My name is Karol Beth Joseph. I was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on August 16, 1952, the third of four children. My father, Alvin, was a certified public accountant. My mother, Renee, made a career of raising us kids.
I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, in a community so Jewish I only knew one gentile girl in my whole elementary school. Christmas was the only time I even noticed that the whole world was not Jewish. Suddenly, programs about Jesus appeared on television and Santas showed up on street corners. When I asked my parents why we couldn’t celebrate Christmas, they explained that we were Jews, and Jews don’t believe in Jesus.
Bagels and lox and whitefish were a Sunday ritual in our house, and challah, chicken soup and gefilte fish were abundant on Friday evenings. Each year, we drove to Brooklyn to celebrate Passover with my mother’s family. Someone always suggested that we skip parts of the seder and move straight to dinner. Despite the distraction of the tantalizing aromas, I always sided with the family members fighting to go through the whole service. I was also the only child willing to recite the four questions, even after my younger sister Patti was old enough to say them.
My father was raised Orthodox, but he and my mother raised us in a Conservative Jewish home. Dad always wanted to go back to the Orthodox synagogue for High Holiday services, and when I was seven or eight years old I started to go with him. Nobody else was interested, but somehow, that shul felt more “holy” to me.
I truly wanted to connect with God. I never doubted that God existed. My mother often joked that one day I would marry a rabbi because, even as a child, I always said I was going to read through the whole Bible. Despite many noble attempts, somehow I never made it past Leviticus.
I began Hebrew school in second grade and attended faithfully. But after my bat mitzvah and graduation from Hebrew school, my involvement in synagogue deteriorated. I was as Jewish as ever culturally, but I no longer looked to Judaism for spiritual answers. It was the late sixties, and drugs and Eastern religions suddenly seemed very appealing.
During college I studied Eastern religions, both in class and on my own. Buddhism attracted me the most. I liked the idea of breaking the cycle of bondage and achieving nirvana through my own efforts. The fact that Buddhism treats men and women as equals made it even more appealing.
I was no longer thinking about pleasing or displeasing God; I was just looking for something meaningful and something that would help me deal with my fears.
Fear often seemed to dominate my life. As a child, and well into my teens, I was terrified of fire. As a young adult, I was afraid to leave my apartment. I imagined that someone would break into my apartment while I was gone and wait to harm me when I returned. Most of all, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to support myself and live a functional life.
I managed to hide my anxieties under a covering of success. I graduated from the University of Vermont with a B.A. in sociology, entered the professional world and established myself in the health care industry. Yet, secretly I feared that people would somehow discover that I wasn’t as smart or as capable as the positions I held warranted.
In 1984 I was working on a Ph.D. in health care policy at Brandeis University. Fearing I wouldn’t pass an economics class, I hired Chris—one of the brightest students in the class—to tutor me.
One night, after our study time, Chris told me that he was a Christian. I was 32 years old and had never met anyone who confessed to being a Christian. To think that such a talented scholar would take the Bible so seriously captured my attention. I had accepted the common belief that the Bible is a mixture of Jewish history, myth and good moral teaching, but not the Word of God. It was startling to think that someone as intelligent as Chris would take the Bible literally.
What impressed me about Chris even more than his intelligence was his peace. He was always calm. He knew that God existed, he knew that God was the God of the Bible, and he knew why he believed what he believed. In fact, he knew more about my Bible and more about Jewish history than I did. I was jealous of the peace he had, yet I knew that what he believed couldn’t be for me—because I was Jewish.
When Chris showed me the 53rd chapter from the prophet Isaiah, I could not believe that I was seeing something from the Jewish Scriptures. As soon as I got home I checked my own Bible. Sure enough, the passage Chris had read was the same. I was amazed by how clearly it seemed to describe the Christian view of Jesus.
In the meantime, I saw an ad in The Boston Globe from a group called Jews for Jesus. They offered a free book called Testimonies, which I ordered. I was shocked to read about Jews who actually believed in Jesus. Some time later, Jews for Jesus sent a letter asking if I wanted further information, and I ordered a booklet called Questions and Answers. I also indicated that I would be willing to talk with someone from Jews for Jesus.
During this time I faced a problem that I knew I could not handle without God. And when I called out to him for help, I was amazed that he answered.
Despite various fears, I had proven to be pretty self-disciplined and competent in most areas of my life. But there was one area which always seemed to get the best of me—food. It was clearly an addiction and an obsession. I could diet with the best of them . . . for a while. But inevitably I would gain all the weight back and then some. I continued to ride this roller coaster for many years. Occasionally, I was a borderline anorexic, but usually I was overeating. I was out of control.
A friend suggested that I go with her to an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. From my first meeting I knew I was a compulsive overeater and that I would never be able to handle my problem by my own strength and willpower. This program suggested that I turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understood him.
So I asked God for his help. The people at the program said that I’d need to abstain from sugar and flour to break the eating cycle. So that is what I asked God to help me do: abstain from eating sugar or flour for one day, just one day. At the end of the day, God had answered my prayer—talk about a miracle!
Day after day God continued to answer my prayer and help me do what I could not do for myself. I soon realized that God could and would restore me completely, if I would turn my will and life over to him. I began to pray every morning, “God, show me your will for me and I promise I’ll do it—no questions asked.” It was during one such prayer that I felt a tug on my heart: What are you going to do about Jesus?
I wondered if the tug was from God. I felt certain that the Jewish God would not want me to believe in Jesus, but I decided to ask him about it. For three weeks straight, every morning I asked God to show me if Jesus was really the Messiah. I also prayed that if Jesus was not the Messiah, God would protect me from believing in him and thus committing idolatry.
The truth is, I was afraid to believe in Jesus because I knew that if I did, my friends and family would consider me an outsider and a traitor. But when I weighed my fears against the possibility of having a personal relationship with the God of the universe, what choice did I have?
After those three weeks of prayer, I had lunch with Chris one afternoon in late October 1988. At one point during our meal he looked at me and said, “I think you are ready to accept Jesus.” In that moment I knew that I already had. A week later, a man named Steve from Jews for Jesus called in response to the card I’d mailed in when I ordered the booklet.
“I can’t believe you’re calling now,” I said to him. “I just came to believe in Jesus, and I don’t know what do next.” Steve and I began to study the Bible together weekly, and he was able to help me navigate some of the questions and concerns I had as a Jewish believer in Jesus.
More than 25 years have passed since God gave me new life in Jesus and took away my fears. It still amazes me when I reflect back on who I was before encountering Jesus and what he has enabled me to do, fearlessly, in the years since. Had I not found Jesus, I know that my life would have continued to be filled with anxieties and fears, and the depression that often accompanies them. With him, however, I have found that peace (shalom) that transcends all understanding, peace that is nothing less than supernatural. My hope is that you also find that in him.
Download Karol’s story in E-Book format:
Nothing to Fear: A Jews for Jesus Testimony Booklet
by Karol Joseph
Adobe PDF (246 KB)