From Marx to Christ

Alexander (“Sasha”) Bolotnikov always considered himself to be a Communist. After all, his grandfather had been a colonel in the KGB, his parents had encouraged him to participate wholeheartedly in all of the Party’s youth activities, and he himself planned to one day be a nuclear physicist, designing missiles to help defend the Motherland.

But then one day, his dreams came crashing down. The very system that he loved and supported turned on him, denying the specialized training he sought. All because of one little word stamped in his passport—Yevrei, Jew.

That’s when Alexander decided to find out his real roots of what it means to be a Jew. The journey would eventually lead him to Jesus Christ.

We join him now as he is about to enjoy his first Jewish experience—a concert presented by Rabbi Shlomo Carlibach.

Kiev was known for its anti-Semitism and this concert was the first-ever public Jewish event in the city. Posters advertising the concert had been put up all over, so it was no surprise that a large number of Jews would be going to the Palace of Culture that Friday evening. I noticed that many of the men had put on their yarmulkes as soon as they entered the palace.

Walking upstairs to the first balcony, I found my seat on the front row. Never had I seen so many Jews—the 1,000-seat hall was nearly filled to capacity. For nearly every one of us, it was to be our first introduction to our roots, our first public affirmation of our cultural heritage.

As the lights dimmed, a middle-aged man with a full beard stepped on stage. He was holding a guitar, and I could see a small band behind him. The stage lights came on and he began to speak in Hebrew with a Russian translator by his side.

“Four thousand years ago, there were great civilizations—the Moabites, the Babylonians, the Midianites, and the Jews. But today, where are these great civilizations? They are all gone—except the Jews. We are here tonight. After 4,000 years we are still here.”

Then beginning with the Exodus, Rabbi Shlomo Carlibach began to teach us our multi-millennial history through music and words. “Through this day and night, He made us alive!” said Rabbi Carlibach, referring to the first Passover in Egypt. “Who is this ‘He’?” I wondered.

The rabbi plucked the introductory minor notes on his guitar, which were quickly joined by a consistent, syncopated beat on the snare drum and cymbals, followed by words describing God’s deliverance of His people from all of their enemies down through history. Interwoven throughout the melody were several interesting and unusual sounds coming from drums, cymbals, clarinet and guitar. It was the first time I had ever heard such music, and I was immediately entranced.

The music, with its powerful words, made a big impression on me. The songs continued to roll over me—”Glorious Is He,” “For From Zion Comes the Law,” “Rejoice!” The rabbi had wisely arranged the concert as a musical survey covering Jewish history and faith—the Exodus, God and His glory, the Torah, the future redemption of Jerusalem through the Messiah.

As I continued listening, I found answers to some of my questions. “God is keeping the Jewish people,” said the rabbi. “He is to be glorified. We were in Egypt and He saved us. In Babylon and He saved us. All nations from that time have disappeared. But God has kept us alive and we have remained a separate people among the nations for thousands of years,” the rabbi said. As the music began again, the thought slowly started to dawn on me that here was more than culture, more than history. I began to realize that the Jewish culture is blended with and based on religion. The music I was listening to was not just folk music—these songs were about God. I realized that God was the center of Jewish thinking, and that Jews attribute all great historical events to Him. These were totally new concepts for me.

Rabbi Carlibach strummed his guitar, slowly at first, as he sang. After a couple of phrases, the tempo picked up quickly, with the chorus and tambourines joining in. Soon the audience began clapping their hands with the strong rhythm of the song. Then suddenly everything stopped. “What are you waiting for?” the rabbi asked. “Why are you so reluctant?”

In a moment, hundreds of us were on our feet. Several men from the chorus, with brimmed black hats, jumped from the stage to join us in our first Jewish dance.

Drawn by an irresistible urge, I left my balcony seat, and along with several other newly discovered Jews, headed down to the main floor. Here was something that felt like “mine”—but it was also something really, really unknown. In any case, I knew I needed to be there.

