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When I was five, I asked my parents, "When can I go to church to talk to G-d?" At first my parents thought it was cute. However, I soon found myself enrolled in a weekly Yiddish class. Being a shy child, I did not do well and eventually was asked to leave the class; hence the end of my Yiddish education. I suppose I thought G-d wasn't in my Yiddish class.

When I was 10, my grandpa died. As the eldest child, I always felt we had a special love for one another. Was my grandfather alone now? I wondered. Did he think of us? Did he know how much I loved him? In my bed that evening, looking up at the ceiling, I cried and asked G-d to please tell my grandpa that I loved him and missed him. I also added something quite peculiar for a Jewish child, probably picked up from our non-Jewish neighbors: I asked Jesus that just in case he was Messiah, would he please hold my grandpa in his arms and take care of him until I got to Heaven. You see, I wanted to cover all my bases.

Soon after, I asked my parents if I could go to temple and learn about G-d. I learned to read Hebrew and studied for my bat mitzvah. I eventually met with the rabbi and remember reviewing the English portion of my haftarah. My Torah portion talked about angels, and during one of my sessions with him, the rabbi asked me if I really believed in miracles and angels. I hesitantly said yes. And he laughed at me! I was devastated and went home crying. I felt so ashamed that I had even answered his question. Of course I believed in miracles, angels, and G-d. Didn't he?

On the outside, my bat mitzvah was a success. I had done what I had set out to do: I had learned to read and write in Hebrew. Unfortunately, I didn't achieve my main goal of getting in touch with G-d. I guess He wasn't in my temple either.

After my bat mitzvah classes, I stopped learning anything about Judaism for a long, long time. I do have one special Jewish memory, though. I remember my mother lighting candles late Friday afternoon before sunset. Her head covered, she brought in Shabbat with a beautiful prayer. Standing next to her, basking in the warmth of the candles, and watching my mother recite the prayer in Hebrew -- these are some of my most beautiful memories.

In high school, I was very involved in theater productions, choral, and orchestra. Over the next five years, many friends passed away. Two young girlfriends in high school were killed by a drunk driver, another friend was murdered while hitchhiking during the summer of her junior year, another was strangled during my second year of college, another died of leukemia, another hit by a truck, and another was hit by a train while trying to save a woman's life as she lay unconscious on the tracks. (They both died.)

What was going on here? I wondered. What was life all about? What was dying all about?

I never imagined I would live past 30, so I abandoned my search for truth and decided to live life to the fullest. I majored in photography and had a very successful career as a biomedical photographer. Working in the area of cancer research at three of the most prestigious universities and hospitals in the United States, I was involved in documenting radical surgeries and research. I was constantly faced with the delicate balance between life and death. Avoid them as I might try, all my questions resurfaced.

What was life all about? I wondered. Where could I find answers?

Not long after, I moved to the West Coast, and in three sequential moves, all my neighbors were Messianic Jews. I felt that G-d was sending me a sign.

My new neighbors weren't really Christians, I thought. They didn't celebrate Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter. They only celebrated the biblical holidays. They had Jewish names. They met on Saturday mornings for services, not Sundays. They believed in angels, miracles, and G-d. They quoted Scriptures from the Bible that they said proved that Jesus is the Messiah. One Saturday morning, I went to their Messianic congregation in town. They were praying and lifting their arms up to G-d. These were educated and sincere men, women, and children. Nice people, many of them Jewish. No crosses or pictures of Jesus, only a Star of David.

Well, I thought, I'm home. I've finally found G-d.

I was where I thought G-d wanted me to be. I could pray to G-d and believe in angels and still stay Jewish. I became a Messianic Jew, memorizing passages and eventually even doing some missionizing and recruiting.

