‘I understood that Yeshua was the Messiah to come’

 

 

I was born in Brooklyn, New York, where thousands of Jews lived. My grandparents were immigrants from Lithuania and the areas close to Romania. It is difficult to know which country because many of the borders have changed in Eastern Europe since the first World War. I grew up in the nineteen fifties and had a very strong sense that being a Jew was something special. These were the years before there was so much inter-marriage. Marrying a Gentile was something unheard of – it would set you apart from the rest of the Jewish people. Although my home was not ‘religious’ with regard to keeping Halacha, the culture we lived in was deeply Jewish in its roots – and my identity as a Jew was firmly established.

The whole legacy of my grandparents, being of Eastern Jewish descent, was passed on to me – in the foods we ate, the way we celebrated holidays – it was all a natural part of my life. I also thought a great deal about what it meant to be a Jew. I remember sitting in our synagogue when I was in grade school and really thinking about the prayers from the Siddur, ‘What did Shema Yisrael mean?’ Someone had told me that ‘when the name of God is known, then the Messiah will come.’ So I would sit – as the prayers were being said – and try to discover what the unspeakable name of God was. And on Pesach, after eating the seder meal, we would open the door for Elijah, the one who would come before the Messiah, and I would think ‘Is he really going to come?’ Sometimes we would joke about who might be at the door, and someone would remember how a neighbour once showed up at that moment. Looking back now, I see that there was a longing, a desire for the Messiah, and yet I did not ever verbalize it. It was like a prayer in my heart.

I was a ‘good girl’ during those years – the kind of child that brings joy to her parents – but in junior high school I became a rebel. I ran around with boys who were not Jewish which caused tremendous problems between me and my father. My behaviour was completely against their values of right and wrong. I drank and lied to cover up my rebellion. We moved to another community and after being rejected by the ‘in crowd’ of girls (who were primarily Jewish), I again turned to the kinds of friends that my parents disapproved of. Each year I moved further from their sphere of influence. However, I maintained that link to my identity as a Jew – even winning a prize at the age of sixteen for a paper I’d written on ‘God and Judaism’!

Those years were a real transition time in the American culture. It was the beginning of the unrest among university students. In 1969, the year the first man walked on the moon, I finished high school. It was also the summer of Woodstock, the greatest of the rock festivals. I walked seventeen miles in the mud to be there. It was my admission to the ‘counter-culture’. I broke completely loose from the values that my parents had given me. I attended a small prestigious university outside Boston and in my first week of school became involved with a politically radical student group. We wanted to fight injustice and change the world through a ‘revolution’. I would stay up all night reading Marx and books on anarchy, filling my mind with ideas. At the same time I also longed for something spiritually radical. I took courses in Transcendental Experience and Hatha Yoga and decided that Eastern mysticism held all the answers to my questions.

In those first months of university I met the man who would later become my husband – Peter. We were both part of a group of creative and politically active students who used psychadelic drugs and were immersed in the music of our day. After a little more that two years of study I dropped out and began to travel with Peter throughout the United States and Mexico. We hitch-hiked thousands of miles – I told people I was ‘on a search for truth.’

During this period of our lives, Peter’s closest friend, John, committed suicide. He too was looking for answers to life’s meaning – a deeply sensitive man who could find no answers he finally shot himself in the head. His death profoundly affected us. Peter left Boston for good, and went to the state of New Mexico. He settled near the beautiful city of Santa Fe, making bricks out of mud and living like an American Indian. He changed his name to Thomas Twisted Tree because he felt that after John’s death, he needed a new identity. Since his whole life seemed ‘twisted’ and confused, he chose that name.

After months of being alone on my travels I joined Peter in New Mexico. We were living in a small wooden hut at that time in a remote area outside of the city. After John’s death and my own experiences which had deeply wounded me, I no longer believed that my generation could change the world. We had no answers and it seemed like darkness was closing in on the whole world. I believed that the planet was headed towards some apocalyptic end but how or why it was happening was a mystery that I could not understand.

In the midst of this time of despair, the day of Yom Kippur was approaching. I had a strong desire to be in a synagogue to fast and pray on this most holy of days. There was only one synagogue in the city and it was more that twenty miles away. Wearing my long hippie dress and large mountain boots, I hitch-hiked there. In the middle of the morning service, a man came running to the front and shouted, ‘They have just bombed us! They have just attacked us.’ The Arab nations had attacked Israel, and the ‘us’ was Israel! Undeniably, I was part of the people of the Israel.

