- Written by Alan Glickman
I checked into the hospice. The admittance requirements were simple. One had to be terminally ill with less than six months to live. That was me. Not the best prognosis, but, hey, you take what comes to you. And emphysema is what came to me.
Reflecting back on my life to this point, I feel a need to put some thoughts on paper. I'm not a writer, but I have a story to tell.
I was raised in a poor neighborhood in the Bronx as the youngest of five children. The second youngest was already 18 years old when I was born, and as you might imagine, my parents were not exactly expecting another child.
My folks were Orthodox Jews and they taught me to regard myself as an Orthodox Jew, but I didn't quite understand what that meant. I knew that the Day of Atonement was the holiest and most solemn of our holidays. I knew that we were supposed to fast for 24 hours and pray to God. I also knew that we were not supposed to watch television or turn on the electricity. But I also knew at an early age that there were inconsistencies in my parents' concept of God and Judaism.
For example, they emphasized the importance of Yom Kippur, yet they had their own way of observing it. They closed the shades so that nobody could see in and proceeded to turn on the lights and the TV. They explained that God understood because they were elderly and could not observe the holiday, and it was okay for me not to observe it because I was so young. Even as a child I realized that if God cared about these things, he cared about them for young and old.
Another time, my father took me for a walk on Yom Kippur. I was so excited that he had singled me out for this attention. What he did was walk me out of my neighborhood, where he proceeded to light up a cigarette. Looking back, there were few Jews left in our neighborhood by the time I was born. I doubt that the people hanging out in the neighborhood would have cared or even recognized these infractions. But it seemed to matter to my father.
I remember going to synagogue on the holidays and that was a big deal. But I came from a poor family, which meant some years we were lucky to get a seat in the back. Those who were able to be more generous got better seats and, it seemed to me, preferential treatment from the rabbi (who, by the way, was very intimidating to all us kids).
I attended Hebrew school later in life than most Jewish kids, and went just long enough to train for my bar mitzvah. Hebrew school was right across the street from our house and I was the last one to be bar mitzvah there. It later became some kind of Baptist church.
There were only a couple of other Jewish kids from the surrounding blocks attending Hebrew school with me. We didn't really see each other outside of lessons. I asked our teacher about God and the Bible, but I never got satisfactory answers. So I began asking the non-Jewish neighborhood kids. Most of my friends were Black or Hispanic. Some would cross themselves and talk about Jesus and the virgin mother. Others talked about the Holy Spirit. To tell you the truth, I asked too many questions and I was confused by their answers.
Still I used to watch as many would leave public school and go to catechism classes. My heart was yearning to know more about God. I knew I was missing something. I just thought, This can't be the way it was supposed to be. It seemed tough to be a Jew. All the traditions my teachers showed me, even the wrapping of the tefillin, seemed to offer very little interchange between God and me. I learned the proper things to do and say, but not the reasons behind the actions.
After Hebrew school, I went the way of many of my peers and focused on experiences. I loved music and I played drums. I experimented with drugs and sex. I suppose my life would have been characterized as wild. However, my thoughts often came back to God. When I was with a group of people the conversation would turn towards God. I had a growing desire to learn more about Jesus. I wondered if what my non-Jewish neighborhood" friends said about him was true. My Hebrew teacher had said that Jesus was a great man, even a prophet, but he was not the Messiah. I had no real reason to doubt their word. But if he had performed the miracles he was credited with, how could he not be the Messiah?
At home, my questions about the New Testament or anything to do with Jesus Christ were regarded as some kind of terrible sin. Knowing my place, as any good son does, I kept my mouth shut. But outside our home, I tried to learn as much as I could. And the more I heard, the more I concluded that our leaders should have looked more and learned more about Jesus.
I was really ashamed of thinking these things because some of the Catholics I met called me "Christ killer." Their words hurt and I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I used to talk to God, wondering aloud about Jesus and how he died, not really knowing if I was even allowed to talk to God on my own. But I didn't know how else to find answers to my questions.
When I was 16 my father died of a stroke and soon after, my mother took ill with cancer. I met a woman, Linda, who was Catholic. Linda was there for me and when my mother died, Linda moved in. Three months later, she was pregnant. We never married; we really should have, but we didn't. Jason was born a year after my mother died. Shortly after that, Linda and I broke up.
