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A Witness to the Risen One

This is the testimony of Yitzhak, a Polish Jew, who after a period of many years returned to Poland from Israel to make peace with his adoptive parents. In the process, he helped to reconcile them with God in the Sacrament of Penance and showed them the love of Jesus, who not only forgives but also bestows the gift of forgiveness, which is Truth wrapped in Love.

When my friends in Love One Another Magazine invited me to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy with them, I had no idea what to expect. I sat in the chapel and listened. Then suddenly I felt the sheer depth of this prayer for mercy for the whole world, and how dear to God it must be. I knelt down and prayed with the others, begging mercy for the sinner, conversion for the wrongdoer, and yet another chance for the world — before the Last Judgment. I discovered that the Chaplet of Divine Mercy was a sign of God’s love for all peoples. We ask God to have mercy “on us and on the whole the world.” Only those who have attained heaven need not ask for God’s mercy. We ask, because only God’s mercy can save us.

I am a Polish Jew. It so happens that I do not know my biological parents, but because I was circumcised on the eighth day in accordance with the Covenant (Brit Mila), I am sure that my mother was Jewish. I was brought up in an orphanage for Jewish children run by the Ursuline Sisters. Their love, care, and devotion left an indelible mark on me and my spirit, but I did not then become a Catholic.

The orphanage was dissolved when I was six years old. A Polish family took me in and adopted me. I am very grateful to them for this, though as a young Jew I had to put up with a lot. In the yard, though it was forbidden, the other boys would make fun of me and call me Itzek — though I had a Polish name. My adoptive parents also made fun of me at times, because I was circumcised; but I do not hold this against them. I forgive them everything in the name of Yeshua (Jesus), the Jewish Messiah, who is the Savior of all the nations. Moreover, I think that it was no accident that all of this should have happened, that my adoptive parents and I should have crossed paths. It is not our place to judge others but God’s. He is the Just One. He judges everyone justly. We always end up hurting those whom we judge, which attests to a lack of humility. We can never know, or come to know, our neighbor as God knows him — from within. I could no longer bear the burden of my past and so I came to make peace with my adoptive parents and ask them to go to Confession and reconcile themselves with God.

Because of my strong sense of Jewish identity, I decided, upon finishing my studies, to make my “Aliyah” — to return to the country of my forefathers, to Israel. As I mentioned earlier, I did not become a Catholic, in spite of pressure from my adoptive parents. Thinking back, I think it was their lack of true faith that placed an obstacle in my heart, for their way was very much against the spirit of my experience with the Ursuline Sisters. In my heart I had a great deal of respect for the Catholic Church and was convinced that Christianity had to carry God’s truth and the light meant for us all; however, I was troubled, as most Jews are convinced that belonging to the Church is a betrayal of the God of Israel.

In Israel I became a student of the Yeshiva, the Jewish Higher School of Theology, and came to discover the enormous spiritual wealth of Israel: the Talmud (the Books of Mishna and Gemara), the study of practical Judaism (Halaha), and the Book of Zohar, containing the greatest spiritual mysteries of the Jewish faith.

The Halaha became the foundation of my life, a code of practice. In it I discovered a rich set of symbols for faith in God in everyday life and for serving Him in the temple of my heart. I learned how to be faithful in small, so as to be faithful in great, matters. Then I discovered how close all of this was to the spirit of Christianity which I had learned in Poland. For instance, the Book of Zohar speaks of the Tree of Life (Ec Chaim); but this Tree is Jesus, growing out of Jewish roots and giving the fruit of life to all nations (cf. Rom 11:16-24).

I began to find Yeshua — Jesus, folded within every prayer, in every ritual, and in every mystery of Judaism, and first and foremost, in every book of the Old Testament. Thus, during my studies at the Jewish Higher School, the scales began to fall from my eyes.

Here I should like to make an appeal to all Christians to refrain from condemning orthodox Jews for lack of faith. Their eyes are veiled, and they really do not see that Yeshua ha-Mashiah (Jesus Christ) is present in the very Judaism they practice. His name even appears in their prayer books, and they call on it every year on the feast of Yom Kippur: “Yeshua Sar ha-Panim” — Jesus, Prince of (the Lord’s) Face; that is to say, the minister who represents the God of Israel. He is called “The Exalted One” — higher even than the angels. Alas, it is possible to utter the name of Jesus, and not to see Him. That is why, I ask all Christians not to condemn the Jews, but to help them to remove the scales from their eyes so that they may see Him, Whom they have always known, but “darkly, as in a mirror.” They really need our prayers and help!

