I was born in Tel Aviv, Israel. My parents moved to Florida when I was about three and a half. I was raised in a Jewish household in which Judaism played a large role culturally, but a rather small role spiritually. . . . My father was a very secular individual, and his lack of belief in God was rooted in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and multiplied by heartbreak and loss throughout his life. If there was a God in heaven, how could He allow such things to happen?. . . .
One of my best friends at the time was a strong believer in Christ, and she really helped me to learn more about Him. She had a light about her and, despite my life that was so filled with darkness and trials, I was drawn to that special light that she had. She prayed for me, asking God that I would always be surrounded by strong Christian acquaintances and, in many ways, that prayer was answered. It seemed that, wherever I traveled and however far I moved away from God, people of faith seemed to be placed in my path. . . .
Becoming an Atheist
I still had several nagging questions that I just did not feel were settled. I wondered what would happen to the generations of my ancestors who had lived and died Jewish. They had faced the gas chambers and pogroms because of their faith. I could not accept the notion of a God that would condemn them to hell, and yet my Christian friends offered little hope. Consequently, I began to slowly drift away from Christianity. . . .
When I was 15 years old, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It came as a total shock to me, because she had always been the healthier of my parents. We both believed strongly that God would deliver her. But, even though she fought valiantly, she died shortly after my 18th birthday. Her last months of life were especially difficult, even though her faith in the face of that trial was inspiring.
The loss was absolutely devastating to me and, in time, it continued to gnaw away at my faith. As I began my undergraduate studies at Brandeis University, I began to read the writings of the famed atheists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, and I quickly fell under their spell. I didn’t know how to accept a God that would allow my mother to suffer, and so I went to the opposite extreme—denying His existence.
My atheism was predicated on three foundational pillars: first, that God was highly improbable; second, that belief in God was a force for evil or harm in the world; and third, that I did not need or want faith in God because I could be a good person without such faith. . . . I believed that I had been enlightened, freed from an ignorant and superstitious belief in God. I felt it my mission to help others to see the light.
Believing in God Again
Around this time, I became friends with a girl named Savanna*, whom I later discovered was Mormon. She was one of the only two undergraduate members of the LDS Church in the whole of Brandeis University! She wasn’t active in the Church at the time, but she still held many of the values common to Latter-day Saints. . . .
At the end of my sophomore year at Brandeis, I had several experiences that made me realize I was not becoming the person that I wanted to be. I felt powerless to change and improve myself. And, when I experienced a particularly difficult break up with my girlfriend, I realized that I did not have a firm foundation of belief to fall back on. One of the pillars upon which I had built my atheism, namely my belief that I did not need God in my life, suddenly began to crumble.
That summer, I studied abroad in China and, while there, had an instructor who was a strong member of the local Christian community. We had numerous conversations about God and religion, and those lengthy discussions began to open my mind up to the possibility that there could be a God. As I observed his vibrant spirituality, the second pillar of my atheism—my belief that faith was a force for evil—now began to weaken. I began to yearn for something more in my life, and I began to sense that religion might be the thing to satisfy that yearning.
Finding the Church
When I returned to Boston, I learned that Savanna had decided to begin going back to church. As a result of the experiences that I had that summer, I felt prompted to look into her Church. Up to that point I knew next to nothing about Mormonism, aside from what I had seen on South Park, of course. So I went to Barnes and Noble, picked up Mormonism for Dummies and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Mormonism, sat down, and began to read. As I read, I was really struck by the power of the doctrine.
I began to read about the pre-earth life, the plan of salvation, and the postmortal spirit world—and these doctrines just felt right. What I was discovering filled a hole in my soul. It all immediately made sense to me. It answered the various questions I’d had about how one could believe Christ was the way and yet also believe that those who didn’t know Him could be saved. I went to my friend Savanna and asked her if I could go to church with her. . .
As would be expected, when people discovered a “nonmember” in their midst, they quickly arranged for me to meet the missionaries. . . . I continued to read everything I could find about the Church—both pro- and anti-Mormon sources—and I felt drawn more and more to the Church.
Finding the Temple
One day I was talking to a nonmember friend who is really opposed to Mormonism. She began to bash the Church, and she was especially vitriolic regarding the LDS temple. She had a good friend that was married in the temple and that friend’s family could not attend the wedding since they were not members. My friend was absolutely disgusted by this practice. As she spoke to me, I was pretty taken aback and wondered why that was the policy. While thinking about it, I felt strongly prompted to go visit the Boston LDS temple. Though it was 9 p.m., I got into my car and drove to the temple grounds.
As I got out of my car, I felt an overwhelming spiritual presence. I had never felt anything quite so powerful. I felt it through every fiber of my being. I felt as if God was present and was talking directly to me. In my mind, I heard His voice telling me that the Church was true and that He was there.
I was stubborn, and so I got back into my car and I drove to the nearby Catholic and Protestant churches to see if I would feel the same way there. I didn’t feel anything of the sort—in fact, I felt quite the opposite.
I then got back into my car and drove back to the temple. I went to a fairly secluded spot and knelt down in front of one of the stained glass windows. There, I poured my heart out to God, and I felt transformed by the Spirit. The final pillar of my atheism—my belief that I did not need God—definitively shattered. My whole being was filled with light. In that moment, I could clearly see the person that the Lord wanted me to become. I could see my potential as His son. I knew without a doubt that God loved me and wanted me to join His Church. I knew that I should be baptized. In a sense, the words of Alma seemed written for me: “Blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart” (Alma 32:16). Since that moment, I have never doubted the truthfulness of the Gospel. Even in my darkest moments, that experience has been like a beacon of light.
Telling my father about my decision to be baptized was not at all an easy thing to do. Not long after this spiritual experience at the temple, we met in New York for the Jewish High Holidays. . . .
We walked near Lincoln Center, with the Manhattan temple nearby, and I finally worked up the courage to tell him. His reaction was, of course, quite negative—as I would have expected. He strongly forbade me from getting baptized and told me that, if I did, he would want nothing to do with me. In an effort to calm him, I compromised with my father, and agreed that I would wait six months before being baptized. I thought that would help him to see that this was the sincere desire of my heart. . . .
After six months, my father was still as opposed as ever to my being baptized and, so, as painful as it was, I postponed my baptism again. Even though I was legally an adult, my father’s approval was ultimately very important to me, and I wanted to show him that I respected him. I was about to leave Florida to drive up to Philadelphia for the summer, when my father finally gave me his permission to be baptized. Alma’s words suddenly took on new meaning for me: “I have been supported under trials and troubles of every kind, yea, and in all manner of afflictions” (Alma 36:27). God had intervened, and I felt so very blessed. I went up to Boston the next weekend and was baptized in the University Ward there. I still remember the joy that I felt when I was baptized. I felt cleansed from all of my sins, and I felt like an innocent child in the eyes of God. It was such a wonderful and unforgettable feeling. . . .
Perhaps most important of all, my testimony is still burning strong, and I am filled with conviction and with the power of the Lord. I am so grateful to Him for the tremendous blessings He has given me, and for the opportunities that yet lay ahead.
*Name has been changed
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