As I grew up, every Friday night my family would gather about the table. Mother lit the Sabbath candles. It was a special tradition, not for religious reasons, but because it was time we spent together. My brother and I learned of the holidays and traditions through our parents’ teaching, as well as by attending religious school.
While I knew I was Jewish and had a sense of belonging with other Jews, and felt a warmth toward my Jewish heritage, I did not relate being Jewish to my thoughts about God.
I became a firm atheist” during high school and came to feel that God was a crutch for those who couldn’t cope. I never did believe in a Messiah, but rather in a “Messianic Age”; a time when there would be peace and brotherhood brought about by people—not by God. I wanted to have a part in this; I decided to become a doctor and entered the biochemistry program at the University of California at Davis.
On my first day in the dormitory, I passed a room which had a sign in Hebrew on the door. It said, “Hineni.” I soon learned that this was the room of the dorm’s resident advisor. I asked why he had the sign on his door, and he explained that when God called the prophets, they answered “Hineni” in obedience to Him. He wanted to be available to God in the same way. I was slightly confused as to what one had to do with the other but conluded, “This guy is religious.” My confusion was compounded when I found his room full of Jewish items—a menorah and posters of Jerusalem—although I knew he was not Jewish. I couldn’t understand why a Gentile would be so interested in Jewish things, so I began asking questions. It wasn’t long before I learned that he believed Jesus is the Messiah. “So that’s the punchline of his talks,” I thought angrily. It was okay for him to believe in Jesus, but he was combining Jesus with Jewishness and that really bothered me.
After I got over my initial anger, I began talking with him more frequently. Actually, I didn’t talk as much as I argued. After six months of arguing, I finally dug out the Bible I had received from my synagogue. Although I wouldn’t admit it to anyone, my humanism had been shaken by talks with this Christian. I had wanted to work toward making the world a better place, but now I recognized that the world hadn’t gotten any better. Though technological knowledge had grown, our basic nature had not changed. I realized that the roots of the problems of history, such as pride and greed, were still present.
While reading my Bible one day, I came across Jeremiah 29:11-13:
For I am mindful of the plans I have made concerning you—declares the Lord—plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a hopeful future. When you call Me, and come and pray to Me, I will give heed to you. You will search for Me and you will find Me, if only you seek Me wholeheartedly.
I clung to these words, and it was at this point that I told God that if He were there, I truly wanted to know Him. At the same time I was frightened to find out if Jesus was the Messiah. Determined to find someone who could alleviate those fears, I called the leader of the Jewish organization on campus. I was quite upset when I arrived at his office, but he tried to reassure me by saying I was putting too much emphasis on God and the Bible. These, he explained, were not so important in Jewish thought today.
My talk with him only caused more turmoil. The school year ended, and I was still confused about Jesus. In many ways I was relieved to get away from my Christian friends. I went to talk to my rabbi, hoping to learn more about God in a strictly Jewish sense. As I told the rabbi of my desire, he asked, “Did you meet Christians who were trying to convert you?” I felt so relieved that he understood the situation without my having to explain it.
“Well, a lot of people were trying to ‘save’ me,” I admitted. “Does this happen to a lot of Jewish students when they leave home for the first time?” He said that it was common, and gave me some books that would better explain Judaism.
I read Basic Judaism, Where Judaism Differs, and This Is My God, but they did not clear up any of my confusion. The writers spoke of God in a personal way, yet they proposed that we could come to God without a mediator. Most of what these authors taught was not from the Bible (which I was continuing to read), and I couldn’t figure out how everything fit together.
Eventually, I got up enough nerve to read the New Testament. I was surprised to find that Jesus taught Jewish truths in a way that I could understand. Jewish people listened to him and many even accepted his teachings. Could I accept them, too?
I decided to delve more into the prophecies concerning the Messiah. When I read in my Bible where the Messiah was to be born, when he was to come, and how he was to die, I knew that Jesus’ claims were no prearrangged hoax.
My decision to believe in Jesus was not easy, no matter how much evidence God gave me. It still took faith. God gave me that faith, and His promise in Jeremiah 29 that I would find Him if I wholeheartedly sought Him came true.