lighting Hannukah candles, going to Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, eating special foods, listening to stories on Jewish life told by my grandfather, and general association with my people.
“I was part of this community, yet in a way seperate. Being Jewish made me different.”
The special times affirmed to me that I was different because I was Jewish and that being Jewish meant there were certain things in my day-to-day life which were “not for us.” After all, could my parents, my grandfather, and all my relatives have taught me wrong? And the most obvious “not for us” was Jesus. My Jewish world said Jesus was a good teacher and nothing more; my gentile world was fairly quiet on the subject.
But who was this Jesus? “Never mind,” I was told. “He’s for ‘them,’ not ‘us.’ ” I accepted this answer and decided that as a Jew, I didn’t need Jesus.
Years later in college, into my life came a girl who was different from other gentiles I had known while growing up. This Jesus was important to her and her friends. He made a difference in their lives. She talked a lot about Him—telling me that He was the one of whom the Jewish prophets spoke, the one who was born to die for the iniquities of the people, the one who was resurrected, offering eternal life to those who believe in Him…
She told me about this Jesus, this one who wasn’t allowed to be a part of my Jewish world. No, my life had no room for Him. After all, if He was who she said He was, why had my parents, my grandfather, my relatives told me otherwise? Yet I was faced with the words of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6.)
“My Jewish world said Jesus was a good teacher and nothing more…”
Could it be true? Could I even consider the possibility that he was the Messiah? I felt guilty for even considering that this might be true. What would they say if they thought I was nibbling at the the forbidden fruit? Would I be betraying my family and heritage if I believed in Jesus? Even so, part of me wanted to know the truth, even if it meant that the truth was Jesus.
So I prayed. I asked God if Jesus were indeed His Son and my Messiah. I told my Father in Heaven that I knew He would want me to believe in Jesus if all that I had read, all that I had been told about Jesus were true. I asked God to reveal the truth to me and help me understand. While the answer God gave me was not a convenient one for me, I knew it was true. And He has helped me to understand. Jesus did fulfill our Jewish scriptures. The guilt I felt for considering a belief that my family and culture dictated was “not for me” was no longer an issue. I found that I wasn’t betraying my heritage; I wasn’t “going over to the other side” after all. Jesus is for us; He is on our side, and I now believe in the greatest Jew who ever lived! And how can any Jew feel guilty for believing what the Jewish prophets fortold?
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me he who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:1.(5:2 in Jewish Scriptures.)
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31.)