Arni

A long, long search for truth and meaning

 

 

Brown is the railtrack and white the stones between them. A man walks away from the old train that is standing in the background, looking for new adventures. Sunglasses, a short beard, a bag and a guitar on the shoulder. Is this a new Bob Dylan or a Johnny Cash? The cover of this CD breathes the spirit of the sixties, but it is very modern and the lyrics are in Hebrew! Arni Klein knows some of the pain of the search for truth. His journey was a long one, and being a Jew, the road ended up in Israel.

 

I grew up in a Jewish home. It wasn’t orthodox or observant in any particular way. But the Jewish identity was very strong. I had my Bar Mitzvah in the Bronx, a part of New York, and had some Hebrew education prior to my Bar Mitzvah. We had Passover seders and went to the synagogue at Yom Kippur. My mother’s parents were both from Russia, my father’s from Austria.

One aspect of my upbringing that formed me a lot was that my parents grew up in the Depression. Their values for material things were very strong. They were not exactly thinkers. But from a very early age, I was very serious and very much a thinker. I thought I was grown up when I was five! My mother used to tell me, ‘You think too much. You think too much.’

From the time I was sixteen till I was about twenty two, all I really cared about was having fun and hanging out, looking for a girlfriend. I started working as an executive in an advertising agency. Climbing the corporate ladder, you know. My hope and my dream was having a corner office, a house in the country, a Mercedes Benz and an apartment in Manhattan. But I began to get a picture of what the world was like. How people used other people to get ahead. The advertising industry is people telling other people they need things that they don’t have. And as soon as they have it, telling them what they are still missing. It is so self-centered, so selfish and so built on hype, falsehood, and image. It is not a service, it is just a way of making money with other people’s weaknesses. Of course, this is the ‘dark side’ of it.

Something struck me. This is the way the world is. Seeing that was the turning point for me. I began to withdraw from all of the goals that I had followed. From having material success, wealth and all of that, and I turned inwards. First I started getting high on marijuana. It opened me up to the inner life and I saw that I was empty. I saw no inner peace. I began a search for truth, for reality, for meaning. At the same time I became aware of the terrible state in which society was. The conflicts that existed in America’s society were really huge. There was the conflict between the blacks and the whites, riots were going on in Los Angeles and New York. There was the division in the country over Viet Nam. It was the time of Bob Dylan and the Beatles and all these radical ideas penetrating the minds of that generation. It was the time that Kennedy was killed, Richard Nixon was impeached and resigned. The law that allowed for abortion was passed. The entire fabric, all the values that held the society together, was disintegrating and eroding at the same time.

In the midst of all of that, I met Yonit. She was working as a waitress in a restaurant in Manhattan. I walked in there one day and was struck by her. I called her up and said, ‘I was the one that ate pancakes.’ She said, ‘Why don’t you come by next week and see me.’ Next Saturday she was working till midnight and I went there and waited for her. I lived a twenty minute walk from there. When she was ready, we walked back to my apartment, went in there and she never left. We began living together from the moment that she came in. A couple of weeks later we said, ‘Let’s get married.’ So I called up my parents who were on vacation and said, ‘Mam, guess what, I am getting married.’ Yonit was not Jewish, so it was not a blessing for them. But Judaism did not have any meaning for me then. So in September 1969 we had a civil ceremony in City Hall. Yonit’s parents came up from Philadelphia; my parents did not come. That evening we had a little dinner, to which my parents did come, with some friends and some relatives.

From that point on, we embarked on a journey. Yonit came from Temple University in Philadelphia, where she was an English major, but also very radical in her thinking. She was very anti-establishment, the same way I was. So we really hit it off on an emotional and mental level. Right from the very beginning, we began searching. I had this feeling that we were two tiny little people in this huge universe on a ball just spinning in space, hanging out in the middle of nowhere. We realised we had no control on the circumstances. We were totally at the mercy of whatever. The earth was a frightening place. But we had the sense that as long as we were across from each other, we had a reference point. I can see you and you can see me. But eventually, that ended up breaking down also.

I got more and more angry with society – the superficiality of it, how people lied, how nobody really cared about truth, or about other people. In the advertising business, people were selling their souls for a dollar. I started arguing and yelling at the boss in the company. I could not work within that framework of the business world and became unemployed. Yonit continued working as a secretary for a publishing company while I was in Central Park trying to figure out the meaning of life. This went on for a year.

