My Journey From Judaism to Christ

Posted on September 25, 2019

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By David Ettinger

Note: I know quite a few of you have read this, but I like to run it every few years because I pick up new followers, and there have been quite a few since I last ran ran this in April 2017.

A Reason to Reflect
I gave my life to Christ in October of 1986. I was 28 years old at the time and have rejoiced in my Savior ever since. It was the realization that I have surpassed the 30-year anniversary of my new birth in Christ that led me to a time of reflection. I would like to briefly share with you how I came to accept Christ, with the hope that my story may prove encouraging to those of you who know people struggling with issues of God, faith, authentic Christianity, and the search for truth.

star of david

A Jewish Upbringing
I was born in late 1957 to a Jewish family living in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. When I was age 2, my family moved to a beachside town called Far Rockaway, which is in the borough of Queens.

Though my parents were not orthodox Jews, my uncles and aunts were, and they encouraged my parents to send the four of us (my older brother and two younger sisters) to Hebrew School, known as Yeshiva. My Hebrew School days were long, beginning at 8 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m. The first four hours consisted of the Hebrew portion: Torah (Pentatuch), the Prophets, Mishnah (Hebrew oral tradition), Gemara (rabbinic commentary on the Mishnah), and Hebrew language instruction. This was followed by the noon to 1 p.m. lunch hour, and then the “English” part of the day (literature, math, science, etc.). It was a grueling schedule and I hated it.

My parents were typical of non-practicing Jews in that while they weren’t orthodox, they had my brother and I (at least when we were young) attend synagogue services on the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year; and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement), and kept the appearance of a Kosher (ceremonially clean) house regarding dishes, silverware, and food. As a rebellious youth, I saw these things as nonsensical and willfully defiled such traditions at every turn. But it was more than rebellion; I just couldn’t see why God would insist that we Jews eat dairy products with one set of dishes and silverware, and meat with another. (In actuality, this traditional Kosher law is a misinterpretation of Exodus 23:19.) To me, these seemingly senseless regulations were every bit as tedious and burdensome as Hebrew School.

Wondering About Jesus
Regarding Jesus Christ, the “God of the Christians,” He was persona non grata in our house in that He was never discussed, mentioned, or even thought of, unless, of course, His name was used as an expletive.

jesus christ superstar

For me, however, this began to change in the summer of 1971, when I was 13. That year, the album Jesus Christ Superstar was released. My parents purchased the album and played it just about every day. Though the plot of this rock opera is miserably revisionist and blasphemous, I loved the music at that time. By the end of the summer, I had listened to the album numerous times, allowing the story line to sink into my brain as if by osmosis. I became fascinated with the plot, which, outrageously, made Judas Iscariot the hero and portrayed Jesus as a well-meaning but misguided dreamer. Despite the theological flaws of this musical piece, God used it as my introduction to Jesus Christ.

Over the next six years, my interest in the story of Christ grew. If a movie came out with possible messianic overtones (such as Tommy in 1975), I would give heed to the story. Sometimes I would ask my Gentile friends if they had read “their” Bible (the New Testament), had knowledge of the story of Jesus, and if so to tell me what they knew. In the 10th grade, I once asked a very open-minded Rabbi about Jesus and he replied, “He was a good man, but is certainly not our Messiah.” During my high school years, he was the only instructor I had who would dare entertain such a question.

The Turning Point
Upon graduating high school in 1975, I had seen enough. Judaism made no sense to me, nor, for that matter, did God. Though at first I wavered on my position regarding the existence of God, I was pushed over the edge once I began attending Brooklyn College. There, I was surrounded by like-minded religious-spurning, God-denying students. I felt an immediate bond with such “free-thinkers” and embraced both their friendship and worldview. I would spend the next four years (ages 17 to 21) in “blissful atheism.”

Jesus of nazareth

However, there was an ironic glitch that took place in the spring of 1978 that would tweak my attitude toward spirituality. While my family was attending Passover Seders with relatives on two consecutive nights, I stayed home and watched the miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, which has since become a classic. The 6-hour production presented a far different portrayal of Jesus than did Jesus Christ Superstar, and I found myself engrossed in the riveting, intelligent, and poignant story. I can’t say that the movie nudged me closer to God or the Christian faith, but at least it succeeded in taking the venom out of my stinging attitude to all things biblical.

