I was 100 percent fine with Lisa’s decision about Jesus. Because privately, I had a growing suspicion that this was all true.
But let me tell you how I got there.
Like Lisa, I was born and raised in Brooklyn. My dad is Jewish, and my mom was Irish Catholic, but at age seventeen she officially converted to Judaism to marry my father. I’m the oldest of four children. After me, there’s Gloria, then Barry, then Leah. From the ages of nine through thirteen, I went to Hebrew school to prepare for my bar mitzvah, and I occasionally went to synagogue. But my family did not attend synagogue. And after my bar mitzvah, neither did I.
God must not exist
Maybe a year after my bar mitzvah, my aunt was having open heart surgery. I remember lying on my bed, praying that the surgery would go well. But she had a stroke on the operating table and ended up completely paralyzed on one side of her body, unable to speak. As a result, I decided that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob probably didn’t exist.
At age fifteen, my friends and I started to embrace the hippie lifestyle, smoking pot and listening to rock music. I graduated early from high school, and in January 1970 started attending Queens College, commuting from Brooklyn. During those early college years, my friends and I drifted even further into the hippie scene, smoking more pot, going to more rock concerts, the whole megillah. I was also fasting, getting into yoga, becoming a vegetarian, trying to follow a so-called “New Age” spiritual path. In 1973 I dropped out of college, hitchhiked across the country and wound up in Denver. My best friend Arnie, a Jewish believer in Jesus who later married my sister Gloria, had slipped a New Testament in my backpack. I didn’t see it until I got to Colorado. At that time I was reading other books, such as Be Here Now by Ram Dass (he was born Richard Alpert, a Jew!) about yoga and meditation, and the Don Juan books by Carlos Castaneda about altered states of consciousness. I was still smoking pot, doing odd jobs in Denver and continuing my pursuit of this spiritual journey.
I met one guy in Denver who thought Jesus was the only way to God. I, of course, knew that couldn’t be true, and I tried to help him get out of his small spiritual worldview. Then I met another guy with the same perspective, and we also had several discussions on the topic. I enjoyed the back and forth.
Was Jesus a Jewish guru?
I started to read the New Testament and discovered quickly that Jesus was Jewish. I remember reading where he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). But the way I interpreted that from my yoga/guru perspective was that Jesus was some kind of Jewish guru. Like other gurus, he had realized that truth and life were within himself and that, therefore, he was the way to that truth and life. So my takeaway was that I was to look within myself also because, “I [Jeff] am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
But then in late 1974, I had a horrifying dream about an ashram, where an innocent person was murdered while everyone was dancing. But they all just kept on dancing, as if it was just that person’s karma to be murdered. When I woke up I was shaking and thought, Whoa! I think I’m going in the wrong direction with this stuff.
However, I continued on that same path, and in the spring of 1975 I attended a yoga retreat near Colorado Springs. From Friday through Sunday no talking was allowed – just reading, meditating, chanting, yoga, sleeping and eating a little food. Early Sunday morning, after almost two hours of group meditation, just as the sun began to rise, I heard a strong, loud male voice inside me say, “WHAT IF JESUS IS REAL?” Boom! It was like a crash landing, disrupting my meditation.
Going the wrong way
Again I thought, I’m headed down the wrong path. So that September I headed back to New York, moved in with my parents and declared my residency so I could go back to college the following year.
Lisa and I met in March 1976. As she said, by June 1976 we knew we wanted to get married. I planned to start at SUNY New Paltz at the end of August. That summer Lisa and I met that pastor at my parents’ house. I remember him saying, “Just ask God if Jesus is the Messiah, and He will let you know.” So after he and Lisa left, I went into my bedroom and did just that.
Lisa and I were married in November in a traditional Jewish ceremony at a Brooklyn synagogue. Arnie was living with us, as he was also attending SUNY New Paltz. Over the next few months, Lisa and I had several conversations with Arnie about Jesus. He and my sisters had stopped smoking pot, and this Jesus stuff had become very serious for them now. Then in June 1977, Lisa came to believe in Jesus also. So that left me out.
Not ready for Jesus
I was happy for her, and I’m certain that I already believed intellectually that Jesus was who he said he was. But I wasn’t ready to follow him like Lisa, Arnie and my sisters. I was doing well in college, but I was still smoking pot. Every time I did, I would retreat into myself, and it was not a healthy situation for me, spiritually or emotionally.
A couple of weeks after Lisa made her decision for Jesus, she started getting sick. I think we can both tell the story from here . . .