I was raised in a Conservative/Reform Jewish family. We tried to observe the traditions and customs of our elders, but there was no real spirituality. I believed that God existed but that he was not very important to modern living. On the high holidays I went to synagogue with my parents and sisters, not out of a desire to worship, but out of a sense of obligation, because going to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah (New Year’s) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) was what Jewish people were supposed to do.
My parents lovingly sent me to Hebrew school. I learned a lot and did well academically, but I couldn’t live what I was taught because I had a secular mindset. Even though I had always wanted to be a good person, I felt that I could not obey the demands of Judaism as I had learned it. It was extremely legalistic, and I could not keep the laws and traditions, especially fasting on Yom Kippur and keeping the Passover. While eating was very important to me, I could not understand just how important it was to obey God’s commandments. When the two conflicted, food won.
I did realize, however, that I was sinful and that I needed atonement for my sins. At the same time, I did not feel that what I was accomplishing in my synagogue attendance was helping to cover those sins. Also, around this time, when I was 12 years old, I developed a yearning for eternal life. No one had ever told me about a hereafter, but my grandmother died that year on February 15, 1975, and it made me think about my own mortality and where I would be in eternity. I believed in the God of the Bible—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. When I was very little, my mother had read to me from her Jewish children’s Bible, and I had taken it at its word. Starting at the age of 12, I prayed with all of my heart every night that God would give me eternal life.
Then the path of my life started to lead me in a different direction. In junior high school some tough kids bothered me and made me listen to their dirty jokes. It corrupted my mind, and I started to let my school work slide because all I thought about was women. Over the next several years I developed an interest in the occult and ESP and began to believe in reincarnation because of my fear of dying. Miraculously, I still managed to do well enough in school to get into college.
Once I was in college I became concerned about the nuclear arms race and whether or not the world would end in a nuclear war. After becoming involved in the nuclear freeze movement, I heard that Billy Graham was coming to my school, Northeastern University. His topic was going to be Faith in God and the Nuclear Age.” I had always been curious about Billy Graham, so I went to hear him. He talked about nuclear weapons threatening our physical existence and went on to say that was not really so important as where our lives fit into eternity in view of that threat. He talked about God ultimately controlling all events and making them work toward his purpose. After Billy Graham called upon the audience to make a personal decision to receive Jesus Christ into their lives, I left the crusade feeling very challenged.
A few weeks after that, a girl came up to me at lunchtime in the university cafeteria and we got into a conversation. Eventually the topic of the Billy Graham crusade came up. She told me that she was involved in the Christian group that had invited Billy Graham to our campus. They were having Bible studies on campus, and she asked me if I was interested in coming to one of them. I took her up on it and went. At the Bible study I noticed immediately that those people had love in them. They accepted me as I was and did not force me to “convert” to Christianity, which I had been afraid they might do. Being accepted unconditionally, I was all the more willing to listen to the teachings and claims of Jesus as the group studied them in the Gospel of John. His teachings made a lot of sense to me. I realized that they were good, but I still thought that the idea of salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross was not for me but only for the goyim (Gentiles).
A few months later, because of my involvement in the nuclear freeze movement, I was looking for books, usually fiction, that dealt with the topic of the end of the world. I remembered hearing of a book by Hal Lindsey called The Late Great Planet Earth. I decided to buy it out of curiosity, not really knowing that it was based on Christianity. Reading that book, I was amazed to learn how Jesus related to Old Testament prophecies—that he had already fulfilled some of them and was going to fulfill the rest. I was also amazed to learn that he was the Messiah, a fact that Hal Lindsey proved by using Old Testament prophecy. As I was thinking about all this and trying to reconcile Jesus and Jewishness, I remembered a pamphlet had picked up eight years earlier in 1974. Printed by Jews for Jesus, it had described how and why all people, even the Jews, needed Jesus as their Savior, and that he was absolutely the only payment for sin that God would accept.
At this same time there was a trilogy of movies called The Omen. The story was based on a man who was the devil’s own son, the Beast and the Antichrist. In the movie many references were made to things mentioned in the Book of Revelation—666, the number of the Beast, and how this Antichrist/Beast would oppose Jesus at the Battle of Armageddon in the final culmination of the war between the forces of good and evil. Those same references were also in the Hal Lindsey book. I “put one and one together and got two,” so to speak, and decided to buy the Book of Revelation.
Of course, it turned out to be part of the Bible! Not only that, it was part of the New Testament. I immediately began reading in Revelation. As I went through it, I saw that it spoke positively of the Jews, and that Jesus loves us Jews a much as he loves the Gentiles. I saw that he is the Jews’ beloved Messiah who is now in Glory, and that he is indeed a king because he is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, the one who overcame death through his resurrection (Revelation 5:5). I understood that much of what I had previously heard about Jesus was false—that he didn’t hate the Jewish people and reject us—that on the contrary, he had come to redeem us from our sins and from the evil world system, and to save us from death. I understood that he has the power to do this because he is the Lord of the Resurrection, the one who makes the dead live again and is mentioned so much in our synagogue liturgy.
Seeing all this, I had no choice but to believe in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and Savior! I still needed time to assimilate it all, so I did further reading in my King James Bible. I found that it was not different in its Old Testament portion (i.e. a Christian version versus a Jewish version), as I had previously been led to believe.
Then on June 27, 1983, my beloved cat Fluffy died. She was 15 years old and had been very ill. I felt very guilty because I had promised myself that I would take her to the vet, and because I had delayed she had died by banging her head against the wall because she couldn’t take the pain of breathing. Also, even though I loved her, I had always teased her mercilessly, until she had grown afraid of me. All of this guilt had built up, along with the guilt of previous sins, such as shoplifting, lying and prideful thinking, as well as the dirty mind I had developed by listening to the neighborhood toughs’ dirty jokes. Finally I was up against the wall where I had to make a choice.
Two weeks after my cat died, I happened to be thinking of all my life’s heroes. Carl Yastrzemski, Lee Majors, Clint Eastwood and John Kennedy all came to mind. Then the name of Jesus Christ came to my mind—someone I had always admired and believed in factually—and it dawned on me that this man, who was the Son of God and God himself in the flesh, had died for my sins. I cried and tearfully believed in his name, and later that night during my traditional prayer at bedtime, I prayed with an honest heart to God. I asked forgiveness for my sins and confessed my belief that Jesus had died for my sins. I told God that I wanted him to come into the door of my life and dwell within me, as I had read in Revelation 3:20.
After I believed in Jesus my life started changing. My mind was cleaned up, and I lost interest in collecting Playboy magazines. I got rid of them and stopped the subscription. I finally knew that I had atonement and forgiveness for my sins. I was not as prideful and boastful as I had been, and for the first time, I finally had a love within me for others. I also had peace within. I stopped losing my temper, which had been ferocious. I experienced joy and kindness, and I didn’t think it was fun any more to play tricks on people.
I am glad that I accepted Jesus into my life. He found me, because I certainly was not specifically looking for him. Yet because I was searching for righteousness and eternal life, God in his grace and infinite love pierced my ignorance and disobedience of him to show me and grant me that precious thing I had regarded and still regard as priceless. God gave me something I did not and do not deserve, but he did it because he “so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). I know that God’s son Jesus is the Savior of the Jews as well as the goyim (Gentiles). I tell this to anyone who wants to hear.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Larry Greenstein lives in the Boston area and often attends the Bible studies at our Boston branch.