What’s a Jewish Girl to Do? I Wanted God, Not Jesus
I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, a predominantly Jewish town. My mom is from a Conservative Jewish background. My dad was raised Catholic, but he embraced Judaism when he married my mom. We attended a Reform synagogue growing up. Unfortunately, my parents divorced when I was nine. My older brother and sister and I went to Hebrew and Sunday school, and we were all bar/bat mitzvah.
My grandparents and extended family lived nearby, and we got together for the Jewish holidays. My grandfather was raised Orthodox and spoke Yiddish, and my grandparents helped instill in us pride in our Jewish identity and background.
As a teenager, however, my life revolved around sports. I played basketball and soccer, but after some knee injuries, I tried golf and loved it. I played for my high school team and was recruited to play at Dartmouth, where I attended college.
I was a double major at Dartmouth—psychology and religion. I was struggling with feelings of meaningless and hopelessness, wondering, Why are we here? Why is there suffering? I took several Buddhism classes, even practicing Buddhist meditation. I took a New Testament course and a class on the Protestant Reformation, in which the professor explained the reformers’ understanding that God is holy, people are sinful and there is nothing we can do to work our way up to God. He said that, since we can’t reach up to God, God had to reach down to us. I thought that made a lot of sense.
But I still had that feeling of hopelessness, which I tried to overcome by being a great student and golfer and dating the right people. But it was all coming up empty.
I graduated from Dartmouth in 2005 and taught English at a rural school in Thailand for six months. I wanted to live in a Buddhist country and experience a different culture. But as kind and nice as the people were, I saw much superstition and a huge emphasis on violence. Newspapers graphically depicted murders, and the buses were filled with advertisements for extremely brutal movies. So I became disillusioned with Buddhism.
When I returned from Thailand, I worked for three years at a hospital near Boston that treated patients with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I found the work greatly rewarding, so I applied to grad school to become a clinical psychologist. In 2009, I was accepted into a consortium program between the Stanford School of Medicine and the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, both in Palo Alto, California.
A sea of troubles
I had several traumatic experiences that year. First, my grandfather died. Then, when I moved to California in August, my boyfriend decided he didn’t want to, so we broke up. Then a friend of mine died. My mom had remarried a Jewish man when I was fifteen, and I had an older stepbrother I really looked up to. He died in a tragic fall just after I started grad school. I flew back home for his funeral, and we sat shiva.
My stepbrother and I had always planned to climb Mount Kilimanjaro together. So I decided to climb that African peak in his memory with a friend of mine—a wealthy, gorgeous Harvard grad with whom I had worked at the OCD treatment center. She said her church was praying for us, and each night of the climb she read her Bible. I thought, This girl went to Harvard and has everything. Why does she believe in prayer and the Bible? She’s too smart for that!
By my third year of grad school, my life, externally, was great. I was doing well in school. I had friends and a boyfriend who made a lot of money. I was in great shape, competing in a triathlon. But inside I was miserable. Again, I found myself questioning everything: If life has no meaning, what does it matter if I live another day? And what happens after I die? I started seeing a psychologist—which seemed crazy, since I was studying to be one—but it didn’t help. In my fourth year of grad school, I broke up with my boyfriend.
My Jesus client
Soon after that, I had a client who talked about Jesus. Whenever I went to find him in the waiting room for our therapy sessions, he was reading the Bible. I thought he was totally bonkers to believe that stuff!
But I remembered my grad school professor saying that, if you have a patient whose cultural background you don’t understand, learn as much as you can about that culture. I had a Christian friend, so I asked if I could go to church with him to better understand my patient.
I had never been in a church before. I thought it was for old ladies in funny hats. But my friend said it was a young adult service and I could wear jeans. So I went to a Sunday evening service with him in the fall of 2012. My heart was pounding and I thought, I can never tell my mother about this! But the people were so nice, and they opened the service by singing a few songs. Whenever Jesus was mentioned, I would not sing. But when the lyrics said “God” or “Lord,” I would sing! I wanted God, but I didn’t want Jesus.
Maybe this Jesus guy isn’t so bad . . .
Unexpectedly, as I was singing, I began to cry, because the lyrics made me aware there were things I had done that had disappointed God. Then the pastor gave a message about an outcast, a Samaritan woman on whom Jesus had great compassion. I thought, That’s like what Buddha taught. Maybe this Jesus guy isn’t so bad.
For a few days after that, I had a tremendous sense of peace and love. I didn’t quite know what to make of it. I wanted to figure out what had happened so I could maintain the feeling. So I kept going to the Sunday evening services.
I was becoming keenly aware of God’s holiness. I remembered reciting “kadosh, kadosh, kadosh” (holy, holy, holy) at synagogue services as a child. And I felt so guilty because I knew I could never meet God’s standards, even though I wanted to.
One day I woke up at four in the morning, shaking, and thought, God is so loving. I want a relationship with Him. But He’s so holy I can’t have a direct relationship. I need someone who will go between me and God. And I remembered this verse from the New Testament: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus, the Messiah” (Timothy 2:5).
Am I the first Jew to believe in Jesus?
Right then and there, I believed in Jesus as the atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of my sins. Then I thought, I must be the first Jew ever to believe in Jesus! But a moment later I remembered that all the early disciples of Jesus were Jewish. I also remembered hearing about Jews for Jesus, headquartered in San Francisco, not far from my grad school.
A friend of mine put me in touch with Rob Wertheim of Jews for Jesus, and I began to meet with him to study the Scriptures. Through Rob, I met other Jewish believers in Jesus and realized, Hey, I’m not alone. You can be Jewish and believe in Jesus. In fact, I felt more Jewish than ever.
I then completed a one-year internship in Salt Lake City to finish grad school. I started attending a local church, where I met a great guy named Nic, who is now my husband.
My true value
I finished grad school with a PsyD, a doctorate in clinical psychology. The only problem was I really just wanted to tell my patients about Jesus! I didn’t want to tell them—because I don’t believe it’s true—that you can find the answers within yourself, and if it feels right to you, it must be right. I do think that evidence-based treatments work because they point to biblical truths. But they fall short because they cut out God and the Bible.
So I started working at a home for adolescent girls, where I was able to use my background in the mental health field and also had the freedom to talk about Jesus and pray for the girls. Nic is the director of our church’s mercy and compassion ministries, so we reach out together to those who are hurting in our community.
I realize now that getting a doctorate, dating someone really wealthy, looking great—those are not the things that give me value. I have value because God created me, and He loves me so much that He gave His Son, Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah, to die for me. And for you. Won’t you consider him for yourself?