It had been a very long day and I had been ready to go home several hours before. Doing more clock-watching than work, I was attempting to enter books from our resource library into the database that I had created. The resource library at the Baltimore branch of Jews for Judaism was probably one of the most extensive libraries of Christian literature owned by a Jewish outreach organization. Extensive? Yes. Organized? Not at all. The books had all been shelved in a relatively orderly fashion, but there was no database of all the books in the library and many of the books were not labeled with either a shelving tag nor with a name plate indicating they belonged to our organization. It was part of my job to take care of bringing order to this chaos. But at this moment, all I wanted to do was go home.
There was merely half an hour to go when the phone rang, raising me from my lull. On the other end of the line was a pleasant older woman who introduced herself as “Yehudah”. I thought it a little odd, Yehudah being a boy’s name, but I said hello and pleasantly waited for her to introduce herself.
Yehudah told me that she was 67 years old and that although born Jewish, she had become a Christian when she was 35 years old. Doing some quick math, I realized that this woman had been a Christian for nearly double the amount of time that I had. I had never met someone who had been a Christian for more than 5 or 6 years and come back to Judaism. Until meeting Yehudah, my own 17 years was a record for me.
Yehudah went on to explain to me that she was in crisis. For the past several years she had a serious boyfriend who went to her messianic congregation. He wasn’t Jewish, but that didn’t bother her because they both went to the same congregation. A few days before this phone call, they were having a discussion and Yehudah’s boyfriend told her that the holocaust would never have happened had the Jews accepted Jesus.
Yehudah was not a holocaust survivor herself, but she was born shortly before kristallnacht and had grown up keenly aware of the horrors that had taken place during that time. She couldn’t believe that a Christian could be so callous as to make a remark like that. This got her to thinking that maybe belief in Jesus didn’t really transform hearts the way Christianity claims it does, and that’s when she decided to call us.
I asked Yehudah if she had ever studied the Jewish answers to Christianity’s claims for Jesus. “Sure.” She answered. “I’ve been a Christian a long time, dear. I’ve studied them all!”
“That’s fantastic” I said, “but would you be willing to look at them again with me?”
Yehudah agreed to take another look at the most commonly given proofs for Jesus, and we set a time to study over the phone the following week. Before hanging up, I mentioned that her name was unusual for a woman. She told me that her name was actually Judith, but she wanted to go by her Hebrew name. She assumed that the Hebrew name for Judith was Yehudah. I explained to her that the feminine form was Yehudit, and she asked me to please call her Yehudit from that moment on.
The following week Yehudit called me right on schedule. First we went through Isaiah 7:14, then Isaiah 53 and Daniel 9. We did a “word-study” on messiah, salvation and atonement. After about 6 weeks of studying together, Yehudit admitted that she had always examined these passages with the understanding that they had to be pointing to Jesus, she never looked at them without that bias guiding her understanding of the verses. She was especially surprised to learn that many of the Psalms that Christians quote as prophecies aren’t even prophetic in nature, and that there was no basis in Scripture for the Christian concept that every passage must have a second, messianic “fulfillment’.
Finally, Yehudit shared with me that she could no longer believe in Christianity. I encouraged her to find a Rabbi and a synagogue to get connected with. At this point Yehudit shared with me that she was pretty much homebound, needing a wheelchair for most things and that getting to shul was just not possible. I asked Yehudit for her address and asked her if she would like a Rabbi to visit her. She seemed very enthusiastic about that.
After doing a little research, I was in touch with a rabbi in Yehudit’s community and he agreed to go by and visit her. Yehudit called me to thank me and told me that she was now lighting candles on Friday night. A few weeks later I received a call from Yehudit. She wanted to know “how to get Jesus out of her head.” She said that she had tried to talk to the rabbi about it, but he just couldn’t understand what she meant, but I completely understood.
For some time I had been helping ex-Christians – both born Jews and converts with what I call, “Frame of reference issues.” That is, the Christian culture is very different from the Jewish culture and many ex-Christians have a hard time understanding what is different about the way they talk or the way they understand God. Working through these frame of reference issues helps them better assimilate into the Jewish community and to become fully accepted members of the community.
Yehudit and I talked about some things she could do to address her “problem”. She also asked me for a substitute for the New Testament. Unlike the Tanach, the majority of the New Testament is about how to live one’s life (as a good Christian). I recommended Yehudit begin learning Pirkei Avot (sayings of the Fathers). Yehudit liked that idea and began to study Pirkei Avot every evening.
Several months had passed since Yehudit and I had been in contact and I decided to write to her and let her know that my family and I were moving to Israel in a few months. I wanted to assure her that although I would be halfway around the world, with the internet I was only an email away. A few days later I received an email from Yehudit’s niece informing me that Yehudit had passed away.
I couldn’t believe my eyes! Yehudit was gone? At first I was very upset, and then I realized what an amazing thing I had been a part of. Yehudit had spent almost half her life devoted to a foreign religion – one that she was not created to be a part of. One thoughtless comment about the holocaust had prompted her to call me which had resulted in her returning to Judaism. Now, when she stood before the heavenly throne she would be able stand before God as a Jewish person who had found her way home. Instead of being upset, I was thankful for having been able to be a part of such an amazing woman’s journey.