On the main level, I stood side by side with others. Shoulder to shoulder, we stood and grasped each other’s arms and began moving sideways like a giant merry-go-round. The music picked up again, and the rabbi started where he had left off. Soon I began to feel that I was actually a part of this great nation with a long history, a nation that owed its existence and survival only to God Almighty.

Sasha continued his search, digging deeper and deeper into Jewish thought and tradition, and into the Old Testament. While he continued his search to find real meaning in life, his path crossed with those of many other interesting characters—ranging from Satan worshipers to Christians. The tension grew until finally he was faced with a decision he didn’t want to make.

My mind was churning with heavy questions: What will I do with my life? What kind of future will it have? Will the Messiah ever come? And if He doesn’t, what or who am I expecting? What reasons do I have right now for not believing the prophecy in Daniel 9?

I had been expecting the Messiah to come and explain these difficult passages, but what if He didn’t come? Who would give me an explanation? And did an alternative explanation even exist when the text seems to indicate so clearly that the Messiah would be put to death before the destruction of the Temple?

But how could it be that for so many centuries such great rabbis as Rashi, Maimonides and others could not discover the meaning of Daniel 9? How could it be that the Talmud did not give a word of explanation? Indeed instead of giving an explanation, it only pronounced a curse upon anyone who would attempt to calculate the 70 weeks. And why was it forbidden to read Isaiah 53 in the synagogue? I remembered my various conversations with Tolik and Oleg where important questions about sin and the atonement had been raised. These questions were now screaming in my mind. How could I ever make atonement for my sins? Isaiah 53 says that the suffering servant can do it, but if I don’t accept this suffering servant as my Messiah, what am I going to do with my sins?

Oleg’s arguments were right. This “Kol Nidrei” prayer that we sang every Yom Kippur really didn’t help solve the sin problem. It seemed like a ritual I went through to satisfy my feelings. Do I really do all that the Torah requires me to do? If not, then I have been a sinner for many years and I desperately need Someone to take my sins away.

What if Christ really is the Messiah? I wondered. And what if I accept Him? What will the other students at the Yeshiva think of me? I will be a traitor—the worst thing a Jew could ever be. They’ll call me a vykrest—a Jew who has been baptized a Christian. Vykrest is a word full of shame. We were told that the vykrests were always our worst enemies—even worse than the Jesuits or the tormentors of the Inquisition.

As I continued wrestling with these seemingly unanswerable questions, another voice suddenly began to speak louder than my own thoughts: “Weigh all of the pros and cons. What is more important to you—to have atonement for your sins or not to be called a traitor? And even after you accept Christ as the Messiah it doesn’t mean that you are turning your back on Judaism. You are not going to go back to the synagogue and try to do something mean and revengeful. Whom are you going to hurt by accepting Christ? Are you going to hurt the rabbi? How is your decision going to hurt the synagogue?”

The voice continued, “Your decision is your personal business. It is not anyone else’s business. And by your decision you are not going to harm anyone else. But if you don’t accept Christ and your sins are not remitted, isn’t that going to hurt you? And if you find out later that Christ is not the Messiah, what have you lost by accepting Him now?”

The arguments were reasonable. There was nothing more that could be said. I had to make a decision, so I made it and fell into a calm sleep.

Alexander Bolotnikov was eventually baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He later completed a master’s degree in religion at Andrews University and is now teaching at Zaoksky Theological Seminary, in Russia. His mailing address: Rudneva Street, 43-A; 301000 Zaoksky, Tula Region; Russian Federation. E-mail: zaokthl@tula.net Gina Wahlen is a free-lance writer residing in Cambridge, England. This article is based on the book, True Believer, by Alexander Bolotnikov as told to Gina Wahlen (Hagerstown, Maryland: Review and Herald Publ. Assn., 1997). This book was reviewed in Dialogue 11:2, pp. 30, 31.