I grew up in a cultural, not religious, Reform Jewish home in northern New Jersey. We went to Temple two times a year, on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement for your sins). I never liked going. When we went to Temple as a family, I didn’t understand at least half of the service. The English and Hebrew alike always seemed like rote, meaningless prayers to an “old man in the sky” type of God whom I didn’t know at all. There was no talk about God, just going to Temple, celebrating holidays, and making lots of Jewish food. Everything was superficial and about appearance. Part of my childhood included my parents cunningly injecting into me a fear of the cross and the Church. They didn’t even like when I was friendly with Christian girls. I didn’t know the New Testament existed, and God forbid I should say the name “Jesus.” Looking back, sometimes I am not sure I even believed in God. The subject was not discussed, and since God wasn’t part of my upbringing and I didn’t know much about Him, it was easy to not miss Him or question what I was missing. I was unwittingly submerged into my parents’ world of “Jewishness” — a tribal attitude and way of being. Not a God thing at all.
My parents sent me to “religious school” to learn about the Jewish holidays and culture, but not to Hebrew school. I never understood why they made that choice, but it contributed to the lost feeling I had growing up in a dysfunctional home where my father’s illness ruled over everything, and my parents favored the one sister I had. I remember being in class with spoiled rich girls who were dressed to the hilt, and I showed up in basic jeans and a t-shirt. I was like cellophane: they looked right through me as if I didn’t exist. They were interested in one thing only — boys. I was interested in one thing only — how I could disappear. I hated every minute of it and felt incredibly out of place, both there and at home.
The only meaningful experience I treasure from my childhood is celebrating the Passover Seder with my grandparents, who were Orthodox Jews. I was close to them. They passed on when I was only 12 years old. I always loved Passover.
My parents made me believe that there was something inherently wrong with me, yet my sister could do no wrong. In my 30s, this in turn produced depression and anxiety. I never felt like I “fit in” anywhere. There was always an emptiness — like something was missing. Life felt meaningless to me back then, and I started wondering why in the world I was here. I began finding harmful substitutes to fill that ever-present emptiness, which turned into addiction, starting in college.
Little did I know that God would use this “thorn in my side” to shape and mold me into what I am today.
Through counseling, I learned there was really nothing wrong with me. I simply had suffered an emotionally abusive childhood. I felt like a weight had been lifted from me.
When I was in college, I had some devout Christian friends. I remember looking at them and thinking, “Wow, they are so focused and seem so much more joyful than me.” But of course I was too young and immature to respond to what I now know was the Holy Spirit sowing His first seeds in some pretty dense soil! They had something that was foreign to me — a new concept they called “faith.” What in the world was that?
How I Realized I Needed Christ
I met my husband, Rich, in the mid 1980s, and we were married in 1989 by an Episcopal priest and my childhood rabbi. My knight in shining armor changed my life and showed me what it was like to be loved and cherished for who I am.
Before our wedding, we went for premarital counseling with the priest, with whom we were friendly. As part of this, we visited three couples in various interfaith marital situations. One couple had been interfaith, and the Jewish man converted to become an Episcopal Christian. They firmly believed that we should be of the same faith or things would become very difficult once we had children. Another couple was staying in their respective faiths, raising their children with both religions, and not giving them a religious identity. And the third couple was also staying in their respective faiths, but raising their children Christian. On our own, we met another family in which the parents were remaining interfaith and splitting the religious identities of the children, one Christian, one Jewish.
It gave us quite a bit to discuss! As mentioned, God had just started “sowing seeds.” Rich and I both felt that any children with whom God blessed us should be given one religious identity. The thought of me becoming Christian … are you meshugenah (“nuts”)? My husband’s unbelievable faith, selflessness, and kindness enabled him to agree to make the ultimate sacrifice and raise our son Jewish (or so we thought at the time). First, we met some folks who were interested in starting their own interfaith group, so we went to a few sessions. The leader of the group left, and the group disintegrated.
Then we tried a “Reconstructionist” Temple, which is based on “Judaism of today.” It was very accepting of interfaith families, but we found it too haphazard, with no rules or doctrine to speak of.
So we looked into joining an established Reform Temple. Based on nothing but the blissful ignorance of two madly in love, young and optimistic souls, we thought that perhaps the honor system prevailed, where we gave what we could. Boy, were we in for a shock!
