By Helen Shapiro
I was raised in a warm, musical, traditional Jewish family in the heart of a large Jewish community in Hackney, in the East End of London. Our extended family, although not a very orthodox group, was nevertheless totally Jewish in identity and heritage. My first recollections include wonderful annual festivals such as Passover, plus traditional rituals such as the lighting of candles on a Friday evening to welcome Shobbes (Shabbat).
I suppose I believed in God from my earliest days. I took His existence for granted. The State school I attended taught the Bible and I loved the Bible stories very much. However, because my school had a Jewish Headmaster and a large Jewish contingency among the pupils, we Jewish kids had separate R.E. (religious education) classes and assemblies. As a consequence, I never heard of a New Testament or a Jesus until I was around six years of age. One day, a non-Jewish girl came up to me in the playground in quite some distress and blurted out, "You killed Jesus Christ!". I was devastated and confused by this accusation. I had never killed anyone in my life, and who was this person with the strange name, Jesus Christ?
At 14, while still at school, I had my first hit record. That led me to go into show business, travelling the world, singing at many famous venues and having more hit songs, including 'Walking Back to Happiness'. I was carried along by all the fame, meeting celebrities and royalty and didn't give much thought to spiritual things until the late sixties. At that time, it seemed that everyone was searching for the "meaning of life". It was the 'hippie' era. Thankfully, I did not become involved with drugs or cults. However, members of my family had taken to visiting mediums, clairvoyants and other such folk to make contact (as they thought) with relatives who had died. Having always had a curiosity with life-after-death issues, this fascinated me. I began to visit such people myself, on occasion. I also started to read books and magazines about spiritism, Buddhism and all kinds of psychic phenomena. I developed a system of beliefs, over the years, which incorporated a little bit of this, a little bit of that - a smorgasbord of 'isms' which, these days, would be called 'New Age'. To my own way of thinking, I was not remotely involved in anything evil or sinister. I associated everything I believed in with God.
For quite a number of years, I was comforted by what I had discovered. It seemed to fill a void in my life - until I turned 40. A few months after this milestone birthday, I woke up one morning and, to my own great surprise, I found I no longer believed in any of my 'New Age' ideas. It's hard to explain, but my belief in the supernatural had vanished overnight. Try as I might, I could not believe in any of my 'isms' any more. This presented a dilemma for me as I had always equated all my beliefs with God. Did this mean that there was no God? I found the whole thing very depressing. For the first time in my life, I had nothing to believe in. My Jazz and Pop career was going well. I was in a relationship with the man who is now my husband. I was successful, but inside I was empty. Looking back, I can see that this was God's hand.
In those days, my musical director was a man called Bob Cranham. He was a Christian and more than once he had spoken of what his 'Lord' had done in his life. These were wonderful things, but I couldn't consider them for myself because I am Jewish. This was the Gentile God blessing His people. In the midst of my turmoil, I called in at his house one day, to pick up some music. Now, neither Bob nor his wife knew anything of my inner struggle. Nobody did.
Bob dropped a bombshell that day. He said, "I'm thinking of giving up the music business." I asked him why. He said, "Because I believe God wants me to be a preacher." I thought to myself, "Oh dear. He thinks he's hearing from God." Here was a professional, sane and sensible top-quality musician, composer, song-writer, producer - and he's talking about giving up everything. Nothing I could say would sway him. He seemed so calm and sure and so willing to take this drastic step, if, as he believed, God wanted it. I found myself becoming more and more impressed by how real and sincere his faith must be if he could surrender all that for his 'Lord'. I went home and told my boyfriend John how much I envied Bob. I had many opinions, but Bob had real convictions. I wanted what he had! I guess I was 'provoked to jealousy'.
I started to think about this Jesus constantly. I couldn't get Him out of my mind. Finally, I lay awake one night and felt that I had nothing to lose. I whispered, "Jesus…?" I didn't know if I was going to be struck by lightning. "Are you really there? Are you really the Messiah? If you are, I want to know. Please show me." ( I might as well mention that I had always believed that Jesus existed historically and that he was a Jew. I had never been able to equate the Jewish Jesus with the very un-Jewish artistic depictions of him - blond hair, blue eyes, etc.) Nothing seemed to happen in my room that night, but in the weeks that followed, it seemed that everywhere I went, I was bumping into things and people connected with this Jesus.
While all this was going on, my band and I came back from doing a concert in Germany. When we arrived at the airport and were saying our farewells until the next gig, Bob, my musical director, handed me a book. I was surprised to see that the cover was a picture of a Menorah (a seven-branched lampstand). The title of the book was, "Betrayed", written by Stan Telchin. The sub-title, in effect, said "How would you feel as a successful 50-year-old, Jewish businessman if your daughter one day told you she believed in Jesus!" "How did Bob know I was searching?!", I thought to myself. Of course, he didn't know. Nobody knew.
