The fact was, I was so enthused to be working in a Jewish school, that I participated in everything: Hebrew classes with Batia Mikler, the rezo in the mornings (Did they really think that we could keep the students quiet and in line, out there on the patio?), the Jewish activities, Hebrew dancing, and even Rabbi Alfredo’s choir, singing bass alongside Alfonso Soued.
When I first met Rabbi Alfredo, the day of my first interview at the Hebreo, I was excited, but he was wary. Who was this enthusiastic evangelical looking for a job at a Jewish school? He knew how to deal with Roman Catholic priests, but exactly what might be the intentions of an evangelical Christian? Once I began teaching, we quickly became friends and learned to work together. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t going to offend anybody in the process.
You have to understand what was going on in my head. Since 1970 my home church in New York was talking about prophecy being fulfilled and the Jewish people going back to Israel! Jerusalem was now in the hands of the Jews! That enthusiasm was infectious, and I caught the bug. I was dreaming about going to visit Israel, and now, here I was, working at a Jewish school and learning about the Promised Land! Amazing. I had thought I would have to go to Israel direct to enjoy all this, but God had a better plan, and sent me to Colombia to work in a Jewish school. (Probably because I had A LOT to learn).
Precisely, I was learning all kinds of things about Jewish culture, history, Israel, the holocaust…. What an education! I even remember hearing Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to the community at the 79th synagogue when he was Israel’s ambassador to the UN. He was such an eloquent and engaging speaker that he kept some 200 people from the Jewish community quiet for an hour and a half! (Now, it’s challenging to do that even in the synagogue)!
My study of Hebrew not only went back to Yale University before I arrived in Colombia; not only to the few classes with Ronit Chalem; but I had met Rabbi Leon Benjamu before my entrance to the Hebreo. His kids were in the Colegio Nueva Granada, and the girls, Chanu and Shushu, needed some help with their spanish classes, so we did another exchange. I taught them Spanish, and the Rabb’s wife, Evelyn, taught me how to read Hebrew with the vowel points from Bereshit! Then, as soon as I got to the CCH, I started studying with Batia Mikler.
Are you going to convert?
So, seeing my enthusiasm, one day some students came up to me and asked if I was going to convert! Imagine! “Well,” I answered, “if I convert, can I still believe in Jesus?”
The expressions of shock, maybe even horror, on the faces of the students, told me that No, that was not allowed. OK. No problem. The fact was that I was already feeling very Jewish and I was right at home in this school and community where they had adopted me. I decided that, since Jesus was Jewish, He had given me a Jewish heart. So I was good. I think we can still be friends.
After all, good friends don’t have to agree about everything. They just need to be willing to listen and learn!