My Desert (Literally) Experience
By age 21, I decided to leave the chaotic intensity of New York City in search of a quieter life. For a number of years, I had been drawn to the open spaces and “cleanness” of the southwestern United States and, in January of 1979, enrolled at New Mexico State University in the city of Las Cruces, about 30 minutes from El Paso, Texas, and 40 minutes from the Mexican border.

I suppose a New York Jew living in Las Cruces (which means “the crosses” in Spanish) is the perfect “fish out of water” scenario, but upon arriving at my new address, I felt right at home. I was at once awed by the majestic mountain ranges and vast, arid-but-fascinating desert landscape of the great Southwest. Add to this the gracious friendliness of the people, and I knew that New Mexico was where I belonged.

From the outset I was subject to Christian influences. My dorm roommate and some of his friends had recently given their lives to Christ and began sharing their faith with me. Then, three weeks after arriving, I met Barb, my future wife. Barb was raised in a Christian home, and was the first to speak to me at length about Christianity. When she invited me to go to church with her, I didn’t mind; being an atheist, I considered it to be nonsense, so what harm would it do? Besides, Barb was blonde, pretty, and I fancied her quite a bit, if accompanying her to church would gain favor with her, why not?

new mexico

However, as our relationship grew, Barb asked me to put more thought into issues of faith. So, on a Friday night in October of 1979, while Barb was away for the weekend, I turned to the first book of the New Testament, Matthew, and read all 28 chapters in one sitting.

As I consumed the text, something began to happen: I was growing more and more convinced. I kept saying to myself things such as, “This makes sense.” “I can’t see any reason why this would not be true.” “This sounds authentic.” By the time I finished Matthew three hours later, I was won over. My atheism had vanished. I now believed that the God of the Bible was indeed the God who created the universe. And because the text was saturated in undeniable logic and authenticity, I became certain that Jesus Christ was indeed not only Israel’s long-awaited Messiah, but the world’s Messiah and Savior. I had no doubts.

But I wasn’t saved.

Seven Brutal Years
I once heard a Bible teacher say, “It is a very, very long way from the brain to the heart.” This means that there are many people who logically accept the claims of the Bible regarding God and Jesus, but have not yielded their hearts to Christ and confessed Him as Lord of their lives. This is where I was, though I didn’t understand it. The church I attended with Barb was not vocal in explaining this vital truth – or perhaps it was, but I wasn’t listening. Therefore, I truly believed I was a Christian – and told my parents this, much to their distress – but I was not “saved.”

Barb and I wed in December of 1980. Sadly, I was not ready for marriage, was too immature, and didn’t know what it took to be a devoted husband. The marriage was a bad one. Barb and I argued often, and though we at first attended church consistently, our growing tensions caused us to stop. Furthermore, my job as a sportswriter – with its late nights covering football and basketball games – didn’t help matters as when I got home Barb was already asleep, meaning we would go entire days without speaking to each other.

aaron and me
The night Aaron was born.

In November 1983, our only child together, Aaron, was born. I loved Aaron with all of my heart and was determined to be the best father I could be. And I was! The problem however, was that between working full-time, going to graduate school, and teaching three college classes in order to pay for graduate school, I had no time to devote to the marriage. Aaron was number one in my life and Barb was, well, I’m not sure where she ranked on the list, if she was even on it at all.

Finally, in April of 1986, Barb expressed to me how miserable our loveless marriage had made her, and told me she wanted a divorce. She also expressed how wonderful of a father she thought I was and that she would not do anything to hinder my relationship with Aaron. There was nothing I could say. I knew how terribly unhappy Barb was and I could offer no counterpoint. We divorced quietly and civilly two months later.

Five months later, my mother lost her battle with breast cancer at age 53. One year later, my father succumbed to heart disease at age 58.

The seven years following the night I read through the Book of Matthew and became convinced of the reality of God and Jesus should have been years of great maturity and spiritual growth. Instead, they were – by my own doing – emotionally draining, life-sapping, and mercilessly brutal. At age 28, I felt old and useless, viewing the end of my marriage as the biggest and cruelest failure of my life.