We had to complete a membership application to join, which included dues of $1,500 per couple, without children, in the mid 1980s. We could not afford this and disagreed with the very principle that we were being told what fixed amount we needed to pay. We asked the office for leniency, and were told we had to complete a separate financial disclosure, revealing our tax and income information. It included questions such as:
– “Do you own a second home?”
– “Do you belong to a country club?”
I am not joking. We told the office we would not complete this disclosure, and they replied that there was nothing else they could do for us. We were so disgusted that we ended up walking away and not going anywhere for a while.
Based on a “whim” (another seed), I decided to read the New Testament to see what it was all about. I was completely spellbound, and I think that, at that time, I believed that Jesus was the Messiah. I got so freaked out thinking about my parents and the whole family and approval situation that I ran the other way and dove back into the familiarity of Judaism.
At that point, I was soaked in trying to get my parents’ approval and letting them control my life — our life. How I wish I knew then what I know now! Fortunately, God was far from through with us.
In 1991, God gave us our biggest blessing: our precious son. Through my two men, I learned the true meaning of love, and I really started seeking God. Looking into those big blue eyes of our son, I knew God was there, and I was determined to get to know Him better.
My father-in-law died in 1999. He was really my true Dad and I loved him dearly. I remember going to his funeral. Though it was sad, there was not the overwhelming panic and hopelessness I felt at a Jewish funeral. Looking into his casket, for the first time I knew the true “he” was not there. I knew in my heart that there was truly a heaven and that my Dad was there.
God never gave up on me! Fast forward to the year 2001 and another gentle hint. God led me to the Bible a second time, this time through our son’s karate teacher, a devout Christian. He pointed out the verse, “You keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isa 26:3) — now one of my favorite verses and part of my daily prayers. The Holy Spirit was knocking on the door. This time I opened it.
How I Committed My Life to Christ
I started my journey to Christ by again poring over the New Testament, this time in more deliberate study. I let God’s Spirit take me to places I never dreamed I’d visit. I remember reading so many passages in the New Testament and being utterly blown away by how they fulfilled the Old Testament. For me, much of this came from my favorite Jewish holiday — Passover. The roasted lamb and the matzah are the main ones. The real Lamb of God is the only lamb that can take away the sins of the world. Animals that were sacrificed could never be used to forgive sins. They are just symbols — precursors — on a beautiful Seder plate. At a previous church, I was in charge of a Passover Seder for the Sunday school. I will never forget their reaction when I held up a piece of matzah and broke it. A number of children called out, “Wow, that’s just like the priest does when he gives Communion!” The connection was made — thanks be to God. Through Jesus, the Old Testament matzah eaten at His last Passover Seder (the Last Supper) from the Seder plate was instituted that evening to become the Holy Eucharist. “This is my Body which will be given up for you.”
I remember holding the door open for the Prophet Elijah at the end of my grandparents’ Seder and saying “next year in Jerusalem!” This represented the Jewish view of the coming of their (first) Messiah to complete spiritual redemption, represented by Jerusalem. I remember feeling weird doing this — it almost seemed vague to me, even as a kid. Like there was something not quite right, something we were missing. Amazingly, God was preparing the groundwork, even then, for me to accept Christ as the true Messiah.
The Seder was always beautiful to me and at a young age the symbolism was already becoming a microcosm of Judaism for me. It was like Judaism led me to the edge of a cliff, and the emptiness I felt needed to be filled by what was on the other side of the cliff — an endless valley of love in Christ. I believe Christianity is the fulfillment of Judaism. I don’t see it as “abandoning” Judaism, and I don’t believe Jesus saw it that way either.
“Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Matt 5:17).
Through studying God’s Word and prayer, for the second time I had come to accept Jesus (Yeshuah) as the Messiah. I cannot say the same for my family of origin — relatives included — who “disowned” me. I pray that maybe someday they will come to know Christ. When I read the New Testament that second time, it was like synapses started connecting which were previously apart. But they weren’t yet permanently connected. That required receiving the Eucharist … God had that one down pat. God’s timing is always perfect.
