I was born in Brooklyn, 32 years ago, in an area so Jewish that until I entered junior high, I sincerely believed that non-Jews were a minority people in the United States. My parents were very secular, yet being Jewish was an important part of our very loving and close-knit family. And I learned from an early age that part of being Jewish meant using your brain. My two sisters and I were always among the most intelligent” students in the special “IGC” and “SP” classes (Intelligently Gifted Children and Special Progress) in elementary and junior high school. Intellect was emphasized in our home far more than religious or spiritual mandates. The latter were viewed as ancient rules and traditions—nice to know about, but basically impractical and irrelevant.
I did attend Hebrew school three days a week for three years. There I studied Jewish history and learned Hebrew, but did not hear about an omnipotent God. I was the class “wise guy,” the one who wrote “Jesus Saves” on the blackboard one day before a teacher whom I especially disliked came in. I thought it was pretty funny to watch her huffing and puffing as she erased it. I was bar mitzvah at age 13 and that ended my Jewish education. Up to that point, 90% of my friends had been Jewish.
In junior high, my social circle suddenly opened and I had plenty of friends from various backgrounds. We never discussed religion; we were all too busy having a good time, meeting girls and getting into trouble. I had a vague notion that Christians believed in some guy named Jesus who said that he was God. It seemed even sillier than Judaism to me.
In high school, I went from being a studious kid with top grades to a slouch with mediocre grades and lots of tough friends (some were the children and grandchildren of bonafide “la famiglia” capos and underbosses, alleged, of course.) I still managed to graduate with a decent SAT score and a Regent’s diploma.
I went on to Baruch College in New York City and graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree. During my second-to-last semester I met Maria, my wife-to-be. We barely discussed God or religion, despite her Catholic background. In July of 1993 we were married by an ultra-liberal rabbi and an ultra-liberal priest.
My spiritual quest began in February 1994 and took me quite by surprise. My wife and I had just come home from seeing the movie, Schindler’s List, and as I was flicking through the cable channels I came across a show about the Holocaust. I had never seen the program before, nor heard of the host, Zola Levitt. I sent away for two books he offered: Our Hands Are Stained With Blood and Meshumed, expecting them to be from a traditional Jewish viewpoint. When I received them, I was enraged to find that they were Christian books. I determined to send them back the next day, but a funny thing happened. I actually began reading them. The rage subsided and I grew curious. Just a little curious at first, and then my curiosity became a deeply felt need to know the truth. I began videotaping Zola’s program and reading all kinds of materials from many sources, including the New Testament, Messianic Jewish authors and anti-missionary literature. I also sought out Jews of various beliefs online, including Jews for Jesus. I had a million questions and one person who invested a lot of time answering was a staff worker with Jews for Jesus named Rich Robinson. While we never met face to face, we had quite a rapport via computer—two nice Jewish boys from Canarsie in Brooklyn. And to tell the truth, the computer was the only way that I was willing to speak to anyone about these matters for a long, long time. Some may think that’s an impersonal way to communicate, but it really helped me sort through the issues.
For example, here are some excerpts from our online discussions:
Me: To Jews, being thought of as sinners simply because of disbelief in Jesus is a total turn-off to Christianity. It’s sort of prejudicial, ie: you’re a sinner because you’re a Jew.
Rich: Jeff, it’s not that sin is a Jewish problem. Sin is a human problem. People aren’t sinners because they don’t believe in Christ. They’re sinners because they are human beings who all sin—even those who believe in Jesus. Think of sin as a spiritual disease. If God’s provision of the Messiah to atone for our sins is the “cure” it makes sense to accept Him. When I say “cure” I don’t mean that we never sin again—but that we have forgiveness, the God-given possibility of living more caring and loving lives, and the promise of a future life when there will be no more sin.
Or how about this:
Me: I finished Matthew and Mark. I’m in the middle of Luke right now. Rich, I seem to have two MAJOR disagreements with Jesus’ teachings. One is that he says he will not change one dot of the Five Books of Moses. Yet, he changes them all with the “you’ve heard it was said” speech.
Rich: You asked about Jesus contradicting the Law of Moses when he says, “You have heard it said . . . but I say to you.” Actually, this kind of language was used by the rabbis in their discussions of Scripture. David Daube, the Jewish legal scholar who wrote the book The New Testament and Rabbinic Judaism, argues that the phrase “you have heard” approximates the phrase “I might hear” or “I might understand.” Rabbis used such phrases to describe inadequate interpretations of the Scripture, usually because they were too narrow or superficial. Such a phrase would be followed up by another phrase: “But thou must say” giving the proper interpretation. Jesus, in using this format, changed the phrase to, “But I say to you,” thus asserting His authority as no other rabbi ever did. Thus the people marveled that Jesus “taught with authority and not like one of their scribes,” who would typically teach in the name of other rabbis, not of themselves.
And finally, the following interchange lets you know why this “online witnessing” technique was exactly what I needed.
Rich: I wish we were speaking face to face; it would be easier to converse about subjects like this. I’m more than happy to keep up our conversations but you might like to talk with someone in person as well. I wonder if you would want to get together with a live person at our New York branch. The problem is, none of them are from Canarsie, but we can’t all have such a distinguished upbringing, can we?
Me: Rich, I believe keeping my relationship with Jewish believers in Christ at arm’s length is best for me right now. I hate any kind of pressure. I want to make an objective decision without someone else’s emotions influencing me. I will be more than happy to continue our conversations as well as receiving literature from J.for J. We seem to have a Canarsie kind of rapport going here. No need to bring in any non-distinguished non-Canarsians.
Understand that I was receiving literature and e-mail from anti-missionaries and I didn’t want to meet them in person either! But eventually, I sensed a spirit of love and God’s presence in those who believed in Jesus that led me to actually visit a few Messianic congregations. I began praying daily in April 1995, pleading to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to show me whether or not Jesus was Messiah and Lord. Well, the Lord answered my prayers. I cannot explain exactly what He did, but sometime around Shavous (Pentecost) 1995, I began to believe and accept that Yeshua was my true Messiah, that He died for me as my Passover lamb, and rose again on the third day. I prayed for forgiveness for all my sins, especially for the sin of rejecting Yeshua as my Messiah and Lord.
I know that the Lord continues to use His servants at Jews for Jesus to reach people like me who were uncertain, ambivalent and full of misinformation. Many Jewish seekers like me were brought up with a cynical, secular outlook, where God and Scripture were rarely mentioned in school, except to be ridiculed. We were taught the typical, postmodern view of existence that permeates our entire society. Ironically, we were also instructed to question the established authority. I’m glad I did. And the Internet provides one of the best possible means to ask the kinds of questions that God is waiting to answer.
Jews for Jesus, and others with the same vision of evangelism, must continue to use the Internet. In my opinion it’s the most modern, effective means of communicating with youth today, and even with some older folks who are computer savvy. Jews for Jesus’ web site is a great resource for those afraid to meet one-on-one or even via the phone with a missionary.
Jeff Neckonoff New York
If you have e-mail questions or comments for Jeff, we would be happy to forward them to him. Please send to: [email protected] Or you can use the “snail mail” address listed on page 7.