I was born into a very Orthodox Jewish family, and went to the “Cheder” School. This was one of the extreme Orthodox schools, under the supervision of the Agudath Israel. The language spoken and taught was Yiddish. We were not allowed to learn in Hebrew, because Hebrew is the Holy language, so even the Bible, which was written in Hebrew, we translated into Yiddish. We spent all the day studying and learning the Talmud, also other Rabbinical teachings, and once a week we read a portion of the Pentateuch and the special Prophet appointed for the week. We were not allowed to read any other books, in fact, we were warned not to read even Zionist books, or modern Hebrew writings.

When I was about eleven years old some of my friends in the class used to bring along modern Zionist books and we read them secretly in some hidden corner of the school, or even sometimes we used to place the modern book under the big book of the Talmud and then we would read it when the teacher was not looking, or when he was falling asleep. Among these modern books, brought in secretly to the school, was the book “Jesus of Nazareth” by Professor Klausner. We did not know what the title meant, for never before had we heard the name of Jesus, nor did we know anything of Christianity. We had never come into contact with any Christians, and we were warned in school that when passing a Mission House or Christian school on our way to and from school, we must never look into the windows, or read their writings or even glance towards the place. We were told that in such houses lived wicked people, who destroyed the souls of men. We read this book “Jesus of Nazareth”, not because of the title, but because we had heard that Professor Klausner was a Jewish historian. I did not understand much while reading, nor did I understand what the marginal references in the book like “John, Matthew, Luke” meant. I thought these books were probably books of the Prophets, as among these references were also names like Isaiah and Jeremiah, which I knew were in the Bible. To our great distress we were caught reading “Jesus of Nazareth” at school. Our teacher was very angry with us, and told us of the great gravity of the crime we had committed in reading such a book. He reported this incident to the Headmaster, who was shocked that such an offence had occurred in his school. Of course, we were punished very severely, and, in order to warn the other boys in the school, the whole school was gathered in the courtyard. Every boy had to bring a piece of wood and paper. Then we made a big bonfire, and the Headmaster put the book on the fire. He spoke of the great sin that we had committed within the walls of the school, and cautioned the whole school, expressing the hope that such a thing would never happen again.

When I was fifteen years of age, I left this Orthodox school and went to study at the Training College for teachers. This school, though an Orthodox Training College, was not so religious as the previous one. It was a Zionist school and all the studies and training were in Hebrew. Here I learned how to practice Judaism, and be a Zionist. We learned the whole of the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible, and I was allowed to read, and even encouraged to read, modern books in History and Science. On the way from my house to this school I had to pass a Mission bookshop. In the windows were always portions of the New Testament. Of course, because of warnings in my boyhood, I never dared to go near to the place, and always passed by without looking at the shop. But one Winter evening on my way home it rained heavily, and, taking shelter just under the balcony of the Mission House, for that was the only place where I could shelter, and while waiting for the shower to pass, I looked into the window and saw the books of John, Matthew and Isaiah opened to read. I remembered that I had heard of these books, but could not at the time remember where and when. Later, when at home, I remembered that book “Jesus of Nazareth”, and the whole incident in my old school came before me. So I went the next day to the library, and borrowed Professor Klausner’s book again. I found it very interesting as a book of history, for my knowledge of that part of Jewish history was very dim, and I had not had any previous knowledge of Jesus and his teaching. I wanted to know a little more of the books mentioned in the marginal references. I asked for a copy of John in the Library, but they had not got it, and the Librarian stared at me, saying, “You don’t need such a book!” So after a little time I made great attempts to stop at the Mission window, reading the books that were displayed. In it was the Gospel of St. Matthew, which I started reading in the window, and almost every day the pages were changed. I did not know whether I had read it from the beginning, or missed some pages, but, for quite a considerable period of time, I stopped at the window reading. There was a great conflict in my mind as to whether to continue reading this book in the window, after I discovered that it was a Christian book, and that this was a Mission House. One day while I was standing at the window, a lady came out from the shop and asked, “Why don’t you come in?” But I quickly ran away, in order not to be tempted. For many days after the incident, I did not stop at the window. It was a great fight in me whether to go to school in this direction or not, but after a while I continued to go the usual way. It was surely that I was being drawn to the shop by God, and one day I was offered a copy of the New Testament by a missionary, who came out to me by the window. I accepted it, and read it. There were many passages and statements which were not clear to me, and I did not understand. I did not dare to ask my friends and teachers, or even to talk about it, so I put the New Testament away among my other books, without reading it any more.

Ten years went by. Then I lost my house and belongings in the settlement where I lived. In my distress, while I felt in the depth of despair, many passages of the New Testament came before me. Returning to Jerusalem I went again to the Mission. When I told them who I was, the missionary cried out, “Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. I have been praying and waiting many years for the moment when you would come in here and have a talk with me.” Continuing, she said, “I watched you reading the portions of Scripture every day, and I used to change the pages of the book in the window daily for your sake alone, and when I saw you take the New Testament from my friend I was sure that you would find the Truth, and that the Lord would speak to you in His own time and way.” I told her of some of my more recent and very difficult times. “It is God who has allowed these things to come upon you and brought you into these distressing circumstances,” she told me, “in order that you might turn to Him and call for His help. If you trust Him now you will find that He is your Friend and Saviour.”

Her kind words made a great impression on me, yet I tried to forget the conversation and everything that had happened. The next day I went back to the settlement and continued my work of watering the plants. While I was controlling the stream of water into the rows of trees, I heard, most unexpectedly, the shots of a pistol. When I turned my head to try to find out from which direction the shots were coming, bullets rained over my head. Immediately I tried to take cover in a pool of water in front of me, and, frightened as I was, I tried to find out whether I was hurt, but I did not feel any pain, nor could I see any blood. While lying in the water not knowing what to do, the words of the missionary came back to me and I found myself praying to God in the Name of Jesus.

I stayed in the water until darkness came on, when I went to report the incident to the police. To the amazement and astonishment of the police, there were three bullet holes in the hat I was wearing! Of course, I realised at once that a miracle had happened! God had protected me and helped me to escape so wonderfully, quite unhurt!

When I reached home I started to read the Bible again, particularly the New Testament, praying that God would have mercy on me and reveal to me the Truth. After many hours on my knees, both reading the Bible and praying earnestly to God, I rose at last with peace in my heart, having the assurance that Jesus of Nazareth, of whom I had first read so long ago in that book, by His baptism, His ministry, His miracles and works, by His death, resurrection and ascension is the Heaven-sent Messiah, the Son of God, who came to redeem the world and me.

Now I can say today, with St. Peter, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Acts 2.36

 

From: Martin, H W L (ed). Three Wise Men Find Christ. London: Church Missions to Jews, 1955, pages 17-21

 

 

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