As long as I can remember, I always believed in God.
Jesus was a different matter, since I was brought up in an Orthodox, Jewish home. Like most Jews, while I never read the scriptures, I innately knew that Jesus was not someone in whom I was to believe. I was also convinced that if Jesus was who He said He was, our Rabbis would have embraced Him. At best, I was told that Jesus was a good teacher and a prophet-but in no way, was He the Jewish Messiah!
The fact that Christianity was a Jewish deal from the beginning was totally foreign to me. It was quite a shock to learn that most of the early believers, if not all, were Jews and that Biblical Judaism was the antithesis of Rabbinical Judaism.
What ultimately brought me to accept Yeshua as my Messiah was the work of many faithful believers, over a long period of time, who relentlessly and boldly planted so many seeds. I might add that all these believers were gentile and not Jewish. I agreed to study the Old Testament, the same Bible that my grandfather read every morning when he woke up and started his day.
More on this later-however, speaking of my grandfather, it might be insightful to go back to the beginning and discuss the impact that he had on me and other family members.
I was born in Toronto Canada in 1934 to Jewish parents. My mother divorced when I was five years old and as a result, we lived with her parents, my grandparents, in a small house, which was leased from a Rabbi, who taught Hebrew School, to the neighborhood children. The Rabbi and his family lived downstairs and my mother, grandparents and I occupied the 2nd floor of the Rabbi’s home. I attended Hebrew School but only learned some very basic teaching.
My grandfather was very religious and would awaken early each morning to dawn his phylacteries, read the scriptures and pray to God. Every Shabbat, he would take me to the small Shul, located in the center of the community, in which we lived.
My mother was the youngest of five children and when her sister, my aunt, married out of the faith, (she married an Italian Catholic)-my grandfather sat Shiva (spiritually buried her.) My aunt was not allowed to ever see or communicate with her father again. She was ostracized with a broken heart-and would pass away many years later (long after my grandfather’s death) – never to have had the opportunity to speak to her father, and only on occasion, secretively, to her mother.
My mother remarried when I was 7 years old and I was adopted by my new, Jewish, father. He was kind, loving, and he and his family accepted me as their own. My new dad was not religious and we soon found ourselves living in a gentile neighborhood.
It was here that I experienced anti-Semitism for the first time and as a result, I hated my early school years. I was very uneasy at school-especially during the Christmas season, when all those “gentile” songs were being sung. (Chanukah was never mentioned or celebrated in the public schools, at that time).
There may have been other Jewish kids in my grammar school, but, if so, I didn’t know them. I can vividly recall being called a “dirty Jew,” Christ killer, and other obscenities. Going to school in those early years was simply was not a positive experience and in my young mind, there were two groups-the mean “goyim,” the ones that loved Jesus – and we Jews, the ones that they hated! Also, I was convinced that this was the reason that no family member could utter the name of Jesus – ever – while in the presence of my grandfather.
Much later in life, I learned that many Jewish people blamed Jesus and the Christians for the pogroms, the crusades, the inquisitions and even the holocaust. In my mind, all gentiles were Christians – there was no distinction between believers and non believers – all of them, I thought, hated us and were enemies of the Jews.
When I was 12 years old, my parents decided to leave Canada and moved to the United States. We settled on the west side of Chicago in 1946. The neighborhood was multi-cultural but mostly populated by Jewish people. Most of my classmates were Jewish.
When I turned 13, I celebrated my Bar Mitzvah – however my family only attended Shul during the High Holy Days. My grandfather passed away when I was 8 years old and with his death, the family fell away from any formal religious practices and for a lack of a better description, we became “cultural” Jews.
We moved to Los Angeles when I was 14 and after finishing high school, three years of college and a two year stint in the army, I was ready to meet my wife to be. We met in college and married after we graduated in 1960.
Nancy Goodman, despite her last name, was not Jewish and to make things a bit more uncomfortable for me, she believed in Jesus. She would only marry me, on the condition that if, and when, we had children that they would be allowed to attend Sunday school at church. Other than that, there was no pressure on me to change my religious beliefs.
I loved Nancy and wanted to marry her and so I agreed. Obviously we were unequally yoked, and while God brought good out of this marriage, my decisions as head of the house for the first twenty-two years of marriage was that of an “unbeliever!” Not easy, at best, for my wife and children.