Talk about blessings. First He enveloped me with His light and love one beautiful morning during breakfast in 2002. I felt a light and warmth descend upon me, and I knew — without a doubt — with more certainty than anything I’ve ever known in my life — that I was to be baptized. That’s when I first knew and experienced the meaning of faith. As I referred to above, when I mentioned my Christian friends from college, I had never heard the word “faith” in this context, as it is not used in Judaism. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1).
As soon as I met my husband, Rich, his strong and focused belief in God was evident to me and I began to see how they shaped so much of what I loved about him. Being brought up as an Episcopal Christian, he had what seemed to me this intimate relationship with God, in the Person of Jesus. It was based on his “faith.” I explained to my husband, who had many Jewish friends growing up, that faith is not a word used by Jewish folks. In Judaism, God just IS — “I AM THAT I AM.” You would never write “God” — you’d write “G-d.” Since there is no New Testament, there is no Jesus. So there is no Resurrection! So there is no specific hope of eternal life when you die by believing in Christ — i.e., no such thing as faith.
I shared everything I could remember with my husband about the warm and loving relationship I had with my maternal grandparents. As Orthodox Jews, they worshipped at “Shul” (vs. Temple in Reform, Synagogue in Conservative). Men and women sat separately and still do today. Just like with different denominations in Christianity, the different “movements” within Judaism (Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Hasidic) all have their different feelings and opinions on this separation of the sexes within worship. When my grandparents died in 1974, my parents went into panic and depression. Everything was traumatic and catastrophic. Because my grandparents were gone, all was lost! Perhaps my grandparents believed differently in the afterlife as Orthodox Jews (I don’t know). Often, Orthodox Jews believe that the soul lives on — in some unknown form. However, for my parents, there was nothing. You turned to “worm chow,” as a Reform rabbi once stated to us. The funeral was just awful — as generally Jewish funerals are — without hope. How blessed we are as Christians! We have hope! We have faith in Jesus Christ!
Oy vey — Sue, nice Jewish girl, you want to be baptized?
After I received this most blessed divine intervention, I told Rich about what I had experienced and that I wanted to be baptized. And he did everything he could to change my mind! Really, he wanted to make sure that what I shared with him came from God. After all, Satan is still creeping around the world, and my loving spouse — even with how excited he was with the possibility — wanted to make sure all was kosher.
Our next step was to tell our son. At that point, he was 11 years old, and we had started looking for a possible Bar Mitzvah venue. Nothing in this world is perfect, and we could never have seen what God had planned for us. But God is perfect, and we trust Him. Would it have been better if our son had been Christian from day one? Perhaps. But then he wouldn’t have been exposed to the richness and beauty of Judaism.
Our son and I were baptized in 2003 during the Easter Vigil service in the Episcopal Church. It was a beautiful, joyful, and holy night. And I know it was not a coincidence that this all happened when I turned 40 years old. I know God planned it that way. After all, 40 is a huge number in the Bible. At that point in time, we were members of the Episcopal Church, which is the American counterpart of the Church of England.
The Difference Being Baptized Has Made in My Life
I have never had a single regret about my “conversion.” In many ways, I feel like I have been Christian all my life, because, “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17).
But seriously, there I was, a Christian. Okay God, now what?
I didn’t feel any different right away, but I knew I was different.
Like with St. Matthew’s conversion, when he went from spiritual death to spiritual life — that’s what I felt like. It has been a true blessing, miracle, and testimony to the power of grace. Before my “conversion,” there was this other part of me that I know was “there,” that I so wanted to reach, but was unable to access. It was a stronger and brighter me. It frustrated me that no matter how hard I tried, I could not “reach” that part of me. I now know that through God’s unfathomable grace, He is allowing me, by prayer, and trusting Him one day at a time, to become that person, because — and only because — my will is becoming aligned with His perfect will. The person God wants me to be. It is called transformation, and it is only possible through trusting Christ and His unfathomable love.
My life is far from perfect, but thank goodness my husband and I have each other and our son. It sometimes seems the closer we get to God, the darker this fallen world seems. But it’s the job of each one of us to be the temple of the Holy Spirit and reflect Christ’s light to this dark world as long as we are on this earth. Now I go through my days with a sense of purpose, and that past feeling of constant emptiness, that no one and nothing could fill, is gone. I try my hardest to follow Him and live my life in and through Christ.
