Jewish People Telling Their Stories
Testimony of Chava Reuper
I was born the youngest of three children in a northern Ontario middle-class Jewish home. My mother was of Sephardic origin whose family emigrated from southern France in the late 19th century. She practised orthodoxy in a highly-organized and capable manner: meals were strictly kosher, holidays were methodically observed, and shul was attended every Shabbat. My father, however, was an Ashkenazi holocaust survivor from Poland. His observance had once been conservative, but the horrors of what he’d suffered at the hands of the Nazis destroyed his faith in God. Because of his past, I would often say that my brothers and I grew up in a haunted house: those who had died in Europe lived in the strained expressions and silences of our home. It was a hard place to grow up in.
My father was an enigma: to outsiders, he was a vivid and witty storyteller and an accomplished violinist, but at home, he was depressed and emotionally unavailable. He never failed to express his extreme distaste at my mother’s strict adherence to Jewish law, and he often mocked her for it. As a child, I wondered how she could worship a God that my father despised so much. I knew I believed in the Almighty, but I didn’t love Him: I feared Him. I often imagined Him striking me dead with a lightning bolt when I broke one of His many laws.
One day after school, I asked my father if he thought Jesus had been Jewish (I heard this from a classmate). He pounded his fist on the table and shouted, “I never want to hear that name in this house again!” I retreated in tears, not knowing what I had done wrong. I knew Jews didn’t believe in Jesus, but my father’s reaction had scared me. Jesus must have done something awful to our people. He couldn’t have been one of us!
As a university student, I openly lived out my faith, but was often approached by Christian missionaries on campus. I always hastily refused their offer of material, and resented that they didn’t seem to respect my Jewish faith. I worked for the campus newspaper, which was almost exclusively staffed by Jewish students. One day, in a burst of religious zeal, we decided to place a Star of David on the opaque window of the door that led to the adjoining office, which belonged to the Christian Fellowship. Within minutes, someone on the other side had placed a cross on their window, right behind our star! We were outraged that our neighbours could deface our symbol this way, and for days, we talked about how we’d send someone next door to demand they remove the cross from their side of the glass. After all, we’d put up our star first!
Within a few days, before we had a chance to take action, our office was unexpectedly visited by a young lady from next door. A hush came over the room because we’d all seen her before, handing out Christian tracts on campus. She politely approached me and said, pointing to the blended image in the window: “What a beautiful symbol – God’s promise to His people, and His fulfillment of it!” We were taken aback by her calm. She’d defused the situation and ended the war without a shot being fired. However, her words confused us: was she saying that the cross of Jesus had something to do with a promise to the Jews? Impossible! Was she trying to fool us by making us think that there could ever be a connection between Jesus and the Jewish people? She quietly thanked us for our time and left the room. I felt ashamed for not having shaken her outstretched hand: she’d treated me with respect, while I had been defiant and arrogant. I purposed that day to find out, on my own, who Jesus really was.
The following week, I saw a film about Jesus’ life, and was impressed at how gentle yet strong He had been. Was this portrayal accurate? He certainly didn’t seem to be threatening in any way, yet the Jewish authorities hated and feared Him. I thought I’d like to meet a man like Him one day. More surprising to me was that He had indeed been Jewish, in every way. I found myself thinking about His life and pondering the implications of the cross. If Jesus was God, His death made no sense! How could His crucifixion 2,000 years ago have anything to do with my life now? More importantly, if He’d really fulfilled the ancient prophecies, why didn’t my people believe in Him?
At the time, I was engaged to a young man from Haifa, so I planned a trip to Israel to meet his family before the wedding. After all, I would one day make aliyah, so it was a good time to acquaint myself with my future home. All went well with me firmly establishing my roots in Eretz Israel until I visited Jerusalem. While in the Old City, I became consumed with the unmistakable presence of Jesus, like I was walking on holy ground! I didn’t know what to make of these feelings because no one else in my family or group of friends had ever experienced such a thing while visiting the homeland. It was like Jesus had left an indelible mark of Himself in that place, just for me to find…
I wondered where to go for answers. After all, a rabbi wouldn’t be receptive to such a discussion. I found myself looking for places where Jesus had lived and ministered, and the mystery only deepened: how could He be the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel? We’d been so persecuted, in His name – my family bore witness to that hatred first-hand. How could those who believed in Jesus hate the Jews? After all, He’d been a Jew who had obediently followed the Torah. The whole issue surrounding Jesus and His identity became more and more puzzling, but the more I tried to ignore it, the more it taunted me. I had no idea at the time that I was being doggedly pursued by God!
