Meet Stephen and Laura Katz: How I Married a Shiksa Goddess
I spent the first half of my childhood in Skokie, Illinois—a very Jewish suburb of Chicago. Our neighborhood was fairly mixed, but it seemed to me that all my parents’ friends were Jewish.
My grandmother on my dad’s side had come over from Poland, my grandfather from Lithuania. After my grandfather died, my father always made sure to take care of my grandmother—so she always lived very close to us. Grandma Katz was Orthodox, spoke with a strong Yiddish accent and kept a kosher home.
Grandma Katz used to tell me how she hoped that I would one day go to Brandeis University, because it was a “good” school. Of course, I knew she meant that there were a lot of Jewish students and Jewish programs there. Plus, it was a step along the way to meeting the nice Jewish girl she hoped I would marry. Grandma Katz stressed that it was important for me to “marry Jewish,” and when I was old enough to date this became a frequent subject of conversation.
For a short time after my bar mitzvah I continued going to Hebrew school, but before long my friends and I stopped attending synagogue and Hebrew school, except for Sunday school, which was mandatory for the next few years. During high school, my participation in our synagogue dropped.
I didn’t fulfill Grandma Katz’s college dream for me. Instead of Brandeis, I chose the University of Illinois. Rhetoric was a required class, so I enrolled, never suspecting that it would change the course of my life. The professor assigned a major research paper, and, for no particular reason, I decided to write a paper on why the Jews at the time of Jesus didn’t think he was the Messiah.
I read what traditional Jewish scholars had to say on the subject—as well as what Christian scholars, secular historians and textual critics had written. I interviewed two rabbis and two Christian ministers. One of the pastors was the leader of a big church I had noticed on campus. The other was a referral from my girlfriend, Laura. Her brother was a religious Christian who had told her that if she ever needed some kind of help, she should go see Pastor Dick Foth.
As soon as I introduced myself to Pastor Foth, he asked if my questions were for my paper or for Stephen Katz. I was surprised, but not put off by his directness. I let him know that my questions were actually for my paper and for Stephen Katz. Halfway through my research I was beginning to lean in the direction that it just might be true—that Jesus might actually be the Messiah.
As I wrote the paper I didn’t disclose my struggle—that I, a Jew, was thinking seriously that Jesus might be the Messiah. I merely reported the views of the Jewish scholars to answer the question I had posed. I got an “A” on the paper and was relieved to be done with it. Perhaps as an emotional defense, I chose to shelve my unanswered personal questions.
Meanwhile, three or four months after I’d written my paper, Laura, said, “Guess what? Jesus and I got together last night!” Not exactly sure what she meant, I didn’t fight her on it. I figured if that made her happy, fine with me.
My parents were Finnish immigrants who raised me in a devout Christian home, and at a young age I “asked Jesus into my heart.” At some point in high school I turned my back on my upbringing. Although I knew I was deeply loved by my parents, they were clueless about the life of an American teenager. In my mind, both their culture and their faith made me different from my friends, and I decided to throw it all away, choosing to forge my own identity. As my father might have put it, I was “drinking, smoking and acting like the devil.” Stephen and I had been in school together since the sixth grade, but we didn’t start dating until after high school graduation. I imagined that I would be “safe” from conversations about Jesus in the context of my relationship with my Jewish boyfriend.
When Stephen started writing his paper on Jesus, he had no idea that I was inwardly panicking. I knew that Jesus was true, and that I been wrong to turn my back on him. At the same time God was drawing Stephen’s attention to Jesus he was also pursuing me through other relationships. The resident advisor on my dorm floor was a gregarious Christian who kept inviting me to a Bible study, and my freshman roommate became a Christian that year.
During spring break, in a telephone conversation with my sister, I prayed to ask God for forgiveness and to recommit myself to following Jesus. In time, I began to read the Bible. Occasionally I would ask Stephen what he thought about various passages. I wasn’t trying to manipulate him, but genuinely wanted his help as I tried to understand what I was reading.
As I looked at the Bible again for the first time since finishing my paper, the questions my research had raised flooded back into my mind. I also began to watch Laura change. She had always loved being the center of attention, even if at times it meant being loud and obnoxious. I saw her begin to soften and become more considerate of others. She used to love to party, but now she was uncomfortable with even my quiet use of marijuana. She seemed centered and more purposeful about life. She was different and I noticed. In fact, it seemed she had found some of the meaning and confidence that I had been seeking.
I met a few other Christians as well and saw similar qualities. I began to pray in a personal way that I hadn’t done since I was a kid: “If there is a God, show me. And if Jesus is the Messiah I’m willing to find out.”
