When Hanukkah meets Thanksgiving
When Hanukkah meets Thanksgiving, a photo by bobmendo on Flickr. “Delivered from Fear: a Jewish Thanksgiving Story”
by Robin Joseph Blaha, guest writer
I know that most people don’t think of Thanksgiving as a Jewish holiday. But I always will. That’s because during Thanksgiving weekend 1973, I experienced the most wonderful, most mind-boggling—and most Jewish—moment of my entire life. It made me truly thankful on that Thanksgiving and every day since.
Believe me, what happened that weekend was as big a shock to me as it probably will be to you when you read about it. But, as they say, let me start at the beginning . . .
Born in Chicago in 1951 into a Jewish home, I am the oldest of five—four girls and a boy. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. My dad was part owner of Joseph Electronics with his brothers and father. Later he sold his portion of the business and became a stamp dealer.
Being Jewish was important to me but didn't have much to do with God. It was mainly about holidays we kept as opposed to holidays our gentile friends kept. I did like getting out of school on the High Holidays, and we attended temple once in a while on those occasions. The services didn't mean anything to me, though, and at times I had an irreverent attitude at temple. The most memorable holiday was Passover at Grandma's house. She made all the traditional foods from scratch and I loved seeing cousins at that time. We did light candles at Hanukkah and sang the blessing over the candles, but again, God wasn't a part of it.
In my early childhood I was plagued with fear. Although my parents were always there, they weren’t “there for me” emotionally, so I dealt with my fears alone. When I was fifteen, I started experimenting with alcohol, and my fear slowly gave way to rebellion. I began lying to my parents and going places they didn’t want me to go. I became a thief (stealing from my employer) and a shoplifter. By the time I was eighteen I couldn’t wait to leave home.
When my sister Judy’s Jewish friend Joann told her that Joann’s brother was at a communal farm, we decided to check it out. We knew the farm was near Freeport, just a couple of hours west of Chicago, but we never got directions. We tried to hitchhike to the farm, couldn’t find it, kept on going and ended up in Berkeley, California! There we tried LSD, and Judy nearly died. Fortunately, the LSD had no effect on me. We had to call our dad, and he wired us money to fly back home.
Nevertheless, I continued my rebellious lifestyle, which spiraled out of control. I became promiscuous, a drug abuser and an alcoholic. I should have died a number of times because of how I was living. My adolescence and young adulthood were so filled with confusion and rebellion that I don't remember even thinking about my Jewish identity. I do remember that I did not believe in an afterlife but believed, “When you're dead, you're dead.”
In the meantime, Judy had found her way to the farm. It turns out that the farm was a kibbutz-like community of believers who used the name Y'shua to worship Messiah, kept Shabbat and celebrated the Hebrew feasts. Judy learned about Y’shua (Jesus) and came to believe in him as the Jewish Messiah. When the pastor and his wife prayed for her, all of the bad effects from her LSD trip came to an end.
I was living in Ohio in 1973 and went home for Thanksgiving. Judy and my sister Lynne started telling me about Jesus and how he had changed their lives. Although I thought they were crazy, when they invited me to a local meeting that weekend, I went. The preacher was talking about the return of Christ and that we all needed to have our hearts right with him before he returned. I really didn’t understand what he was talking about because I had never heard of Jesus Christ before, except as a swear word. I had no idea that “Christ” was the Greek word for Messiah. But I knew I was not right with God.
When we got home, my sisters kept telling me I needed to be “saved.” Because they were new believers, they couldn’t really explain to me how. Finally Lynne quoted John 3:16 to me with my name in it: “For God so loved Robin, that he gave his only Son, that if she would believe in him she would not perish but have everlasting life.” In that moment I experienced a miracle. God himself revealed to me that this was true. God loved ME! He gave his son to die for ME! I began weeping and thanking him for loving me. Intellectually I didn’t understand yet, but I believed. I was “born again,” a new creature, as the New Testament describes it in that same chapter, three, of the Gospel of John [link to John 3:1-8]. Jesus had died to pay the penalty for my sin and I was forgiven.
Looking back, I realize that God had been drawing me to himself. I had some idols, and God had been tearing them down one by one. One of them was Neil Young. When I went to see him in concert, as the fans were calling out requests, he told them to shut up. I also idolized my friend's boyfriend—until I saw him scared and running for his life. God even used the movie Soylent Green to show me how bad the world was.
But that same weekend, immediately my parents took me to the rabbi’s office (as they had with Judy) so he could talk me out of my new faith. After he was done talking, I went out into the hallway of the temple and declared, “I believe Y’shua is the Messiah!” I don’t know if anyone heard me, but I knew it was true. After the weekend, I drove Judy back to the farm. The people there more fully explained to me all that Jesus had done. One week later I moved in.
God instantly delivered me from destructive habits such as drinking, smoking, drugs, promiscuity and swearing. The farm was a wonderful place for a broken person to mend. We learned to worship God, to love one another and to work together. A young man Steve had already been there three years, and in 1980 we were married. We have two children, Dan and Sharon, both now adults, and four beautiful grandchildren.
Through the years God has continually been working on me in other areas such as fear and anxiety. In every situation I have learned to trust that he truly loves me and is taking care of me. I have known him for 40 years and he is still changing me. When I do wrong, he makes me aware of it; I want to repent and stay right with him.
Steve and I own a reading clinic which we operate from our home. My workday involves one-on-one teaching of students who are either struggling with reading in school or who want to get a good start before going to school. My faith plays a very important role in what I do. I pray for my students, especially those with special needs.
God has brought me through many difficulties and has caused me to grow with each one. He is a most faithful loving Father. Slowly but surely he has delivered me from all my fears.