By Sandi York
I grew up in a Jewish home with secret closets.
My parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were all Jewish. The lineage went back to Hungary, Austria, and Poland with one known Holocaust survivor down the line – whom I did not ever meet.
My mom heard the Gospel when she was 19, hearing the true Messiah, Jesus, had come, and he was Jewish. For fear of rejection from her family and friends, she did not tell anyone that she believed this news. She met my dad, and she did not tell him of her faith until after she married him. He believed her gospel truth instantly.
From my earliest years as a little girl, I attended The Birmingham Jewish Day School from kindergarten through half of the fourth grade. I learned Hebrew and the basics of the Jewish faith with all Jewish teachers and students. The Shema was committed to my memory as well, and I would recite it each night in Hebrew by myself before falling asleep.
I had a sense of God, but I did not know him.
After the death of the owner of the Jewish newspaper my mom worked for, my mom started a new Jewish newspaper in the 1970s called The Jewish Star. Years later, my dad joined in the advertising sales. They had a successful Jewish newspaper for 30 years, and it was Alabama’s only Jewish newspaper.
My parents appeared simply Jewish, outwardly. Inside our home was a different story and a different life.
During fourth grade, we moved to a new area of town, and I attended a public school. I was suddenly with no Jewish friends or Jewish academia. I was in my first-ever Christmas program! Before ninth grade, we moved to an area in Birmingham called Mountain Brook, where the highest concentration of Birmingham’s Jewish community lives. As I entered the ninth grade, I reconnected with my Jewish friends and then two things happened.
At 13, my mom sat me down, and she explained Messiah to me as she understood him. She said, “The Messiah was Jesus, and he was Jewish. If you believe this, you will go to heaven – the good place – and if you don’t believe this you will go to hell – the bad place.” So, I thought, ok I believe that; who wouldn’t want to go to a good place?
Then she says, “Don’t tell any of our Jewish relatives or any of your Jewish friends that you believe in Jesus. If you do, they will hate you and reject you.” After that, I was definitely keeping this to myself. Hatred and rejection were not pleasant thoughts. Jewish friends were all I had – and will have for the next ten years at that point. All throughout high school, I maintained Jewish friendships only, and I had a Jewish boyfriend.1
My life soon became a life of lying and deceit. I was always covering up for my parents and for myself. At home – during high school – my mom and dad’s Bibles and Christian materials would be laying around the house daily, but if we knew anyone Jewish was coming over, our best closet doors swung open! We would hide everything at the risk of being discovered. My parents started visiting churches on the outskirts of Birmingham – to not be seen obviously.
I graduated high school in 1986 and went to The University of Alabama. I pledged the Jewish sorority, Sigma Delta Tau and became very active there, even taking on leadership roles, like becoming President. I met new Jewish friends through SDT; I majored in broadcast journalism. It was a very happy college experience.
My high school boyfriend left Tulane University to be with me at Alabama. He asked me to marry him in April of 1990. My mom did not try to stop me from getting married. She considered me a believer and we would just pray for my now fiancé. She would say that we needed to pray for the salvation of all the Jewish people we knew. I really did not grasp what this meant.
In March of 1991, we had a big Jewish traditional wedding. All the while, I was keeping my little belief in Jesus to myself. I did not have a Bible, did not go to a church, and did not have any Christian friends. Yet, my little belief stayed tucked away in my mental closet.
I had a sense of God, but I did not know him.
Long story short, this marriage lasted for one year. The tragic end in divorce at 23 years old is what sent me into a downward depressing spiral of “What have I done?” I began to hate myself and hate my life. Soon thereafter, the job I had ended because the radio station was closing, and my apartment was no longer going to be available. During this time – when I had no money and no home – (and a new boyfriend who was an alcoholic and stealing from me) I got up in the middle of the night at 2 a.m. and got on my knees and cried out desperately to a God I didn’t really know but whom I desperately needed.
In that moment in tears, on my knees, I cried, “God, I think you’re there. I have talked to you in the Shema my whole life. I need help. I need a new job, I need a place to live, and I would like to have a roommate who could maybe be my friend also since none of my girlfriends live in Birmingham.”
In hindsight, that was my cry for mercy.