Laura and I had an Irish Setter puppy named Lukas that we loved. One day we lost him. That night a furious, Midwest snowstorm dumped several feet of snow and brought bone-chilling winds. Lukas was so young and so small that I was sure he’d never make it. I asked Laura to pray that we find him. Instead of agreeing to pray, she kicked it back to me and said, “You pray!” I wasn’t experienced at praying, but I cared about the dog so I tried. A couple of days later we got a phone call from someone who had found Lukas—quite a distance away. He had survived the ice and snow and been found, then returned to us. It made quite an impression on me.
That spring, my brother Joel was the bus driver for a Christian music group called “The Living Sound.” They were coming to our hometown of Waukegan, and I invited Stephen to come to my parents’ church where they were playing. He agreed to go on two conditions: He wanted to drive separately from me and my family, and he did not want to sit with us. All of that was fine with me as long as he would have the chance to hear about Jesus. Stephen had never set foot in a church other than when he interviewed the pastors for his college paper. He felt threatened and would only do it on his terms, independent and free to leave at any time. Actually, I don’t know who was more nervous—Stephen or me! I could only imagine how odd it would be for him, but trusted God for what would happen.
I wasn’t used to the Christian music, but the brief talk that the preacher gave made sense. He said that some people there might have problems in their lives that they couldn’t fix. Maybe some of those problems seemed as large as mountains. But then he said, “Jesus can move mountains.” Surprisingly, that made sense to me. I had a problem that I couldn’t fix. Life made no sense to me, and that was depressing. No matter where I looked I couldn’t find meaning. Money wasn’t the answer. Partying wasn’t the answer. Nothing on earth lasted. Life couldn’t be pointless or it wouldn’t be worth living.
Laura invited me to see her brother’s group the next night, but I declined. Though I felt a “pull” to go, my inner “push” was stronger. But that night, when Laura and her family were at the concert, I was completely stirred up inside. I remember actually pacing in my parents’ family room as thoughts raced through my mind. “What do I believe? Is Jesus the Messiah? Why am I upset? What am I going to do? What’s going on?”
Little did Stephen know that I had the music team pray for him before they began their concert that night!
A few weeks later, I did go to see Joel’s music group again, this time in Dayton, Ohio. At the end of the concert they invited people to come up and talk with band members—either to receive Jesus into their life or to talk over personal matters. I prayed an unusual prayer. “God, if you want me to go up there, you have to get me out of my chair and move my legs.” I felt completely unable to take such a step on my own.
At the end of the concert, I did walk forward to find Laura’s brother. He said, “Hi, Steve. What’s happening?” “I don’t know, Joel,” I responded, “but I want to know Jesus.”
Stephen didn’t know that for some time I had been asking family and friends to pray that he would come to believe in Jesus as his Messiah. On the night that I prayed with my sister to follow Jesus, my first impulse afterwards was to ask her to pray for Stephen. She said something to the effect of, “Laura, don’t get your hopes up.” But my hopes were up and I didn’t stop praying and believing that God could get through to him.
After I prayed to receive Jesus with Laura’s brother Joel, I began reading the Bible voraciously and started going to Dick Foth’s church each week. I began to realize from my Bible reading that God is incredibly concerned for the downtrodden in society—the poor, the orphans, widows, all those who are hungry, homeless and lost. The more I read, the more I sensed that I needed to involve myself in these causes. I got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work.
Three weeks after I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I married Laura. We had a Jewish wedding in which we expressed our shared faith in the Messiah Jesus. It was not easy for my family, but thankfully they did come. My family has demonstrated an ability to put loving relationships above anything that might separate us. While I’ve seen other Jewish believers lose family relationships because of their faith, this did not happen in my case.
Stephen and I now have four children: Hani, Arieh, Talia and Mikaela. Their names are all derived from Hebrew. Stephen and I spent our second year of marriage living on a kibbutz in Israel, during which time we fell in love with a few names that we decided to use for our own children.
We have raised our children with the knowledge that Jesus is the promised Jewish Messiah, and also with an understanding of what it means to be Jewish believers in him. In our home we celebrate the Jewish holidays and our kids have all had bar and bat mitzvahs as a way of expressing their intent to identify with our people. Because of their deep appreciation of the Bible and God’s love for the Jewish people, my parents were thrilled that I married a Jewish believer in Jesus. With a big smile, my dad used to say, “I am the grandfather of Abraham’s children.”
After eight or nine years in the field of child welfare, I began to recognize that though the help we gave to young people was important, it was also essentially temporary.
Along with my desire to invest myself in something lasting was my love for my own people. My family and I were active in a Messianic Jewish congregation, and I had always taken opportunities to speak with Jewish people who were interested in my faith. So I joined the staff of Jews for Jesus. I now seek to reach my own people, praying for them and seeing Jesus change the hearts and lives—just as he changed Laura’s and mine—with the good news that the Messiah for Jews and Gentiles has come and that his name is Y’shua—Jesus.