I climbed into the hardwood seat, which was padded with a green velvet cushion. Then I tilted my head back ’til I could feel the strain in my neck. This was the best way to view the immense beauty of our synagogue. I was 5 years old, and fascinated by the vast dome that was the pride of our sanctuary. Suspended from the very center of the dome there was an enormous gold Star of David. I think it must have been about five times as big as I was. There were many lovely gold decorations in our synagogue. As a child I thought to myself, It is good to be Jewish. Our God loves us and does miracles for his people. I will learn more about God and what it means to be Jewish.”
I came to the synagogue every week for Sunday school. Our family was attending a Reform synagogue at the time. A few years later, my father died and my mother remarried a Conservative Jewish man. I was very excited that our family was going to become more religious, because I was always eager to learn about God. My new dad even kept kosher. It was confusing at first to know which silverware was proper to use with what. But I thrived on my Conservative upbringing.
We looked forward to all the holiday celebrations, but I especially remember Passover. Every year we would celebrate the first night by having a seder at my aunt’s house. She lived in a grand old house. It had three stories and a cellar, where my uncle would make his homemade horseradish—one small whiff was enough to clear anybody’s sinuses! The second night, we would celebrate at our home. And I still think my mother makes the best matzoh ball soup in the world. Why? Her matzoh balls are the perfect consistency. They are firm enough so they don’t fall apart in the soup, but not so firm you could break a window with one.
I remember the whirlwind of activity around my brother’s bar mitzvah. Watching him learn his lessons and seeing the festive preparations made for the big event made me feel very lucky to be Jewish. When my parents asked me if I would like to continue my Jewish education and become bat mitzvah, I eagerly accepted the opportunity. After my bat mitzvah ceremony I continued coming to synagogue. I even helped instruct some of the younger boys and girls in their lessons.
I had always been hungry to learn about God, but by the time I reached 15 years of age, my hunger had become a quest. I spent the summer in Israel with an Orthodox family on a moshav. (A moshav is a communal structure similar to a kibbutz. One difference is that the family unit is kept intact. The children live at home rather than being raised by others.) I had never been exposed to Orthodox lifestyle before and it was wonderful. I can still picture the people of Nir Galim standing in front of the synagogue before services. But my fondest memory is of the times we spent after Shabbat services. We would walk throughout the entire village, talking, singing and getting to know one another.
When I returned to the United States, I began trying to keep as much of the Law as I could. It was the only thing I could think to do that might bring me closer to God. I looked forward to returning to Israel, and when I was 17 I spent another summer there. But as much as I attempted to keep the Law and be a good Jew, I realized that my questions about getting closer to God were still unanswered.…
After my return from Israel, I began to see that being religious does not necessarily make for intimacy with the Creator. I asked my rabbi why it was that we believed the miracles of the Tanakh happened, but did not believe the miracles that Jesus was supposed to have done. Mind you, I was not particularly interested in Jesus; I was interested in God and miracles and seeing some evidence of his care for us. The rabbi told me that Jesus had lied and deceived the people and that we were to have nothing to do with him. He never answered my question. Nor did he offer evidence to back what he said about Jesus. I stopped asking questions for a while. At least, I stopped asking them out loud.
I went away to college and for the first time in my life, I started seeking the answers to life’s questions outside of Judaism. I studied existentialism and looked into a number of Eastern religions…I even became a vegetarian for a while. Yet, religions and philosophies were not satisfying my desire to know God. I became friends with a Christian, the first person who really talked to me seriously about Jesus. I assumed that most non-Jews were Christians, but there was something different about Larry. I’d ask him, “So what did you do last night?” and he’d tell me he’d been up ’til two in the morning reading Psalms. Reading Psalms! Everyone else was down on 6th Street, enjoying the restaurants and bars typical of a college town, and this guy was reading Psalms. On the one hand, it seemed strange, on the other hand, I was fascinated that Larry thought enough of God to spend every free moment reading about him, or talking to him, or singing songs about him.
Suddenly, I was getting answers to my questions and it was making me nervous. Larry seemed to know a great deal about God and about the Bible, but he believed in Jesus. Hadn’t the rabbi said we were to have nothing to do with Jesus? I knew that my family would be terribly upset if I became a Christian.
Larry challenged me to read about Jesus in the New Testament. I read it, and to my own astonishment, I knew it was true. The prophecies fit together. The need for atonement and God’s plan of securing it were in keeping with the Tanakh. But oh, the wrestling match that was taking place inside me. I was 24 years old. I had everything I thought a person my age could want. The last thing I wanted to do was turn my world upside down by making a decision I knew would be unacceptable to my family and friends.
It must have been about the third day of the struggle when I took a walk in the park. I had been listening to cassettes of the Bible on a portable tape recorder. When I came to a large amphitheater, I had an urge to hear what the Bible would sound like broadcast over a sound system. There was no one around, and since I found the system in operating order, I slipped a cassette in and waited. I already believed in Jesus intellectually, but hearing the gospel fill the air moved my heart. I prayed right there in the park and accepted Jesus as Messiah.
That was two years ago. Since that time I have met many other Jewish believers in Jesus, and have found that my beliefs do not detract from my Jewish identity. If anything, I have more appreciation for my God and my people than I’ve had since childhood. The seeds of my faith were planted in the synagogue, where I learned of the miracles God did for our people. Because I believed, I had to know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob personally. And now, because of Jesus, I do.