Within two weeks, I was hired by a Christian radio station to write, voice, and produce commercials. For the first time, God immersed me amid Christians. At my first staff meeting, there were Bibles on the table, and someone was giving a devotional and asking for prayer requests. It was so strange; these terms were like another language to me. I didn’t know what these people were doing.
BUT God knew what HE was doing.
In these same two weeks, a young gal about my age stopped me in the hall and asked me if I knew anyone who needed a roommate?! Wow, a new roommate, a place to live, AND she became a really great close friend.
God had lovingly answered my cry and petitions, and he had even greater purposes in mind. He knew that my heart was not really connected to him. The Trinity was wooing me.
My life soon became a life of lying and deceit.
I still wasn’t telling. As a matter of fact, I was still lying. When Jewish friends would ask, “How can a Jewish person work at a Christian radio station?” I would usually reply that I was just writing car commercials or appliance commercials, and there was nothing Christian about that. Yet, I was sensing in my heart, I was there for more.
He created a desire in me as I watched the Christians around me in my workplace. They were different. They had something I did not have on the inside, and they prayed a lot. They had a relationship with Jesus; it wasn’t like what I knew at all. There was no need to hide Jesus from people. There was encouragement to tell others about him.
After working at this radio station for a few short months, another young guy about my age asked me and my new roommate if we were in a Bible Study or going to a church. I was so hungry for God at this point. He asked if we wanted to do a study with him, we said yes.
He came to our apartment with this book from a big church in Birmingham.2
At our second meeting – my roommate was absent for this one, so I had special attention – he turns to the page where there is a picture of two thrones. One has God alone on the throne the other has self on the throne. He asked, “who sits on the throne of your life and heart as you look at these two pictures? Do you or does Jesus? Point to the one that most resembles YOU?” I immediately said “I do. I sit on the throne of my life.”
It was in that moment – and after his further explanation – that I decided to make Jesus Lord and give him the rightful place on the throne of my heart.
I had not told anyone still, even with my new heart change.
I went to sit shiva3 with a friend of mine and brought my Gentile Christian boyfriend with me, and when we left the shiva, he asked, “Why are you not telling these Jewish people that you are a Christian?” The Spirit came over me in that moment, in strong conviction and moved me to tell.
I wrote a long letter to the Jewish friends and family I was closest to – everyone was scattered over the United States, so this made sense at the time. I prayed over the letters knowing good and well I might lose all these friends through that painful rejection I had heard about my whole life from my mom. I had now seen the truth of that rejection in the Bible, that I might indeed face persecution and insult for his namesake. It was God’s will to tell! I was willing to lose them all, though I did not want to. These were the best friends I had ever known.
“Don’t tell any of our Jewish relatives or any of your Jewish friends that you believe in Jesus. If you do, they will hate you and reject you.”
Simultaneously in the Lord’s providence, my parents had been discovered in their closet Christianity, and it was disastrous to their newspaper and to their lives. The story was so big in Birmingham that it was a top story on all three local television stations.
I mailed the letters.
After receiving my letter, a very few faithful, understanding friends responded kindly, but the rest of the responses were what I called at the time, hate mail. I knew this could happen. I understood the response. Over the years, God has lovingly and graciously restored all these friendships.
I am more in love with Jesus today than ever. I love him because he first loved me. He saw me before I was in the womb, and he saw me praying the Shema as that little girl wanting to please him, and he heard my desperate cry for mercy.
I pray fervently for all my still unbelieving family and friends. We have good relationships with all of them. Lord, continue to expand my tent pegs outward. This Jewish home IS your home Jesus, no closets.
Sandi York resides in Birmingham, Alabama with her husband Todd of 26 years. They have 3 adult children: Sarah 25, Hannah 22, and Matthew 19. Sandi has a history in broadcasting and being a stay-at-home mom. She is currently a Bible teacher; certified John Maxwell coach, speaker, and trainer; and a co-podcaster on the ibehold podcast. She is also writing a book.
 I did not have any Gentile friends or Gentile Christian friends until 1992.
 The young man who did this study with me became my husband four years later. Another story for another day!
 shiva - the traditional seven-day period of mourning observed by Jews immediately following the funeral of a parent, sibling, child, or spouse. (Dictionary.com)