I was raised in a traditional Jewish home in New York City. I heard very little about Jesus while growing up. As I got older, I made no effort to learn anything about Jesus. This is because, in my mind, Jesus was linked to Christianity and both Jesus and Christianity were about as non-Jewish as you could get!
I am not really being negative when I say that—it is just that every Jewish person I knew believed that there was an ocean of difference between Jews and Christians and for Jews there were no boats available! Not that we thought much about it, but deep inside we knew if perchance, anyone converted to Christianity, they would no longer be considered Jewish.
Religion was neatly compartmentalized from my perch—you were either Jewish or Christian or something else. I did not distinguish between Catholicism or Protestantism or any other religion! In my mind, if you were not Jewish or Christian, you were probably from another part of the world and therefore may practice Buddhism or Hinduism, etc. There was no merging of faiths and “normal” people remained part of the religion they were born into. Now, whether or not they believed or followed their own faith was another matter…but switching was not a possibility in my mind.
Though I attended a modern Orthodox synagogue as a kid, spent two months a year at Jewish summer camps, and became bar mitzvah at 13 years of age, still, I was not all that interested in religion. I loved being Jewish, I even enjoyed studying the Bible—mostly to learn more about my own history, but I simply was not trying to discover some type of religious truth.
Did I believe in God? I was probably some kind of agnostic without seriously thinking it through. Simply put, I knew I was Jewish and identified with the Jewish community. Furthermore, I understood that
I was not a Christian and these clear lines were very comfortable for me and for most people I knew.
However, some things began to change rapidly when I left the East Coast to seek my destiny in San Francisco in 1970, the year after Woodstock! I joined some of my Jewish friends from New York City and lived what could only be described as some type of middle-class Jewish hippie lifestyle. In other words, I grew my hair long, participated in most hippie activities, but always knew that one day I had to go back to normal life: cut my hair, go to college, get a good job, get married, have children and probably move to the suburbs!
At times I thought that maybe there was more to life than what I believed was my ultimate fate but I did not really give it much thought. And if I did, I can assure you that believing in Jesus or Christianity did not even enter my mind. It had no reason to do so…I was Jewish.
However, my two best friends became believers in Jesus through a number of circumstances that I thought at the time were really wild. They tried to convince me but I thought they were crazy—mishegguh (Yiddish for pleasantly bonkers!).
I remember yelling at one of my friends telling him that Jewish people do not believe in Jesus (as if I was such a religious Jewish person at the time)! I barely knew what I really believed—but since I was raised more religious than he, I felt that I had the higher moral ground to try and dissuade him from what
I believed was a heinous act of community disloyalty or assimilation amongst the gentiles.
Christianity was not for the Jews—Jesus was not for Jews—and I never even considered the possibility that Jesus was Jewish.
My friends were smart and did not argue—they just encouraged me to read the Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Old Testament. I really loved the Old Testament as a kid and enjoyed it even more as a 19-year-old because the story was exciting and connected me to my ancestors and my heritage. But as I began reading the Bible I noticed something that I had never understood before. The reason why so many of my ancestors, like Abraham, Moses and King David, were great in my eyes was because of their relationship with God.
I began to compare the relationship with God my friends had with what I was reading in the Bible and the two looked quite similar. They recommended I begin reading the New Testament and I resisted until one day I actually found a New Testament in a phone booth late at night in the middle of a campground in Northern California. So, I began reading. I had no idea who the Gospel writers were: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John seemed like very strange names for chapters in a book. But I knew it was a best-seller and so, out of intrigue…I kept reading.
After a few days of reading the New Testament, I was thunderstruck by what I was learning about Jesus. I recognized that He was Jewish, celebrated the Jewish holidays and everything about Him seemed to be in one accord with what I understood to be Jewish. I had always presumed that Jesus created another non-Jewish religion. However, upon reading the New Testament scriptures for myself, I came upon the discovery that Jesus was born a Jew and remained a Jew. He did not start a new religion and did not “assimilate.” My original presumption was proven to be unfounded. And I began considering the possibility that perhaps both of my friends who now believed in Him were still Jewish, too.
Once I recognized that Jesus was Jewish, I felt more comfortable researching the New Testament and trying to figure out if He was the Messiah or not. Eventually, I did believe that Yeshua (His Hebrew name) was the promised Messiah, as His claims were built upon the promises of the Old Testament—which I knew for certain was a Jewish book!
Now I was faced with a real challenge! If Jesus fit the qualifications for the Messiah predicted in the Hebrew Scriptures, then a nice Jewish boy from New York City like me should believe it was true. The whole process took many months, but eventually, I understood that Jesus was the Messiah and I became one of His modern day disciples.
But, I always remember, my first step in becoming a follower of Yeshua was to recognize He was Jewish—just like me.
I hope you enjoy the rest of this publication where we will explain more about Jesus and the reasons why a Jewish person can and should believe He is the Messiah. It is my hope, and the hope of our editorial team, that you will learn a lot from this volume and allow it to be one step along the journey for you.
Enjoy the publication and feel free to pass it along to others.