Pursued by the God who never leaves.
by Sally Fradkin
I never went to Hebrew school. Times were tough and my parents didn’t have the money to teach me the language used in our orthodox synagogue. From the women’s balcony, I stared down at the men praying below. Covered with blue and white prayer shawls, their shoulders rose and fell as they chanted from the Torah scroll. I didn’t understand a word and soon lost interest.
Instead I gazed at the stained glass star of David on the window behind them. The morning sun illuminated it with a brightness that made me think God himself must be listening to their Yom Kippur prayers.
I wondered if the men were really being forgiven their sins. If so, what about me? I was an ignorant girl; all I knew were the Ten Commandments. Although I had never killed anyone, I couldn’t honestly say I honored my father and mother. Drying dishes and walking the dog were never my favorite things, and I told my parents so.
My stomach rumbled from my Yom Kippur fast, but I knew that wasn’t enough to make me right with God. “OK, God,” I said silently, “You stay here in the synagogue. I’ll come visit You on the high holidays, but the rest of the year, I’ll live by my own rules.”
Fear and panic
The plan worked fine for a while. I graduated high school and fell in love with a returning army veteran. We were soon married according to the laws of Moses and Israel. In time, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I adored her but was also frightened by the responsibility she presented.
My fear increased when my husband’s war injury caused him to lose his job and I found out I was pregnant again. How would we ever take care of two children? Fear turned to panic. I wished I could end the pregnancy but didn’t know how.
Pain of loss
By the time I was in my sixth month, I accepted the fact there would soon be a second child. But one morning, the unthinkable happened: I woke up knowing something was terribly wrong. A quick visit to my obstetrician was followed by a trip to the maternity ward. I lost the baby — a little girl we had already named Barbara Ann.
The elevator took my husband and me down to the hospital lobby. My arms were empty and ached. Once home, the ache turned into a deep depression, fueled by a mixture of grief and guilt. It didn’t make sense. Why was I grieving for a child I had never wanted? I buried the question beneath days filled with chasing after an active toddler, but it wouldn’t stay submerged.
We lived in a six-story apartment building. One day as I hung clothes on the roof, a thought came to me: I could end my constant pain by jumping over the side.
For one moment, I considered it, but downstairs a husband and child waited. Sighing, I turned and hung another diaper on the line.
Weeks turned into months, and I decided it was time to visit my parents in the next county. Knowing my state of mind, my husband didn’t object. Somehow I knew it would be more than a visit. I’d leave my daughter in my parents’ care and run away.
When we arrived, my mother took one look at my face and did a very strange thing for an orthodox Jewish woman. She handed me a book and said, “Here, read this. Your brother told me it really helped him.”
Connecting to Mary
The book was Fulton Oursler’s The Greatest Story Ever Told. Being a Jew, I wouldn’t think of reading the New Testament. However, I soon learned this book paralleled the four Gospels. I opened to a passage that described the trip Joseph and his pregnant wife, Mary, would be making to Bethlehem. It posed the question “What do Romans care about Jewish wives or babies?”
The thought struck me. Mary wasn’t the blue-eyed lady I’d seen in a Renaissance painting. She was a Jewish wife, just like me. Unlike me, however, she gave birth to a very special Baby.
I decided I wanted to learn more about that Baby, so I took my daughter and returned home. The apartment was quiet. My daughter slept and my husband had gone off to his newly acquired night job. I walked into the kitchen. With Oursler’s book in hand, I whispered the first honest prayer I had ever spoken: “God of the Gentiles, please help me.”
There were no flashes of light, but as I began to read, I knew something was different.
Over the next few weeks, I learned that Jesus wasn’t just a gifted rabbi who healed the sick; He claimed to be the Jewish Messiah. An uncomfortable question began to fill my mind. Who was He? Either He was deluding Himself and His followers or somehow, He was fulfilling prophecy.
By the time I came to the conversation Jesus had with His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, I knew He wasn’t delusional. I read His plea: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39, American Standard Version).
Accepting the Messiah
His words went from my head to my heart. Closing the book, I uttered the second honest prayer I’d ever spoken: “Father, Your will, not mine, be done in my life.”
I had no one to guide me, but I knew Jesus was now my Messiah and that He expected me to obey Him. The thought I might be the only Jew who believed in Jesus frightened me; there were so many questions. Could I still keep a kosher house? What would I tell my husband? He might throw me out of the house for converting. At that time, it was a common practice among orthodox Jews.
Courage and hope
I received a source of courage I’d never known before. While pouring my husband’s morning coffee, I told him of my Messiah. For a long while, he was silent. Then, he said, “If that’s what you really believe, it’s OK.”
I almost drowned him in hot coffee as I hugged him, and I inundated him with kisses.
Unfortunately everything was far from OK. We struggled to live on my husband’s salary, and I still grieved for my baby. Yet the guilt I once felt was gone; Jesus had taken it away. Gradually my source of courage became a source of hope.
When I finished The Greatest Story Ever Told, I bought a Bible. Starting in the New Testament, I began to read about Jesus. Thanks to the teacher within me, many verses became clear. I learned He had a name; Scripture called Him the Holy Spirit.
As I watched my daughter explore the world around her, I realized I was beginning to search the world the Spirit was opening to me. He taught me patience and humility. Above all, He showed me how far short I had fallen from God’s commandments. My head bowed in repentance as I asked the Father to forgive me.
More than fifty years have passed since that day. God has given my husband and me two sons in addition to the daughter we cherish. Also, after forty-five years, He answered my prayers: My husband also came to faith in Jesus. Today we’re both Messianic Jews.
Only recently did I begin to understand the miracle that brought me to Jesus. I had no teacher, besides the Holy Spirit. Only His prompting put Oursler’s book in my mother’s hands. Only His wisdom opened Scripture and led me to accept Jesus as my Savior.
I left God in the synagogue, but He never abandoned me. He has blessed me with the Messiah, the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and above all, the gift of salvation.
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