I was raised in San Francisco in a Reform Jewish home where the only thing I really understood about being Jewish was that Jews didn’t believe in Jesus. I was never told why; I just accepted it. I never paid much mind to religion, but I prided myself on being a Jew because I knew it made me different from my gentile friends. And I liked being different.
I went to religious school when I was little, and we celebrated some of the holidays, but my parents gave me the choice of whether I wanted to have a bat mitzvah. I started taking Hebrew lessons, but my teacher’s strict teaching style coupled with my lack of interest in studying made me drop out, so no bat mitzvah.
As I grew into my teens, my interests were far from spiritual. I did ask deep questions, and I did have a hunger for truth, but what I really wanted was to write music and sing in a band. At sixteen a friend and I got together, and he recorded us performing some of his music, along with some covers. Around that same time, I got a job working as a receptionist at one of the Bay Area’s top recording studios. It was while I worked there that I was introduced to the world of rock and roll in all its glory, and that just made me want to pursue my dream even more. Life couldn’t be more exciting for me, as I was meeting famous people and bands like Santana, Journey, Huey Lewis and the News, Ronnie Montrose, and others. But my real passion was British rock and British style, so at eighteen I moved to London, England.
Living in London was hard. My boyfriend from the U.S. came to join me, and it was soon after that that trouble started. He began treating me poorly, but because I didn’t find London to be the friendliest place, I clung to him. I felt vulnerable and trapped, but I still tried to make a life for myself.
I was offered a recording contract with a small independent label, but I had to leave England because my visa expired. Feeling uncertain about my future, I flew home without my boyfriend and tried to get my thoughts together. Eventually he came to San Francisco, where I was living, but our relationship only got worse.
Where my life was headed, I wasn’t sure, and heavy questions began to plague me.
We spent some time in my boyfriend’s hometown in Pennsylvania. The town was small, and I was likely among only a handful of Jews. One day I decided to go to the local library to check out some books on Judaism. I thought I could find the answers to life’s biggest and most difficult questions in my religion. I was Jewish. Why shouldn’t I find answers in Judaism? I found two or three books on the subject, and I began reading. But what everything in the books seemed to boil down to was that if I wanted to be happy, I must choose to obey God by observing His laws. All I could think was that I was already in a relationship with a guy whom I could never seem to please, so why would I want to enter into a relationship with a God who is just going to make more demands on my life? Not only that, I questioned whether it was really possible to live a life pleasing to God by just obeying his rules. Disillusioned, I closed the books, but the questions wouldn’t go away.
After a year in Pennsylvania, we were back in San Francisco. Nothing had really changed, but we seemed to be stuck. Seeing me in such great emotional pain, my brother and my best friend began to share with me a way that they believed I could find peace, joy, and purpose in my life, as well as the answers to my questions. I was resistant because they were trying to get me to consider the claims of Jesus. They kept telling me that I would not regret at least learning about him in the New Testament. They also said I could find references to him in the Hebrew Scriptures. “But why would I want to become a follower of Jesus?” I argued. “I have a direct connection to God because I am a Jew. I don’t need a mediator!” This kind of interaction went on for a long time, as my life became more and more directionless and seemingly purposeless.
By this time I’d started singing in my boyfriend’s band. They were all brothers and very talented. Joining his band was a mistake though, because it only added to the tension in our relationship. So my partying intensified to numb the pain, and my boyfriend’s treatment of me got worse. Finally, he abruptly left me, and the band fired me.
The two things that were most important to me—my boyfriend and my band—were gone. I was a complete mess and seriously in need of help!
One late night, as I was lying alone on my bed after an evening of heavy partying, I was overcome with deep sadness and emptiness. What I felt was unlike any kind of grief I had ever experienced. In a state of utter desperation, I decided to pick up the New Testament that my brother had given me. It was a tiny blue book that I had tucked away in the drawer of my dresser. I started reading Matthew, the first book of the New Testament. What I read stunned me. It was the genealogy of Jesus. Jesus was a Jew! I knew this to be true, but I had never given it much thought. But there it was in front of me: he was related to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, King David and Solomon, and the list went on. I began to question: “Okay, if he’s Jewish, maybe it’s okay for me to read this…and maybe even trust it.” I kept reading. What I began to notice was that he gathered people around him regardless of their ethnicity, their position in life, or their religious background. He met with people where they were. The people he would talk to didn’t have to be religious Jews, those who observed the Torah unswervingly. No, he spoke to the “sinners,” the rejects of the world, the broken people, because they had a hunger to know the truth. They needed healing, and they needed hope. They needed to be loved in spite of their circumstances.
That was me.
That night in my apartment God’s presence was tangible. I began crying, and I couldn’t stop. At once, I was filled with joy and sorrow, joy that I felt a freedom I had never experienced before, and sorrow that I had refused to accept the truth about Jesus for so long. I wept over my years of seeking love and approval from others instead of resting in the love, acceptance, and salvation my Creator provided though His Son. I wept over seeking my own glory instead the glory of the one true God. But even through the tears, I was struggling to accept that Jesus was who I really needed. What would all this mean for me?
As I cried out for help, God began comforting and healing me. He gave me a peace that I’d never experienced before, a peace that helped me trust that I needn’t worry about my future. In a sense, He gave me a new song—which gave my life a purpose. I knew eventually I’d have to deal with the question of how this decision might affect my understanding of what it means to be Jewish, but thankfully I was aware of other Jews who believed in Jesus, and they were able to help me see that I didn’t stop being a Jew because of my new faith. Jesus never told his disciples—who all happened to be Jewish—that they would no longer be Jews. Perhaps some of their practices changed, but for the most part, they continued doing what they had always done as Jews. What did change were their hearts. For once they received Jesus as their promised Messiah, the way they lived and the way they worshiped God were revolutionized. Like me, they had been set free.