My grandparents, Esther and Joseph, immigrated to America from Lithuania in 1905. My grandfather, a tinsmith, had earned a livelihood in the old country with his horse and wagon. After a fire destroyed their village on the outskirts of Vilna province, Esther and Joseph packed their few possessions onto a wagon and left the country with their daughter Sarah, the only one of their six children who had survived childhood illness. They stayed for a few months in Iran, where strangers gave them blankets and food. In a few months Joseph obtained the necessary papers to take his family to America by ship.
After a few days at sea, they found themselves in the midst of a terrible storm. Sarah and her parents, as well as the other passengers, fell to their knees and pleaded with God to save them. As they prayed, the storm subsided! They came safely to America, passed through Ellis island and journeyed to Boston. There my grandparents and their daughter Sarah settled in the North End, where the population consisted largely of other immigrant Jews.
Sarah was enrolled in the John Hancock School in Boston. She added to her knowledge of Russian, Polish and Yiddish by learning English quickly. When Sarah was 15, tragedy struck. Her mother Esther died at the age of 45 after an asthma attack. Sarah’s father became very depressed because of his wife’s death. Also, he was unhappy in America because as an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man, he couldn’t bear to see his fellow Jews conducting business on the Sabbath. It distressed him greatly that many of his people were forced to earn a living by peddling vegetables and other wares on Saturday because that was the established market day.
My grandfather placed Sarah with a wealthy Jewish family as a mother’s helper while he went back to the old country. Before he left, he extracted a promise from Sarah. She was always to keep the faith” as an observant Jewish woman, especially because their family was of the tribe of Levi which linked them to a unique heritage of special service to God.
When Sarah was 22 her aunt introduced her to a young, hardworking Jewish shopkeeper. The two were married after a brief six-week courtship. In the following years, they prospered in a modest way, acquiring their own home and raising a family. I was the fourth of their five children, born in the late 1920s.
My mother Sarah kept a traditional kosher Jewish home. We observed all the holidays, but she was not afraid to mingle in a neighborly fashion with her Gentile neighbors. My father got up at dawn every day, faced the east, put on his tefillin (phylacteries) and chanted the morning prayers. My father even enrolled me in the local cheder (Hebrew school) at the age of seven. I spent a happy two years there.
My happiness was cut short when my father died suddenly of a stroke at the age of 51. Needless to say, it was an emotional and financial trauma for our family. We managed to survive, however, as we kept the store going, all of us children pitching in to help.
I married young—in my late teens—to an equally young Jewish boy from a neighboring town. My husband and I maintained a Jewish home. When I was 21 and the mother of one, I became intrigued by the serialization in a Boston newspaper of a book called The Day Christ Died. The story delved into the lives of the local inhabitants of Jerusalem on the day of the Crucifixion. I was absolutely fascinated and read the whole series. Up until that time I had known nothing of Jesus except that he was a strange, forbidden figure hanging from a cross and was worshipped by the Gentiles.
One day when I was 26, and by that time holding another child in my arms, there came a knock at my door. It was a missionary—a man of about 60 who asked if he could speak to me. I invited him in, chiefly because I was a housebound young mother and bored. He spoke to me and left a book for me to read. It was about biblical prophecy. As I read it, Jesus “came alive” in its pages! I was both fascinated and awed with the person of Jesus.
At this point, I went on a search for the truth. I observed the lives of the “churchgoers” in my neighborhood and read everything I could get my hands on about Jesus. As I lived in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood, I became interested in the lives of the Catholic saints. Reading about their lives and how they gave up everything to follow Jesus made a great impression on me. I also read any kind of Christian news wherever I could find it in newspapers and magazines. I hadn’t even read the Bible at that point, except for Bible verses quoted in other literature. But from everything that I had read, I recognized Jesus as the promised Redeemer, and I secretly began to follow him.
Years later I attended a Christian prayer meeting with my supervisor from work. I was overwhelmed with the sense of fellowship and love I found with the other worshipers. My friend introduced me to the clergyman and told him that I was Jewish. He warmly took my hand and said that I was now a “completed Jew.” I felt whole. That was the first time I had admitted out loud my love for the Lord.
After that I still kept my faith to myself, but from time to time I would enter a chapel alone to pray. I continued to go to synagogue with my family. During this time I used to think that I was the only Jewish person who believed in Jesus. But God knew my need.
About a year ago, when I was on my way home from work, someone handed me a pamphlet. I read it as I walked into the subway. I couldn’t believe it. The pamphlet was about Jesus and on the back were the words, “Jews for Jesus.” I went running out of the subway to find the person who had handed me that pamphlet, shouting, “I’m one of you, I’m one of you!” What a sight I must have been—a 56-year-old woman waving a pamphlet and running up to that nice young man! I was so moved to meet a fellow Jew who believed in Jesus that I began to cry. I felt that after all those years at last I had come home.
I have been meeting on a regular basis now with Ellen Zaretsky, another Jew for Jesus. She is the wife of Tuvya Zaretsky, leader of the Boston branch of Jews for Jesus. One of my joys has been to help Ellen hand out Jews for Jesus broadsides. I don’t feel that there is much else I can do right now, since my husband and sons are not believers in Jesus—yet! But in the meantime, handing out literature to help reach my people for Jesus is something I can do. How I thank God for sending Messiah and loving me enough to bring me to faith in him.
“For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness” (Psalm 107:9).