A Child is Born into a Divided World

Brian Horwitz

A child is born into a divided world and takes on the race and religion of its parents.

My parents were founder members of the Hebrew congregation in a blossoming town in the Free State. From an early age our family followed the Jewish traditions, attending synagogue every Friday night, celebrating the Jewish festivals, going to cheder classes in the afternoons, and participating in the youth Zionist Habonim meetings on a Sunday. The Jewish boys stuck together and we enjoyed a full energetic life in our own circle of friends.

Most of the Jewish boys attended Christian Brothers College which was a Catholic school. The Jewish boys weren’t obliged to attend religious studies and we were sent to a room to do other studies. I recall that every couple of hours the bell would ring and the whole class would stand up and recite the “Hail Mary”. Once, one of the Brothers said that perhaps there was a Jewish prayer we could recite. We decided we would silently recite the Shemai Yisrael. I was a member of the school choir which sang Christmas carols and Avé Marie. I wonder if my parents realized what we were really being exposed to at the time. Somehow it didn’t make too much of an impression on me.

My parents decided to send my brother and I to a Jewish Day School in Johannesburg so that we could get a better Jewish education. We became boarders at the Hostel at King David High School Linksfield where, as a routine, we attended daily prayers, ate kosher food, and observed the Sabbath.

At the age of 13, I prepared for my Bar Mitzvah when I was expected to conduct the full Friday evening service and on the Sabbath to recite the Haftorah and Maftir portions for the week. It was a joyous occasion, the coming of age! At school we learned modern Hebrew, studied portions from the Old Testament and Prophets, Hebrew literature and poetry. Living in the Hostel, we only mixed with Jewish children and had virtually no contact with the outside world except when we played sports. On occasions at matches we encountered anti-semitism, and in my first year after a rugby away match, which we won, our bus was stoned, and for the first time I experienced real hatred against the Jews.

When we reached the age of 15, the school offered an opportunity to attend an Ulpan in Israel for three months during the school year. I was extremely fortunate that my parents could afford to send me on this dream experience. Our base was Sde Boker in the Negev, close to the Kibbutz where David Ben Gurion spent his remaining years. We toured the whole country, and studied Hebrew and everything there was to know about life in Israel. An unforgettable experience which made a major impression upon me!

I felt that I had a calling to return to Israel, and as soon as I had finished my Army training, I made arrangements, with my parent’s blessings, to go and study at the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. It was a preparatory year of study, where young Jewish students from all corners of the globe gathered. Life in Israel was a maturing experience, but sadly I was to return to South Africa to continue my studies.

Years passed by as I became embroiled in study and establishing my career and qualifications. I had very little of a spiritual life and I was very distant from God until I met a lovely woman who was a Christian. One day she asked me straight out whether I believed in God. I naturally answered that I did, but this question bothered me. I struggled to understand what it was to believe in God, and now that I was out of my Jewish comfort zone and going out with a Christian woman, “What did my Judaism really mean to me?”, “What did the Kingdom of God mean?”, “What did it mean to be a Chosen nation”.

I recall during a Yom Kippur trying to understand why we had to read all about the sacrifices of bulls and goats. I couldn’t make any sense of it all, but more than likely I didn’t want to try and make any sense of it. One day I picked up one of my girlfriend’s books which dealt with belief in God. The critical question was that one had to take a step in faith. You either believed in God or you didn’t. And if you did, what did it mean to you? What were you going to do about it that would give you some meaning to your life?

I confirmed in my mind that I did believe in God and that I would always believe in God. I started praying regularly in Hebrew because I realized that I couldn’t do certain things in my own strength but only with God’s help. I witnessed how God helped me, through faith and prayers, with my studies at a time when I was struggling. It was during this period that I entered into many discussions with my girlfriend about Christianity, Judaism and Jesus.

I felt uncomfortable about Christianity and tried to avoid any discussions. The mere mention of “Jesus” repulsed me, and the steel doors shut out the subject. I retaliated by saying “Show me one Rabbi who knows everything about Judaism and then converted to Christianity!” and, “I will never think about another religion when I am still trying to learn about my own religion.” Unbeknown to me my girlfriend tried to find a converted Rabbi but landed up finding an Evangelist to the Jews. She eventually persuaded me to meet him and I took to his kind gentle manner and was interested in his knowledge of the Old Testament.