We were marching in the peace marches against the Viet Nam war and protesting with the Black Panthers for the rights of the blacks. The idea was justice for the oppressed. But the closer we came to these movements, we found out that it was not worth it. In the heart of the matter, it was also wicked. We did not find justice within those people who were looking for justice. Soon we stopped marching. We started taking psychedelic drugs, like LSD and other mind-expanding drugs, and of course we smoked marihuana. It did something to the perception of reality. I came to the point of really seeing the empty place inside my soul. Everybody was empty and looking to be filled. Everybody was self-centered and selfish. That was the reason why the world was killing itself. I was walking in the streets and recognising I was out of place. All I could think about was, ‘When will I find peace? When will I find rest?’

One day, we were sitting on a bridge over the Hudson River looking south at Manhattan. A great black cloud of polluted air settled over the entire area and immediately we were struck by the same thought, ‘We have to get out of this place.’ We were very interested in the ideas that came out of India and the Far East and were very ready to renounce the material world and all attachments to it. I needed a guru to show us the way. Somehow we saved four thousand dollars, packed up our possessions and left Manhattan. We decided to spent three months in Philadelphia visiting friends and after that, go to India.

But we got stuck in Philadelphia and became part of a counter-culture community. We called it craft-renaissance and started making stained glass lamps. Philadelphia was like a small town to us compared to New York. There was one particular place, Tom’s House, that was the main drop-in place in the area. The door was always open and there was always something going on inside. There was a man in the house, Gil, who influenced us very much. With his long hair and reddish beard, he was about the most freeflowing person we had ever met. His message was simple, ‘Let go. Don’t hold on to anything. Everything you can see is part of the illusion of materialism.’

Another man, Ken, joined us. The four of us went from house to house preaching our gospel of detachment from material things, ‘Let go, and let God.’ Many people came and listened and some even opened up their houses in search of this promised freedom. For the most part, people found us too radical. But our goal of finding God was the center of our lives. We developed a unique style of worship. We sang at the top of our lungs, ‘O, God! O, God! O, God!’ Again and again. We thought it would be a real high, to worship this freely in a synagogue. So we located the nearest one and went in. Nobody was inside. We sat quietly for a few moments and then began to chant, ‘O, God! O, God! O, God!’ The more we went on, the louder and freer we became. At the same moment a rabbi entered the sanctuary to see what the noise was. Ken jumped up from the pew in a fit of exuberance and snapped the string that was holding up his jeans. Ken did not wear underwear. So there we were calling out to God while the rabbi called the police. We sensed God was directing us to continue our worship elsewhere!

We knew it was evident that besides the four of us, nobody in Philadelphia was really interested in God. So it was time to leave. We had a fully furnished apartment and told some friends that if they wanted any of our possessions they could just take them. We bought a Volkswagen van, took the seats out, and made it our living room on wheels. With a big frying pan, a knapsack of clothes and a guitar we stepped into our van and headed south. We did not know where we were going. We were looking for a place were we could be alone and not be distracted by people who were superficial or materialistic and just meet with God. We ended up travelling 15,000 miles like this. This van did not go faster than 40 miles an hour. When we had to go over a hill, everybody had to get out and push it over the top and over the edge.

The trip of five months was full of unusual experiences. The countryside was really beautiful but I did not appreciate anything. All I could see was the emptiness in my own heart. I had left everything behind. My identity, my friends, my whole life. From a young advertising executive, wearing the latest clothes, with an apartment in Manhattan, I became a very confused, uncertain, strange-looking person. I had a beard to the middle of my chest. My hair was on top of my head in a topknot, a kind of a ponytail, just as they wear in India. Our clothes were simple: we took the bedspreads from the wall of our apartment in Philadelphia and just wrapped them around our waist. Like this we travelled all over America.

We were following Gil. He was our guru. He knew where he was going. He said that he was going to find God and we wanted to be there when that happened. But as the trip went on, Gil got stranger and stranger. In the beginning he seemed very loving and warm, like a father. He was ten years older than I was. But he started to get weird. And once he even beat me up. I became so disconnected that a choice between drinking coffee or tea was to much for me. Our marriage also became very disconnected. We only wanted to be involved in eternal things, so we let go of marriage. We stopped thinking as husband and wife, because that was something unspiritual.

After five months of travelling around, looking for God, I reached the point of getting fed up with it. You try something long enough and all of a sudden you realise that the answer is not there, otherwise you would have found it already. We did search with our entire hearts and gave it everything we could, but we discovered that it did not work. So we said, ‘Let’s leave it completely and never look back.’