Needless to say, all this is the work of the Messiah. It is the Most Holy God of Israel, who opens eyes. The veil is torn away and suddenly the Hebrew scriptures and Jewish writings reveal the light that one could never before see with one’s own eyes. This is possible because of the light that shines in every one of us. That light is Yeshua ha-Mashiah (Jesus Christ), Who said of Himself: “I am the Light, I am the Tree of Life, I am the Way, I am Knowledge, I am the Divine Mystery.” He is the Bridge that spans all of humanity and reconciles the world with Himself.

Upon graduating from the Yeshiva, I received the Sofer STAM diploma, which entitled me, as a professional scribe, to write, inspect, and repair the Torah scrolls. I was also certified as a kashrut inspector, overseeing the Jewish ritual purity laws regarding the preparation of food and other day-to-day matters. I worked at the Bnei Brak Hospital run by orthodox Jews and there I met my future wife.

My wife’s faith and sufferings is material for another story; in fact, her book, My Testimony, has been published in the USA. I will only say that she comes from a priestly family — that is, of the tribe of Aaron. When she came to know Jesus the Messiah, her whole family turned away from her. Ironically, her family was not very religious at all, and did not practice Judaism. But when she declared her belief in Yeshua and began to observe the Sabbath and other Jewish ordinances, everyone called her a traitor to her Jewish heritage. She was thrown out of the house, without a penny to her name, without work, and without the possibility of ever returning home. It was then that God brought the two of us together. 

Confession of faith 

I was then a Scripture scholar, an educated man observing the Jewish traditions. Suddenly God moved my heart; and, thanks largely to my wife’s testimony, everything fell into place in my mind: my Catholic upbringing in Poland, the spiritual retreats I had taken part in, my meeting with Messianic Jews in Krakow, my belief in Jesus as my Lord and Savior, my Jewish education and religious practice. Yeshua ha-Mashiah, present in all the difficult episodes of my life, allowed me to come to know Him, as the One, to Whom the Hebrew Bible, Jewish oral tradition, the customs and rites of Judaism, and two-thousand years of Christian tradition — all testified. I committed myself to Yeshua. To Him my wife and I consecrated our life together.

Of course, our belief in the Resurrection and the Divinity of Yeshua did not mean that we had to reject Judaism. Yeshua Himself was a Jew and faithfully observed all the commandments of the Torah, as His disciples did after Him. The hatred of his compatriots (native Jews) toward Him was the result of hardness of heart, which in God’s Providence brought about the salvation of the entire pagan world, now united with God through Jesus. And yet it was the will of God that the apostles witness to their faith before the Sanhedrin, the officials of the synagogues, and the leaders of the people of Israel.

Today we have a similar situation. If I stopped observing the Jewish traditions, I would stop existing for my people. They would regard me as a goy, who knows nothing of real Judaism and has betrayed the faith of his forefathers. That is why I too remain a Jew, observing the Sabbath and the Jewish feasts, transcribing kosher scrolls of the Torah, and observing the Halaha. I do it out of regard for my fellow Jews. In any case, my conscience would not allow me to jettison the wealth of wisdom and spirituality of Israel, in which the Savior, Lord Yeshua ha-Mashiah (Jesus Christ) lies “encoded.” Believing in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I feel like a completed Jew.

By the will of God, zealous persecutors, blinded as Saul (Saint Paul) once was, denounced my beliefs to the chief rabbi of my town. I was summoned to the rabbi who solemnly announced that as an apostate I could no longer write the holy scrolls of Judaism. I asked him how he knew that I was an apostate. He replied triumphantly, “Because you read the goy’s New Testament and believe in Yeshua as the Messiah.” I replied: “But does not the rabbi himself call on the name “Yeshua Sar ha-Panim” during the feast of Yom Kippur? Does not our Talmud speak of the Messiah as the Son of Joseph? Does not the prophet Isaiah speak of the suffering Messiah? Does not the Book of Zohar speak of the Messiah as the Tree of Life? Was not the Messiah, the Son of David, to rule over all nations? I do not have to read the New Testament to believe in Yeshua the Messiah, the Son of the Living God! Are not the adherents of Rebe of Lubawicz greater apostates? And yet everyone respects them and considers them pious Jews, when they believe that the dead Rebe can save people.”

After a moment’s thought, the rabbi replied, “You are right. You are not an apostate. I agree with you that belief in Jesus does not go against our traditions and is in harmony with them. All the same, because of public opinion, I must forbid you to write the Torah.”

Still, God has His plans. I am convinced that some people believed our witness but remained silent, so as not to be “excluded from the synagogue.” For me personally, and for many Messianic Jews, the Acts of the Apostles are not over. Our faith is born underground. Our confession that Yeshua ha-Mashiah (Jesus Christ) is the Messiah of the whole world, including Israel, evokes angry reactions on the part of many orthodox Jews. We are ready for everything, because we know that Israel has been the same for two-thousand years. I pray for the blessing of the God of Israel on those who persecute me, for He is my God. (To be continued)

Yitzhak, a Jew from Poland

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