I was raised in the Reform Jewish tradition but grew up in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Indianapolis. I attended the local public schools and was, at times, singled out as a Jew in school. I always associated myself with the Jewish community, but because of our Reform tradition, I was not always accepted by the Orthodox Jews in my neighborhood. I remember playing with my friends Shalom and Betsalel, who couldn’t eat in my house because we weren’t kosher enough, even though my family was vegetarian and never had meat in the house anyway!
During my childhood, our Reform synagogue went through a number of rabbis, perhaps because we were in Indianapolis and not in a major metropolitan center like Chicago or someplace warm like San Diego. These rabbis each came with their own flavor, forms of worship and interpretations of the Torah. One rabbi told us that it didn’t matter if we believed in God. Another said that Reform Judaism should be more about our good deeds than about traditions. This brought me religious confusion, which only fueled my apathy for attending Sunday school every week. I was a straight-A student in school, but when it came to synagogue I was the kid with my head down on the desk, asleep. It got so bad that my mother had to bribe me with a batch of home-made French toast into not complaining every Sunday morning. So I plodded along and even attended Hebrew school to become a bar mitzvah like every other kid in the neighborhood.
It didn’t help my struggle with religion that I was at times picked on at public school and told by a friend or two that I was burning in hell because I was Jewish. Nor did it help that houses in my neighborhood were sometimes egged around Easter, since we were singly blamed for Jesus’ death. These incidents reinforced the idea that Christianity was evil and that believing in Jesus was unacceptable, even if he seemed like a nice enough guy to me. I recall asking one of my rabbis about the afterlife and the Messiah. He said we didn’t need to worry about the afterlife; we should be more concerned about the life we are living now. And he said that we are all the Messiah that can change the world. His first answer seemed wise, the second insane.
My parents were always very loving and supportive, and we had a wonderful relationship most of the time. They each had a love for the arts and fought for good causes. Thus, from a young age I studied ballet, art, music and theater. I volunteered for food drives and at an animal shelter. By the end of high school I had acted and danced professionally, found my niche in the drug-filled theater world, and was extremely liberal and outspoken to the point of being brash and prideful. In college I dabbled in the occult, smoked marijuana and was open to anything. But I was very much conflicted by the way I was living. At the time, I would have said that I was a noble and honorable person, but I would have also quickly admitted I was sinful.
At age twenty, in the middle of my university studies, I traveled on the Birthright program to Poland (in connection with the March of the Living) and to Israel. This trip reconnected me with my Judaism and made me believe in God. After seeing Auschwitz and Majdanek, places filled with such death, I was amazed at the life I saw in Israel. God had brought our Jewish people back home, and I wanted nothing more than to stay. But being a good Jewish boy, I listened to my mother’s plea to finish my bachelor’s degree before returning to the Holy Land. My newly found belief in God caused me to pray a bit at nights, but I was still far from having any kind of connection with Him.
When I finally moved to Israel in August 2005 to pursue a master’s degree, God got my attention. I had gone to church meetings and youth groups with friends, but I had never been taught about Yeshua (Jesus) in any way that I would consider believing in him. But within a few weeks of arriving in Israel, I had met two university students who invited me to attend a local Messianic congregation. Even though I thought it might be a waste of my time, I decided to go. I was amazed to see Israelis, some wearing tallitot and kippot, all believing that Yeshua is the Messiah. This felt both foreign and welcoming at the same time. After attending a few meetings, I was intrigued by the love they demonstrated for the needy and the community around them. Out of a desire to know more, I began regularly attending the congregation as well as a weekly home group with young people. I even began reading the New Testament and was surprised to see its connections to the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures). At one meeting, a young man challenged me to pray to God every night, asking Him to reveal to me if Yeshua is the prophesied Messiah. I decided to do it.
Before I knew it, I had some very unusual dreams. I wrote the dreams in my journal and wondered what they meant. When the congregation announced that there was going to be a weeklong seminar about dreams and Bible prophecy, I knew I had to attend.
The moment I entered the room on the first night of the seminar, I had a strange feeling that one particular woman standing up front was going to tell me something. For the next few nights, I sat back and listened to the teachings about prophecy in the Bible and how God was still alive and speaking to people. On the final day, the leaders asked us to write down our dreams on a piece of paper. They collected our slips of paper and privately read through all the dreams during the course of the day. Out of the 25 or so submitted, the leaders decided to speak about my dream! The interpretation one of the leaders gave of my dream was interesting. But the thing that amazed me was that the leaders had picked my dream because they evidently felt that God was speaking to me. And they had no idea that, unlike most of the people at the seminar, I had not yet come to believe in Yeshua.
At the end of that session, the woman whom I’d had the peculiar feeling about just days before came up to me, without knowing anything about me, and said, “God hears your prayers! Yeshua is real! And He has great plans for your life.” I began weeping uncontrollably, because I knew God had sent her in answer to my prayers. At that moment I knew that Yeshua was the prophesied Messiah who was sacrificed as the Levitical sin offering for all that I had done wrong. He was not pointing his finger at me in accusation like the kids in school, but was offering me his welcoming arms and the promise of eternal life. Within a month I was baptized in the Mediterranean Sea and began my new life as a Jew who had found the Messiah.
It has now been over ten years since I made the leap to believe in Yeshua. My desire for drugs and my love of cursing faded quickly. Now that I have found real answers in the Scriptures, my religious confusion is a thing of the past. I have had to work through some issues, but God has been working through them with me. I married a woman I met at the university and decided to stay in Israel with my people. We now have two young Israeli children. Our daughter, who is in first grade, speaks Hebrew fluently. Our son is in preschool. Yeshua has truly changed my life.