A Secret Seeker Finds the Messiah
I am an Orthodox Jew by adoption. That is to say, I am a convert to Judaism, according to the halacha. I live in the company of other Orthodox Jews, with my husband and four children, in a religious community in Israel. I also love Jesus and the Gospel message, which I am still learning, and this means that I live my faith life mostly inwardly.
I was not raised in any religion or faith. I was not taught anything about God by my parents. My maternal grandmother, who was Catholic, tried to teach us sometimes, but it must have bothered my mother, because she stopped.
[I only remember snippets of my grandmother, but in light of my new faith, they seem significant: the crucifix on her kitchen wall; the needlepoint Madonna and child in her foyer; the small statue of St. Francis in her backyard; the rosaries she would give to us occasionally (I was given one of hers after she died; unfortunately, seeing it as an idolatrous object at the time, I destroyed it :( ); the fact that, of all my relatives, she genuinely appreciated not only my decision for Judaism (it had a Biblical basis) but my move toward Orthodoxy (she only tried to evangelize me once, by sending me a book called "The Greatest Story Ever Told," which was apparently about Jesus; I never read it...)]
I always believed in God, but didn't know how to relate to Him. I went to a Baptist church once, at the invitation of a friend, but I had never read the Bible on my own, so I didn't know what the Sunday School teacher was talking about. I once prayed to Something I thought might be Jesus, but I didn't understand anything about Him. I knew nothing of salvation, for example, or of the Holy Spirit. Since I didn't understand or agree with any of the ways in which God had been presented to me so far, I decided I would "pick and choose" the ideas I was most comfortable with. I went to a New Age "church," and that didn't fit. I also went to a "Unity" church, and that didn't quite fit, either.
When I was almost nineteen years old, I moved out of my father's house, and one of my roommates was Jewish. He was what I sometimes call a once-a-year Jew - meaning he only practiced his religion on Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish new year. But one day, unbidden, he began to read to us from a book of his called "Sha'arei Shabbat," Gates of Sabbath. I was captivated. This was the first time I can remember hearing religion spoken of from what I thought was the beginning: It said that the world was made by God, and belongs to God. It said that the Jewish testimony to this truth was the once-a-week rest- in imitation of God Himself- by relinquishing our mastery over the world He has lent to us and giving it back to Him, for twenty-five hours straight.
I began reading the book on my own. Not too long after that, I decided I had to become Jewish, so I could have this holy day for myself- and the holy tongue, and the holy diet, and the Holy Bible, and... It was the concept of holiness that drew me. "You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy," the Bible says (Leviticus 20:26). I also felt connected to this people, Israel, in a way that was unlike any connection I had before. I had never loved someone so much that I wanted to become a part of them. At one point, I even decided that if I could not become a Jew, I could not live. I would have died for it.
I lived the Torah, but even while I was still in the conversion process, I began to feel a certain kind of tension. I began to feel that try as I might, I would never be able to live up to the standards set by the innumerable rules and regulations. I knew there were "higher" reasons behind many of the commandments, but because there were so many of them, I could not see the ultimate purpose. I was unable to see the forest for the trees, as they say. And, several years after my conversion, I began to realize that at some point, the ideal of holiness had been lost, and the details of the Law became ends in themselves. We- the Jews (at least the religious ones that I knew) - rather than striving for holiness, were now primarily concerned with checking off items on our commandment-and-custom list.
I also realized that as holy as the chosen people are supposed to be, we are imprisoned by the Exile. It is an exile, not just of the people from the Holy Land, but of our souls from our Makor, our source. In our efforts to avoid being swallowed by the lands of our dispersion, we have built the 'hedge around the Law' ever higher. Now, that hedge is so high, if one lives within the Law, no "goyische" influence can invade. No light can escape, either. Our ever-deepening concern with the minutae of the Law has caused us to forget our mission to be a "light to the nations."
Why did we, on the whole, no longer seem capable of, or concerned with, encouraging the nations to righteousness? Could it have been that the light of the entire world is from Christ??
Despite my disillusionment, I had no desire to seek out any other faith or people. I suppose that was why the Lord used someone outside of me to bring me to Him.
