by Sam Rotman
I come from an orthodox Jewish family. My father was born in Romania and my mother was born in Slovakia. They separately fled Europe before World War 11, sensing their danger from the Nazis, and met and married in South America. In 1950, they were able to move to the United States where I was born 5 months later.
According to the family tradition, I was raised in a very religious home. I was bar- mitzvahed at 13 and confirmed at 15, and was faithful in my morning prayers. Besides formal worship on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, I attended religious education classes 5 days a week for 8 years, and felt that I was a fine exponent of my faith.
I began studying piano when I was 9 years old and was committed to the career of a concert pianist by the time I was 11. My dream was to be the greatest pianist in the world, and my pride increased as my skills grew. One very important step in my goals to become the greatest pianist was realized when I was accepted in the Juilliard School in New York City. There I studied for 5 years, and received my Bachelor and Master of Music Degrees.
Studying in New York City at that time was very stimulating musically. It was also very tempting as the drug and open sex culture was beginning to flourish. However, because I was so dedicated to my goal of achieving excellence in my chosen profession, I shunned these sensual excesses and was known as a very clean‑cut guy. This only served to enhance my proud, self‑righteous self‑image.
During my third year of study, three male Christian students started questioning me about my religious beliefs and my attitude toward Jesus as the Messiah in particular. I, as a Jew, had never read a word of the New Testament. I also felt that Jesus was to blame for many of the problems the Jews had suffered over our long and troubled history. However, these students persisted in talking with me, even though on occasion, I would rail against them in anger.
During this time, however, I began to sense that I was what Jesus described as a "slave of sin. So I asked for a New Testament. My habit had been to practice my music literally 10 hours a day, 5 hours on Sundays. That week I practiced only 5 hours as I read and re‑read the New Testament, comparing it with Old Testament passages. I was determined to find out for my self who Jesus was, and instead of going to religious leaders, I went directly to the New Testament.
What I read was quite shocking. I found out two things about Jesus. The first is that He made claims about Himself that, if not true, would label Him as a lunatic or a megalomaniac. Moses and Muhammad and other religious leaders never claimed to be the light of the world, or the resurrection and the life. Secondly, I saw Jesus as someone who accepted failures. And though it was difficult for me to think of myself as a sinner, I was becoming more aware of my moral failings and my inability to change my behavior, even though I wanted to.
Though up until this point I only prayed in the name of Elohim (God). However, on May 21, 1971, 1 realized that I could no longer try to hide my sinful life from God. For the first time, I prayed to God in Jesus' name to forgive me of my sins, and to take my life, and make me His. When I finished praying, I knew that God had heard and answered my prayers and I was filled with great joy and lightness of heart!
Three days later I was in a Bible‑believing church with my new brothers in Christ and I immediately immersed myself in studying the Bible. I had become "a new creation in Christ, with the old passing away and all things becoming new." 2 Corinthians 5:17. My new found faith, however, presented two very momentous challenges. The first had to do with my commitment to music. For years, I had been preparing myself to be the greatest pianist in the world. Now I had to consider what God wanted me to be. Some people suggested that I should play only religious music, abandoning the classical music repertoire. These were troubling new thoughts and I wrestled with them, seeking counsel and reading books to find direction. I came to see that "every good thing and perfect gift comes from God" (James 1:17) and that even though most of the composers were not Christians, their musical abilities were gifts from God. As I played their creations, I could give glory to God, the Creator, who had gifted both the composers and me. I also have found that being a musician has given me unique opportunities to share my faith with other's in the musical world and to be a light in this milieu.
The other challenge that faced me as I began my new life as a Christian was how to tell my parents. My father was 65 and I was afraid he would have a heart attack and possibly even die. Finally, I flew home to tell them what had happened to me. My father was very angry, as he felt that I had betrayed my heritage. He said that if he had known when I was born, that I would have become a Christian, he would have killed me. By the end of the week, they told me to leave the house, never to come back. Though I was deeply disturbed by their reaction, I had the joy of the Lord and the peace of God and ever‑growing church family. They had none of these comforts. Jesus had said that "everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life.
Ever since I had become a Christian, I had been giving recitals of classical music at churches and Christian colleges and would share how I became a Christian and then challenge the members of the audience to dedicate whatever gifts God had given them to God. Twice a year we take extended trips to different areas of the world, such as Europe and Asia, and I give concerts at churches, schools, homes, and auditoriums, sharing my Christian story. When I'm in the United States, I do the same thing at churches and Christian colleges. I also serve as the Pastor of Grace Church in Mesa, Arizona.
Knowing Jesus Christ is the most important thing a human being can do. As I say at my concerts, I won't be playing the piano in a hundred years, or be married or be a father or have my job. In a hundred years, the most important thing will be whether or not I believed in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. " Mark 8:36‑38.