Renee Abend wrote the following thoughts in 1997:
As a child I listened to the prayers and reading from the Torah during a bar mitzvah service and thought it sounded beautiful. But what does it all mean?” I wondered. I always wanted to know more about God, but there never seemed to be much opportunity to learn. My mother and father and younger sister and I all celebrated the major Jewish holidays and festivals, but we rarely attended synagogue.
Our family was close-knit. My mother’s parents were always with us for Rosh Hashanah. Grandma was a superb cook and the smell of her chicken soup, kreplach and rugulah filled the house for a week before the holiday. On Erev Rosh Hashanah we pulled out the special table and set it with the best dishes and the good silverware and glasses. Then all the relatives poured into our house.
Passover was another of my favorite holidays. We always read the story of the Exodus. As I grew older, I began to wonder why God no longer did such wonderful things for us. I remember asking my mother, “Has God stopped loving us?”
“Well then why doesn’t he do miracles for us today?”
“God does still love us,” she replied. “He’s just waiting for us to love him back.”
“Well, how do we do that?”
She didn’t really have an answer to that question. I was about 14 years old at this time and I decided to try and find the answer on my own. I had been taught that there was a God and that he loved me and that he knew everything about me. “Well if he knows so much about me, I should get to know something about him,” I reasoned.
Like most kids, I liked watching Sunday morning TV. Before “Wonderama” came on, there were always these stories, “This is the Life.” I remember they spoke about someone named Jesus. And so I asked about him, but was told that he was the God of the gentiles and Jewish people don’t believe in him. I was told not to mention his name. “What a shame,” I thought, “because he sounds wonderful. If everyone believed in him and treated each other the way they did on these shows, life would be much better.” I watched “This is the Life” for many years, and wished that I could believe. But I was Jewish.
I thought maybe I should pray, but all I knew of prayer is that it was in Hebrew and it was said very fast. I didn’t know Hebrew and so I didn’t feel as though I could really pray or ask God anything.
I tried reading the Tanakh, but after the stories in Genesis and Exodus I got stuck at Leviticus and could read no further. “Why does God make it so hard to know him?” I wondered.
A few years later, when I entered Queens College I wanted to become part of a group where I could find friends and perhaps even a boyfriend (or husband). So I went to the Hillel Center. There I met lots of great Jewish friends, including a wonderful man named Richard, and his sister, Carole. Richard and I soon began dating.
In 1976, I decided to lose some weight. I joined a group called Overeaters Anonymous and met Caryl, one of the sponsors. She told me that the first thing I should do was turn my life over to a “higher power.” Well the only “power” I could think of was God—but how could I turn my life over to him? “He seems so impersonal and distant,” I told Caryl. Then she told me about a God who was more personal—Jesus. “I don’t believe in Jesus; I’m Jewish,” I told her. She tried to explain to me that Jesus was Jewish and that believing in him was a very Jewish thing to do—but I wouldn’t listen.
In the meantime, I married the wonderful man, Richard. Soon after, in 1981, something very strange happened. His sister, Carole, told me she believed that Jesus was the Messiah. It was unfathomable to me that a Jewish person could embrace this belief. Didn’t she know what havoc it would cause the family?
One Friday night, Carole invited me to a “Bible study” so I could check out what she’d come to accept as true. We traveled into Manhattan together, to a hotel on the West Side. When I walked in I discovered that the group Carole had become involved with was Jews for Jesus. I hoped that I could save Carole from this cult she had joined and restore peace to our family. “She just needs to realize that you can’t be Jewish and believe in Jesus. It just doesn’t make any sense,” I thought.
Yet the people I met that night certainly seemed Jewish. The speaker talked about Purim and explained that the story of Esther showed that God always watches over his people. I had to admit that his words were thought-provoking.
That evening Carole and I spoke about many things: Jesus, the state of the world at the time, and what God expected of us. Over the next few weeks, I began to read the Bible for myself, both the Tanakh and the portion known as the “New Testament.” I’d always been told that the New Testament wasn’t for Jewish people, but as I read the Gospel of John, I was astounded at how Jewish the message seemed.
And as I began to read some of the prophecies in Scripture, I became even more amazed to see how God protected his people. Suddenly, I saw the rebirth of the modern state of Israel as further evidence of God’s protection. “He does still do great things for us,” I thought. God made promises to his people and even today, after so much disaster has befallen us, the mere fact that we exist says something extraordinary about God’s power and love.
And then I began to read prophecies about the Redeemer that God promised to send to Israel. I so didn’t want the prophecies to point to Jesus, but everything I read seemed to indicate that Jesus was the one the prophets wrote about.
I came to a point where I had to decide if I believed in the God of Scripture and in Jesus or if it was all a hoax. There seemed to be no other option.
On March 19, 1982, I made a decision. A woman named Shayna had been sharing with me about sin and a covering sacrifice, like at Yom Kippur, and asked me if I would accept that Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for all my wrongdoing and the only way to God. I knew that if it was possible to have a relationship with God, I wanted it. I still remember the sensation of a weight being lifted from me that night as I prayed in a car parked in front of my apartment building, telling Jesus that if he was true then I wanted him to be my Savior.
Since that night, I have experienced the close relationship with God I’ve always wanted. I know that he is real and that he loves me. And I love him, too. He has led me through many trials and comforted me when no one else could. He has shown me how to treat people with dignity.
I wouldn’t trade my relationship with God through Jesus for anything. At the same time, my husband Richard remains adamant in refusing to hear about Jesus. It is so difficult sometimes being in disagreement with someone so close to me and whom I love so very much. I continue to pray for him and hope that one day God will open his eyes.