Sharon Sommer

An Orthodox Jew’s Unexpected Encounter

I was brought up in a modern Orthodox Jewish family. We went to synagogue every Shabbat and on every major Jewish holiday. My family kept kosher and I had twelve years of yeshiva education. I learned how to read and write Hebrew fluently and I learned many Jewish subjects, including the myriad of laws and customs. I learned that being Jewish was an honor and that I was one of the “Chosen People.” We did not associate with people who were not Jewish.

It was frowned upon to befriend anyone who wasn’t Jewish because that person might want to convert you. It was forbidden to marry someone who wasn’t Jewish. If you married out of the religion it was a shameful thing and if you converted it was as if you physically died to your family and community. I lived an isolated life away from the rest of the world. All of this left me with an uneasy feeling.

When I started college and was among people of other cultures, races and religions for the first time, I realized that I was really not so different from them. At age twenty, I married an Orthodox Jewish man. As time went on, I realized that even though I believed in God, I felt very distant from my Creator. Deep down, I knew there was something missing in my life.

Things started to unravel in 2001 during my twelfth year of marriage. My mother-in-law, who was a virtuous woman in my eyes, suffered a very slow, painful death from pancreatic cancer. I couldn’t understand why God would allow such a thing. During this year, my husband lost his job and I was pregnant with our third child. Once I gave birth, my husband opened up a business and began to work long hours. Having to handle so much on my own, I succumbed to depression. I couldn’t sleep at night. I began seeing a therapist and taking antidepressants. I felt an emptiness and loneliness that nothing could fill. I felt used up, unappreciated and never good enough. I was hitting rock bottom. Then God used an ordinary man to speak truth into my life.

The man who regularly serviced my pool was kind and caring. I didn’t understand how someone could be smiling all the time. It annoyed me because it took a lot to make me smile. I asked him what made him so happy and he said that God made him happy. I was bewildered by his answer, but deep down I wanted what he had. As time went on, he noticed the downward spiral in my mood and attitude. I told him that I was depressed and what I was doing to try to remedy myself. I had realized a short time earlier that he was a Christian but I never gave it much thought. He told me that I didn’t need therapy or medication—I needed Jesus. I told him that I was Jewish and Jews don’t believe in Jesus! He said that he completely believed what he was telling me and he would put his neck on a chopping block for the truth of God.

He asked me to read a book by a well-known Christian author. I decided I would read the book and just not read anything that had to do with Jesus. But once I started reading, it felt as if the author wrote it for me. God used this book to prepare my heart for the next step, which was to start hearing and reading the word of God. My service man read to me from his Bible every time he came to work. When he read to me, I sometimes got very bad headaches. I realized later that the headaches resulted from my mind fighting the new information that I was trying to process.

One day, my service man asked me to read Isaiah 53 to him from the Hebrew Scriptures. This section of the Bible opened my eyes to the possibility of Jesus being the Messiah. I never remembered reading this chapter in the Bible in school. How could I deny that Jesus was the Messiah when it is written in Isaiah 53:4-6:

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

After reading Isaiah 53, I kept thinking, how could Jesus be the Messiah and how could Jesus be God? And the Bible also taught that the Holy Spirit was God. I was 34 and all my life I was taught and believed that there is only one God.

That evening the Lord spoke to me in my mind. He told me to consider that he was like a “whole” pie made up of three parts. God is a whole united “one” made up of three separate parts: God the Father, God the son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit, which make a complete one. That night I acknowledged that Jesus was my Messiah.

My depression lifted as I continued to seek God, and I felt a new freedom in my heart and mind. As I continued to read my Bible, I got a strong desire to be around other believers in Jesus. I called up my friend the service man and told him that I needed to go to church. I was scared, since other Jewish people had always told me that we are not allowed to go to church. But I went to my friend’s church with him that day, and I began to attend regularly.

The next difficult thing I did was tell my husband that I believed Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. It was hard for my husband to understand. I told him that I needed to go to church. He said he wouldn’t stand in my way but that he wasn’t happy about it. I was scared that my husband might want to divorce me. But even though my husband did not understand my passion for God, he supported me.

The next hurdle was to tell my mother that I was a Christian. When I first told her, it rendered her speechless. She was unable to process it, and she excused herself from the conversation. But once it sank in, my mother waged a war against me. She told me that I must not be her daughter because her daughter would never betray her and the Jewish people this way. She even suggested that I must have been switched at birth with her real daughter! She contacted every rabbi she could think of to intervene, but only one tried to help her by phoning my husband. This rabbi told my husband to divorce me and take my children. Since my husband loved me, he did not listen to the rabbi. Even though I have a relationship with my mom, she still will not accept the choice I have made to follow Jesus.

The next three years were rough, but I asked God to help my family and me. Then, in 2006, my husband asked Jesus into his life. Our two younger children have come to trust in the Lord too, and my older daughter has drawn closer to God. Now, after all that God has seen me through, I tell people, “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).