Jewish People Telling Their Stories
Testimony of Steven Shreyberg
How could any educated, rational human being come to believe that Yeshua (Jesus) rose from the dead and was born of a virgin? Do the dead rise? Do virgins give birth? How is it possible for any honest and reasonable person to accept the great stories in the Bible as absolutely true?
Well, I can’t speak for anyone else but here’s how I came to believe with all my heart in Yeshua, the Son of God.
I was born in Toronto to Russian-Jewish parents with a strong Jewish identity for whom family dinner was a command from on high, but forsaking shrimp and pork was only for the religious. Lobster for dinner was considered a delightful treat, yet lobster on the table at Rosh Hashanah, an abomination!
I was circumcised and bar-mitzvahed because my parents felt that these practices were vital to observe, but we went to shul just once a year because regular attendance was only for rabbis. It seemed to me then that being Jewish wasn’t a matter of observance, but rather an identity one inherits by blood.
Though I identified very strongly with my being Jewish, I felt no need to be loyal to anything but the truth, wherever that would lead me.
Religiosity was always very unattractive to me, yet I always had a deep, almost ingrained sense that life was not accidental, but was created by God. Life just had a way of weaving together seemingly random events so purposely, so intentionally, so exactly, that to me it had an undeniable mark of an invisible, intelligent observer.
Though I believed in God, my life did not reflect godliness. Holiness was the last thing on my mind when, at 24, I found myself living in New York City and on the fast-track to becoming a successful actor.
I was sleeping in hostels, classrooms, and couch-hopping, on a steady diet of dollar hot dogs and frozen spinach, yet I couldn’t have been more content. The comfort I was accustomed to at home felt far behind me. Home had become planet Earth, and the many strangers filling the busy streets and subways became my family and friends. It’s not that I was estranged from my biological family: it’s that the world was opening up to me and bursting with opportunity.
Liberated and unafraid, my work on stage was growing, and with it came lots of attention. Being in my early twenties and free from any responsibilities, I took full advantage of my liberty. I was living for the moment and couldn’t be bothered about tomorrow. Commitments were to be avoided; instead, I yielded to every pleasure the ‘city that never sleeps’ had to offer. As far as I was concerned, I felt I had the right to take whatever I wanted, and often it was at the expense of others.
One afternoon, riding a Manhattan bus, I took a moment to look inside myself to reflect on the new life I was leading. Where back at home this was a common practice, one year had flown by before I stopped to “take a look inside”. What I saw was that I was self-centred, selfish, and hurtful to those around me.
Where my current path would eventually lead me seemed strikingly obvious: to a beautiful career and a horribly unhappy life. Before I could even consider why this was true, all my favorite actors came to mind, and with each name, I recalled the tragedies that so famously pervaded their lives: suicide, drug addiction, failed marriages, and wild affairs. What became a sobering reality was that I was on my way to shaping not just a career, but a life just like theirs.
My talent was taking me into a lifestyle that my character wasn’t developed enough to sustain. I was being tossed around by the pleasures now so accessible to me, and it was very clear what I needed desperately was an anchor. I didn’t know where to start looking, but I knew this was what I needed in order to continue safely into stardom.
Some weeks later, as this question continued to quietly percolate in the back of my mind, I began to feel drawn to enter churches. I seemed to notice them everywhere. I thought it odd since I was Jewish, and I even shared my curiosity with a Jewish friend of mine. A day or two later, back on the bus, I wondered again why I was being drawn to enter churches when suddenly, I heard a voice.
“Look left” rang loudly in my body as if my heart had ears. I slowly turned to look, filled with anticipation, and there it was, a huge church right in front of me. Before I could even ask who the voice belonged to, I was flooded by a perfect love that words fail to describe. His love was so personal, so intimate and unconditional; I sensed He knew me better than anyone else in the world. Then, suddenly I became aware of the horrible condition of my selfish heart. My head fell and, from my spirit, I was sorry. Not a second later, I felt completely forgiven, and His forgiveness was so absolute that I felt liberated even physically. I shot up from my seat full of renewed life and this is when He spoke again.
“Now go in.” Just as I was ready to go, a sharp, accusatory voice interrupted: “What would they think if you went in there?” I saw images of my family and friends and saw how much it would hurt them. I knew my life would never be the same if I went in there, including my dreams of becoming an actor. Feeling unready and wanting more time, I said, “I know you’re real, but not yet.” Though I immediately regretted it, I knew the opportunity had passed.
So, where does a Jewish boy go to seek spiritual truth after encountering Jesus? Not the New Testament, of course, but instead, I went to Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle, and Krishnamurti. I did breathing exercises and embraced vegetarianism. I was trying it all. Though I was falling deeper in love with the world God created, what I wanted was a relationship with the creator.
Thinking of my encounter with Yeshua on the bus a few years prior, I went for a walk to contemplate how I could have a relationship with God. Then, about 15 steps from my front door, a stranger passing me on his motorbike quickly stopped, pulled off his helmet, and asked, “Jesus was a carpenter, right?” I froze a moment, realizing even my thoughts were transparent to Him.
From that point on, I knew He was alive and real, but my life remained unchanged. The easy, pleasure-filled existence I led in New York was a thing of the past. I was no longer decisive and driven, but lost and confused. I felt as though the weight of the world sat directly on my shoulders and after a few years of trying to carry the weight, finally I broke. I cried out to God, asking Him why life was so hard.
A soft, loving response came to my heart: “You’re fighting for your will in your life to come to pass rather than submitting to my will.” “Why am I fighting?” I thought. “Because of pride,” He answered.
I spent years as an actor cultivating humility but at His gentle response, I became aware of my pride and it broke me into tears. I saw that I was clinging to my life and trying to incorporate Him into my life rather than submitting my life to Him. With my hand raised in the air and eyes full of tears, I came home to my Father and was ready for Him to show me the way.
Just a few weeks later, I walked into a Messianic Synagogue in Toronto to begin a new journey and completely give my life to God.
So finally, I can answer my initial question about how any intelligent, reasonable person can come to believe all the extraordinary stories in the Bible. Like in any relationship, trust is something that grows over time and so as I personally get to know God and experience how incredibly loving, faithful, and trustworthy He is, believing His word has become so simple. Actually, it is the world that has become hard to believe.