After two years of marriage, we had our first baby and four years later, we had our second child. When the children were old enough to attend Sunday school, we enrolled them, as I promised we would do. I did not feel comfortable going inside a church and therefore, for 18 years we sat in the drive in section of the Crystal Cathedral (then called the Garden Grove Community Church) while our children, Suzanne and Stephen, attended Sunday school class. Ultimately, as a direct result of the teaching, our children accepted Yeshua as their Messiah. My parents, when they learned of this never let on if they disapproved since they loved my wife and our children, unconditionally. Thank God that He never gave up on me and that the many seeds I had alluded to, which had been planted on my behalf, were not in vain. All that time in the drive in church, while not resulting in my accepting the Messiah, may very well have been preparing me for what was to come!
The turning point came after 20 years of marriage. I decided to attend a weekly Bible Study – Bible Study Fellowship (B.S.F.) – a five year study of the New and Old Testaments, taught by lay people. My sister-in-law, Carolyn Shipway, asked me if I would consider attending one session on a trial basis. I agreed since the study that first year was on the Book of Genesis and I was curious. Furthermore, a Christian friend had advised and encouraged me to get into the Living Word of the Living God – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He said if I did that, that God would reveal Himself to me, for who He truly is. I thought B.S.F., given that the study was going to be from the Old Testament, would, therefore, be the perfect venue for me to pursue.
I later learned that a number of people were praying for my salvation – particularly a very humble evangelist, now with the Lord – Al Vanderslick. Al received my name from a relative whom he contacted, thinking the relative was Jewish. While the relative was not Jewish, he passed along my name and address and Al proceeded to leave his business card on our front door-which I promptly ignored.
However, as God would have it, several months later, our daughter, Suzanne, while attending Fullerton State College, stopped at a table on campus to speak with the person in charge. A sign over the table, regarding Israel, caught her attention and guess what? The person in charge, was none other than Al Vanderslick. After a few moments of discussion, Suzanne was shocked to hear Al say that he knew her father – Jerry Sands and, in fact he told her that ever since he had left his business card on our front door, he had been praying for my salvation on a regular basis. Does God leave no stone unturned, or what?
Suzanne was overwhelmed and couldn’t wait to share the news with my wife and me.
After hearing about Suzanne’s encounter, I felt led to contact Al, which I did and extended an invitation for him and his wife, Janice, to visit our home. They were pleased to hear from us and readily accepted our invitation. Upon meeting them, we immediately felt the genuine love and concern, as they shared the love of Yeshua with me.
After much spiritual discussion, I told Al that I appreciated his concern for my salvation – however, I emphatically stated that I was not ready to accept Jesus. I told him that I was thinking about going to BSF and that if I had any questions, I would contact him. We ended the evening at the front door-holding hands, in preparation for prayer.
Al’s prayer was a simple song – “Praise God! Praise God! Praise God!” What a humble soul this man was. As a side note, Al was one of the very first people I contacted, after accepting Yeshua into my life.
Back to BSF-After my first night of trial attendance, I decided that I would like to attend each week on a regular basis. I remember sitting in the second floor balcony with only one or two other men, feeling like a fish out of water. I prayed to God to reveal His truth and to remove any prejudice that I may have learned as a boy. I was not familiar with scripture-however later read what turned out to be one of my favorite verses in the Bible-Jeremiah 29:13 “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all you heart.” (NAS) What a promise!
My eyes were slowly opened as the study progressed and as I read scripture after scripture about a Jewish Messiah. It is noteworthy to add that since I always believed in God, I had no problem believing that the Bible, was His inspired Word and that every word in it, was true.
While the study was on the Book of Genesis, we invariably looked at, and studied, various passages in the entire Old Testament. Prophecy after prophecy was revealed, i.e. that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, (Micah 5:2); that He was to be born of a virgin, (Isaiah 7:14); that He was to be a prophet like unto Moses, (Deuteronomy 18:15) and that He would be rejected by His own people and suffer (Isaiah 53). These are just a few of the many, many prophecies, we studied. While all these prophecies were more than incredible to me, I would have to say that Isaiah 53, impacted me the most-and clearly seemed to be talking about Yeshua-the promised One!
About this same time in my walk, I read the book, “Betrayed,” written by a Jewish believer, Stan Telchin. He raised a very important point pertaining to genealogy-one that really made me think. He pointed out that according to the scriptures, the Messiah was going to come from the seed of David. Since the temple was destroyed in AD 70 and since all of the genealogy records were destroyed as well, Mr. Telchin pointed out that anyone coming on the scene after AD 70, would not be able to prove his lineage and Messiahship. Therefore, either the entire concept of a Messiah in Jewish life was a myth and the Bible was false, or the Messiah came before the year 70 A.D.! What a profound and astute observation. It really made me think, hard!
