I grew up in Rockville, Maryland, an upper middle class suburb of Washington, D.C. My father’s parents, the Bergers, hailed from Brooklyn, N.Y., having emigrated as children from Poland before WWII. On the Cohen side, “Potch” (my maternal grandfather, so named by me as a toddler) was an immigrant to the U.S. from Lithuania; and “Mimi,” my maternal grandmother, was born a first-generation American Jew. But for all my fully Jewish parents, grandparents, and relatives, Potch alone remained faithful to the synagogue until his dying day.
And except for the family Passover seders devoid of God (my father literally took references to God out of the haggadah), and our half-hearted Chanukah hullabaloos, no Jewish heritage was passed down to me or my sister. No, in our house, being Jewish was incidental, religion was a punch line, and there was no such “thing” as God.
In this spiritual void, I spent my teenage years obsessing about the only two things in life that truly mattered: music and girls. Hoping to find other-worldly guidance for pursuits in both of these areas, I at one time dabbled with astrology and tarot cards. Otherwise, my exposure to all things spiritual came through music (of both classical and questionable persuasions) and personal interactions: from the high school choir director who played the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar in class, to the Jewish friend’s father who disputed God’s existence by challenging Him to make a rock so big that He couldn’t move it, to the Christian girl I wasn’t permitted to date until I conned her parents into believing I was a “secret Christian,” and agreed to attend church with their family three times a week. (I can still see her father fervently praying over me.)
But it wasn’t until 1988 that, through another life-changing relationship, I came into possession of—and actually read for the very first time—a copy of the Scriptures. Up to that point, I had had a vague, ambiguous feeling of God. But when I read the Scriptures, especially James and 1 and 2 Peter, I finally met the One I knew I could no longer live without. I wrote in my journal that November 6, “I think I love Jesus,” and my life has never been the same.
When I finally declared to my family that I was now a “born-again Christian,” they were, to say the least, dazed and confused. I still vividly recall the time Mimi and Potch took me out for bagels and lox; and how Potch pleaded with me—tears pouring down his face—“Why?! Why does it have to be Jesus?! Why couldn’t it be Buddha or something else? Anything . . . but Jesus!”
Though Potch never disowned me, I know that I broke his heart. Sadly, he didn’t live to see me make the most unexpected spiritual course correction of my life, one that I think would have been a comfort to his soul. Toward the end of my college days, I read a short, little book by Messianic Jewish author David Stern called Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel. Having never before considered that being both Jewish and a Believer in Jesus (“Yeshua!”) were not only compatible, but scriptural, I started to see how wrong it was to deny or hide my Jewishness, and that I could never truly serve God without fully embracing my lineage and ethnicity.
Over the ensuing years, I came to understand how keeping the Torah was not a source of legalism, but of my Jewish identity. I saw how a collective witness of Messiah followers who are still identifiable as Jews testifies to the promises and faithfulness of God! Following Yeshua, then, was no longer simply a personal, spiritual pursuit—I was now a member of a God-preserved remnant fulfilling the ancient, collective call of my people: Israel is to be a light to the nations, and a mediator of reconciliation between God and the families of the earth.
Today, the self-centered, self-serving, misled little Jewish boy from Rockville lives on only in my memories, but he reminds me that God can lead even the most pitiful of people through the lies of the world into the truth of His Word. Indeed, what greater purpose in life can any Jew possibly serve than to give himself over to the One who made him a brother of the Messiah, and a testimony of God’s salvation, power, and love for all?
Kevin Geoffrey is the principal laborer of Perfect Word Ministries, a Messianic Jewish equipping ministry. His latest book is Bearing the Standard: A Rallying Cry to Uphold the Scriptures. Visit www.PerfectWordMinistries.org for more information.
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