I didn’t know much about Christianity as a kid.
Why should I? I was Jewish, Bat Mitzvahed at 13, born and raised in the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles. Though my high school wasn’t closed for Jewish holidays, a quarter of the students were absent for the High Holy Days. My father was raised as an orthodox Jew; my maternal grandfather was a former cantor; my great aunt still kept kosher.
My Jewish roots ran deep.
I do remember my first church service, however. I was nine or so, and we were visiting my aunt and her family. I recall the pastor saying something disparaging about Jews during his sermon. I ran out. I still don’t remember what he said, but I did not enter a church again for ten years.
The next one was Catholic. I was in college, dating a Catholic who brought me to Mass. I remember looking up at the front of the church, seeing the crucifix, and feeling more uncomfortable than I ever had before. I kept my eyes down for the rest of the service. That cross haunted me for quite a while.
I had other minor “encounters” with Christianity, but it wasn’t until I was married and living in the Midwest twelve years later that that cross grabbed my attention again.
My husband was nominally Jewish and we both followed our faith for a while. We soon stopped attending synagogue, however, neither of the local ones being to our liking. We still celebrated the major holidays, but nothing more.
I was working as a freelance writer for the local daily paper, and the religion editor had taken a liking to me, so I was writing for him. One day, he called and asked if I would cover a Christian women’s conference the following Saturday. I agreed skeptically, assuming it would be a bunch of fake, mushy women screaming “Hallelujah” and praising God for their wonderful lives.
The moment I walked into the arena, I felt a camaraderie among the women there, and a peace I simply couldn’t explain. The speakers, who I normally would have dismissed as hokey, resonated with me, and I felt myself filled with the same camaraderie and peace as those around me. I didn’t want to leave.
Unfortunately, I had no choice – I had a deadline to meet! And, as I left the building to walk the three blocks to the newspaper office, I felt that peace leave me just as suddenly as it arrived.
A myriad of questions ran through my mind.
- What did those women have that I didn’t?
- Could I find that kind of peace in Judaism if I was more devout, or was this a Christian phenomenon?
I decided I needed to start this quest of mine with my own faith. I found my English copy of the Hebrew Bible and read the entire Old Testament from beginning to end in two weeks. I also typed out about 20 pages of notes.
I knew what I had to do next. I began reading the New Testament. And there, it seemed, were answers to all my questions, comfort from all my fears. I finished the NT in another week, and added another dozen pages of notes to my collection.
Yet, I had some serious misgivings. I saw Jesus as a wonderful man, someone to emulate, but as God? As Messiah? My Jewish background and teachings were digging at me – “God is One,” “Christ was a Jew-hater,” and other mantras reverberated in my mind. I MIGHT be able to accept Jesus as Lord, but Savior?
Still, I started attending a bible-believing church, and began reading the bible through again. I got many new revelations on the Old Testament the second time through, but none as monumental as the one I received about 5 months after the women’s conference, from Isaiah.
But he was wounded because of our sins,
Crushed because of our iniquities.
He bore the chastisement that made us whole,
And by his bruises we were healed.
Isaiah 53:5 JPS
There it was, in black and while – in the Hebrew Scriptures: Christ’s death on the cross as payment for my sins. At this point, I had no choice. I embraced the cross, and have never turned back.