We went to a commune in California recommended by a cousin of mine. He was once a yoga instructor and became a believer. We called him, and arrived just before his immersion. It was a pretty strange sight, these three guys looking like they stepped out of the backways of India, running around that swimming pool. We had no idea what this was. They had communion, and we did not know what that was either. They skipped us and we were angry, ‘Why do they skip us?’ We were so sorry for the Christians, because we knew that God was everywhere and in all things, and these Christians said you need to receive God. Those poor guys did not know that God was already inside.

Yonit separated from the group first. The rest of us went on a trip to the Mexican border. There I reached the point of being fed up with it. We all split up. The two other guys hitch-hiked back to New York and I took the van back to the commune with 800 acres of land. I did not know who I was or what I was supposed to do. Yonit made many friends there and built a little house. But this turmoil was continually going on inside me. In August ’72, I was sleeping in a tent and my cousin came in. He told me that Yeshua was the Messiah. I said, ‘Well, I can’t say anything to that. All I know, is that the answer is not in business, drugs, relationships or Eastern religions. It is not here and not there. But I have not any personal experience with Jesus or with the New Testament or anything like that. But if he is the Messiah and he can show it to me, in a way that I can understand, I’ll follow him.’ I spoke this out loud. Nothing happened.

After three months, I called up my parents in New York and told them I wanted to come back to visit. They sent me a ticket. I ended up staying in New York. I got further and further away from the whole empty search that I was on before. I was twenty six at that time and tried to put my life back together again. I found a job in a cheese store and rented an apartment in a basement. It was basically a storage room with stone walls, stone floor and pipes exposed in the ceiling. Without running water, no gas and a bathroom down the hall. It was 95 dollars a month. I got hold of a guitar and thought, ‘Maybe I’ll write some songs.’ I also tried to make some stained glass things again.

One night I was asleep in this basement, and at three o’clock in the morning, I was awakened by a presence. I knew that it was Jesus. Immediately three things were communicated to me. The first thing was, this Being was unlimited in power. The next thing was, I was absolutely naked. He knew every thought, everything I had ever done and said. The third thing was, I felt that he accepted me completely. Basically, it was unconditional love. I began to weep. It welled up like a fountain. I picked up that guitar and started to sing, ‘Jesus I love you, I love you, I love you.’

I felt great love coming from him, entering into the deepest place of my being and then coming out of my mouth in praise. It was like a flow that melted my innermost being and came out of my mouth in song. All these four years I had just seen emptiness, but in that moment I became filled and overflowing with love. In the meantime, my mind was saying, ‘What is this? I am Jewish! What will my parents think?’ I did not remember the prayer that I prayed in California six months before. There was also an internal voice that said, ‘This is the love that I have for you. You need to give yourself to me to have it.’ It meant that whatever he said, I would have to do it, without question.

I wasn’t prepared to do that. How do you know that somebody would not take advantage of you? So, I said, ‘No,’ and he left just like that. The next day when I woke up I was thinking about what had happened. The problem with giving yourself to somebody is that you are afraid that he will take advantage of you. But if you can know beforehand that the person would not take advantage of you and does something for you that you cannot do for yourself and you cannot live without, than it becomes a good deal. Then you have nothing to lose. I did not know a lot about Jesus then, but one thing I knew, that he died on a cross giving himself for the sins of the world. If that’s true, than you can trust him not to exploit you, for he gave himself completely.

Within a month or so, I got a letter from Yonit, that she had come to believe in Jesus. It was now eight months since I had seen her and a year and a half since we had been close together. I thought, we must have a divorce, so I can start over again. This broken marriage was just hanging out there. I went to my dear parents and said, ‘I need a ticket to go to California to get a divorce.’ They said, ‘Fine, just don’t bring her back.’ They saw her as the Gentile woman who brought their Jewish son into problems.

The last time I had been to California, I had long hair and a long beard and was a crazy hippie. This time I came back with short hair and clean shaven, in a nice suit. I arrived at the commune and had not told anybody I was coming. I just showed up. Yonit wasn’t there, she was at a ‘Jesus festival’ in the hills. Then Yonit came back. The Lord had spoken to her in that festival that she needed to see me because there was unfinished business that needed to be settled. When she arrived, somebody told her, ‘Arni is waiting for you in your house!’

When she walked into her house, I was there. We sat down and talked. There was no hostility between us. She said, ‘They tell me that when you were here eight months ago, you accepted Jesus – is that true?’ In that very moment I understood what had happened. I had prayed then, and Jesus had visited me in my basement. Everything fell into place. Then the room became golden and everything began to glow. Tears came to my eyes. I knew that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, and I gave myself to him.

