I will just sum up my early years by saying that when I reached age 8, I realized that there was nowhere for me to express my true nature — not at home, not at school, not within my larger family. I remember acknowledging that “something in me knew where I was going” and I consciously chose to “leave,” with the intention of coming back when I was out on my own in the world. However, when I did try to “come back” after I left college and was indeed out on my own, I couldn’t find where I had gone, so I spent the rest of my years trying to find my way back to myself.
The breakthrough came in early 1981, when an unexpected event changed the course of my life forever. My life at that time was made up of my Amway business, a quiet home life with my [former] husband (he worked for the State), and our life in the Jewish community. Every month, our Amway sponsor (an older woman who was sort of a second mother to her flock of distributors) held a potluck. One couple (charismatic Catholics) always said the grace and went around saying things like “Lord Jesus loves you” in almost every sentence.
As a practicing Jew, this initially made me very uncomfortable, but eventually my curiosity overcame my discomfort and I decided to read the New Testament for the first time. I tried reading the King James Version, but there were passages that didn’t feel like they had been translated correctly, so I asked one of my Amway customers to recommend another version. I went to the library to look for a copy of the version she recommended, but they only had a pocket edition of the Revised Standard Version, so I took that one home instead. Next to it on the shelf was a copy of In Search of Historic Jesus, which I also checked out. I put both books on my nightstand, because it is my habit to do my reading at night, before I fall asleep.
They were both there when a strange weakness overcame me two days later. I could barely get out of bed to go to the bathroom or to the kitchen for a little food. I was not sick or running a fever, but I didn’t seem to have the strength to do anything, so I read. I read In Search of Historic Jesus first. It all seemed so oddly familiar, but I didn’t know why at the time.
When I got to the part that described what it was like to die by crucifixion, I was overwhelmed with sadness and grief about the suffering this man had gone through. It all seemed to be hitting so close to home, yet there was no explanation for the intensity of my feelings. I then read the four gospels, and again it seemed oddly familiar, but there didn’t seem to be any reason why it should be so.
I had never doubted my identity as a Jew and never felt a need to go beyond the traditions I had been raised with. I was puzzled by my feelings of familiarity towards the accounts in the New Testament and the other book, so I turned to read Isaiah next. I had heard that Isaiah had prophesied the coming of Christ, and wanted to see whether it was true or not.
I had never really read the Old Testament, either, as I was content with the Bible stories I had been taught in Sunday school while I was growing up, and knew enough to follow the services at Temple without further study on my part. As I read Isaiah and came to the part about a “young woman shall conceive” and bear a son whose name would be Immanuel, it was obvious to me from the context that that passage was not about Christ, but had been about something that would occur during Isaiah’s lifetime.
However, when I got to Isaiah 52-54, the account of the “suffering servant” leapt off the page at me as a description of the life I had just read about in the New Testament and In Search of Historic Jesus. I was stunned. How could this be? It seemed so clear to me that Isaiah had indeed prophesied the coming of Christ and the suffering he would go through, but why had I been raised to deny all of it as having happened?
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