It was easier to seek a compromise and show some tolerance to Christianity but I firmly resisted any attempt to draw me into that religion – it was out of bounds for me! I reluctantly attended a Hebrew Alliance meeting and a church service, but wondered what on earth I was doing there because this was not the place that I wanted to spend my time. My girlfriend had to come with me to synagogue, and she felt most uncomfortable. Why did men and women have to be separated? and, “The women constantly talk during the service and I can’t follow the service because everything is done in Hebrew?” So off we went to a Reform synagogue which was better for her but made me feel uncomfortable because I had never been in a Reform synagogue. It felt strange to hear prayers in English!

Eventually we both agreed that this relationship would not work out and religion was separating us, notwithstanding our deep love for each other. I returned to my family in Israel, believing that this is where a Jew ought to be. But our deep love for each other eventually brought us into contact again, and so began a long distance relationship. The letters always broached the subject of religion and I didn’t seem to have all the answers. Until I read a notice in the Jerusalem Post about a series of public lectures, at the Jerusalem Institute of Biblical Polemics, refuting cult and missionary teachings. An Institute dedicated to refuting missionary teachings! What better place to go to get information. So off I went from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem every Tuesday evening to hear lectures on “Crucifixion and Resurrection Theory”, “Blood Atonement and Sacrifice”, “Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 explained.” I struggled to follow everything that was said but bought all the literature and sent it off to South Africa with a message “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!” secretly hoping that I would be victorious and the problem would go away. But it didn’t.

I was challenged to read the New Testament and in the interest of peace and moving forward to my goal of marriage, I agreed but it made no impact on me. Just the same old story repeated a number of times.

My girlfriend and I eventually decided to get married on the basis of mutual tolerance. We would respect each others religions and attend the celebration of the main festivals and everything would be fine, so I thought. The Minister would only marry us if he was assured through our discussions that we had a genuine “fear of God” to which we both confessed.

Following our marriage, all went according to plan until one of my wife’s friends mentioned that there was a Messianic congregation in Johannesburg and maybe we should attend. I flatly refused and said my wife was welcome to attend but it was not for me. So off she went. She reported that it was quite interesting and there were a number of Jewish believers, and they prayed and sang songs in Hebrew. She again asked me if I wouldn’t consider coming. At first I refused, but something was moving me to say, “OK, maybe I’ll come.” I regretted it immediately and couldn’t understand why I had agreed.

At this time I had been living on faith alone. I often joked that I was a fundamental Jew who lived on faith alone, not unlike our forefather Abraham. I didn’t need to read or study but to just trust in God, and praise him and worship him. I thought, “I could go into this Messianic congregation, and my faith would be like a steel rod. I would not be bent to the left or to the right.”

And so I attended the service. When they prayed their prayers, I prayed my Hebrew prayers that I knew off by heart. When they sang, I prayed. It was all foreign to me, and my wife had given them strict instructions to be as “gentle as a lamb” with me and not to try and convert me. After the service everyone was charming to me and no one threatened me or tried to convert me, they just welcomed me into their presence.

During this period I was involved in a hijacking, and after been threatened at gunpoint, the assailants fled with my car. When I was reunited with my wife the first thing I said to her was that we had to pray for the salvation of the hijackers. In retrospect this seemed ironic for a non-believer to be praying for other non-believers’ salvation. But, in the heat of the moment we prayed. A week later, I received a call from the Police that they had recovered my vehicle fully intact. That Friday I couldn’t wait to tell the congregation what had happened and how good God had been to us.

We were thinking of starting a family, and I thought that at this Messianic congregation at least my children would have some limited exposure to Judaism. If I could tolerate this congregation then this could be a good compromise. So I decided I would go again. I listened to the sermons with interest and eventually got used to the atmosphere and the people. Eventually I agreed to attend a bible study. We were studying Samuel, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but when we finished Samuel and moved onto Romans I found I couldn’t understand a word no matter how many times it was explained to me. It made no sense and would not penetrate my brain.

In a private session with one of the missionaries from “Jews for Jesus”, I made the usual statements Jews would make: “We don’t need Jesus, we pray to God directly” and “Why do I need Jesus when I have got God”. It was pointed out to me that there had always been an intermediary between God and His People, like for example Moses. I persisted in my belief that I had no need for Jesus. I continued to be in denial, and expressed the fact that I didn’t really know Jesus. Who was Jesus? What was he really like? What were his words of wisdom?

I felt that somehow, I was in the wilderness, not being part of the Jewish community and not really part of “the other side.” But when Yom Kippur arrived, I conducted my own service and fasted and read the Mahzor at home. This really irritated my wife who couldn’t understand what I was doing.