Then I met Dee and seven years later we got married. We also had a son, Michael. Dee insisted that he be baptized. She was afraid that if anything happened he wouldn't be able to go to heaven. I consented and spoke to a priest. I told him that I was Jewish but that I would have no problem bringing up the baby to believe in Jesus and be a good Christian. To tell you the truth, I really didn't understand what that meant, but we went ahead with the baptism. Not too long after Michael's baptism, Dee and I broke up.
I knew I hadn't been a good father to Jason and I didn't want to make the same mistake with Michael. Dee took off and I won custody of my second son. And I did try. But I didn't raise him as a Christian. How could I? At this point I had no religion. However, I did have a philosophy of sorts. Namely, as long as you wanted to do the right thing, you were okay with God because he knew your heart.
Looking back, I think my philosophy was a good excuse for not being an observant Jew (I didn't want to be the hypocrite that I thought my parents were), and I did not have enough gumption to learn more about other religions. All I needed to do was be a good person inside, or as good as I could be and that would be good enough for God because he knew that I meant well. Or so I imagined.
I was watching television one day and a commercial came on with a minister named John Wagner at a church named Christ the Rock in Pembroke Pines, Florida. I remember thinking, That's an unusual name. I wonder what it means, what's behind it? Does that mean that Christ's as strong and substantial as a rock, like the Rock of Gibraltar?
All I knew was that there was something attracting me to this commercial. I called to locate the church, which was a little storefront in a shopping center. I found out when their services were, then I drove my car into their parking lot, parked right in front of the church and waited.
I didn't know how to approach this. I couldn't bring myself to get out of the car and walk through the doors of the church. I don't know what made me so nervous or cautious. I figured if I sat there long enough someone would knock on my window and ask me what I wanted and maybe they would invite me in. I didn't even think about the fact that since it was in a shopping center there were a lot of parked cars there, and no one even noticed me.
I must have driven there 15, maybe even 20 Sundays without getting out of the car. I would just turn around and go home. I did notice, though, that the people coming in and out were families all worshiping together. They seemed happy. It seemed to me this was a much healthier way to worship God than what I remembered from the synagogue. Weren't kindness and love and smiling faces better than fear and empty traditions?
I finally called and spoke to someone at the church. I told them a little bit about myself, and they said they had a couple of people who were members who were of the Jewish faith and they would contact me. But after one little conversation we missed each other's phone calls and I just didn't pursue it.
Then I became very ill with emphysema. I got sicker and sicker and finally I was hospitalized for 14 weeks. When they released me from the hospital, the doctors said I had a couple of days, maybe a couple of weeks to live. I don't know if you can imagine what I felt. I was scared and terribly lonely. I was estranged from most of my family. I had two sons who hardly ever spoke to me. I was lost and I really wanted to get right with God. I had wanted to do so for a long time, but now it seemed more urgent than ever.
But I didn't want to be a hypocrite about it. My impending death should not be the only reason I connected with God.
This was the most important thing I could ever do—getting right with God—and I didn't want it to be something I was doing only because I was dying.
I joined a hospice program for the terminally ill. It was the place to go when you have less than six months to live. They are staffed with all kinds of clergy and when they asked me what I wanted, I requested a rabbi. They sent me an Orthodox rabbi. We sat and we spoke for maybe 30 or 45 minutes but we just didn't connect. We were both Jewish, yet it seemed like we came from two different worlds. To be honest, I just didn't have that good an impression of our people. I remember watching the movie "The Ten Commandments" as a kid. Moses would perform these incredible miracles, and no matter how many he performed it seemed our people were never satisfied; they always wanted more. They never seemed to appreciate God. Instead they were ready to say, "You did this, but what is next?"
Since I didn't connect with the rabbi, I asked the hospice staff to send me a priest and they did. I also spoke with him for about 45 minutes. But we didn't connect either.
My six months were up. Since I was still alive, I had to go home. But once every two weeks, a volunteer would come, donate his time, and take me to my doctor appointments. I couldn't walk by myself anymore. And it was amazing, but whenever I needed help, even in between visits, someone would show up and help me. What was even more amazing to me was that they were inevitably all Christians.