Everybody within that Christian community heard about this very quickly. A fellow taught me the Scriptures for the whole week. When I went back to New York we had not yet determined to be married. Yonit had been involved with another fellow. When she became a believer they ended their relationship. But she did not have any particular desire to get back to me at all. We were different people and that was it. But back in New York as I walked into my basement, there was the strangest feeling, that she was missing. It was as if she had lived there with me and was gone now, even though she had never been there.

I found a little congregation in Manhattan that met on Monday nights. Talking with a pastor, I understood that God hates divorce. I became convinced that we were supposed to be together. That was God’s plan. In God’s eyes we were married. I called California. They found Yonit in the backways of the commune and I told her, ‘There is a ticket waiting for you to fly back to New York.’ She was crying and crying. She did not want to go back to me, but she knew God wanted it.

I picked her up at the airport and took her to my basement. She slept in one place and I in the other. We said, ‘Well, it is nice that we both love Jesus; we are brother and sister now.’ She was not interested in renewing the marriage. I said, ‘Would you come and counsel with a minister?’ She was not interested. But the Lord showed me from Romans 13 verse one, that all authority comes from God. That when we were standing in the City Hall to get married, in those wild days, saying, ‘I do,’ he said, ‘Amen!’ What God joins together, no man may separate. According to his laws, we were one flesh. Even though there had been other short relationships in the meantime, this marriage bond was still there.

Yonit eventually was convinced that God wanted it so. We began to say, ‘If God can save us and create everything out of nothing, then he can make this marriage last.’ It was not a matter of what we felt, but of being committed to God’s Word. A marriage based upon our own personalities at the best can fulfill but at the worst will not last. We now had a relationship where God was in the center. Each one of us was committed to God. So we always would have our point of reference which would never move. From that moment on, God began to rebuild the relationship. We had things to work through. But it is now twenty four years later, and we have a very unique and wonderful relationship. From day to day we are getting closer and closer, spiritually and emotionally.

In 1977 I was lying on the floor in my stained glass studio praying, and the Spirit of the Lord came on me and said, ‘You are going to get some money to go to Israel. I am going to bless you and show you how much I love you.’ When I told Yonit what had happened, I sat for two hours unable to move. I just sat there and laughed and cried. I had no strength in my body and was completely overwhelmed by the Lord. There was no question whether this was from God or not. I had never experienced something like that. In 1989 we came to Israel knowing that God had sent us. We made no plans. Nobody would pick us up at the airport. We wanted to know how the spiritual atmosphere was. On our first day, we went to the museum of the Diaspora and Yonit saw all the models of the fabulous synagogues that had been destroyed in the Holocaust. She was going through a very deep experience. We were sitting in the cafeteria and I got something to eat. When I put it on the table she heard the Lord speak to her, ‘Throw in your lot with the people of God!’ The voice was louder than audible. After seeing all this, she knew what it meant to identify with this people and give your life for it. That was her call.

When we got back to New York, we had dinner with David Wilkerson, because we belonged to Times Square Church. We told him about our experiences and how we felt God had called us to live in Israel. He believed it was right. In ’91 I applied for citizenship and in July ’92 we made aliya. Our kids were sixteen and eighteen when we arrived. We began living near Tel Aviv. God had opened up the Red Sea for us.

Our personal experiences in going through the hippie time gave us a love for seekers – people that are aware of the emptiness in the world and are looking for truth. We feel we are in a time machine here in Israel. The style of clothing, the terminology the people are using, the music of the Beatles, marching through the streets saying, ‘Peace now! Stop the war!’ This is exactly what we did thirty years ago. They have the assassination of Rabin, we of Kennedy. The youth of Israel responded so deeply to the death of Rabin. There were a quarter million people in Tel Aviv on that square when Rabin spoke about peace. Half of them were kids. The newspapers said, ‘They were looking for a new style of worship, a new kind of Judaism, looking for life. They wanted to express that what is stuck inside, and could not show it through the old rituals.’ This hunger for worship revealed itself in the most secular city in Israel, Tel Aviv. They were looking for worship, for eternity, for reality, for something.

This is the Joshua Generation. The first generation that came out of Egypt figuratively speaking were those that survived the Holocaust and became settlers. They still had the taste of Egypt. They carried all the stigma of who Jesus was and what the church did to them. These kids do not have that. Out of those turbulent years in the America of the sixties came a revival called the Jesus Movement, and thousands were swept into God’s kingdom. And that is what we expect to happen here.

 

From: Hoekendijk Ben, Twelve Jews discover Messiah, New Wine Press, England 1997, pages 44-55

 

 

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