When I returned to Canada, I shared my experience with my fiancé, and our engagement was broken. I began to be disillusioned with orthodox Judaism because it posed many questions but gave few answers. Then, on May 14th, Israel’s anniversary, my father lost his battle to emphysema. The next few years were difficult for me, but things started to look up when I was hired to work at a prestigious Miami talent agency. This was a dream job that would pay very well, and my life would be more exciting than I’d ever dreamed possible. However, a few days before I was scheduled to leave, my mother became very ill. I contacted my employers in Miami to ask for an extension of my start date, which they granted me, but unbelievably, 5 months passed, and my mother still lingered in hospital, dangerously ill and undiagnosed. I couldn’t delay going to Miami any longer: I had to decide whether to leave my mother in this condition or renege on the job offer. With no end in sight to her suffering, I had to let go of my dream. I had never felt worse: I had no money, no job, no significant other in my life, and my mother was dying. Most of all, I had lost my religious footing. I began to think that my curiosity about Jesus had brought this misery into my life.
Giving up the Miami job began a downward spiral for me. I became the poster child for “eat, drink, and be merry” – after all, what was the point? I was busy drowning my sorrows one night when a knock came at the door. It was a relative I hadn’t seen in years who’d been disowned by everyone because she’d become “one of them”, a believer in Jesus! Because I just didn’t care anymore, I let her in, not knowing why she was visiting me. She spent several hours listening to me rant about the unfairness of life, and when I was done, she expressed her concern for me. She eventually asked about my faith life, and that struck a nerve: I had lost the only foundation I’d known, and I felt truly lost. She told me she loved me and wanted to help, but her words only made me resentful and angry. I asked, “What’s religion all about anyway? I tried really hard to please Him, but I’m not even sure He’s there or if He cares. And who’s Jesus anyway? Does He matter?” She smiled and said to me, “Those are very good questions. It’s less about religion and more about relationship. If you want some answers, why don’t you come with me to my church this Sunday night?”
Oddly enough, her challenge lit a fire in me, and I told her I’d consider it. That Sunday was May 14th, my father’s 2nd yahrzeit. Was this a coincidence? I couldn’t have known that God had set up a divine appointment with me! It felt strange entering the church that night, but the people were warm and welcoming, not at all like I’d expected. The service began with the congregation singing “The God of Abraham Praise”, which made me feel strangely at home: after all, I’d heard the cantor sing Yigdal many times in shul! Soon after, the pastor delivered a sermon based on Leviticus 17:11 and Hebrews 9:22, passages which explain that there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood. He then meticulously outlined the Jewish sacrificial system, comparing it step-by-step to the life and death of Jesus. I was both floored and mesmerized: for the first time in my life, I had a real understanding of atonement and of Jesus. He was the Passover lamb, slain to give me life! I’d never felt completely forgiven at Yom Kippur, despite my fasting and giving of money, because there had been no shedding of blood. How could the importance of the sacrifice be ignored in modern Judaism? I felt the eyes of my heart and soul open up to the truth: the missing puzzle piece in my life was Yeshua, Jesus, my Messiah!
Of course, when the evening ended with the singing of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”, I almost fell to my knees: where my earthly father had shut me out, my Heavenly Father had invited me in. I approached the pastor after the service, and in his office, he further explained the meaning of living for my Messiah. Then, we prayed together for me to invite Him into my heart. I’d never felt more loved – or more Jewish! Knowing Him reconnected me with my roots because He truly is the Messiah, the One promised to Israel so long ago! When I got home, my father’s memorial candle was still burning, and I couldn’t help but be sad for him: he had been a prisoner of his past his whole life, and Jesus had come to free him, but tragically, he had missed the message. I purposed that night that I would devote my life to telling others, particularly Jewish people, about Jesus, their Messiah.
Miraculously, my mother recovered from her illness a few days after I came to faith. My belief in Jesus separated us for years, but eventually she too found her Messiah. My brother Wolf, after doggedly fighting God’s pursuit of Him, also became a believer. They are now both with the Lord. Eventually, I married a wonderful Christian man; after our son was born, we sold our home and moved to Toronto to bring the good news of Messiah to my beloved Jewish people. Above all, I want them to know that believing in Jesus does not take away their Jewishness, but rather enhances it!
Despite the pain of my early years, God has turned my mourning into dancing. From the time I adopted faith in Jesus, I have never doubted this truth: He paid the price for my sins, and I owe Him everything. My life did not become miraculously better after I found Jesus; in fact, in many ways, I faced more challenges, particularly from Jewish friends and relatives. However, Jesus has been faithful to me in every way, and has given me the strength and resilience to overcome life’s obstacles. Now, one of my greatest joys involves sharing the truth of these life-changing words: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
Won’t you accept the challenge of getting to know Him today?
“But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Deuteronomy 4:29