Saved
Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” And this is what I did. I was at the lowest point of my life emotionally and was finally open to hearing God’s voice. He had been calling me for almost seven years, but I wasn’t listening.

During our marriage, Barb and I lived across the street from a strong Christian couple named Jim and Denise. They often invited us to their church, but I was not interested. Now, however, I was. The first time I attended Bethel Bible Fellowship in Las Cruces, I knew something was different. These people knew their Bibles and allowed the Word of God to shape their lives. The teaching was soldily biblical and the truths coming from the pulpit were deeply significant.

As the pastor preached each week, I felt his words penetrating my very being. God’s holy words came flooding into me and brought conviction, encouragement, and life-transformation. I felt myself becoming a different person as God’s Word molded me into the man He wanted me to be.

In the meantime, Barb and I resided only three miles apart, and she lived up to her promise about not hindering my relationship with Aaron. As the power of Christ was changing me, I felt His peace wash over me and remove my feelings of failure and discouragement. I sought peace with Barb, and the two of us worked together as parents.

star cross

At last, in October of 1986, I realized that I was saved. I know this sounds odd. What I mean is that there wasn’t a specific moment previously where I “asked Christ into my life.” I had been attending every Bible study I could get to, never missed church, and was reading my Bible at a furious clip. I knew that these could not save me. But as I was pacing my apartment one Sunday in October, I began to think about the Bible, the things of God, and, of course, the Lord Jesus. It was then that I realized I was living by faith – in fact, I realized, I had been doing so for quite a while. Though I hadn’t yet verbalized it, I believed with every fiber of my being that Jesus Christ was indeed the Son of God and Savior of the world. I thoroughly believed in my heart that I was a sinner who needed salvation and that only true faith in Jesus Christ could remove the shackles of my sin and bring me into the light of His redemption.

So, on that October day, sensing God’s presence, I knelt and spoke the words aloud. Looking back, I find my behavior somewhat humorous. I didn’t want to claim that this was the moment of my salvation, but simply the moment of confessing it (Romans 10:9-10). I said, “Lord, I acknowledge that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, though I am already saved through faith. I just want to speak it verbally because Scripture says to do so. Therefore, I now confess out loud that Jesus Christ is indeed my Lord and Savior. Thank you for your salvation, Lord.”

My Jewish Roots
I once believed that God had erred by “making” me Jewish. I had no use for my Jewish upbringing – especially in Jewish-devoid southern New Mexico – and had no idea why my parents subjected me to all those years of Hebrew School.

However, as I grew in my Christian faith, I realized just how much of a blessing my Jewish upbringing was. I came to understand how extensively God loves the Jewish people and His plan for them, a plan to redeem and restore them at the return of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. I came to understand, as well, that I had not forsaken Judaism, but had fulfilled it. Though a believer in Jesus Christ, I am still Jewish. Being Jewish is my born ethnicity. When a Jewish person accepts Christ as Savior, they do not lose their ethnicity. Some refer to Jews who accept Christ as “Messianic Jews,” but I prefer the phrase “Completed Jews.” Jesus came to His own people, His fellow Jews, offering them salvation through His shed blood on the cross at Calvary. He has never rescinded the offer as He continues to hold out His loving arms to His brothers and sisters in the flesh.

Aftermath

With my son Aaron and grandson Zac.

Now, more than 33 years following my divorce and subsequent acceptance of Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I can look back at the amazing blessings the Lord has bestowed on me. I never remarried, Barb did – two years later – to a good man, Jim. Though Aaron was only 2½ years old at the time of our divorce, Barb and I worked together in raising him, doing so with cooperation, respect for one another, and most importantly, peacefully.

When Barb became pregnant with the first of two children she and Jim would have, I told God, “Lord, I love Aaron more than anyone in the world, and whatever children Barb has from here out will be his brothers and sisters. I will embrace them as my own.” This is exactly what I did, and I now love Chris (age 27) and Emily (age 24) as if they were my own children.

As of this updating (October 2019), I live in Orlando, Florida, as does Aaron, who is now 35 and married to his wonderful wife Kati. In December of 2016, Barb and I experienced the joy of becoming first-time grandparents. Zac is truly the love of my life!

God’s graciousness to me has been beyond all comprehension, and I praise Him for the amazing journey He has taken me on.