By Michael Stepakoff
Getting a Jewish education was a top priority in my house. I grew up in Atlanta, where my family belonged to a 5,000-member Conservative synagogue. I attended Hebrew school in the evenings and on Sundays, and was active in B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO). Every summer, I attended Jewish overnight camp in the Georgia mountains.
Camp is one of the fondest memories I have of growing up Jewish. There, we experienced Judaism in a natural setting, apart from the religious establishment. We sang Israeli folk songs, had skits and dances, and learned about God and Israel in creative ways. It was a blast!
When I was a teen, Jewish songwriter Bob Dylan became my idol. In the late 70s, he released two albums about Jesus. I was very upset with him – but I never forgot.
I went to college at Florida State, where I majored in creative writing. I wanted to be a writer, but when I realized how challenging it would be to make a living, I did a very Jewish thing-I went to law school instead, graduating from Stetson University College of Law in 1990. At that point I was twenty-five years old and becoming more religious. I attended a Conservative synagogue and prayed three times a day. I studied Maimonides and Rashi and got into Kabbalah.
One year out of law school, I became involved in a major court battle that involved practitioners of the occult. I felt I needed some spiritual help, so I sought out the advice of a Gypsy woman who – it turned out – was a born-again Christian. It sounded strange, as I usually associated Gypsies with fortune-telling. But in this instance, what followed was the most important thing that ever happened to me. As this woman and her family began praying for me, I started to open up enough to read the New Testament. I quickly discovered that Jesus was Jewish – a fact I hadn’t known.
In March 1992, I prayed with my Gypsy friend and received Yeshua into my heart. We Jews often need a sign for confirmation – and God gave me one. A week later I met a sweet college girl named Tara. I knew right away she was my other half, my besherta, or “soul mate.” Tara became my wife and the mother of our four children.
In August 1998, Tara and I founded a Messianic synagogue. I never would have thought I would be spending most of my time teaching others about Yeshua, but I am very happy to be serving God in this way. Today, our congregation, called Temple New Jerusalem, meets in Dunedin, Florida. I cannot begin to count all the amazing things God has done since the day I said “Yes” to Yeshua in a Gypsy woman’s living room. God had a perfect way to reach me, and I am so glad He did.