Susan (Shoshana) Zakar is a convert to Judaism. Earlier in her life, she had decided she wanted to be Jewish, but circumstances prevented it. She ended up becoming a fundamentalist Christian. The following letter explains what drew her in. (a letter to an unmet friend written January, 2001)
A friend asked me to write to you. Though you don’t know me, I hope you will read on…
My friend told me that you had decided to convert to Christianity.
I was a fundamentalist Christian at one point in my life. Mostly Baptist and Assemblies of God.
I can understand the feelings of such moments, I hope, better than those who have never “been there”.
One of the loneliest, darkest, and difficult places we can be is when our souls feel apart from God. There were times — just before I became a Christian — that I wanted to die from the hurt of what felt like being alone, with no one whom I could really trust enough to understand. I was looking desperately for a water to quench the burning. I knew about Judaism. Not much, but up to then I thought it was true. Still, it was my friend Tom, a Christian, who seemed to be the one who could offer me an answer. In a few days, I had accepted Jesus as my saviour and became a Christian. And to be very honest, I felt like a great burden had been lifted from me. I felt like at last I knew what truth and love was. Tom introduced me to a lot of Christians, and they all seemed very warm and caring. I truly felt that I had finally found the answer.
I would not be at all surprised if you have had something of the same experience. The feelings are very real. And your desire to quench a deep thirst just as real.
But what I found out, in time, is that feeling is not enough. It is very possible to fall in love with that which is false, and in so doing to miss the deeper love that we can share with our True Love. Thinking we are in love with God, we follow our feelings — and whatever feeds them — only to realize that somehow we’ve turned our backs on God. It happened to me and it was not easy for me to see what I had done. It was so wrong — but it felt so right.
Yet, even though I had turned my back on G-d — when I understood, and turned, I found that He had been following close behind all along — just waiting for me to return.
I guess IF I’d been letting my head guide me instead of my heart, I might not have become a Christian.
But I didn’t see the truth because — well, because I wanted an easy answer to the pain. I wanted to feel happy. I wanted it “now”. I saw Christianity as a religion of love, of universal brotherhood, of peace. And I bought into the ideas Christians planted in my mind that Judaism was legalistic, parochial, narrowminded and harsh, whose God was strict and severe.
Strange, in retrospect…
Judaism, after all, teaches that all righteous people share in the world to come, that suffering in the afterlife is limited to what it takes to purify us to fully receive the good that G-d showers upon us, and that G-d forgives over and over and over again — all we need to do is ask with a sincere heart. Judaism teaches that the essence of the soul is so pure that it is a part of God Himself, and that our task is to reveal the Godliness in Creation. God, Who gave us commandments, not to make us suffer, but rather to show us how to re-weave the beautiful and intricate spiritual tapestry that envelops the universe. To be His partners in making it all happen. Maybe because when you really love someone, you let them share in what you do.
And Christianity? There are good, kind Christians. Christians with a share in the world to come. That I do not argue. But Christianity itself? Only Christians go to Heaven. The rest go to Hell. Even children. Even those who suffered the horrors of the Holocaust. Even my mother and father and brother. And not just a Hell of purification — an eternal damning Hell with no hope of return with Satan as master of eternity. And Satan — I didn’t see it then, but rather than knowing God as the only true and infinitely powerful being, somehow Christianity puts him in a power struggle with God. A significant one. But how can there be ANY real power except God? Peace? I guess they wanted me to think of Christianity like a lasting manger scene. I did at first. But I guess eventually even I couldn’t excuse the Crusades and Pogroms as acts by people who “weren’t real Christians”. No….they were Christians — so legalistic and harsh that they would kill rather than to permit another to believe in God in a different way.
When we want to believe something very badly — as badly as I did — we tend to deceive even ourselves. I could have seen all that — but I didn’t want to look. And even when I did want to question, I felt like there was no one who would — or could — really understand.
And IF some of this strikes a cord in your heart, then I beg you — please — give yourself a bit of space to consider what is really so, to separate feeling from truth, to know which direction is the one that truly leads toward God. I hope that at least in this you will not doubt, that God will not hurt or condemn one who seeks Him with all her heart and soul. He will, I promise, give you the time you need to learn how to embrace him.
I don’t know if any of this is what you are feeling. I am only speaking from the heart to a sister whom I have not had the honor to meet. I just want to offer to be a friend. Someone who — though I may see things differently because of where I have been — is willing to listen and talk with you. If you want to.
May your way be blessed and your path be true.