Dissident Voices

Matthew's story

In 1982, aged 5, I was kicking a ball against my neighbour's wall on the council estate I lived on. Two men suddenly ran towards me, both cut badly. The first man pushed by me while the second lunged after him with a knife. I recall being rooted to the spot with fear, unable to move. A couple of minutes later the second man reappeared, covered in blood and looking like he had been sprayed with paint. I stood there wondering how he could be soaked in so much blood and still walk. He bent down and smiled at me. All I really remember about him was his smile as he patted me on the head and told me “He had it coming”.  Those words stayed with me all my life and influenced my thinking as I grew.

I was aware of my Jewish identity from an early age. My grandfather took pride in his heritage and instilled moral values into me, teaching me that the Ten Commandments were the basis for a just society. He taught me to stand up for myself, but disagreed with the use of violence unless as a last resort of self-defence. 

Despite this, growing up on the estate I learnt about hatred from an early age. I feared the older boys who roamed the estate taking great pleasure in 'kike bashing'. My nights were spent in fear of my protestant step-father's drunken rages, or the beatings from my mother who, unable to break free from her own misery, vented upon me with a broom handle or anything else that came to hand. I learned that to be weak was to invite pain, or to be generous meant that you would be robbed blind, and also soon learned to hate all Gentiles. I trusted nobody with the exception of my grandparents, who tried to tame my increasingly violent nature. 

By the time I reached my teens I had learnt to control people using the fear of violence. This awareness initially came to fruition when I was eleven years old. I was the only Jew in my secondary school and there was large number of students who delighted in tormenting me. One particular gang would bully me endlessly. One afternoon I walked into the science class and started a fight with a gang member. I took a savage beating from the gang and was suspended for 3 weeks. The head-teacher asked me why I did it. I just shrugged and said “He had it coming.” 

A short stint in the juvenile correctional system made me realise I did not want to be a petty thug, so I spent my days studying and discovered a passion for reading. I began to study religions and their historical roots. These pursuits were not for self-improvement, but rather to help me deride the beliefs of others. Since so many of my peers had negative views of Judaism, I considered it my duty to point out that their beliefs were nothing but fantasy, or a clone of the Jewish faith, warped to suit their own ends.

By this point I was living a double lifestyle. By day I was a hard working student, caring for his family and contributing to the household income. By night I was living a lifestyle of drugs, alcohol, and violence. The reason for this behaviour was simpleā€¦I enjoyed it.  

My brother was a career criminal who took me under his wing. With a few words he could raise a rage in me that frightened his enemies no end. He suffered from a heart condition and had realised that he would not live to see 30. As a result he was fearless, having no remorse, no pity, no fear of death. I ached to have that security, I always felt that I was letting my fears destroy me and that perhaps God was punishing me for my sins. 

It would be easy to say that my brother took advantage and made me this way but it wouldn’t be true as our relationship was symbiotic. It always amused my brother that I would not involve myself in the sale of drugs, stolen goods, or injure a ‘civilian’, yet I could batter a ‘criminal’ with no feeling of remorse. I always said I feared for my soul and was sure that I was beyond redemption, but that was no excuse not to at least try. 

Following an incident during which I was kidnapped at gunpoint, had my fingers and some toes broken following one of my brother’s business deals going sour, I decided I would be better off out of Leeds so I could attempt to live a normal life. I went to university in the mid-1990s but found the experience empty and lifeless. I joined a small Jewish study group, expressing my desire to try and get back closer to God and at first things went well. We would discuss the Tanakh, and how it applied in modern day terms. Some of the group seemed a little more extreme in their views, especially their dislike of Gentiles. I was asked to a few meetings where the idea that Gentiles (especially Muslims) were the real enemy of not only Israel, but all Jews, was promoted. I split with them as they became increasingly radical and I told them that I would never hurt a ‘citizen’ even if I disliked them. Looking back I think the embers of my conscience were trying to reassert some form of control over me. I left with the word ‘traitor’ ringing in my ears. 

