Last Sunday, couple folks were baptized at Quest. Their stories of coming to faith in Jesus always moves me. With permission, here’s the story of Rosalind – one of only 30,000 Karaite Jews in the world and now one of two Karaite Jew believers. I want to encourage you to read it and be blessed.
“The Lord said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. ’I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ So Abram left, as the Lord had told him…” Genesis 12:1-4
It feels like my faith journey began before I was born. I guess that’s why my testimony might feel more like a history lesson than a story about God’s grace, but the fact that I’ve made it here is almost testament enough.
I am a Karaite Jew; a sect of Jews that has been around since God passed down his laws to Moses. Originating in Mesopotamia, the area between the Tigris-Euphrates river system (present day Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, etc.), only 30,000 of us remain in the world today, 4,000 of which reside in the U.S.
My parents were born in Egypt and, like many of the Karaite Jews, were also imprisoned, and then expelled, during the 1967 six day war between Egypt and Israel. In the middle of the night, my father was taken to a prisoner of war camp (similar to U.S. Japanese internment camps during WWII). At 37, he, my mom and two brothers were forced to start over, having lost everything (home, business, money, dignity), they began a second life in Italy as Jewish refugees. It’s a miracle that my father escaped the two-years of imprisonment sustained by two of my uncles and several other Jews. It’s a miracle that I was born to them in SF, CA, in 1972.
So begins my story of Christ’s protection, guidance and salvation.
Judaism is the Foundation of My Faith
In Hebrew, Karaite means “Followers of Scripture.” According to some Jewish scholars, the Karaite are referred to in the Bible as “the righteous,” because they believed in keeping the Torah’s commandments with no additions. [Now I understand why I always HAVE TO be right.J]
They broke away from Rabbinical Judaism (today’s mainstream Jews), who added an interpretation of scripture known as the Oral Law – the Talmud. The Karaite movement can be compared to the Protestant Reformation, because the Karaite vowed to follow the word of God over the opinions of Rabbis.
“Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.” Deuteronomy 4:2
Grace Several Years in the Making
I am a Jewish Believer, Follower of Christ and have been since sometime before my 7th grade teacher at West Portal Lutheran School told my classmates that she felt sorry for me, because I was going to hell. When I approached her, hoping she’d clear up what must have been a rumor; Mrs. VanBlarcom confirmed that she had indeed said this, insisting it was nothing personal. Jews don’t believe in Christ, so you’re going to hell – “no offense,” she reassured me.
Thankfully, my brother had taken me to my first (and only) Young Life meeting in 4th grade. I had also been attending Lutheran school since age 5 and Chapel every Wednesday. All of this prep helped me believe that Christ’s teachings offered more hope than Mrs. VB knew how to share. So, I decided to take this up with my pastor, Pastor Keyne. When asked if I would go to hell, because I’m Jewish, Pastor Keyne showed me the grace I needed. “I can’t tell you the answer. God is the final judge.”
As an 11-year-old, this was reassuring. Also as an 11-year-old, I vowed never to assimilate as a Christian. Christians, after all, seemed was often more divisive than unifying. I decided that I would always, privately, be a Follower of Christ, never losing my Jewish identity.
Departure from Tradition
Not unlike my ancestors, today I stand before you prepared to profess my faith as a Jewish believer. No, the Karaite don’t believe that the Messiah has risen, but the tenants of this faith planted the seeds I needed to begin following Christ at an early age. How? Karaism teaches that:
It is more important to do the right and moral thing than to do the same thing as everyone else.
It is up to the individual to take personal responsibility for interpreting Scripture, basing his understanding on the merits and logic of a given interpretation.
Luke 7:6–8 gives me the courage to let go of tradition and join a small sect of Karaite Jewish believers. So far, I think this sect is only comprised of me and my brother Clement, but I have to admit that even as an adult I have continued to be very private about my walk with Christ. That is until today.
“Jesus replied. “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people hone me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” You have let go of the commandments of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
Using the empowerment bestowed upon me by the Karaite, I have taken personal responsibility for interpreting scripture and leaving the traditions of men. Finally, I am choosing to be washed by the water of Christ’s amazing grace. Like my father who started anew at age 37, today, also at age 37, I ask Pastor Eugene to help me begin my public life in Christ.
Church, will you promise me one thing? If I do this, promise me you will never tell anyone they are going to hell. Amen.
[photo by dcruzin photography]