My mother and father were American Jews who had lived through the anti-Semitism in this country during and after World War II. They had seen signs in store windows and hotels which read, "No Jews or dogs." They knew Henry Ford had to be sued before allowing Jews to work in his factories. No wonder that they felt threatened by gentiles and nourished a seething hostility toward Christians.
However, they weren't proud to be Jewish, either, and once my elderly paternal grandfather stopped pressuring my dad to put his children through Hebrew school, we never entered a synagogue or got religious instruction. My parents hated talking about God, but they did mention to me that we Jews were somehow the chosen people, and gentiles/Christians, who were bad people, hated us and wanted to hurt us. They told me to watch out for those gentiles, because they were all out to get me. Mom and Dad didn't explain how to tell the difference between a Jew and a Christian, just to watch out and be ready for them.
I found out about God from a total stranger during the one time I went to synagogue with my parents. I couldn't have been more than 4 years old; I was asking questions and getting restless while waiting for something to happen. My bored parents sat in the wooden pew, chatting softly between themselves, ignoring my questions and trying to get me to sit still. I didn't know where we were, and I kept asking about it. They didn't answer and told me to be quiet. Just then, an elderly woman in the pew in front of us turned around and started answering my questions. She told me we were in a synagogue, which I couldn't pronounce. I asked what we were doing here, and she told me we came to talk to God. I didn't know who God was, so she told me God was the One who made heaven and the earth and everything I could see. And God made me, too.
Immediately, I felt something stir in me, like a little light bulb turning on. In every synagogue, there is a small reminder of the Everlasting Light which had once burned in the Temple. This stranger told me a little bit about the tiny orange bulb, and I immediately associated that light with the feeling in my chest when she mentioned God.
I needed to know more about God, but my parents wouldn't talk about God at all. So I did the next best thing I went out into the yard and spent time with all the things that God had made, especially a little lantana bush which produced flowers in many different colors. This was the only means I had of getting closer to God or learning anything about God, since I wasn't allowed to talk about him. A little later on in life, Dad bought a small black and white television, and I discovered that if I woke up really early in the morning on the weekends, I could tune in to any of the three stations which were broadcasting in Miami at that time and watch programs about God for a couple of hours before anyone else woke up. I didn't learn much because a lot of what they said didn't make sense to me, but I kept watching because that was my only source.
One day when I was 9 or 10, I turned on the TV to see two men in a stark little room laughing and proclaiming something that made them very, very happy. I had never seen anyone so happy in my entire life, and never on TV. They were talking about many different things, but each of them kept coming back to this one phrase and saying it joyously: "Jesus is the King of the Jews. Jesus Christ is the King of the Jews!" And then they would laugh happily, talk about something else for a minute, but they kept coming back to that phrase, as though they couldn't help themselves, as though they felt compelled to say it.
Now wait a minute, I thought. I knew about the president, but I never heard of a king in America. All I ever heard about being Jewish was that other people were out to get you. And I had only previously heard "Jesus Christ" spoken as a curse word, so this was very confusing. Then I came to a startling thought: we Jews who were picked on by everyone and whom everyone hatedwe had a king? Well, that means everything's going to be OK, because the king is going to help us. The king is going to save us!
Now, you may ask, what happened to the admonition to watch out for Christians? Well, I was a very, very good reader, and I knew my vowel sounds. I knew perfectly well that the long "I" in Christ was not the same as the short "I" in Christian. I had never put those two words together. God's dragnet snatched me up with a vowel!
I didn't know it yet, but at that moment, I had opened my heart to Jesus the Messiah, and He saved me. It wasn't until many years later that I understood that and found out what to do about it, but that was the moment I received Christ. I had to find out more about it. I tried to ask my parents. I knew that God was a taboo subject, but I just had to know more.
I waited for the right moment to ask them in order to minimize the trouble I might get into. One day when my whole family was riding in the old Studebaker, I found a long lull in the conversation. I leaned forward toward the front seat of the car and asked, "Mom, Dad, did you know that Jesus is the King of the Jews?" They didn't answer me. I thought that maybe they didn't hear me. I asked again, much louder, "Mom, Dad, did you know that Jesus is the King of the Jews?"
A look passed between them, and it wasn't a pleasant one. I think they had tried to prepare themselves for such a moment, and now it had come. Mom turned to me, and quietly, forcefully said, "You can't believe in Jesus. You're a Jew." I didn't dare contradict her, but I didn't understand. She continued, "It's not possible for you to believe in Jesus because you're a Jew."
I was more confused than ever. I was a Jew, and I already believed. How was this not possible?
Later on, Mom warned me that if I believed in Jesus, I would no longer be Jewish. No one ever refuted the fact that Jesus was the King of the Jews they only stated that I couldn't have anything to do with him.
It took many years for me to straighten out that confusion, but with God's help, I learned how to be a Jewish Believer in Christ. God's incredible grace reached me with a tiny candle-like letter and a little spark of belief.
Sylvia Maltzman has been writing poetry, short stories, articles and skits since she was 16. Trained as an educator, Sylvia has a fervent desire to bring the Scriptures to life for everyone.