The book was a total shock. I had heard about the odd Jewish person believing in Jesus, but I had dismissed them all as weirdoes and cranks. Here was a book by a normal, successful Jewish businessman who believed in Jesus and I couldn't ignore it. Outwardly, I showed no emotion. "OK, I'll read it", I said casually. My heart was thumping inside. I couldn't wait to read it. I found out later that Bob had wanted to give me the book for over a year, but the time had never seemed right - until now. How timely that book was.
It took me only a couple of hours to finish it. Stan Telchin was a pillar of the Jewish community in Washington D.C., successful in insurance, and a member of different Jewish organisations and committees. One day his daughter announced that she had accepted Jesus as her Messiah. After his initial shock and anger wore off, he set out to prove her wrong. He spent months talking to Rabbis, pastors, Jewish believers, Gentile believers, reading the Old and New Testaments, Church history, Jewish history, you name it! After all that, he ended up becoming a believer in Jesus, as did every member of his family, who went off to search for themselves.
I learned a great deal from reading this book. Most fascinating of all were the Messianic prophecies he listed. These are prophecies about the Messiah which are found in the Old Testament; the Tenach. I had never heard of them before. Now I learned that in the Law, the Prophets and the Writings there were dozens of specific predictions about a coming Messiah. I had known and loved the 'hit' stories in the Old Testament about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Daniel, etc. And I knew that we, the Jewish people, had been promised the Messiah, but I never knew about these many, specific written prophecies.
For example, Stan spoke about Isaiah 9:6, where it's written "unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given". I had always thought that verse was in the New Testament as I'd only ever seen it on Christmas cards. But there it was in Isaiah! One of ours! This verse goes on to say that this child would be called "wonderful, counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace." Mighty God! Is the prophet saying that the Messiah has to be God, somehow?
Then Stan quotes Isaiah 7:14, which states that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. I had always thought that talk of a virgin birth was most un-Jewish, but there it was in Isaiah, the Jewish prophet.
He also listed Micah 5:2, a verse from one of the so-called 'minor prophets', which speaks of the Messiah being born in Bethlehem, even though he was also from eternity.
This was amazing enough until I read Psalm 22. It begins with the words "Eli, Eli, lama azavtani", which means, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" I had seen enough films about Jesus to know that He cried these words out when He hung on the cross. What I didn't know was that the rest of the Psalm follows on to say "they have pierced my hands and my feet…I can count all my bones…they have divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing". It seemed to be a picture of the crucifixion of Jesus. But how could it be? This Psalm was written 1000 years before Jesus and before crucifixion was even invented!
Finally, I came face to face with Isaiah 53, the whole of which chapter speaks about one who is to come and take upon himself our sins and our punishment. "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement for our peace was upon Him and with His stripes we are healed. All we, like sheep, have gone astray, each one of us has turned to his own way and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." It seemed to be speaking about Jesus!
All of these prophecies seemed to be painting a picture that I wasn't sure I wanted to see. How come nobody ever showed me these things before? How come all I got was 'You Killed Jesus Christ!'?
I had to find out if these things were really in the Bible. I had to go and buy one. Where do you go to buy a Bible? W.H. Smith's, of course! I went into their 'religious' section and was confronted with row upon row of Bibles! All shapes and sizes and types. Which one should I buy? There were so many to choose from. Why were there so many? After a long, careful search, I finally selected what seemed to be a straightforward choice - it was called 'The Bible'.
I took it home, opened up to the Old Testament, and there they were: prophecies about the Messiah! Dozens of them, speaking of him coming both as suffering servant and victorious king. They all pointed, it seemed to me, to Jesus. Could it really be true? I had come this far - I couldn't go back now. I had to go on. With trepidation, I opened, for the first time in my life, that forbidden book: The New Testament.
I didn't know what to expect. Would it be full of anti-Semitic poison? After all, look at what has been done against the Jews over the centuries in the name of Christ, by those claiming to be Christians. We figure they must get it from 'their book'.
Imagine my surprise when I opened up the New Testament and was greeted by the most Jewish thing I had seen outside of the Old Testament: the genealogy of Jesus. Not only was I unexpectedly greeted by a list of familiar names, but while reading Stan's book, I had learned that the Messiah had to be descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, had to be from the tribe of Judah and of the royal house of David. That was just for starters. All these names were there, and many, many more, in this impeccable lineage of Jesus.
