The Long Road Home
I opened my door to find Holly, a friend I hadn't seen
much that semester. Why did she visit me that October
evening? I invited her in and we chatted for about fifteen
minutes. Then Holly subtly changed the subject to Jesus
Christ and Christianity, asking if I had seen a recent film
on death and dying, sponsored by a group she was now
involved with called Campus Crusade for Christ. Gradually it
became clear that Holly wanted me to accept Jesus as my
savior. I insisted that, to Jews, Jesus is not the Messiah.
No bibles were opened, we only talked. When Holly left, all
I wanted to do was sleep.
At that time I was a junior at Illinois State University,
majoring in special education for the visually handicapped.
I had grown up a Reform Jew, attending Sunday School until I
was ten. To please my mother, I later participated in a few
youth group social events, but never enjoyed them. I was
looking for something with more meaning. Judaism seemed so
empty. I wanted to understand and learn about God, though,
at the time, I wasn't aware of this need.
I didn't talk again to Holly about Christianity, but the
curiosity she sparked led me to another friend, Karen, a
"born-again" Christian who grew up attending the Church of
Christ. I thought of her as more spiritual than anyone I had
ever known. One afternoon I told Karen about my conversation
with Holly and asked her why Christians believe Jesus is the
Messiah. The pat answers I had received in Jewish circles no
longer satisfied me. That conversation began a series of
events that changed my life.
In January, I moved to Karen's residence hall floor. She
would stop in often to say hello and gradually directed our
conversation to Jesus and the Bible. Eventually Karen
invited me to attend a Bible study group for women in the
dorm. I turned her down at first, then ran out of excuses.
On a Thursday evening in February, I entered the small
meeting room, joining a dozen women for a "soul talk." A
table was stocked with paperback New Testaments waiting to
be picked up and opened. Next to the table sat Sherry, wife
of the "campus minister" representing the Church of Christ.
They had no connection with the university approved campus
Sherry began by talking to us about sin, saying that sin
involves not only acts like murder and robbery but also
hatred, arguing, and selfishness. The "fruits of the spirit"
are love, kindness, thoughtfulness, forgiveness, and
selflessness. If one lives by these morals, one will enter
heaven; if not, hell is inevitable.
After the Bible study, Linda introduced herself to me,
saying, "I've heard about you and think I could relate a
little better than the others here. My stepfather's Jewish."
I was surprised by her comment but gave her the benefit of
the doubt. We began to discuss the emptiness of Judaism, how
few Jews knew what it meant to be Jewish, and how Jewish
identity was reduced to social or political activities.
I later learned that my encounters with these women were
all orchestrated in advance. Between Tuesday, when I had
told Karen I would join her at the Bible study class, and
Thursday evening, all the women of this "soul talk" held a
meeting to discuss what my major was, where I lived, what I
believed in, who should befriend me, who should talk to me
before I left, who should meet me for lunch the next week,
and who should follow up with thoughtful notes. Sherry
admitted months later that she chose the subject of sin
specifically to attract me.
The "soul talk," among other events, followed the
missionary guidelines of the Crossroads Church of Christ in
Gainsville, Florida. Sherry began meeting me once a week for
one-on-one Bible study. I began attending Sunday services,
Friday night devotionals, Wednesday night Bible studies, and
I continued attending the "soul talks." I met some
wonderful, smiling, loving people. In fact, everyone I met
was quick to hug me and say "I love you."
Satisfying all my needs
Knowing that I was attending summer school that year,
Sherry asked me if I had a place to live. I hadn't yet
thought about it, but she had. "Well, Linda, Mary Kay, and
Shari need a roommate. Why don't you consider moving in with
them?" she suggested. "If you need a summer job, talk to
Mike, he's the director of Campus Recreation and will get
you a lifeguard job." Did I need a car? Someone from the
church would lend me theirs. Did I need money? They would
satisfy all my needs.
