People often ask me, What’s a nice Jewish boy like you doing in Jews for Jesus?” My story begins in Long Beach, N.Y., a conservative Jewish community in Long Island. For six years I went to Hebrew school and at 13 1 had my bar mitzvah (confirmation). Many Jewish boys quit Hebrew school after their bar mitzvahs, but I continued my Jewish education until I began college because I enjoyed studying the history and customs of my people.
I was a good student and I obeyed my parents, my teachers and the law—most of the time, anyway. I was one of the few young people who grew up in the ’60s without getting involved in drugs, alcohol, free love or anti-war protests. Because I led such a moral life, the first time I heard that Jesus died for my sins I thought, “That was nice of him, but what a terrible waste!” It was true that I didn’t keep the Jewish dietary laws or the Sabbath, but I did go to synagogue every week, and I asked forgiveness for my sins every year at Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). To me, this seemed good enough.
Then came 1970—the end of my first year of college. The Vietnam War was going strong, I had just become eligible for the draft and I began asking myself serious questions about my life and purpose. One day a Methodist friend told me that she had “met Jesus” and had “become a Christian.” I didn’t understand why a Methodist had to “become” a Christian. A few weeks later, a Presbyterian friend told me that he, too, had “become a Christian.” I was about to learn the difference between Gentiles (non-Jews) and Christians (true followers of Christ).
I could see something different about my “Christian” friends. At first I thought they had just gotten into some kind of meditation. But when they gave up drugs, became reconciled to their parents and developed a deep love for God, I saw that their faith was no ordinary religion.
They wanted me to come to church and meet Jesus! “He’s the Messiah for the Jews, too,” they said. I was reluctant, but I couldn’t ignore the powerful changes I had seen in my friends’ lives. Finally I went with them to church. There I saw hundreds of others just like my “Christian” friends. I knew some of them from high school, and their lives had also been changed by Jesus.
Whenever they asked me if I believed in Jesus, I would answer, “I’m Jewish, and Jews don’t believe in Jesus.” Then someone challenged me, “If Jesus is the Messiah, shouldn’t you believe in him? Why don’t you ask God to show you whether or not it’s true?”
Why not? I had nothing to lose. If I asked and he didn’t answer, I had nothing to worry about. And if he did answer, I ought to know what he wanted to tell me. I began to ask God to show me if he was still there like he was in the Bible, and if Jesus was the Messiah. At that point the floodgates opened! Everywhere I turned, Christians began coming out of the woodwork. Friends that I didn’t know were Christians began telling me about Jesus. The clincher came on the Fourth of July weekend of 1970.
I was having a party, and as I called to invite my friends, I began to notice that I couldn’t reach those who were Christians. At first I didn’t think anything of it; but as Wednesday turned to Thursday, and Friday turned to Saturday and I still couldn’t locate any of my Christian friends, I started to feel nervous. You see, I had heard that when Jesus came back he would gather all those who believed in him and take them directly to heaven. Suddenly I didn’t know where any of my Christian friends were, and I wanted to assure myself that this had not actually happened. By then it was Sunday, and I went to their church that evening. I arrived at 6:55 for the 7:00 p.m. service. The church should have been packed, but that night nobody was there—not a soul—and the building was completely dark. A very eerie feeling came over me as I stood in front of that dark church, thinking, “The Messiah came, and I missed him!” I didn’t know what to do.
The next morning I was terribly relieved to receive a call from one of my Christian friends inviting me to church that evening. I didn’t tell her about my previous night’s experience, but I was glad to know that I had another chance. After church I went home and began to pray—as I had been doing for a few months by then—that God would show me if Jesus was the Messiah. This time, as I closed my eyes to pray, a brief vision flashed before me of a branding iron with a flaming 666 approaching my forehead! I had read in the book of Revelation that this was the mark with which the false messiah would brand his followers in the last days. I knew that God was telling me that I must choose Jesus, the true Messiah, or I would be following the false messiah, the enemy of God.
Right there in my room, at 1:00 in the morning, I gave my life to Jesus and committed myself to following him as my Messiah. I didn’t know exactly how to pray, and I was by myself, so I prayed the Shehecheyonu—the traditional Jewish prayer for doing or eating anything new: “Blessed art thou, O Lord… who hast given us life and hast sustained us, and hast brought us to this season.” In retrospect, how very appropriate that was for one who had just embarked on a new life of faith!
Since that time in 1970, I have come to know Jesus as Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel, who is faithful to the promises made in the Bible to my forefathers. I’ve been learning what it means to be a Jew who follows the Messiah, and to love the God of Israel with all of my heart, all of my soul and all of my might.
After years of study and preparation, God has given me the privilege of serving with Jews for Jesus. I’m eager to share the good news of our Messiah with other Jewish people who may be wondering what has become of the promises that God made to our people in the Hebrew Scriptures. I am confident that if they are willing to know, as I was, he will show them as he did me.