My Family’s Response: Disbelief, Denial and Expulsion
I must confess this is not an easy task. It is difficult to write about my family’s reaction to my faith in Jesus since it is not a happy story nor a pretty picture. It is important to understand that my family’s reaction was not normal, neither for my parents nor my brother. I was raised in a good, loving, caring and, for the most part, civil home. I have learned to comprehend why my family felt and reacted the way they did, but I do not purport to have an explanation. I do not want you to think that everything I did to them was right or even good.
I was born in Israel, but my family moved to New York when I was in my teens. While attending Stony Brook University, I met my wife, Dinah, a Jewish believer in Yeshua (Jesus). She told me about Yeshua, and in December 1997 I came to believe in him as well. I told my parents about my faith right away. Their first reaction was one of disbelief and denial. I don’t think that they really understood what I was talking about. In the following weeks and months, from time to time, my parents would mock my beliefs. It was hurtful at times, but understandable. They were secular Jews, and even the Orthodox Jewish faith seems extreme and silly to them. Now that I, their son, had become a believer in Messiah—a Jew for Jesus, a “religious fanatic”—the way they reacted was only natural. They thought it was only a matter of time before I would stop believing. But while they scornfully looked the other way, I was growing in my faith and knowledge of God’s Word.
The Ripping of the Bibles
Around February 1998, my mom told me that my faith must cease. She was yelling and screaming as she rushed up to my room, took my two Bibles, ripped them apart and tossed them into the garbage. I was shocked. She said that I was not to see or hang out with any Christians. She forbade me from going to church. When I tried to explain why that was impossible, she threatened, “It is going to be that way or you’re free to leave our home.” I was naïve and thought that I could remain living at home and hide my faith.
This initial incident began a period during which my parents did all that they could to make sure I submitted to their new rules. My dad followed me to school, and I was not allowed to go to church on Sundays. My independence was taken away. I was no longer allowed to come and go from my house freely. One day when I returned home from school, my dad took me in to see Rabbi Tovia Singer, who at the time was the head of Outreach Judaism. I didn’t know that we were driving to New Jersey to see one of the most famous anti-missionaries.* The meeting with Rabbi Singer lasted about four hours. Using the Hebrew Scriptures, he did all he could to convince me that Jesus was not the Jewish Messiah. The meeting was polite and cordial, but it disturbed me that, at the end of our time together, my dad handed Rabbi Singer a check. Was this a business transaction?
We were in the car on the way home when I told my dad that he should ask for a refund because I still believed in Yeshua. The sanctions on my life continued. Next came a family intervention. My parents brought in an expert in cults to meet with me and prove that I was brainwashed and crazy. That didn’t work either, but my parents continued to prevent me from practicing my faith.
So, at the age of nineteen, I decided that it was time for me to follow my mom’s suggestion and leave. I planned to move on a morning when my mom was out of town and my dad was at work. I decided to quickly pack my things, write a note, and leave the house. To my surprise, my dad came home just as I was leaving. He was outraged. Out of character, he got physical with me. In that moment, he was far from the loving dad I had known. I was able to run out of the house, leaving my things behind, and escape. I realized that the only way for me to leave with my things without him chasing after me was to call the police. They came and allowed me to gather my belongings and get away without being tailed.
In the months that followed this traumatic event, I didn’t have much interaction with my parents. I saw them a few times and we also spoke over the phone now and again. But even those interactions were charged, and we fought a great deal. I can see now how I could have responded better to their opposition and confess that I was far from perfect.
Falling in Love
And yet, during this season, some wonderful things occurred. Dinah and I fell in love and decided to get married. My parents were invited to the wedding but refused to come. I was surprised when my brother agreed to attend, and I decided to honor him by inviting him to be my best man. He accepted and the wedding day came. As my brother and I stood together outside the chapel, right before the ceremony was about to begin, my brother turned to me and said, “Dan, listen, it is not too late. Let’s make a run for it.” I should have seen the signs. I ignored his comment. The ceremony was beautiful, and when we arrived at the reception, my parents were waiting in the lobby. They were all dressed up. I thought maybe they had had a change of heart, but they refused to enter the reception and were just there to take a brief picture with us. The reception began and when it was time for the best man to give his toast, my brother decided to use the occasion to voice his own dissatisfaction with our marriage. He concluded by telling Dinah, “I hope that Dan won’t destroy your family the way he destroyed mine.”
What do you say? How do you act? There was a brief commotion, and my brother left the reception. I am grateful that he did, because many of the people there were upset by his remarks, including Dinah and me. You expect to see your bride crying tears of joy on her wedding day, not tears of brokenness.
Time heals. It is an ongoing process that has taken many years. It took over a year for my brother to apologize for his behavior. My parents have still not apologized, and maybe they never will. I recognize that, from their vantage point, I have betrayed my heritage and followed a path foreign to their own Jewish upbringing. No one in my family believes in Jesus—yet. I still feel hurt and pained by my family’s actions, but I am continuing to forgive them. Messiah Jesus died for me while I was his enemy and a sinner. He was perfect. How much more should I, a man who is not perfect, forgive my family? I hurt them as well and have a long way to go.
When my kids were born, my parents decided that it was time to see and interact with us again. By God’s grace, today, Dinah, our three children and I have a relationship with my family. We do not talk about Jesus much; they know what we believe. We simply take joy in seeing them and in spending time together as a family.
I take comfort in Jesus’ words: “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life” (Luke 18:29, Luke 18:30).
*In the context of the Jewish people, an anti-missionary is one who seeks to keep Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah from sharing that message with other Jews, and/or one who combats that effort with counter-arguments through counseling services, lectures, seminars, classes and educational materials.