Within a few years, though, I began to question the truth of the Messiahship of Jesus. It didn't happen overnight. I kept noticing hypocrisy in what I was seeing. They rejected the Jewish tradition, claiming that only the literal Bible was Divine. Yet they said blessings in Hebrew that didn't appear explicitly in the Bible at all, only in the Jewish tradition. The men would wear prayer shawls but not tefillin. Why one and not the other? They wore the tzitzit strings, but on their belt buckles, not on garments as the verse in the Bible clearly says to. They would quote passages out of context, twisting the meaning completely. When I would ask for explanations, they would move on to a different verse, claiming I had to have faith. I was told of several Messianic rabbis who were raised Orthodox, went to yeshivoth, and had come to see the light. If they were convinced of the authenticity of Jesus, I was told, why couldn't I be?

I tracked down these rabbis one by one, calling around the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa. Not one of them had had any serious Jewish education, or had been raised Orthodox. Certainly none of them had been to a yeshiva. The deeper I dug, the greater the lies. I was upset, confused, unhappy, and lost. Where was I to go? What was really true?

About that time -- thank G-d -- my mother (who lived 3,000 miles away) somehow found Rabbi Tovia Singer, director of Outreach Judaism (www.outreachjudaism.org). He was an anti-missionary Orthodox rabbi who knew the New Testament inside and out. She wanted me to talk to him when I next visited New York.

Needless to say, I eagerly awaited my next trip. We met that evening and sat in my mother's living room for over five hours, going back and forth from Jewish to Christian Scriptures. He kept calling me "rebbetzin." What did he mean? I wondered. He said he was born with gefilte fish in his blood. He came from a family of rabbis from generations past. He was funny, friendly, and more knowledgeable than anyone I'd ever met. To this day we have a wonderful rabbi-student relationship. I remember saying that we both can't be right. He agreed. This is serious stuff, he said. I knew I had to find out who was right. Over time Rabbi Singer encouraged me to go to Israel and learn what I knew little about: Judaism.

Seven months after my initial meeting with Rabbi Singer, I left the Messianic congregation after eight years as a member. I didn't know who Jesus was, but was unable to stay there with my doubts about the movement's authenticity. It became clear to me that none of them actually knew anything about Judaism. How could they judge where Jesus fit in?

Everything I knew about Judaism was through a Christian prism, and I needed to learn how Jewish beliefs are different from Christian and Messianic Jewish beliefs. Over the next year and a half I went to nearby shuls for evening classes, but knew I needed even more immersion in Judaism.

With time, I saw the Jesus claim for what it was: a combination of lack of knowledge on the part of the believers and in some cases deception on the part of the leaders and institutions. There is much to explain, but, simply put, the reason why Jews in his time rejected Jesus as the Messiah is the same reason educated Jews do so today. He doesn't fit the basic scriptural qualifications of being the Messiah (the leader of the Jewish people) who will lead them to their land and their religion, ushering in an era of love, peace, and connection to G-d. Clearly, neither the Messiah nor the Messianic age envisioned by the Bible and the Prophets have come.

But thankfully I learned much more about being Jewish than the reasons not to be Christian. I learned of how much G-d loves us, cares for us, and has not abandoned us. How He gave us a beautiful Torah to teach us how to get close to Him and how to achieve true happiness. How our people have spread the ideas of morality and goodness in the world and how we still have much to do. I learned what a great honor it is to be a Jew and what great role models we have in incredible Jewish women.

Now I live in Israel and visit the Western Wall whenever I can. I cried the first time I was there and still do sometimes when I go. It is there that I feel how close I have come to my grandparents, my heritage, and G-d.

I am sincerely grateful for all the steps I needed to take on my journey home. And now I have the opportunity to share what I have learned with many who are searching. And you, too, can help. Please show this essay to friends who are at risk -- which includes almost anyone with a limited Jewish background. And most importantly, give your children (and yourselves) a serious Jewish education. In the long term, it is the only way that Jews will stay Jewish.

Reprinted from "JEWISH WOMEN SPEAK ABOUT JEWISH MATTERS" Published by: Targum Press, Inc.

Last update: May 1, 2004
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