“God killed my mother!”
Those are the words I spoke when my mom passed away, just three months after Yeshua claimed my heart on February 21, 1984—the date I asked our Jewish King to “save me.”
I thought this was the beginning of the rest of my life. It was all great and glorious, and I was feeling giddy, exhilarated and pretty sure I had done the right thing. Just as I was getting used to the idea that I had become a “believer” in Jesus, my mother left this earth in her sleep. Within a short period of time, I said hello to the Lord and good-bye to my mother—and I was crushed.
My emotions were reeling. I felt I was being punished. I was a “mishumid,” a traitor to my people—the Jewish people. With my newfound faith in Jesus, I had given up six thousand years of trials and pogroms, of holocausts and inquisitions …a thousand moments of being humiliated and the butt of cruel Jewish jokes. Why? Just for this “Jesus?” I was quite certain that God was done with me. As the enemy whispered in my ear, this new journey down my “Damascus Road” was becoming rocky and uninviting, not at all glamorous or comfortable.
In my pain and anguish, I told my wife, “No more Jesus in this house! God never wanted me to be a Christian and Jesus isn’t welcome here.”
“Let’s wait a week,” my very best friend and soul mate kindly said as she looked into my eyes. “If you still feel that you’ve made a mistake, we can talk about what to do next. This was a radical decision for us, and we need a radical answer.” Although her wise words soothed my pain, I still questioned my choice.
Six days later I received a letter from Hiam Levy the Rabbi at Beth Israel Synagogue in Tampa, Florida. I didn’t know this Rabbi or his community, and I had no idea how the letter got to me. At first glance, I thought it was a “traditional” temple looking for a donation, yet I was very wrong.
“Dear Mr. Settel, we are a Messianic Synagogue here in Tampa, Florida, one hour from Orlando.” At the time, I was working as a vocalist at Walt Disney World in Orlando, and I thought perhaps he had heard one of my shows. Yet that wasn’t the case as I continued to read.
“We are a group of Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Yeshua with services every Friday night at the beginning of Shabbat. We would love for you to join us. Here is our number; please call.”
I didn’t know who this “Yeshua” was or what the word ‘Messianic” even meant, but when I discovered it was Hebrew for Jesus, I began to feel that maybe this was the answer my wife and I were waiting for.
I met with Haim, and his words and counsel moved my heart to hang on to my new faith—to not give up yet. He encouraged me to slowly walk down this new path and breathe its vivid culture. “Jonathan, you will find your Jewishness as a special gift; a strength and not a weakness. But you must learn to leave behind the obligatory three times a year visits to the “shul” and grow inside of this new and exciting Messianic expression! You must learn to cherish and understand your new passage through life. Get to know this Jewish man, Yeshua and learn to flow in His Deity. Learn what it’s like to use your gifts “to Him” and not “for Him!”
That same year we had a visitor at Disney from the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, the “ICEJ.” They are a ministry in Israel that is very supportive of the Jewish people and Israel as a nation. They help so many in Israel, this land that was created to guard and carry God’s name. The director came to Disney to hear our Acapella ensemble The Voices of Liberty. Yohann Lukoff came to me after our show and invited me to Jerusalem for Sukkoth, 1984 to sing with the choir. They were offering me a free trip to Israel, and I accepted.
Though I had never been, when I tasted the air and touched the ground I felt as if I had never left. As I put my feet down on the tarmac, I felt as if I had always been there and that somehow my spirit and that eternal, God given Jewish ‘Chalutz’ spirit, fused.
That trip completely changed my life and brought me to the understanding that Israel and Yeshua were unified as one new expression of the Almighty’s love and fidelity to our people. This love washed over me as I landed in Tel Aviv. Jerusalem, an hour’s drive from the airport, was a profound experience. I learned the city is geographically placed at the center of the earth, the very center of creation. Jerusalem is also the center of God’s greatest gift of love—the gift of Jesus—Yeshua!
That began the second part of this amazing, bourgeoning experience. We made Aliyah in 1990 and stayed in the Holy Land for seven years. Our son was born in Jerusalem and the feeling of being “at home” never left me. Though our bodies are not in Israel now, our spirits are still and forever one with the land.
The journey of being Jewish and a believer in Yeshua has been varied and profound. The traditional Jews don’t want us because they say we’re no longer Jewish. The traditional Christian body doesn’t want us because they say we’re excessively Jewish. But the King of the Jews is desperate for us and waiting for “the rest of the story” to complete His glorious painting of life as a Messianic Jew. This journey is the completion of our faith and our strength as God’s little children. Today, our faith is like a tree firmly planted in the ground. Growing tall and strong as it grows slowly and well.