Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, means different things to different Jewish people. Traditional Jews hold the view that during the ten days between the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement record books in heaven are opened and everyone is judged according to their deeds and works. Those who have earned merit have their names inscribed in the Book of Life; those whose deeds deserve impending judgment are inscribed in the Book of Death. But as the shofar sounds and the Day of Atonement ends, most are inscribed in a third book, where judgment is reserved until the next High Holiday season. Today, however, most Jewish people are less traditional and regard Yom Kippur and the ten days before it merely as a season of personal reflection, a time to do good to one’s fellow man and spread brotherhood.
This was the view of most of my family until my mother and I found Yeshua. As believers in Jesus we found fuller meaning in Yom Kippur. We looked back on the Mosaic institution of sacrificial atonement and remembered that our final atonement was found in Yeshua, the Lamb of God. It was a time for us as believers to thank God for atonement and for the fact that now our names were written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. It was a time to pray earnestly for our Jewish people as many thought about their relationship with God, not realizing how they could know Him. It was a time for us to renew our dedication to be pure and godly, seeking God’s holiness in our own lives. But most importantly, Yom Kippur reminded us of a time yet to come when God’s Book truly would be opened and all those whose names were not written there would be judged, no matter how sincere their religious experience.
For a time after we came to know Jesus, we continued to worship at our synagogue, Temple Beth El, during the High Holiday season. We felt it established identification with our people and unity with our family, though my father and sister were not yet believers in the Messiah. At that time most of the worshipers didn’t know that my mother and I were believers.
On Yom Kippur morning Beth El was especially full. The huge marble pillars loomed high above the masses of worshipers. Some had to stand in the back, and many were turned away because they had not made their reservations to worship in the morning service. Huge stained glass windows adorned this Reform synagogue, and the great pipes of the organ resounded with the traditional Avinu Malkeinu (Our Father Our King”). My father had come in late that day and sat apart from the rest of the family.
The cantor concluded the Avinu Malkeinu, and the dramatic pause following that inspiring prayer of repentance was suddenly shattered by a shout: “Repent, for the day of judgment is at hand!”
Shocked, I turned to see that it had come from my own mother, standing in the congregation. Silently I swallowed what felt like my heart lodged in my throat. As twelve hundred eyes were turned on my mother, I desperately wanted to disappear or become one inch high and run away. Silently she sat down. The twelve hundred eyes then turned to our rabbi, who said calmly, “Now turn in your prayer books to page 326 where we will continue with the Al Chet (recitation of sins).”
I saw ushers rush to my father, who was sitting in the back of the congregation. “Will your wife be making another outburst?” they inquired. “No, I think she’s fine for now. I’ll be having a word with her,” he said.
Our Jewish family physician was worshiping there that day. After the service he approached my father with, “Mr. Meyer, your wife is not well. She needs to see a psychiatrist. No Jews believe in Jesus, and certainly no healthy person makes such an outburst in the synagogue on the highest of holidays. Here is the name of a friend of mine, Dr. Williams. I am recommending that she see him soon for an evaluation.”
The next week my mother went to visit Dr. Williams. He listened intently as she explained about the Day of Atonement and about Temple Beth El and the emotions that had prompted her outburst.
“Hmmm,” he said. “What’s that?…Oh, my…!”
“What’s wrong doctor? Am I normal?” she asked.
“Praise the Lord, sister!” Dr. Williams responded. “It must be the end times, because it’s being proclaimed in the synagogues! There’s nothing wrong with you. Here is my certification that you are healthy—and my prayers are with your family.”
There was quite a buzz around Beth El after that. Some said scornfully, “The Meyer family are a bunch of Jews for Jesus.” Others didn’t really care. But out of the woodwork came a few reluctant, secret believers who confided that they were pleased that Mrs. Meyer had said what she did.
For myself, this event was treasured in my heart until a day to come when I, a long-time secret believer in Jesus, would remember my duty to proclaim the message of repentance to my people.
I would discourage anyone from making bold, disruptive announcements in the synagogue or any such place during a solemn service. Nevertheless, during this season let us remember the concern that prompted my mother’s outburst. Let us keep in mind the fact that God’s judgment is real and there is no atonement outside of Yeshua. Let us remember to pray for the Jewish people during this season as many contemplate their relationship with the God of Israel.