I discovered that the writers of the New Testament were Jewish too. I had always thought that James, Peter and John and co. were Englishmen. To my mind, they couldn't be anything else, with names like that! But I discovered that James was, in fact, Jacob; John was Yochanan; Mary was Miriam; Matthew was Mattityahu; Jesus is Yeshua, which means 'Salvation'! The New Testament is Jewish!
Greatly comforted, I began reading about these people, living in the Land of Israel, according to the Law of Moses. There was a Temple and a priesthood - it was a continuation of the Old Testament. I didn't expect it to be like that. And then, there was Jesus. He seemed to rise up out of the pages to me. I was drawn to Him: His words, His compassion, His miracles, His fulfilment of prophecy, his arrest and trial, His crucifixion and resurrection. I finished the Gospel of Matthew and had read halfway through the Gospel of Mark when the thought struck me that I was being too gullible and easily persuaded. It all seemed too perfect. This Bible, including the Old Testament was, after all, translated by Christians. Maybe they had slanted it towards their way of thinking. I had to be sure. I had to get a 'proper' Bible - a Jewish Bible.
I went to a little Jewish shop in Ilford that sold Judaica in the form of books, cards, religious clothing, etc. I was confronted yet again by wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling books. I stood there for what seemed an age, unable to find what I was looking for. The shopkeeper finally came over to me and asked, "May I help you?" "Yes." I replied, "I'd like an Old Testament, please." "How Old?" he asked. How embarrassed I felt! I realised my mistake: you don't go into a Jewish shop and ask for an Old Testament. There is no such thing as an Old Testament because there is no such thing as a New Testament. "You know what I mean!" I said. Of course he did. He reached up to a top shelf and brought down a book. "This is what you're looking for," he said.
It was a copy of the Tenach, The Holy Scriptures. I got it home and compared it with the Old Testament in my other Bible from W.H. Smiths - and it was the same. I was so relieved. I was hoping it would be so.
I continued reading the New Testament. By the time I had read all four Gospels, I knew that Jesus was the fulfilment of all the Messianic prophecies. Jesus was and is the Messiah! This was the most wonderful realisation! But what do I do? This was controversial!
I telephoned Bob and said, "I think I'm on the verge of becoming a believer." He and his wife asked me over. I had so many questions. One of my main questions was to do with all my old smorgasbord of beliefs: where does God fit in with them? The answer is: He doesn't. Bob showed me from Deuteronomy, right through to Revelation that all those things are an abomination to God and come under the heading of Occult. I learned that I had to repent of and renounce all of those practices.
I told Bob and his wife that I believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God and God the Son. I believed that He died on the cross, was buried and rose from the dead on the third day. I believed, but I still needed to understand Why?
They showed me in the Bible, particularly in the letter to the Hebrews, how Jesus was the fulfilment of the sacrificial system, instituted by God when He brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Whenever God's Law was broken, He graciously provided that atonement could be made by the shedding of the blood of an innocent substitute. We have all, Jews and Gentiles, broken God's law and are under His condemnation and are deserving of His punishment. He still requires the shedding of blood. None of our good works or religious rituals can make us right with God.
Thankfully, we don't have to slaughter animals for sacrifice anymore because all of those sacrifices were fulfilled in the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. He was the perfect Lamb of God. The moment He died on the cross, when He called out, "It is finished", the curtain in the Temple that divided the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was torn in half, from top to bottom. Jesus has paid the penalty for sin and all those who repent and believe in Him can come into the presence of God as a cleansed and forgiven worshipper.
They explained that I needed to repent - to turn from my sin back to God. I learned that I was a sinner. We all are. Bob asked me if I would like to respond by praying and asking God to forgive me on the basis of what Jesus has done. Only He can forgive me and only the Blood of Jesus can atone for me. I could then commit my life to Him as my Lord and Saviour.
This I joyfully did on August 26th, 1987 at 10:30 pm. Even though there were no thunderbolts or flashes of lightning, I knew that my prayer was answered. I can't explain how I knew - I just did. It was all so real and true.
During my search, I had begun to wonder: if I accepted the claims of Jesus and became His follower, would I still be Jewish? Along the way, I had written to Stan Telchin along these lines. He assured me that I would be fulfilling my Jewishness by believing in Jesus, the Messiah of Israel and that I would be coming back to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
What he said was true. The very reason that God created the Jewish nation was to point to the Messiah. This is the purpose of every Jew. I, along with many others, are fulfilling that very purpose by receiving Jesus as Messiah, Lord and Saviour.
Since repenting of my sins and receiving Yeshua - Jesus - I know that I have come out from under the condemnation of the Law: eternal separation from God and eternal punishment. We have all, Jew and Gentile, broken the 10 Commandments and are all guilty. Only by faith in the perfect sacrifice of Messiah Jesus can we be saved. I urge you to search the Scriptures and find out for yourself.