One Friday evening service, whilst listening to a sermon, the thought occurred to me, that I didn’t hate Jesus, but from all that I had heard about Jesus I actually “loved” him. There was nothing that I had heard or read that made me dislike him. I kept this to myself and pondered on it.

The Communion service made me feel very uncomfortable because there was a commitment and I couldn’t give any commitment! I wished that I could avoid those services because I felt like a real outsider.

One of the congregants suggested that I should go on an Alpha course and with a bit of a gentle push from my wife I agreed. This was a turning point for me. It was there that I first heard about the Book of John. In John, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

I wanted to read John. I did not really understand what I was reading until I latched onto the words of Jesus when he said “I am the bread of life” and “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” Later Jesus explains the way to the Father, when Philip asks, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” And Jesus replies, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. … Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Immediately, I believed that this was the truth. But I didn’t know what was to follow.

During the weekend retreat when we entered into a prayer session, the leader asked if anybody needed prayer and I called him over and said that I felt this heaviness as if I was covered by a veil. I asked, “Please, pray that this veil be lifted so that I can see.”

Shortly thereafter someone handed me a tract about the story of Helen Shapiro, Jewish believer, who was a singing star in the Sixties in which she gave her testimony of how she accepted Jesus into her life. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says: “Here I am. I stand at the door and knock. If anyone opens the door I will come in to him.”

I didn’t understand that “We have to ask Jesus into our lives” and that “Unless we ask Him in, we don’t know Him.”

Helen Shapiro said that she prayed this prayer: “Come into my life, Jesus, I know you are God’s son. Forgive me, because you are the only one that can, because you died in my place. Thank you for being my saviour. Come into my life, renew my heart, rule in my life and change me. Make me into what you want me to be. Be my personal saviour and Lord.”

I knew that I had to start praying to ask Jesus into my life and to lift the veil. Secretly I prayed, from day to day, and then one weekend we were having lunch with friends who asked me where I was and why was I sitting on the fence. This friend had been involved in a motor car accident which he had survived. He said that the same could happen to me but that maybe I wouldn’t survive and because of my lack of commitment it would be questionable whether I would enter into eternal life.

In my heart I knew that I needed to make an outward expression of my belief in Jesus. The following day was Yom Kippur, and the Messianic congregation was holding a Yom Kippur service. I knew that this was the day that I was going to give my life to Jesus, our Messiah, the Bread of Life, our Rock and Redeemer.

In the morning I called my wife over and said “Today is the day I make my commitment.” She was flabbergasted and I was relieved. It was almost as if a huge burden had been lifted and I was coming home again. Our family would be united rather than divided, with Jesus at the Head.

After the service I went over to one of the missionaries and said that I was ready to commit myself to Jesus. He had no idea that I was anywhere near that stage. We went into the chapel and I recited the sinner’s prayer. I felt so happy and couldn’t contain myself. I went around telling everyone that I was a believer saying, “Praise the Lord.”

Even though we are born into a divided world we are united in Jesus, our Messiah, the Light of the World.

Some months later, I was baptized. I continued to attend Bible studies but there was still a missing link. I felt that I didn’t know the Word. There was so much to absorb. I had to study the Word. It was during our Christmas celebrations, that my wife gave me a “Daily Bread”. I made a commitment that I would read it daily and would follow all the recommended readings until I had completed the Old and New Testaments. This took me a year of devotion.

I was able to get a better perspective of God’s teaching, by reading the Bible in this manner. I felt that the more I read the Word, the more the veil was lifted and I could understand the richness of God’s teachings. Whereas previously I was blind to the Word, now it was coming alive and I was beginning to understand the depth of what our Lord is teaching us and how He is preparing us.

But we are the clay in the potter’s hand, and I have come to realize that the road is strewn with many obstacles and twists and turns, as we go through the fire and God tests us and how He moulds us into the pot that He wants.

We need to keep our eyes focused on God, to hear His Word on a daily basis, and to obey his instructions. No matter how many times we stumble and confess our wrongdoing, God knows what is in our hearts, and He is faithful. His Holy Spirit convicts us to follow His ways and to walk along His path. For God said in Jeremiah: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on there hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

When I think about the Kingdom of God, I know that through God’s grace, we are reconciled to Him through Jesus, our Messiah. Through His love for us, we are united in Him, through His son, Jesus.

In the book of John, Jesus prayed for all believers, when he said, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who WILL believe in me through THEIR message, that all of them may be ONE. Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be ONE as we are ONE: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete UNITY to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

About Brian Horwitz