Sitting in my office working on a presentation for a class I was teaching that evening, I was jolted out of my concentration by the ring of the telephone. On the other end of the phone was a very tentative, older woman, who was clearly unsure if she was doing the right thing.
“Hi, my name is Jill and my friend Esther suggested I give you a call.” Said the voice on the other end.
“Really?” I said, wondering where this was leading. “Why would she suggest such a thing?”
“Well, I am kind of confused and Esther felt that you might be able to help me. Listen, I’d rather not discuss this over the phone, can we meet in person?”
“Sure, no problem,” I responded. “Let me get out my date book and I’ll see when a good time would be.” After retrieving the book and opening it to the current week, I found a few openings. “Would Thursday morning over coffee work for you?”
Jill checked her own calendar and confirmed that Thursday morning was fine. We set the time and place to meet, and said goodbye.
Thursday morning I arrived at the coffee shop and looked around. No one appeared to be looking for me, so I ordered my usual coffee and croissant and sat down. A few minutes later, a very nervous looking older woman, made her way to my table. By looking at her, I would have guessed her to be at least 10 years older than she actually was. “Are you Penina?” she asked.
“I am. Are you Jill?” I inquired.
“Yes,” she sighed with a look of immense relief.
I ordered a coffee and pastry for Jill and we began to talk. It became clear within only a very short time that Jill was indeed confused, and that the subject of her confusion was right up my alley.
Jill told me that she had recently made Aliyah, and that although she was Jewish by birth, she had been a Christian for 35 years. It took tremendous concentration to pay attention to what Jill was saying and not to go off on a tangent wondering how it was that as a Christian she had managed to make Aliyah.
Jill continued, explaining that since she didn’t know any Hebrew, she had not yet found a job and was staying with some friends in the area while attending ulpan. While talking with these friends, she had revealed her beliefs and that’s when Esther recommended that she give me a call.
“I’m just so confused,” Jill said with a sort of sadness in her voice that was hard for me to place. “I am Jewish, and I want to be Jewish, and I want to be involved in Jewish life here in Israel, but I’m a Christian. Judaism teaches that you can’t be a Christian and be Jewish, but I don’t understand why it has to be that way.”
The first order of business was to understand how Jill had become a Christian to begin with, so I asked Jill to tell me her story. Jill explained that all throughout her childhood, her mother had been sick. It wasn’t until her late teens that she found out that her mother had actually had cancer and at this point, the prognosis wasn’t good.
Jill became very depressed. She loved her mother, and she needed her. Sickness had stolen so much of the time and attention that a girl needs from her mother during her developmental years, and now that sickness threatened to take her mother from her permanently.
Jill began to question the existence of a God who could let such things happen. Then, the expected but unthinkable happened. Jill’s mom passed away. At only 18 years old, Jill was devastated. What would she do without her mother? After the funeral, Jill came home and sat on the edge of her bed and began to think about life, death, and specifically – God.
Jill was so depressed over the death of her mother, she was suicidal. “Okay, God” Jill shouted, “This is your last chance. Reveal yourself to me or I’ll kill myself. After all, I have nothing left to live for.”
According to the way Jill told me the story that morning in the café, she went to sleep and when she woke up in the morning, she just believed in Jesus and it gave her tremendous peace. Jill claimed that no one had ever told her about Jesus, she just believed, and that was the miraculous part of the whole thing. When she told me the story, Jill said that she believed in “Yeshua”.
I challenged Jill. If no one had ever told her anything about him, how did she know to call him Yeshua? After all, most people alive in the western world today have heard of Jesus, but no one could know to call him Yeshua without someone having talked to them about him.
“Oh well, I didn’t call him Yeshua then, I called him Jesus. But still,” she argued, “I just woke up in the morning with this tremendous peace, and it is all because of Yeshua.”
“Jill,” I said quietly, “how did you know it was Jesus that had given you that peace? Couldn’t have been God, without Jesus?
“No!” Insisted Jill. “I know it was Jesus. I knew it then, 35 years ago, and I know it now. I just know it.”
So I asked Jill, “So, you made a purely emotional decision in accepting Jesus?”
“That’s what everyone says, but it’s not true” responded Jill.
I wondered to myself who “everyone” was. “Well, what’s the opposite of an emotional decision?” I inquired. After all, if she had not made an emotional decision, what had she made? It was clear that I had struck a chord and she was silent for a considerable amount of time.
“The opposite of an emotional decision would be a logical one,” came Jill’s response.
“Okay,” I submitted, “what would be involved in a logical decision?”
Jill paused a moment before answering. “A logical decision would involve research and study,” she realized she was trapped before the words left her mouth.
“So, Jill, did you make an emotional decision or a logical one?”
Jill remained silent. “Jill,” I responded gently, “did you ever once stop and study or research the Jewish objections to Jesus, or what Judaism’s answers are to the alleged prophecies he supposedly fulfilled?
“No, I didn’t,” She admitted.
“If you’ve never really explored Judaism’s answers to Christianity’s claims, how can you say that you made a logical decision to believe in Jesus?” I realized that Jill was a very sensitive person who needed gentle guidance, so I changed my tone and asked her if she would be interested in exploring what Judaism’s answers were.
Admitting that to choose not to do so would just reinforce the fact that she had made only an emotional decision to believe in Jesus all those years ago, she reluctantly agreed to meet with me on a weekly basis for a “bible study”.
I asked Jill where she wanted to begin the study. Predictably, she brought up Isaiah 53 – the Suffering Servant passage. “Okay, great” I said. “We’ll start there next week. Is Thursday morning a good time for you each week?”
Jill agreed that we would meet every Thursday morning to study over coffee and a pastry. She wanted to keep the Café as the location, because she didn’t feel cornered in such a public location.
Jill and I met weekly for a month and a half before she informed me that she had to go back to the states to take care of some personal business. “But I want to let you know that you’ve really opened my eyes to the truth and I have to admit that Jesus can’t be the Jewish messiah.” Jill promised me that she would seek out the Jewish community where she would be living in the US, and that she would continue to learn with me over the internet.
That was nearly a year ago now. We’ve kept in touch by email, although we certainly don’t email every week.
After Jill returned to the US, she found out that there was a small Orthodox community near her home, and she began to attend the congregation. She started keeping Shabbat that week and has been faithfully keeping Shabbat ever since. Jill admits that she still has a long way to go until she’s fully observant, but she’s well on her way. Under the guidance of her local Rabbi, Jill is “taking on one mitzvah at a time.”