(To read my book Leave Me Alone—I’m Jewish!, and get the full story, just go to (www.imjewish.org)
That was the thought going through my mind one dark evening in the middle of North Carolina on a cool October night in 1983. Death was always a concern with me. I loved life and didn’t want to die—not now, not ever. However as the small yellow car swerved from side and to side and then began to spin around, that was the thought racing through my mind, “Is this it? Am I going to die?”
The car finally flipped over once or twice, I can’t remember. What I do remember was the first thought that came to my mind as we sat in the car in shock in the middle of nowhere: Jesus is not real. If Jesus were real this would not have happened.
That was a strange first thought for a Jewish young man who was raised with the belief that Jesus was not the Messiah. Why would such a thought even be a concern? Especially when my main concern should have been getting out of the car and getting help.
To explain that I have to take you back about eight months.
First, a little about my background. I am Jewish. I was circumcised on the eighth day, went to Hebrew school (this was a three-times-a-week Jewish Life and Culture school, that most North American Jews go to in addition to their formal education) and became Bar Mitzvah when I was thirteen.
I was not religious, but neither was I an atheist. I did not see any clear evidence for God or really care that much, as my main purpose in life was to have fun.
When I was seventeen years old I began to notice a change in the way my best friend Brian was acting. After quizzing him, it became clear that he had a deep religious experience with Jesus. I was not happy for him as I always looked at religious people as boring or weird. Why would anyone want to be religious, I thought. Nevertheless, it didn’t have anything to do with me because I am Jewish, and while I was not on the path to become the next Maimonides (Jewish sage), I did know at least one thing about being Jewish—and it wasn’t what we believed, but rather what we didn’t believe. We don’t believe in Jesus.
Nevertheless, Brian’s new found faith did awaken an awareness in me that I had no idea where I was going after I died. So many of us spend our whole life preparing for a thing called retirement, a period of time that some people never even reach and others only spend a short season there before they die. So much emphasis on this season and yet we never take the time to think of our eternal retirement and what we must do on earth to secure it.
Despite my passion for fun, I realized that if I died and spent eternity in hell, it would not be worth it. I had to find out the truth. Who is God and how do I serve him. This realization came to me about month after Brian’s experience.
On one occasion we were together and Brian had been using a certain phrase to describe his new state of being: Born again. “Brian, there is nothing in the New Testament about being born again!” I blurted out. This was funny because I had never read the Old Testament, much less the New Testament, but somehow I knew there was nothing in it about being born again. That is, until Brian opened his New Testament to John 3:3. In this passage Yeshua is talking to a Jewish rabbi named Nicodemus. Nicodemus believed that Yeshua had been sent by God because of the miracles He had been performing and wanted to ask him some questions. Brian read to me these words:
Except a man be born again he can not see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3)
When Brian read those words to me it was as if swords came flying out of heaven. I knew it was true. It was as if something had been blinding me and suddenly I could see. But I wasn’t too crazy about what I saw! I screamed inwardly, “No, this can’t be true. I am Jewish and we don’t believe in Jesus!”
Over the next few months I continued to wonder if this Yeshua could actually be the Messiah of the Jewish people, the way to eternal life. On Yom Kippur 1983 I decided that I would do something radical—I would fast! Like I said, I did not grow up religious and while I always went to temple to pray on Yom Kippur, it had never entered my mind to actually not eat for 24 hours. However, I wanted to find God—to find truth, and as a Jew this seemed like the most logical place to begin my search.
That evening I saw a young lady in whom I had been interested. She literary threw herself at me. (This never had happened to me before!) Her intentions were clear. However, contrary to everything inside of me as a young man, I pushed her away and told her that I could not. I was intent on finding God and I knew that breaking one of the ten commandants by taking advantage of a drunk young lady at the beginning of my fast was not the best start.
After 24 hours of not eating I did not feel any closer to God. I was hungry though! Discouraged, I headed off to college in North Carolina. I had hoped to find God and I didn’t feel any closer than when I started.
About a month later I was home during a five-day break from school, when I ran into Brian. The conversation quickly turned to Yeshua. Truthfully, I only had one question for him. My Jewish heritage was important, but I was willing to suffer criticism and even persecution from my own people if in indeed it turned out that Yeshua was the Messiah. However, as an 18-year-old who loved to have fun, I had to ask Brian this one thing: “Is you life better now than it was before.”
You see, I loved my life. Sometimes that meant doing things I knew were wrong. But I didn’t want to trade my fun life for a boring, religious life. Like I said before, other than Brian, everyone I knew who was religious seemed depressed and miserable—completely uninteresting. And if that was what Brian was offering, I wasn’t interested.
It seemed to me that the deal was that you live a boring life for God and your reward i