Growing in Christ
From 2003 to 2015, my husband and I were generally theologically happy in the Episcopal Church. God allowed us to experience some challenging parish years to mature us in our faith. We encountered some difficult priests along the way. The church in which we were baptized was my husband’s church from birth. We had built a Welcoming Ministry and God was sending many families to the parish. The priest decided he wanted to change the parish from Episcopal to non-denominational. The only problem was that nobody else agreed with him, including the bishop. After losing 90 percent of the parish, the priest was defrocked. We left that parish and jumped straight into the fire. The next parish was Anglo-Catholic, and headed by a priest who should have never been ordained and somehow sneaked through the process — he was a great actor. It was a hurtful experience; however, we did learn something about the Catholic aspects of the Anglican Church, which sowed seeds for the future. In 2014, we went to a transition parish close to home. It was during these two years that the Episcopal Church began implementing new policies that we questioned. Our prayer and discernment process started by asking one simple question: “Where do we find the truth?”
2016 to Present — Journeying Home
I had heard the term “Two Stepper,” referring to my first conversion from Judaism, then my second conversion from the Episcopal Church. My second “step” to coming home to Catholicism began by reading a book written by a son of the Archbishop of Canterbury (Anglican Church) who converted to Catholicism while his father was still alive. It is called Confessions of a Convert, by Robert Hugh Benson. I read it and couldn’t put it down. Then I read it again. Other than the great classic, Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn, this was one of the only books I had to read, though I did keep reading. I read about many different people who found the truth in the Catholic Church who came from a Jewish background, including Edith Stein (my favorite, now known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), and Rosalind Moss (now Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God). I also watched many episodes of The Journey Home on EWTN and listened to a wonderful CD, “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist,” by Dr. Brant Pitre.
The Eucharist: I used to struggle with how the Catholic Church could literally “eat the flesh and drink the blood” of Jesus. It was a stumbling block for me. Now I look at it and think — how could I ever have thought of it as just a symbol? Why would Jesus have died for that? Jesus is actually present under the elements of bread and wine. It makes perfect sense.
The Episcopal Church generally painted a negative picture of the Pope, and the history of papal authority wasn’t celebrated or studied — it just wasn’t discussed. Mary was given a very secondary role in the church, and was generally only brought up at Christmas time. When I attended a Catholic based Bible study, I started realizing how much we were missing.
We stopped attending the Episcopal Church. I spent a lot of time in prayer and began speaking to the priest who would end up confirming us in the Catholic Church. I looked around me at how much the world was changing in not so good ways. At how none of our son’s friends have faith and don’t want to hear anything about it. At how Episcopal churches are virtually empty. At the opioid epidemic. At kids brought up unable to interact in person with others. And I couldn’t help but think — why would a church (like the one we were leaving) want to change their doctrine to keep up with a culture like this? At what point does it stop? Where do you draw the line? What’s next to change? And by whose authority are these things being changed? There’s no central authority. I couldn’t help but wonder if soon the Episcopal church would be unrecognizable.
I asked clergy if the Episcopal church believes that we receive the true Body and Blood of Christ. I was told that “we don’t really know. It’s what you make of it.” The rules were often bent, as it was more or less comfortable — “Fast as you can. We did away with this or that.” By whose authority?
We knew we no longer believed much of what the Episcopal Church espoused, but most importantly, we did believe that the Catholic Church is the one true Church that Jesus Christ started and does not change with secular society.
On March 1, 2018, my husband and I had our First Reconciliation and were confirmed in the Catholic Church. I am now volunteering in the office of a wonderful local Catholic parish. I committed to a weekly Adoration slot and look forward to this time with the Lord. This is something completely new to me. How extraordinary it is that we are afforded the honor of spending time with Our Lord in person. When I am there, the calm and peace I feel is certainly not of this world.
We are home, and we are eternally grateful. It feels so right! As we sit in Mass, the pieces of the puzzle that form the journey we have taken over the past 30 years come together perfectly. We are utterly amazed at how God has taken us from Reconstructionist Judaism to the Catholic Church.
“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst’” (Jn 6:35). Every time I receive the true Body and Blood of Christ at Mass, I feel my Jewish roots being fulfilled in Christ, the true Lamb of God. I can’t wait to see the rest of the journey. Whatever God has in store, one thing’s for sure — I will never go back. From darkness to the utterly brilliant, life-giving love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God!