Betty Schoenfeld Smith
IN THE BEGINNING My father was born in Hungary. He came to America when he was about 20 years old. My mother was born in Poland and was just a young child when she arrived in this country. Both came from strict Orthodox-Jewish families. They met, married and had three daughters. My father was the dominant character in our lives. Over the years he formed iron-clad opinions about the roles of men and women. He was our protector, our provider and our authority.
Our father was also deeply religious. He adhered to the Orthodox interpretation of the law. His household laws were consistent with his understanding of God's law and European customs. As a result. there were strict confines within where we were expected to behave and think.
I While my father was reserved and deliberate, my mother was warm and easy-going. Although she was submissive to her husband's rules and expectations, she was also our relief from his strictness. I grew up within this nucleus of strictness and warmth. We were a close-knit, self-contained family, alive and well in Charleston, West Virginia. We attended a synagogue on most Friday nights and we always attended the High Holidays. My sisters and I went to Sunday School.
In Charleston, West Virginia I first learned that we were only allowed to associate with other Jewish people. At a very early age I started to question why. We had neighbors who were not Jewish. Were we so different just because they believed in Jesus and we did not?
When I was eleven years old we moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My father purchased a building in an Italian neighborhood. It had an apartment upstairs and we lived there while our new home was being prepared. There were no Jews in this neighborhood and I met a lot of "different" people. My father still wanted to keep us apart from non-Jews. But since there were no Jews in this neighborhood, my acquaintances and friends were Italian. When, in fact, some became my very best friends, my rebellion against my parental wishes became pronounced.
My father was diligent about imparting his theology to us. He read us the blessings and the curses. He convinced us that God must punish us for our wrongdoings. He faithfully took us to religious services, that I never comprehended, and assured us our salvation in God lay in our Jewishness.
As I grew older, my religion and the pressures of my family became more burdensome. I liked the life I saw around me and was drawn to the "freedom" outside our house. I resented that I was born destined to a peculiar life, subjected to the hand and law of a wrathful God. I wanted freedom! My father and I were not of one mind. It scared him! He saw me slipping away. The more he tried to keep hold of me the more I tried to escape.
At the age of fourteen I met a young Italian Catholic boy and fell in love! I thought that all my problems would be solved if we could run away and elope. He tried to convince me that it would be crazy for us to marry. But after meeting secretly for about a year, I finally persuaded him and we married. My parents were outraged. They tried their hardest to convince me to leave my husband and return home. I was very stubborn and determined to make this marriage work and chose to remain with my husband rather than return to the wrath of my father.
My husband, Frank, became my sanctuary and my salvation. Since my own father had disowned me, I believed that my heavenly father had also turned his back on me. Frank was my god. We had four children - three sons and one daughter. We raised our sons and daughter in Frank's Catholic faith. I never considered rearing my children Jewish. That way of life held only bitter memories for me. My father had instilled in me that I would burn in hell for what I had done. I reasoned that in Catholicism my children would be outside the wrath of God, free from the restraints and responsibilities of Judaism. But I was a Jew! I asked my husband to pray that the God of Abraham would have mercy on me!
My life was my husband and my children. I lived and breathed with them and for them. Nonetheless, I experienced a gnawing anxiety about God. I had breached God's contract with His people. What would I do now to appease him? First of all I decided to remain Jewish. I would not deny the Jewish God by converting to another religion. Then I concentrated on doing good works. How I longed for forgiveness.
Life was status quo. Frank had been financially successful. We lived in a nice house in a good neighborhood. The kids were great. Our friends were pleasant. Yet somewhere out of the continuity of our status quo, after twenty three years of marriage, Frank wanted out. I was shocked! Frank was more than my husband. He was my savior, my hope, my strength and security. Now he was gone. It was all over! I was rejected and abandoned, totally alone and empty.
One shattering event seemed to follow another. Our youngest son became an addict, caught up in the pattern of hard core drug usage. He was in trouble physically and legally. I began to dread phone calls. Was my son sick, dead or in jail? I was frantic! Life and confusion were synonymous.
My solace during this time was a man named Bruce. I met him through some friends and soon Bruce and I became friends. Two months after my divorce from Frank, Bruce and I were married. My motivation for marriage was mixed. Part of it was spite against Frank, but Bruce was supportive and kind. He offered security. But there were problems. Soon after our marriage, Bruce was transferred to Columbus, Ohio. I refused to follow. A year later I gave in and my daughter and I moved to Columbus. After only six weeks in Columbus I missed Pittsburgh so much that my daughter and I left Bruce and moved back to Pittsburgh. Alone again, I was confused when a "nightmare" occurred. My son was arrested. His addiction had worsened and he had broken the law to maintain his habit.
The world caved in around me. I was at my wits end, backed into a corner with nowhere to turn. I did not know how to help my son anymore, nor what to do about my own marriage. There were so many problems. There was no answer.
On April 5, 1977, a friend called to tell me about Jesus! She told me that He was God's Son -- that He loved me and died for me. I listened. I had no source of hope. When we hung up, I sat down and talked to God. I told him that I did not believe in Jesus, or that God and Jesus were even related. However, I asked God to rescue my son. If he could do this, then I would believe in Jesus as His Son. If he would help my son I would serve Him and witness about His Son all the rest of my life.
But I was a Jew I repeated to myself. Would not my Jewishness be sufficient to bring me salvation rather than a Christian interpretation of God? That morning I really wanted to believe. I longed to have hope in this Messiah. But I could not deny the faith of Abraham. God did a strange thing. He quieted me. He let me know that it was okay to remain a Jew and accept Jesus as Lord. I gave my life to Him that morning.
My son, instead of going to jail, was released to me by the judge. He sought help with his drug problem. I received the peace of mind for which I asked. Never in years had I felt so tranquil. I started to read the Bible and began to fall in love with Jesus! My life and family began to come into order. One month later, after sharing the Lord with Bruce, he too accepted Jesus. God gently brought Bruce and me back together in Columbus.
We struggled. God's ways are not our ways. But His ways are good and kind and right. He blanketed us with love as we experienced the painful process of change and conformity to His likeness. Also, to my delight, he brought us to a place to worship with other Jewish believers. They knew what God had revealed to me -- it was not inconsistent or treasonous to remain Jewish and accept Jesus as Messiah. In fact, Jesus was a Jew.
The Lord has blessed me greatly. He gave Bruce and me a beautiful daughter, Amy. All but one of my other children have accepted Jesus as Lord and Messiah. I also have healthy, wonderful grandchildren. I am not, however, immune from tragedy. My sister and brother-law were killed in an automobile accident leaving two children. Brian, the youngest, had been placed with us. God gave Bruce and me the strength and wisdom to raise him up in the Lord.
When I consider my life, I think of all the years of searching, of trying to fit the pieces together that would not mesh. Finally, I have peace and an unwavering love that I had always hoped was out there somewhere. I can attest to the goodness of God, and the merciful hand of His Son, Jesus, all the days of my life. When you receive Jesus who died in your place for your sins you too will proclaim that His Grace is Sufficient.
Reprinted with permission of
The Messianic Literature Outreach
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the Stone whom the builders rejected.
In Him is life, light and joy and in His sacrifice is forgiveness of sin.
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