For example, I broke my glasses and new ones would have cost me over $400. Why spend the money when I was supposed to be dead already? I wanted to leave whatever money I had to my family. So I took the glasses up to the eyeglass store, hoping they would maybe just fix them. The clerk informed me that they couldn't be fixed. But when I told him why I didn't want to spend a lot of money, he asked me if I had $40. I said yes, I could afford $40. He said he would use the $40 to pay for the materials and that he would do all the work himself and donate the labor. He would give me new glasses.
I was shocked, amazed and thankful. I thanked him over and over again. And as I was leaving he said, "God bless you." I stopped and turned around and I said, "I would say that back, but it's not something I could say easily." I didn't want to be phony, because he had befriended me. "Why," I asked, "did you do this for me?" He said, "It was the Christian thing to do, the right thing to do. I could help you and I wanted to help you."
My response at that point was a heartfelt "God bless you" back to him. Then I asked him where he attended church. He said, "Christ the Rock." It hit me like a brick in the head. It was the church that I had seen in the commercial, the one I parked out in front of those many times. It was the place that I felt drawn to all those years. I was really shocked and proud—proud of this man who was a Christian and who had helped me. It sure made me feel good that there were people like that in this world. I hadn't encountered many in my life.
Other acts of kindness came my way. Someone helped fix a flat tire on my car, or took me to a doctor's appointment or to the hospital. And each and every time, I discovered my "helper" was a member of that church—Christ the Rock.
Finally, I dialed the church number and I explained that I wanted to speak with the minister if possible. They told me that, unfortunately, the minister I was looking for was in South Africa. But if I didn't mind speaking to another person Raul was available. Raul came to my house and from the minute this man walked in he brought with him a light that just seemed to bring sunshine into my apartment. His love for God opened up my heart, opened up my soul and truly opened up my eyes.
I knew I was now finding my way to God. From our brief conversation, I knew that I wanted to find out more about Jesus. I wanted to find out more about the people who wanted to love others and do good for them. I felt like I was home!
Raul introduced me to Greg, a Jewish man who believed in Jesus. All Greg wanted to do was help me read the Bible. And as he opened up the Scriptures for me, I found I really loved to study the Bible.
My first experience with God goes back to when I was about seven. One of my nieces died; she was only about four months old. When I heard about it I remember lying in my bed crying, asking God why I couldn't be the one to go instead of her. As I think back, it was a very moving moment for me. There was nothing selfish in my prayer. I wasn't asking for anything except understanding for why this had happened. I was speaking directly to God and I believe he heard me. Now I was ready to believe God could hear me again, and yes, I could hear him, too.
My new friend Greg understood this as well. He helped me find a way to learn about the things I'd hungered after for so many years. For years I thought that my Jewishness meant that I couldn't consider Jesus. Now, I understood that Jews can believe in Jesus. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Jesus is, after all, my Messiah.
The most amazing thing of all was that I suddenly felt proud to be a Jew. I understood that Jesus gave his life willingly and that those who called me "Christ killer" did not understand the great love behind his sacrifice. They didn't realize that everyone who ever sinned was behind his death. They didn't realize that he died so we could be forgiven, whether Jew or Gentile.
I was also delighted to realize that we Jews were the first people to believe in Jesus. I have gained so much more appreciation for my Jewishness than I ever had before! It's odd that the one thing that kept me from considering Jesus, namely my Jewishness, is something I never fully appreciated until I came to know him, the greatest Jew who ever lived.
Funny thing, a year and a half later, through the grace of God, I am still living. Finally, the hospice people called up and said, "Good news, bad news, Mr. Glickman. The good news is you're still alive; the bad news is you'll have to make it on your own now. You no longer qualify for the program." Which really isn't bad news at all, is it?
I don't know what place I have in this world. I don't know what I am supposed to do or how long I'll have to do it. But I do know I would not be here without God's help and salvation. I don't know if I could have given up my Jewish heritage to find my Messiah. But God knew what I needed. It is such a comfort that I can keep my Jewishness and go on into the future with my Messiah.