By the end of the class, that first year, I had Yeshua in my heart — however, because of my upbringing, could not get Him into my head (probably the opposite of most.) Satan was at work-but as scripture tells us — greater is He that is in us — than he that is in the world! I was also beginning to see that I was a sinner and not the nice person that I always considered myself to be. I knew that I needed a Savior, and I was drawing closer to the truth, as to who He was!
I enrolled in another year of B.S.F.-this time it was the Book of John, in the New Testament. As the weeks went by and the study progressed, I learned how much of the Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled in the New — and again was so very surprised to learn that while God’s grace extended to the gentile and Jew, alike, that Christianity was really Jewish. The scriptures were clear!
Before the class on the Book of John concluded that semester, I had an opportunity to attend an investor’s meeting for a new bank. I vividly recall that my wife was in no way interested in attending and I was only mildly interested. We ultimately decided that we would go-not having a clue that the Lord had something special in store for me, that night.
We sat with a group of people and while the speakers were making their presentation, I overheard a lady, Judy Caldwell, say something of a spiritual nature to the lady sitting next to her. When the meeting was over, I glanced at Judy and made this comment. I said, “Judy, there were many words spoken tonight by those trying to raise money. I went on to say, ” I believe from God’s perspective, that what you had to say was no doubt the most important!”
She looked at me and thinking she was going to thank me for what I had said, I was totally caught off guard with her words. She looked directly into my eyes and boldly asked me to accept Jesus as my Savior! (what I didn’t know until much later-was that her legs were trembling, with fear!)
After my initial shock, my response was the same as it had always been in the past, namely, that I was Jewish, and could not do that. She backed off immediately-however, stating that she would be praying for me.
The next morning after my wife left for her teaching job, I picked up the phone and called Judy. She was shocked to hear from me and no doubt harboring all kinds of thoughts-not being sure why I was calling.
I told her that I wanted her to pray with me. I went on to say that I could not explain it, but that what she said to me the night before, was so compelling that I couldn’t sleep very well. I told her that I wanted to stop intellectualizing, and on faith, with the knowledge I had acquired, accept Yeshua into my heart! (and my head.) Judy was stunned but I am certain, in her heart, she was praising God for His giving her the boldness to say what she did the night before. One might say that she was the last “bold seed planter” in my life. And so she prayed and I accepted Him!
That was some twenty two years ago and since then my life has never been the same. For the past 12 years I have been a member of several Messianic Congregations and have had an opportunity to celebrate the feasts with Jewish and gentile Believers, alike. This has made me feel more Jewish than I have ever felt in my life. I realized that I did not convert from Judaism when I accepted Yeshua into my life. I did not become a gentile. Instead, I embraced Judaism and became a “completed Jew!”-the same way that the early Jewish Believers did, in Yeshua’s time. How good God is! My wife has embraced Messianic Judaism with a passion and together we have enjoyed many opportunities to share God’s Word from a Jewish frame of reference. God brought good out of our being unequally yoked-certainly a Romans 8:28 promise, (all things work together for good, to those who love God; to those who are called according to His purpose) For this I can state — I am, and will be, “eternally” grateful.
In conclusion, I must reiterate that indeed there were many, many seeds planted by faithful believers, all of whom I am certain, would give the glory to God, Himself. However, what ultimately brought me to accept Yeshua was the studying of The Old Testament. Certainly the New Testament played an important part as well, as I clearly saw how prophecy was fulfilled. However, it was the Tenach that opened my eyes to God’s truth and it was there, in the Jewish scriptures, that I sought Him and found Him-just as Jeremiah 29-13 promises.
My advice then, to anyone who is earnestly seeking God’s truth-especially a Jewish person — would be the same as my dear Christian friend, Israel Carmona, told me so very long ago. “Get into the Living Word of the Living God-the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-and He will reveal Himself to you!”
It could change your life forever-and hopefully for eternity!
Thank you Lord for being a God who wants none to perish. Thank You Lord that You love us so much that You have given us free will-and have assured those of us who truly seek You, that we will, indeed, find You! May it be so — for many, many lives! What a mighty God, You are!