If I had remained in the city of my birth (Buffalo, New York) my neighbors, my friends and my surroundings would have been Jewish. But when I was six, my family moved South (of Buffalo, anyway) to a town called East Aurora, 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, uppermiddle 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 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.
I took trips into Buffalo to spend time with relatives and participate in events of Jewish life, such as going to Temple services on holidays, lighting Hanukkah candles, going to bar mitzvahs and weddings, eating special foods and listening to stories of Jewish life told by my grandfather. 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 that were “not for us.” 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.
Years later, in college, into my life came a girl who was different from other gentiles I had known. Jesus was important to her. 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.…
No, my life had no room for Jesus. After all, if he was who she said he was, why had my parents, my grandfather and other relatives told me otherwise? I felt guilty for even considering that this might be true. 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 knew God would want me to believe in Jesus if all that I had read and 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 foretold?
But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity (Micah 5:2).
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine” (John 8:31).