Why Recognizing Jesus as the Messiah Is the Culmination of My Jewish Faith
My life was changed forever by the message I heard in St. Patrick’s Cathedral: Jesus Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures
I officially became a Catholic on Feb. 18, 2022, surrounded by my wonderful parents, closest friends and Father Charles Trullols — my closest spiritual mentor and guide, who brought me into the Church. However, what I cherish most about my journey into the Catholic Church is that I am Jewish by blood.
Jewish friends I have spoken with about my conversion feel I have abandoned my Jewish background, and questioned why I would “leave.” I understand that perspective given that Jews have been so heavily and wrongfully persecuted worldwide throughout history, and are also in the vast minority. However, I view my conversion to knowing the Jewish Messiah — Jesus Christ, a humble carpenter from Bethlehem — as the total embrace and culmination of my Jewish faith. I will always be a Jew by blood, despite being a Catholic — and my Jewishness will always be a critical part of why and how I grew closer to God.
I would summarize my journey to the Catholic Church as former Jewish business professor turned Catholic theologian, Roy Schoeman, describes his:
By entering the Catholic Church, I did not stop being Jewish … I became more Jewish than ever, because I became a Jew who is following the Jewish Messiah, rather than a Jew who refuses, essentially, to follow the Jewish Messiah and is stuck in pre-Messianic Judaism. In fact, my understanding of the relationship is that the Catholic Church is post-Messianic Judaism, and Judaism is pre-Messianic Catholicism, that they are one and the same — the plan for salvation.
I was raised by hardworking New York City parents who provided me with everything I could have ever wanted in life: a high-quality education, social time with friends, enthusiastic support for my goals and dreams, and most of all, love, even when it came in the form of discipline. My dad was baptized and raised Catholic, and my mom, although she wasn’t raised to devoutly pursue a particular faith, is Jewish.
Because of the way Deuteronomy 7:3-4 is interpreted by the Mishna — a compilation of interpretations of Jewish oral law codified in the third century A.D. but documented from 450 B.C. — Jewishness is matrilineal, meaning that because my mom is Jewish, both my sister and myself are Jews too. This raises an important point: Judaism is both an ethnicity and a faith. But converts to Judaism are also considered fully Jewish, despite the lack of ethnic connection.
My parents didn’t raise my sister and me in either religion at first. But my mom never had a real opportunity to explore her Jewish faith, culture and history as a child, so our parents felt it was important for us to learn about it. When I was 11 years old, my mom enrolled me in Hebrew School along with private tutoring to prepare for my coming of age in the Jewish faith, also known as becoming a Bat Mitzvah.
During a Bat Mitzvah ceremony, a Jewish girl assumes all the responsibilities of a Jewish adult by formally committing to upholding God’s Ten Commandments, which are all contained in Exodus and Deuteronomy. The ceremony also typically entails a public reading and prayer recitation in Hebrew, in addition to a short speech about the significance of the Scriptures selected for that day. Becoming Bar Mitzvah is the same thing, except applied to boys. I loved reciting chanted prayers from the Hebrew Bible — to Christians, the Old Testament — such as the ve’ahavta prayer, a prayer originally inspired by the Ten Commandments.
I was taught by an incredible Orthodox Jewish cantor, Phil Sherman — may God rest his soul — who was also one of the top mohels in America. A mohel performs the Jewish rite of circumcision for males. Both my parents and Cantor Sherman exposed me, initially, to who God is.
However, several years after my Bat Mitzvah, I started to ask myself deeper questions: What is the real purpose of our human existence? What really happens when we die? And God, why do YOU feel so far away? I felt like I received a fantastic introduction to God, but I was still, somehow, craving more: I wanted a close, intimate, relationship with him that I didn’t have yet. This makes sense, as before the Messiah came, God had not outlined how the Jews, nor humanity, could have a personal relationship with him.
My dad had a very special tradition with my late grandmother every Christmas, in line with his Catholic upbringing: they would both watch Midnight Mass together live from St. Patrick’s Cathedral on television. I always wondered what was so special about it. I had hardly stepped into a church other than for my piano recitals growing up. So, finally, at 18 years old, I remember attending a Mass with my dad where Cardinal Dolan was presenting a beautiful homily.
The message the cardinal conveyed changed my life forever: Jesus Christ loves us so scandalously that he happily paid for all of humanity’s sins by his ultimate sacrifice on the cross. That was the true mission of the Messiah prophesied in the Scriptures. This beautiful forgiveness extends to any transgression we could ever imagine committing and wipes it away forever every time we repent and apologize to God. After being made aware of this, my soul was lit on fire, and I would never be the same.
I started attending Sunday Mass at the local Catholic church down the street from where my parents now live outside of the city. On one very hot summer Sunday, as I walked up the hill to my parents’ home dressed in formal attire, I distinctly remember my neighbors asking me why I was dressed so nicely. I told them enthusiastically, “I was at church!” They were quite confused. “But aren’t you Jewish?” Absolutely I am, and I’d embrace that even more as a future Catholic.
Shortly after that, I was off to study and play Division I soccer at American University, where I met several Protestant friends who belonged to a campus ministry called Chi Alpha, where I would participate in worship nights, learned how to read the Christian Bible, and made friends with people that loved me in a way I had never been loved before. I eventually publicly committed myself to a life with Christ and was baptized during my freshman year of college.
After graduating from American, I continued pursuing Christ in every way I truly knew how, until I began delving deeper and deeper into the origins of Christianity and the Church. After reading Church history and learning about the true meaning of the sacraments Christ gave us, my natural inclination was to become Catholic — as I saw that the full revelation of truth that Jesus transmitted is found in the Catholic Church, which was founded by Christ himself.
I also realized that the coming of Christ, our Messiah, and his sacrifice was not just present in the New Testament, but prophesied about hundreds of years in advance in the Old Testament:
- Isaiah 7 discusses how our Messiah would be born of a Virgin, and he would be named Immanuel, or “God with us.”
- Isaiah 9 highlights how “a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on his shoulders; And his name will be called … Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
- Micah 5 reveals, “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah least among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times” — this text guided Herod, King of Judea, to ascertain where the Messiah would be born.
These examples listed are just a few among the many prophesied in Scripture.
All things considered, growing up as a Jew who would also become Catholic allowed me to experience the fullness of both the Old and New Testaments in the Bible throughout my life — from understanding the significance of being a member of God’s Chosen People to embracing the Messiah’s life, death and resurrection through Hebrew texts and prayer. Without my Jewish background, I do not think I’d comprehend as deeply the significance of Jesus Christ, his divinity, and the Church he established for mankind.