Murmurs of the Soul
Jewish-Christians at USC struggle with the effects of conversion to Christianity
David Allen’s parents wanted him to see a psychiatrist. Why? Not because he was depressed, taking drugs or getting bad grades in college but because he wanted to convert to Christianity.
Allen is one of several Jewish-Christians at the University of Southern California who belong to Chaim, a new Christian organization on USC’s campus that claims to provide an environment where Jewish students can learn more about Jesus, and Christian students more about Judaism.
Raised a reformed Jew, Allen (who requested that his real name not be used) made fun of Jesus and Christians when he was growing up, but while dating a Christian girl, he met a friend of her family who introduced him to Christianity.
That’s when his life changed. “The only way I can explain it was that God took control of my heart,” he said. Within a few weeks, Allen converted to Christianity and was elated. However, his family was not as pleased.
“I was looked at as a traitor and someone who turned his back on his Jewish heritage, as well as spat on all the things that happened to my ancestors during the Holocaust,” he said. Though his family has not financially cut him off, Allen said that they have made things stricter for him money-wise and won’t pay for him to attend a Christian college.
He was even given an intriguing proposition by his grandfather: convert back to Judaism and get an ocean front condo.
Allen declined the offer. “I’m motivated by God, not by money or man,” he said.
Despite the consequences of his conversion, Allen still said he has no regrets about being true to his convictions and proclaiming his belief in the divinity of Christ. “Everything about Jesus just makes sense to me,” he said.
Much of that clarity is a result of his involvement in Chaim which has helped him clear up a lot of misconceptions. “Jews think that Christianity is completely separate from Judaism,” Allen said. “But they don’t understand that when Christ came, it was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophesies.”
Michael Brown, an author and educator, who converted from Judaism to Christianity, agrees. “I can assure you that there are no intellectual or spiritual theological reasons that can prevent the Jew from believing in Jesus and be a loyal Jew in the sight of God,” Brown told a large group of USC students at a recent talk.
Brown also said that Jewish-Christians are not to be ignored anymore because they are part of a growing movement. According to Jews for Judaism (an organization whose motto is “Keeping Jews Jewish”), Brown may be right. The organization estimates that over 275,000 Jews world wide have already converted to Christianity due to missionaries that target Jews.
Rabbi Dov Wagner, religious director of USC’s Chabad Jewish Student Center, believes someone born a Jew remains a Jew regardless of what he or she believes. “But the better question is – can you believe both Judaism and Christianity?” Wagner said. “I believe these two things are still mutually exclusive.”
It is an issue Rabbi Wagner sometimes finds himself discussing with another USC student, Josh Yozefovich, a junior majoring in philosophy and music.
Yozefovich, a Jewish-Christian, often attends Shabbat dinners at Chabad on Friday nights, while also worshiping Jesus on Sundays at a mega-church in Sun Valley, Calif.
Yozefovich, who dutifully attended Hebrew and Judaic schools growing up, said that the two things that drew him to Christianity were Brown’s books and the understanding that God so loved the world that he sent his only son to die and pay the final price for human sin and transgression.
Still drawn to his Jewish roots, Yozefovich enjoys hanging around the Chabad house, despite being warned not to evangelize his Christian faith.
“The way Jews interact and say things is still important and attractive to me,” he said.
Yozefovich also said he feels that if he is going to believe in a religion other than his birth one then he shouldn’t be ignorant of it.
At times, Yozefovich said it is difficult to maintain both his Jewish and Christian identify but that is where Chaim fits in. “Chaim allows me to spend time with Jewish-Christians and other Christians who want to learn more about Judaism,” he said. “After all, Christians should know more about their Jewish roots.”
Yozefovich said he respects Wagner despite their disagreements, and that his conversion to Christianity hasn’t been without pain for both himself and his family.
And he has his regrets.
He wishes he would have talked more to his parents during the time of his conversion, but Yozefovich now reports a much closer relationship with his parents, where they can even have “loving discussions about Christianity.”
Yozefovich, who plans to one day marry a nice Jewish-Christian girl, move to Israel and raise a Christian family, chuckles briefly as he recalls a recent talk with Rabbi Wagner. He told him that he was just “a nice Jewish boy with a few crazy ideas.”