My parents came from Russia to the United States in 1911. My mother used to tell me stories of the atrocities and pogroms suffered by our people there at Passover time. A gentile child would be hidden, and we Jews would be accused of killing him and using his blood to make matzohs. Then great persecution would follow. At Easter time the Russian priests, wearing expensive robes, marched through the streets carrying a very large cross, which frightened many people and started new riots.
Jews were not allowed to own land in Russia. My grandfather, a peddler, would keep his horse on a gentile’s land. One Saturday night, he went to pay the rent for this privilege and was attacked by the peasant’s dog, causing my grandfather a very painful death by rabies. This left my grandmother a young widow with many small children.
These were the memories passed on to me, a first-generation American. I was born in 1916 in Brooklyn, New York. My family fled Russia for this haven of freedom. But life was difficult and money was scarce. Nearby in Williamsburg, there was a dispensary run by a former rabbi, Leopold Cohn. It was called Beth Sar Shalom (the American Board of Missions to the Jews shown on the left). The doctor’s fee was 15 cents if you could afford it, or else it was free. The medicine was also free.
A Miss Sussdorf of the mission came to our home to inquire about our health and invited the family to come to meetings where we could learn about Jesus, their Messiah. I was taught by my mother that gentiles go to hell because they worship three gods, and we Jews go to heaven because we worship one God (Deut. 6:4). Also, the more good deeds we do to earn mitzvahs, the greater our reward in heaven. My mother was not interested in Jesus, but the mission had a women’s sewing class; and since she was a trained seamstress, she joined that class. As for me, she let me attend meetings since she regarded the mission as a lace for lonely people without means to meet and make friends.
I enjoyed the kindergarten classes at Beth Sar Shalom. Being very bright, I learned to memorize verses from the Bible, even whole chapters. Friday and Sunday night meetings were in Yiddish only. After kindergarten, I attended other classes geared to my age and was impressed by the love these predominantly gentile teachers had for us Jewish children.
You see, there was no love between Jew and gentile in my youth. When gentile children accused me of killing their God, I learned to make a fist, sock them in both eyes quickly and under the chin, then bang them hard on the back. I did not know Jesus and I did not kill him: that was my answer to them.
On Friday nights we would go to the public baths to be clean for Shabbos. We were forced to go a roundabout way to avoid the gentiles who were waiting to persecute us. In some ways, Brooklyn was similar to the Russia my mother knew.
Yet I continued to be drawn to the mission and the classes they taught. Our fellow Jews said that the mission would make me into a gentile and that no Jewish boy would want to marry me. False stories were spread of how the mission branded us with crosses. We kids made sure that if anyone suspicious was at the front door of the mission, we would exit the side door. I didn’t want to become a gentile, so at Bible time in class my behavior was atrocious, causing the teacher much grief.
At 14 years of age, I realized that I had to come to terms with God and His truth. I was a bright but unloving child, a ringleader in a fight and a sinner. I wanted the peace and love that my Bible teacher, Miss Dorothy Rose (on right), had. I realized that for me to be a true Jew, I had to believe like, Moses, Isaiah, Zechariah, Daniel and all the prophets that Jesus was God come in the form of man. He died for me that I might spend eternity with him. I invited Jesus to come into my life and he did.
I asked my teacher, Miss Rose, to forgive me for all the tearful nights I caused her. She said they were not only tearful, but prayerful. God heard her prayers!
I was not exactly quiet about my new-found faith. The neighbors, knowing what I now believed, would shame my mother and curse after me in the streets and call me names. When I wanted to be baptized, my mother said she’d throw herself off the roof if I did. My mother would cry to God, asking Him what sin she had committed that her daughter should become a gentile. She would ask me, Are you smarter than the rabbis?” My answer to her was from Isaiah 29: 13-14.
Then the Lord said, “Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be concealed.”
“Ma,” I would say, “which one of my accusers has opened the Tenach and which one believes what the prophets say? Don’t blame me if I prefer to believe what God wrote in the only book that tells the truth of God, the Bible.”
I do believe, you see not because it’s convenient, for that’s hardly been the case. I believe because God has given me a peace and a joy in my heart that only He can give—a joy that’s hard to contain.
Oh, I did marry a Jewish boy, Joe. He too believes in Jesus, and how he came to the same conclusion I did is another story. Together, we’ve seen many Jews and gentiles come to know the Jewish Messiah. I could write many more pages about our 46 years of marriage and ministry for the Messiah, but the editor says it’s better to get some letters asking more about what God has done to and through Clara Rubin before I go on anymore. so I’ll wait for you to write and ask for more.