During the breaks between the services, I walked in a field nearby, and prayed, ‘God, if you are really there, show me who you are!’ I was so desperate for the truth of who he was. After all the travelling, all the painful times I had experienced, I knew that I could not go on living in the same way. I desperately wanted answers. Here I was on Yom Kippur in the fall of 1973. Israel was being attacked. This world was rapidly moving towards some awful destruction, and where was God? An old truck gave me a ride back to our little hut on the lonely dirt road. I remember breaking my fast by smoking marijuana. Looking up at the sky, I felt empty and disappointed by God.

Just a few weeks later I was again standing by the side of the road hitch-hiking and thinking, ‘I hope a woman picks me up.’ Within about ten seconds, a little blue Volkswagen stopped. On one side of the bumper was a sticker that said, ‘The Messiah died for your sins’ and on the other, ‘Guess who’s coming again?’ The driver was a woman with the clearest blue eyes I ever saw. I stepped into the car and turning to her asked, ‘Is he really coming?’ The directness of my question was a surprise but she began telling me about the prophecies in the Tenach concerning Israel and the promise that the Jewish people would return to the Land. She explained that the restoration of Israel as a nation was significant because it showed God’s everlasting covenant with his people, and was also an indication of the coming of the Messiah who she called Jesus.

What she was telling me – especially about Israel – was incredibly interesting to me, especially in the light of my recent experience on Yom Kippur. However, the moment she spoke of ‘Jesus,’ I immediately responded with ‘I am Jewish and therefore, not interested in hearing about Jesus.’ Although I had pursued numerous Eastern philosophies and meditations, the name of Jesus was still very difficult for me to hear.

She gently shared a few more things with me, and then asked if she could pray a simple prayer – that God would show himself to me. When she prayed, there was a sense of his presence in that little car. I said goodbye, got out of the car, and looked at the beautiful mountains that encircled our home – and knew that something life-changing was happening.

The same woman had invited me to visit the place where she and other believers met on Friday nights. I liked its name, ‘Shalom.’ One evening I decided to go by myself. It was surprising to see people from all kinds of backgrounds gathered together; persons from Hispanic backgrounds, scientists from a nearby laboratory, young people and old people – and hippies like myself. One of them, a Jewish man, told his story of finding God. He reminded me very much of our friend John. The idealism, the search for truth – all that he spoke about was very familiar to me. And yet his journey had ended in an encounter with Yeshua as the Messiah. His words touched me profoundly. I looked at the people standing in the room. As they sang a song of their commitment to follow Yeshua, I felt as if I was watching a sea of humanity standing on another side of a river. Without anyone telling me, I knew that if I chose to follow him, it would mean giving myself fully to him – not just for a while but forever. I had the desire to run out of that room but instead, I began to weep. Something deep inside of me was being cleansed. The forgiveness I had sought from God on Yom Kippur was being given to me. I understood that Yeshua was the Messiah to come – but he also had come as the Lamb of God, as an atonement for me and all my people. I had never read Isaiah chapter 53 where it speaks of one who ‘was pierced through for our transgression, and crushed for our iniquities,’ but when I did it was clear that Yeshua’s life was the fulfilment of these prophetic words.

This was the answer to all the months of searching. God was calling me to him and giving me the opportunity to begin a new life. Peter saw that something had truly changed in me. Over the course of the next few weeks, Peter also sought to discover whether Yeshua was the One. There was a true encounter between him and the Holy Spirit of God. For forty days, Peter prayed and fasted in the desert of western New Mexico where I joined him. We had read the accounts of Moshe and Yeshua being alone with God and yearned for the same kind of experience of his presence. This was the true ‘revolution’ I had wanted – the revolution of the heart; what the prophet Jeremiah called in Chapter 31 – the ‘New Covenant’ that God had promised to make with the House of Israel when he would write the law upon our hearts. This was the radical transformation we desired.

We were married soon after this time in the desert. My family strongly opposed the choices I had made and it was a difficult period in our lives. A time of reconciliation between us began the following Yom Kippur when we went to be with the family to pray together and rebuild the bridges that had been broken in the past. We saw God’s faithfulness in leading us into creating new lives that were completely dedicated to following him.

 

Rachel

 

 

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