I was raised in a nice Jewish home in Los Angeles. My parents were not at all religious although we were all proud of our Jewish heritage. We went to synagogue perhaps twice a year. (Sound familiar?) My grandfather, on the other hand, was strictly orthodox; and, when he came to live with us when I was five (after he was widowed), there ensued a tug-of-war over the question of my religious training. My grandfather won out meaning that, beginning at age 8, I spent the next four-and-a-half years going to Hebrew school three days per week after school.
In Hebrew school we learned, of course, to read and write Hebrew. But we also learned about our culture and our history. We didn’t study the Bible at all in Hebrew School, but we were taught to always be loyal to our Jewish people and to Jewish causes and to be very cautious about developing friendships with non-Jews. After all, they believed in You-Know-Who; and that wasn’t acceptable for Jews. At age 13, I became a Bar-Mitzvah (“son of the commandment”), which is the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony, roughly the equivalent of confirmation.
We didn’t talk about God in our home, and I really didn’t give much thought to the existence of God until my senior year in high school. At that time, I became fascinated with studying the supernatural. Most of my spiritual search over the next three years took me through New-Age and occult practices and beliefs. I had three core questions that formed the basis of my search:
1). Who am I? 2). Why am I here? 3). Where will I go when I die?
What attracted me about New-Age philosophy was the idea that I could be very “spiritual” without the rigors of any commandments to be kept. No “Thou shalt’s” or “Thou shalt not’s” for Glenn. Just be a “good person” (whatever that meant). To be perfectly candid, I wanted sexual freedom without guilt (or responsibility), and I knew instinctively that “organized religion” taught that sex before marriage was not right. I would have told you that my objections to Christianity were of an intellectual nature, but deep down I knew that was only a facade – I just didn’t want anybody telling me what was right or wrong.
I entered college hoping to major in psychology. The first classes I took in psychology, however, convinced me that it was not the avenue for me. Sure, I enjoyed analyzing people’s motivations and their behavior; and I did want to help people (and make a nice living). But what the classical psychologists taught about human nature flew in the face of everything I had been taught and believed about myself. I fancied myself a good person. The professors would have me believe that, in fact, I was quite depraved and that only society’s laws and customs kept people in check. Left to ourselves, we were taught we were capable of immeasurable selfishness and savagery. So much for psychology!
I ended up dropping out of the university after just a year and a half, not having any direction at all and not wanting to go to school just to “bide time.” At the same time, my questions remained unanswered in the various religious groups I associated with; and the New-Age books I read did not seem to have any concrete answers. Was it so much to want to know what happens when we die? The New-Age teachers couched their answers in such nebulous language that I figured I just wasn’t “enlightened” enough to understand. In retrospect, I think they themselves had no idea but were not honest enough to admit it. I tired of chasing after their dangling carrot.
About that same time, a co-worker named Mandy invited me to go to church with her. She knew I was Jewish, but that didn’t deter her from sharing the truth about Jesus with me. I, for my part, used my best arsenal of objections to try to show her how closed-minded she was and why I would never believe in Jesus (not in the “Christian” sort of way, anyway). Besides, I did believe that Jesus was perhaps the greatest teacher who ever lived and that certainly he was an “enlightened” individual. That much I could believe without jeopardizing my Jewish identity. Still, I agreed to go to church with Mandy; but I had no intention of believing any of it. I only agreed to go so that I could keep up the appearance of being “open-minded.”
The evening we went to her church, I was quite surprised at what I saw: people with genuine affection and warmth for each other, this in spite of the fact that there were nearly 1,000 people gathered in the auditorium. I was further surprised to see that the “preacher” was not somebody in a cheap, three-piece suit with slicked-back hair, a 20-pound Bible, and a southern drawl. In fact, the guy looked (and spoke) like a surfer! “How could this guy be the preacher?” I wondered. And for awhile I looked around, distracted, trying desperately to find fault with anything I could – anything so that I didn’t have to accept what I was hearing; namely, that I could have a personal relationship with God, that He loved me and that He sent Jesus to die in my place so that my sins could be forgiven, and that I could be reconciled to God forever and enjoy a place in heaven with Him.
In the midst of my whirling thoughts and fault finding, a voice broke in, not audible, mind you, but as real as any voice could be. This voice told me that I was being singularly unfair and that, if this talk had been about anything other than You-Know-Who, I would have been listening with rapt attention, taking notes, buying tapes, and signing up for classes – the whole megillah!. But since it was about Jesus, I was being singularly critical. This voice challenged me to be the “open-minded” person I always boasted of being and to give this message a fair hearing.
I agreed that I had been unfair, so I sat back and just started listening without prejudice. And, at that very moment, something happened within me. Suddenly, everything this guy was saying made perfect sense! And, in the course of his talk that evening, each of my questions were answered unambiguously and unashamedly. I realized that God created and loved me, had me here for the purpose of getting to know and love Him, and that heaven could be my eternal destination – IF…
If I would recognize Jesus as Messiah, ask God’s forgiveness for my sin and unbelief, and receive Jesus by faith as my sin-bearer (much like the lambs and rams that had been our substitutes in ancient Israel when the Temple still stood) and receive Him into my heart and life.
I may not have known much of the Bible, and I certainly didn’t have any theology or doctrine under my belt; but I knew a good deal when I heard it. At the invitation of this man, I (and maybe 100 or so others) walked forward to make that commitment to follow Jesus from now on.
That was March of 1981. I’m sure Mandy was as surprised as I was (and even understandably a little skeptical) that I would respond so quickly. But this was the answer to my years of searching in vain through so many religious philosophies. I’ve learned a lot in the years since then – mostly how fortunate I am to know God and to be known by God, to have a loving family, to have my name inscribed in the Book of Life, and how little I deserve any of it!
A battle with cancer in 1985 punctuated my life but not my faith, and the years since have been the best of my life. For ten years I served with the ministry of Jews for Jesus. In 1990 I married a lovely Greek girl named Alexandra, and we now have four children (one in Heaven) and since 1997 have lived in Southeastern Michigan, where I am the Associate Rabbi at Congregation Shema Yisrael. My challenge to anyone reading this who seeks the truth is to take the advice of King David: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him” (Psalm 34:8). It’s worked for me! So… taste and enjoy!
Note: Rabbi Glenn graduated from Michigan Theological Seminary in May 2007 with a Master of Divinity degree.