I spent that summer attending classes, working at the
pool, and going to Church of Christ events. I felt guilty if
I thought of doing anything else. Larry, the campus
minister, began to put on the pressure. After four or five
months, I still hadn't accepted Jesus. "Robin, you're going
to be a great Christian," he insisted. I informed him that
as much as I enjoyed being with the members of the church,
and as much as I appreciated the way everyone treated each
other, I wouldn't convert unless he could prove that Jesus
was the Jewish Messiah.
Larry rose to the challenge, using all the usual texts
from the Hebrew Bible to prove that the Prophets were
talking about Jesus when they spoke of the Messiah. Now I
look back at these passages and understand their true
meanings, but at that time I had no other "teacher."
Although I didn't feel that the words of the Prophets meshed
with the New Testament, I found myself wanting to accept
Christian doctrine. I prayed to God to show me a sign and
looked out the window, expecting to see an angel or hear the
wind speak. In the stillness, I decided that God would show
me in His own way.
The next day, the campus ministry sponsored a picnic. We
were running races when someone accidentally knocked me
down. When I opened my eyes and looked around, I saw so many
loving faces that I began to cry. I thought, "They all love
me, a love they say is from Jesus, but I don't deserve their
love because I didn't believe in him.
From party to prophesy
That night I went to a party. Everyone was getting high
on drugs or alcohol. Not a single person said hello to me. I
felt like an outcast. When I returned to the apartment, I
found all my roommates waiting up for me. They were
concerned because I had left the picnic with a headache.
They feared that I had a concussion. Their faces showed
disappointment that I had gone to a drinking party. As I sat
up that night, pondering the "prophecies" Larry had studied
with me, all the pieces seemed to fall into place.
The next day I was baptized. Larry spoke movingly, and
tears flowed throughout the congregation. He stressed my
Jewish heritage and how significant it was that I decided to
become a Christian.
My parents were stunned when I called them. My father,
who was being kept alive by a dialysis machine, wept and
begged me not to go through with it. My mother screamed and
swore at me. They said I sounded like a zombie and that I
wasn't their daughter anymore. I stayed calm, assured that
the peace of Jesus was within me.
After summer school I went home and, at my mother's
request, agreed to see a rabbi. Toward the end of our
meeting he yelled at me, accusing me of being worse than
Hitler, a disgrace to the Jewish people. He reconfirmed my
opinion that Jews were not spiritual and did not have "the
truth." To my mind he was just like the Pharisees who, I was
taught, had killed Jesus.
Humble and happy
I became repulsive to my old friends. I carried my Bible
everywhere, reading to them in the hope of "saving" them.
During this period, while assuming the role of a modest
woman, I began to look and act like my church friends. Like
clones, we would all pull our bodies inward to appear
humble. We kept our heads down and smiled constantly to
convince everyone of our happy state.
In January, while I was student teaching, my parents
entered therapy, and I went along to please my mother. In
one of the sessions my mother asked me to see a rabbi in New
York who had experience working with kids in cults. She said
that the rabbi could help her understand my situation, if
only he could talk to me. I flatly refused her request,
confident that my church was not a cult. He was probably a
deprogrammer. I had been warned that the devil might use my
parents or a deprogrammer to make me "fall away."
Then, suddenly, I felt that I wasn't displaying the
"attitude of Jesus." If I wanted to convert my mother and
the rest of the family, I had to do as they requested. I was
certain that I was strong enough to hold onto my faith. So I
proposed to my mother that, if she would speak to my
minister, I would see the rabbi. She agreed, catching me off
guard. I prayed to God for guidance.
Four days after graduation, I flew to New York with my
Bible and notebook in hand. Larry and my "brothers and
sisters" had advised me not to see this rabbi, but I
convinced them that the ordeal would make me a stronger
Christian. With their help, I read scripture to reinforce my
thinking and perhaps even persuade the rabbi to convert.
Rabbi Yehudah Fine, carrying his two-year-old daughter,
met me at JFK Airport. Dressed in a dark suit and yarmulke,
the bearded rabbi smiled warmly as he greeted me. During the
drive to Brooklyn, the conversation was light. I met his
wife, Ellie and their eighteen-month-old son at their
modest, two bedroom apartment. Then we all headed down
Avenue J for some kosher pizza.