At the end of April 1997 I heard my brother was ill. I dropped everything and rushed back to Leeds. His health had nosedived and he was in hospital hooked to a morphine drip. His eyes bore into mine, burning with a hatred I had only ever seen in myself. He gripped my arm and whispered in my ear that he only had a few weeks left. 

I assured him he would be back up on his feet in no time. He laughed and said I was a fool but he loved me (the only time in my life he ever told me that). He then pulled me down and told me he was afraid! I was shocked as he had never shown any fear of anything before. He said that he feared death because I was going to be alone, and that he believed God had damned him. I assured him that God still loved him and we would always be together as we were brothers. The next six weeks were the closest to hell that I have had to endure. Each day I could see him slipping away, his morphine intake was rising rapidly so he was rarely conscious.  When my brother died part of me died along with him.

By this time I was in a desert both spiritually and emotionally. I had no faith in people or God and became obsessed with my brother’s death. I was convinced, as my brother was before he died, that someone had poisoned him and I was intent on finding out who was responsible. It consumed me totally. I wanted revenge and would go to any length to get it.  People began to avoid me in case I thought them to be involved in some slight against my brother. Over the next two years as I searched I survived numerous attacks and three stabbings.

Shortly after this I met my future wife who gradually brought me out of my shell and showed me that I could allow myself to have emotions. She introduced me to her friend Richard whom she felt that I would benefit from meeting. I was not too impressed at the thought of meeting a stranger (my distrust was still running high) but she pestered me until I gave in. The first thing I found when meeting Richard was that I liked him and his wife. Whilst this might seem normal (they are both very likable people) this was something which I found very unsettling. 

At first I thought Richard was also Jewish and so looking back on it I had lowered my misanthropy enough to hold a conversation with him. I was back on full guard when I learnt he was a Christian minister. My first thought was ‘Oh goy!’ I gave him the most blistering outline of what I thought about God, the testaments and where he could stick them! I told him they were a fabrication, outright lies, and Yeshua was just a man who had been nailed to some wood for what result? We still had war, famine and evil. I was amazed that he was not offended in the slightest. I spent a good hour attacking his beliefs while he calmly countered each point with an argument from the scriptures. I saw this as a challenge to my pride! How dare some goy present reasonable arguments based on something I had sworn was nothing but lies?

We spoke again and he invited me to some further discussions, setting me a challenge to come back at him with any question I wanted. I couldn’t resist; here was a man who was prepared to answer anything no matter how difficult or deliberately loaded. 

As the discussions progressed Richard showed me that before I could understand anything I had to understand what it was that drove me to be the person I was. With his help and mentoring I was able to examine my prejudices and slowly come to accept where I was wrong and work on becoming a more tolerant person. 

He showed me that not every Gentile hated the Jewish people and that many shared a heritage with us through Yeshua. I spent 10 years studying with Richard before I came to accept that Yeshua was indeed the Messiah promised to us by God. 

People often ask why it took 10 years. I had so many questions and doubts about how God could love something as broken as me, and how he could, through that love, send his Son to be sacrificed so that I did not have to suffer. For me that was the biggest mind bending issue, more than any miracle or prophecy, that no matter how much sin I had done there was still a place in God’s heart for me. For many years I always believed that God at best was indifferent to me or at worst hated me and wanted to see me suffer (like Job). I came to realise that I brought my own pain upon myself. I look back over my life and know that God was watching over me. 

There was dozens of times where I should have died but I am still here. I failed to recognise that the embers of my conscience were God’s way of saying He had not abandoned me in my anger or grief but that I had turned away from him. Since embracing my faith I have slowly rebuilt my life. I have built a strong marriage where I was able to learn to trust and share with people not only God Most of all I have learned to forgive not only myself, but also those who sought to hurt me and my brother. I no longer seek revenge and can now sleep at night. 

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