In October 2008, I was contacted by my old high school "flame," through our high school alumni website. I learned that he was not only a soldier who had been injured in the war in Iraq, but he was also a pastor with the Assemblies of God. (He was a soldier before he was a pastor, which was why he was "called up" again.) He learned that I was a religious Jew living in Israel. We were both married with two young children (I still am). Tentatively, we began an exchange of cultural and religious information. My interest was less in his culture than in his religion. For the first time in my life, I wanted to know why Christians believe the way they do, what they do, what the different denominations are, how they live, what they think about the same situations I experience. I wanted to know what they said who Jesus was, and why, and what the New Testament says. The more I learned, the more envious I began to feel. Yes, at first it seemed it was because Christians are not constrained in quite the same ways that I am- that is, they seem to have fewer commandments to follow. After a while, however, I realized that what I envied was not their religious-legal freedom, but rather, their apparent freedom from sin. Christians didn't seem to need a strict ritual framework to connect to God, nor did they seem to need such a high hedge around the Law. And with all my envy, I finally began to admit to myself the suspicions I had subconciously held all along: What if I'm not good enough? What if I really do need Jesus to connect completely to God? What if the Christians are right?
I think it was while the IDF were still in Gaza (during Operation Cast Lead), that I accepted Jesus Christ into my life after reading "Following Christ" (a link on ag.org). Unfortunately, all my research, reading and learning had to be done in secret. You see, not only am I a religious Jew in Israel, but I live in a religious Zionist town. I used to be a big fan of Rabbi Tovia Singer, the counter-missionary rabbi. All my friends are religious Zionists. Our children go to religious-Zionist schools. And my husband, whom I still love dearly, is completely hostile to the mere mention of Jesus or Christianity, especially Catholic Christianity. It's like an allergy with him. To my husband, Christian philosophy is weak and cowardly, Christian theology is heresy, and Christian worship is idolatry (even without cross or crucifix). He has no kind words for any Christian in the context of that person's Christianity. He doesn't even want our children to listen to 'Kumbaya'. My husband is the nexus of my socialization with the rest of the public world. My hopes for the rest of my public life is based largely on how I can predict his reactions. Any mention of my new faith, to him or anyone else here, could cost me my husband, my children, their public schooling, my job, my friends, my physical safety, my right to citizenship in Israel, or any combination of those things.
My faith has already been tested and failed. When that happened, I kind of lost faith in everything else, too. I floundered spiritually, desperately seeking the connection to God I had begun to know before it was tested by HaSatan. Privately, I flirted with Islam, paganism ('Wicca') and even agnosticism, before I finally returned to Christ in repentence and asked Him to show me what I had missed before. This time, I read more on the origins of this faith I had secretly adopted. I began to read "The Messiah in the Old Testament" by Risto Santala, the Finnish (Lutheran) missionary to Israel. Mr. Santala's writings showed me that the origins of Christianity lie in the writings of the very Jewish sages I had so revered, but that these ideas have been hidden, dismissed, marginalized, re-interpreted, or transformed. I was only about two-thirds of the way through the book when I began to see so much of the Messiah in the Jewish sources, I was hard-pressed to refrain from crying out, "I KNEW it! Hey, everyone - Jesus is the Messiah!"
It was not long before I also realized that I was drawn to Catholicism. It happened when I was searching for stories of Jewish converts to Christianity, and I followed a link to the testimony of a former Lubavitcher Jew (like me!), now a Dominican nun (on 'Catholics for Israel?? Who would have imagined that such a group existed?). I wanted to know what she found so compelling about Catholicism, and I was soon hooked, not only on the specifics of Catholic life, but on the difference in the message. Evangelical Christians present eternal life as a reward for services rendered (faith). However, I was never interested in rewards. It seems to me (correct me if I'm wrong) that in Catholicism, the ikar, the essential point of all faith-life, is the eternal exchange of love offered through Jesus. Deep down, where the Lord takes me does not concern me. No matter how much I appreciated Evangelical Christianity, I never thought to myself, halleluyah, I get to go to heaven! Maybe that's what was missing. Love. Lovelovelove. Overwhelming love. If one only answers His call honestly and unreservedly, that is the sure result. Or rather, the sure discovery. After all, the love of God isn't suddenly bestowed upon you when you participate in the "fullness of the means of salvation." God loves all of His creations and calls us all to participate in that love, and the Catholic Church is the most complete way of doing so.
As you may have guessed by now, I have not yet been baptized. I have not even contacted a priest. My current circumstances, including my schedule and location, allow for very few opportunities to join church activities. For the time being, I am still technically 'only' a Jew. I realize that most of my fellow Jews would take issue with that, if they knew of the true nature of my faith. However, I have never seen in Scripture that different belief somehow mysteriusly (pardon the term) changes one from a 'member of the Tribe' to a stranger. Perhaps someday I will be granted the courage to proclaim my faith publicly - starting with my own husband. I learn. I pray intensely. And I wait.