I’m glad you asked !

by Mottel Baleston

The grand sweep of Jewish history is something that has dramatically shaped my personal history.

During the 17th thru 19th Centuries sporadic waves of violent persecution would horribly impact Jewish communities in eastern Europe, communities all four of my grandparents were a part of. The years 1903 to 1906 in the Ukraine were particularly severe, and on occasion non-Jews who had gone to church on Sunday would violently assault their Jewish neighbors on Monday, the result of anti-Semitic teaching in the liturgical churches they attended. These churches held many false, non-biblical doctrines which they used to try to justify their bigotry.

In 1908 those waves of persecution prompted a Jewish family in a village in the Ukraine to put their teenage daughter, Sarah Siegel, my Grandmother, on a steamship crossing the Atlantic to live with her older brother in New York City. My other three grandparents have similar stories. In New York Sarah would marry Isidore, a young Jewish man from White Russia, and together launch their new life in the New World.

My father's parents were typical of many Jewish families who had arrived in New York around 1900. They spoke Yiddish in the home, and while they were strictly Orthodox in their observance of kosher dietary laws and Jewish practices while in Europe, that observance tended to be relaxed after a few years in America. My grandfather was the quintessential Jewish character of the turn of the century: a Jewish tailor who worked in the sweatshops of New York. In time he would save his money and buy a 3 family tenement in Williamsburg, a heavily Jewish section of Brooklyn. In that tenement atmosphere three children would be born to my grandparents, my father Samuel being the youngest.

My father married a nice Jewish girl from a Yiddish speaking home the next neighborhood over and moved to a housing project in Brooklyn where my sister and I were raised. Each building had 8 floors with a total of 72 families in each building. On a piece of ground that was barely a quarter mile square, there were 23 buildings. That's 1,656 apartments and as I grew up there during the 1960's it was over 80% Jewish. The public elementary school I went to had a similar ethnic makeup, and so of course most of my friends were Jewish. Within 5 blocks of where I grew up, less than a half mile, there were seven synagogues, along with many stores which catered to my Jewish community. It was common for me to hear Yiddish being spoken by the older people in the neighborhood as well as many of the shopkeepers.

It was during those years that I became aware that some families were more traditional in their Jewish practice than was ours. My father had a strong connection to his Jewish identity culturally, but he moved away from the religious practices of the synagogue. Several of my friends were from families who kept kosher and observed the Holy Days strictly while our family was more lenient. One startling thing that came through was that there didn't seem to be any greater degree of God awareness, or any more spirituality among the families who kept the traditions more strictly. They seemed to go through the mechanics of having separate dishes for meat and dairy and all the other requirements because it was expected of them.

The 1970's brought a spiritual churning to our secure Jewish neighborhood, as various gurus, eastern religions and cults came to America and found easy pickings among my Jewish peers. They proselytized heavily in New York and offered attractive, albeit false answers to the spiritual questions that many in my generation were asking. I watched as my friends with names like Rabinowitz, Goldberg and Levine became fully involved with these eastern religions. At the same time I had two friends who had been raised as normative American Jews become totally enamored of ultra Orthodox Hasidic Judaism, and within months had started to wear the black suit jackets and hats of the Hasidic group who had their Yeshiva in the next neighborhood over.

While I listened politely to the pitches made to me by both the eastern religion devotees and the newly observant Hasidim, I resisted becoming enamored of either of those, because I sensed that it was all largely about adopting a very distinctive culture and lifestyle rather then a search for the universal spiritual truth that would be true for all people. 

As I smugly pondered the paths I had examined and declined to take, I became uneasy as I realized that I had not dared to examine the claims of the most famous Jew who had ever lived, Jesus of Nazareth. In my youth it had been easy to disregard those claims, as the only kids in my elementary school who believed in Jesus were Italian and attended the Catholic church, and since I was Jewish, that meant that Jesus was out of the question. In my teen years the concept of Jesus the Jew became more real as I came to understand more of world history, and I wanted to know more.

I must have been about 20 or 21 when I determined to find out more about this Jewish Jesus and decided to read the New Testament in order to understand if it had anything to do with my Jewish people. I had been warned that it was a book that was against the Jews, and so with surprise I read the very first sentence "this is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham". So, in the very first sentence of the book three people are mentioned, and they are all Jewish! As I continued in the book of Matthew I came to see that it was a Jewish story, set in a Jewish country, written by Jewish writers about a Jewish man who claimed to be not only the Messiah of Israel but the Savior of all the world. Everything I read about Rabbi Jesus was attractive.

I finally decided to find someone who could explain this Jesus to me. I had seen a newspaper ad for a Messianic Jewish fellowship in Brooklyn, a group of Jews & non-Jews who practiced Jewish culture while believing in Jesus. I contacted them. The leader sat down with me and for five hours showed me the Scriptures in the Jewish Bible that spoke of Messiah and gave details on how He could be identified. He explained that during His time on earth, Jesus was only known by his Hebrew name, Yeshua. At the end of that time he asked me if I wanted to pray to receive Yeshua as my Messiah. I said no. Somehow, I understood that the act of accepting Him as Messiah would be the most life changing decision I would ever make and should not be approached lightly. I told him I still had some questions, some doubts and wanted to examine it more. He gave me a list of over 30 prophecies in the Jewish Bible that looked forward to and identified the Messiah. I would later learn that he did not think that I would actually look them all up but I did, and checked them in a Jewish translation.

When I went back we discussed the verses and then he showed me something that was astonishing: the basic chronology of Daniel chapter 9. Even without figuring out the dates in that passage, this much was clear: that there would be a time when the Messiah would appear, then the Messiah would be killed (not just die but rather be killed), and then the holy Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. Well, the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., and the Messiah would have needed to have appeared and been killed before then. With all the other verses in place, it could only point to one Jewish man in history, Yeshua of Nazareth.

By both evidence and faith I embraced my Messiah that evening as I prayed. I recognized that only through the sacrifice of Messiah would I have atonement. My commitment and loyalty to my own Jewish people has only gotten stronger since then. Like my father I married a nice Jewish girl, Deborah, who is also a believer in Messiah. For a short time we lived and studied in Israel. We know that Yeshua is the One promised in our Jewish Scripture and the only One who can, by His sacrifice for us, provide atonement.

 Mottel Baleston

Mottel Baleston is the Director of the Messengers Messianic Jewish Fellowship of New Jersey
Box 274,  Ledgewood, NJ 07852

e-mail:  MessiahNJ @ 
(just remove the spaces in the address, an anti-spam measure)

This article copyright 2008, 2014 Mottel Baleston. All Rights Reserved

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