The Yom Kippur I Will Never Forget
I grew up in a loving Jewish home in the Baltimore area, with my mom, dad and younger sister. My parents were always very supportive. My mom in particular would encourage me to do well in school and tell me that I could be whatever I wanted.
I have many cherished family memories, especially of the holidays. I remember celebrating Passover, Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, usually with the extended family and always with great food.
I remember going to shul (Modern Orthodox) on Shabbos (most often around the major holidays and my bar mitzvah) and singing the songs in Hebrew and trying to read along in English. I remember some of the kiddushes after shul service, sometimes kugel, sometimes a dairy tray, always something sweet.
I also have some strong memories of praying to God. I would talk to Him in my own way, often in bed at night. I remember always believing in God, but I became very uncertain about and even negative towards some of the rituals of religion. After my bar mitzvah, my parents asked if I wanted to continue going to shul on Saturdays. That was easy to decide as a young teenager: No. It all seemed man-made and arbitrary.
Through high school and into college I was distant from God in my behavior and interests. During this time I really grew to enjoy arguing and got involved with drugs and alcohol.
After getting my undergraduate degree at Towson University, I moved to California to attend chiropractic college. While at Life Chiropractic College West in San Lorenzo, a Christian friend who I used to argue with about religion gave my contact info (unbeknownst to me at the time) to Jews for Jesus. One day in 1995, the phone rang; it was a man named Guillermo. He asked if we could meet and talk about the Messiah. I said, “Sure.” I loved to argue, and I thought it would be interesting to hear his view of the New Testament and Jesus. Then I planned to dismantle it.
My life was good. I had great friends, a good student life, good family back in Maryland, and I was enjoying life in California (especially Mexican food). I lived a party life in many ways, but I was able to keep up with my studies. I had no interest in following Jesus. Being Jewish, I knew enough to know that Jesus was not the Messiah and not for me.
Another guy from Jews for Jesus named Stephen Katz came with Guillermo to our first meeting, and we agreed to meet again. They gave me a New Testament that also included Messianic prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures that they said Jesus fulfilled. I remember reading the New Testament for the first time. It was nothing like what I expected. I was impressed with Jesus. Who wouldn’t be? He was good and loving, kind and helpful, yet stern and harsh with those who deserved it. He did miracles and spoke words that were more than profound. Clearly he was Jewish and claimed to be the Messiah. I remember reading his words about loving enemies and how to treat others, and thinking: Do Christians actually read this book?
All of it was a tremendous surprise. I also read More than a Carpenter and Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell. I continued to meet with Stephen because I had lots of questions: Is the Bible reliable? How can God be three-in-one (Father, Son and Holy Spirit)? Can you be Jewish and believe in Jesus? Most importantly I knew that our rabbis and sages had heard this story in the New Testament and determined that, for some reason, Jesus was not the Messiah. I wanted to know why and I wanted to know the truth.
I began to study some of the Messianic prophecies: Genesis 3:15, 49:10; Isaiah 7:14, 9:6, 53:1-12; Psalm 22:1-31; Jeremiah 31:31–34; Daniel 9:1-27; Zechariah 9:9; 12:10; and Micah 5:2. I could see how Jesus fulfilled those prophecies, but I could not move forward without hearing the other side.
I listened to a tape put out by a rabbi specially trained to refute Jesus’ claims. It was a relief, to be honest, because I was starting to see how the New Testament might be true, that Jesus could be the Messiah. How would I explain that to my family? After listening to the tape and all the arguments against Jesus being Messiah and the rabbi’s interpretation of the prophecies I had been studying, I felt much better. The rabbi’s arguments were well stated, very confident and agreeable to me.
But then Stephen and I went through each statement, every argument in more detail. Things were not as they first appeared. The rabbi’s statements were not entirely correct. The convincing statements he made actually turned out to be overstatements. He seemed to leave out or mischaracterize things I was certain he would know or know about. To me, the credibility of his arguments was damaged.
Several months had passed since I had received that phone call. I had done much studying, reading and praying. On Yom Kippur 1995 I did not go to shul, but I stayed home and did not attend my college classes in honor of the holiday. I read and reread Leviticus 16:1-34 (what the Hebrew Scriptures say about Yom Kippur, how it should be observed and what God says regarding sin, atonement and forgiveness).
Even though I was home, I knew what was happening in shul—the prayers, the fasting, the long periods of standing, the readings and sermons, beating of breasts and the heartfelt songs. And as beautiful and meaningful as those things are, what was not happening there was what God had prescribed and commanded. After all, there were no sacrifices, no goats and no blood. Why? Since 70 A.D. there has been no altar, no priesthood and no Temple. I understood they were destroyed and we were living in the Diaspora. But how were we to make atonement? How were we to approach God in our sins? How were we to be forgiven?
Even if good, sincere and learned men had come up with a form of Judaism without a Temple, was it enough? Were they right? And staring me in the face was the argument from the New Testament. Yeshua (Jesus) suffered, was crucified, died, was buried and rose again the third day, with witnesses and in accordance with the Hebrew Scriptures. He was sent to save us from our sins and to fulfill the sacrificial system. He said on the cross, “It is finished,” meaning our debt of sin had been paid in full. The solution was laid out and had been explained to me, and I had read it myself in this Jewish book, the New Testament.
I had found the answers to my questions: the Scriptures were reliable. The idea of the three-in-one nature of God was actually present in the Hebrew Scriptures. I had met Jews who believe in Jesus, had seen how in the first century almost all the followers of Jesus were Jewish, and I had listened to a rabbinic expert who rejected Jesus as Messiah. And now on Yom Kippur, after months of prayer and study, I acknowledged that Jesus was in fact who he claimed to be: our Messiah. I knew I needed forgiveness for my many sins and understood God’s gracious offer and good news, through His Son. That day I placed my faith and trust in him.
Today, twenty years later, I still love my people and I love my God. I continue to have my faith and trust in Him, seek to walk in His ways and am grateful to see His hand in my life.
Jason Meyerson lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with his wife and two children. He has been a practicing family chiropractor since 1996 and the pastor of Calvary Morning Light since 2011.