Giving Judaism a chance
Later on that night, I told my story to Yehudah and his
wife. They impressed me by listening without arguing or
trying to persuade me. They wanted to get to know me and to
understand my situation. I was very much on guard but agreed
to meet with their friends and give Judaism a chance to
prove itself. I spent many hours conversing with Ellie, who
had once been a devotee of the Guru Maharaji, the leader of
the Divine Light Mission. I learned from her how cults use
subtle methods to lure unsuspecting people, such as
"love-bombing" new members and employing special jargon.
Mostly, we talked about God. Ellie was the first Jewish
person I had ever met who had a spiritual approach to
In the days that followed, I spoke with Yehudah's rebbe
and his friends Zalman and Nussan, among many others. On
Friday night I lit my first Shabbos candles and experienced
my first complete Shabbos. Zalman and I took a long walk
Saturday afternoon, talking about God, Jesus, Judaism, and
Christianity. Then at one point he turned to me and asked,
"Do you think Ellie is living her life in a way that would
be pleasing to God?" I answered, "Yes." Then he asked me,
"Is she going to heaven or hell?" I could only cry. If God
was as loving and forgiving as I had claimed, then Ellie
would certainly go to heaven. This conclusion conflicted
with my belief that hell awaited anyone who didn't believe
in Jesus, wasn't baptized, and didn't live a Christian life.
Forever means forever
Saturday night I met Nussan. He listened to my story but,
half way through, he began to tell me his story. He had been
involved in Campus Crusade for Christ while at college in
Iowa. He left the group and stopped believing in Jesus when
his mother proved to him that the word "forever" in the
Torah meant just that: forever. God's laws are forever, not
just until someone else comes along and gives you new laws.
Nussan encouraged me to look deeper into the passages of the
Jewish Bible, to read the messages of the Prophets more
thoroughly. I was stubborn and disagreed with him, yet
somehow he reached deep into my soul. He was the first Jew I
met that had left Christianity, and that impressed me just
as much as Zalman's powerful question the previous day.
After spending the following week in New Jersey with a
friend. I returned to Brooklyn for one more day before
heading home to begin training as a "soul talk" leader. I
was planning to move to Cape Giradeau with a campus minister
to help start a new ministry. But, somehow, this plan no
longer felt right. Instead of one more day in New York, I
decided to spend another week, then the rest of the summer.
I wanted to study Torah and give Judaism one last chance. I
phoned one of the "sisters" and informed her of my plans.
Yehudah warned me that if Larry were truly an ethical
Christian, he would not fuss about my decision to study with
Jews. Larry proved Yehudah's point. The following evening, I
received a phone call from Larry and four other people who,
for the next hour and a half, combined love-bombing and
coercion in an effort to convince me to quit New York. After
that ordeal, I began to dislike Larry and the whole group.
Theories shot down
I continued to study, delving into books on the Messiah
and Jesus. I spent hours with Zalman reading Gerald Sigal's
book The Jew and the Christian Missionary: A Jewish Response
to Missionary Christianity. Each time I chose a chapter
which I was certain would prove to Zalman that Jesus was the
Messiah, my theories were shot down. Nothing I read
confirmed that Jesus actually fulfilled any of the messianic
prophecies. Although it was tremendously difficult to admit,
for fear that I would go to hell, I realized that I could no
longer believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Finally, without
fanfare, I announced my decision to my new friends. Yehudah
called my parents and came back with the message from my
father that he now felt he had a reason to live.
It took almost a year for me to break the missionary
hold. On occasion, I felt the need to be with my old church
friends. But the illumination of that first Shabbos candle
helped me affirm my Judaism. Experiencing the discussions,
the singing, the learning, and the warmth of Shabbos was my
first step in realizing the spirituality of Judaism. I
learned that there really are Jewish people who believe in a
loving God and live their lives accordingly. The more I
learn, the more I realize that Judaism is filled with love,
forgiveness and the omnipresence of God.
Since this story was written, Robin, now known as Raizel
(her Yiddish name) has become an observant Jew and was