I don’t tell people what to do or what to believe. I was raised the eldest child in a secular Jewish family.
As a kohen, my father has a prestigious Jewish pedigree, but he boasted of being a devout atheist. He often repeated a self-made creed: “There is no God; there is no heaven; there is no hell. Life on earth is an accident, and there is nothing after death.” From the age of three, I used to lie awake at night, terrified at the thought of the nothingness that lay in store for me when I died. But I enjoyed an ongoing childhood conversation with God. I felt as if he sat on the side of my bed and spoke with me. He was like a father to me, and we talked about the big questions, such as, “What is the point of life?”
I got an answer when I died at the age of sixteen. I really did die; I’m here now only because I didn’t die enough. I had just received my driver’s license earlier that month. I drove my sisters, ages fourteen and eleven, out to the ranch where we stabled my horse, Heather. While they waited, I rode off bareback into the hills. Heather and I were on a ridge on our way back to the barn when I heard hoofbeats approaching from behind. A barely trained Arabian with an inexperienced rider came flying around the corner. The rider had lost the reins and was holding on to the horse for dear life. They slammed into us. Heather reared up. I dropped the reins and wrapped my arms around her neck. She reared again, stepping back off the edge of the ridge trail and flipping over upside down. We fell backward onto the slope. She fell across my body, crushing my chest and pelvis and breaking my back.
I died the moment the horse fell across my chest. In every single cell of my body, I knew that I was dead. My soul evacuated completely, and I was immediately thirty feet up in the air, looking down on myself with perfect vision. That was surprising because I ordinarily had poor vision. I had worn thick glasses from the age of seven or eight. I was nearly legally blind. But suddenly, I could see perfectly with telescopic vision and no deficits at all.
I recognized myself immediately. I saw the horse roll over me and toss my body like a ragdoll. I didn’t care. I really had no thought for my body. The death of my body felt inconsequential because I was still me. I watched Heather slide down the slope and run back to the barn, and I watched the white Arabian still careening along with the rider still flapping on her back. At the same time, I could see my sisters back at the barn. One stood by a water trough, screaming and covering her face with her hands. The other sister watched from the car, a look of frozen terror on her face as she pressed it against the car window, watching the accident. I wished my sisters hadn’t had to see me die. I felt heartbroken for them.
At that moment I noticed a light shining over my right shoulder and illuminating everything in front of me. How had I not noticed it before? The light emanated from a man. I turned to look, and he drew up next to me. I recognized him immediately. I knew exactly who he was. There was no doubt in my mind or uncertainty in my heart.
He didn’t come thumping his chest, saying, “I am Jesus. Believe in me!” He was just there, loving me. As I looked at his face, I realized that I had known him my entire life. We had been best friends. He had been my brother. He had been my father. I knew that I had known him since I was conceived. He was everything to me. I could not look away from his face. He had the most engaging smile, the most infectious grin, eyes that radiated joy and happiness and life and love. He was completely human. I stared at his face; I memorized his face.
He had shoulder-length, chestnut-brown hair with a few lighter streaks and a beard and mustache—not a long beard but one trimmed the way guys wear them today. His eyes shone a brilliant blue. (I was reluctant to tell anyone about the blue eyes because every Jewish person I knew at the time, except for my dad, had brown eyes.) He had a long, thin nose, and it was crooked. I looked at that and thought, “It’s so great that his nose is crooked!” It was perfect in its crookedness. He had a gorgeous mouth and beautiful teeth that came together in that infectious grin.
He wore something like a whitish robe. He had long, slender hands with beautiful fingers and long, slender feet. He stood about five foot ten and was about 163-165 pounds. He was perfect. There was nothing imperfect about anything I saw. His voice was melodious like music, clear as a bell, if you can imagine the clarity of the most perfect-sounding bell you could ever hear. I don’t know how he spoke because we weren’t moving our mouths, but we were speaking. There was never any question that what he said was absolutely, unequivocally true. There was never any doubt when he spoke.
He showed me a life review. I was a pretty good kid. I was kind to other people. I realized that the only person I was hurting was myself. I was getting into drugs. I was hanging out with a bad crowd. I was pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable and was engaging in self-destructive behavior. He didn’t scold me. There was no finger-wagging or lecturing. He showed me the few times that I had hurt people. I saw how my words and actions had impacted others.
For example, he pointed a scene out to me and asked, “Would you like to look at this?” I could have said no. I actually had the choice, but I wasn’t going to refuse. He showed me a scene where I was ten years old. My father was driving me to Hebrew school, and we picked up a thirteen-year-old neighborhood boy. He was small for his age; I was a tall kid. I didn’t dislike him, but I just blurted out, “Why are you so shrimpy?” When I heard myself say that, I felt his heart shrink. I experienced it from within his body; I felt the impact of my words. It broke my heart. I realized that what we say and do here affects everyone we meet—even people we don’t meet. We need to pay attention to what we say and do in this life because our words and actions have tremendous meaning and impact.
Throughout this life review, I judged my own actions and words. Jesus never said a word of condemnation. He only allowed me to experience what I had done.
At that point, I had no more questions. I’d always had questions ever since I was a little kid. “What’s the meaning of life?” “Why are we here?” “Is there a God?” I had no more questions. All my questions were answered. I understood everything. Later, after the experience, I couldn’t remember what I had so clearly understood. I only remember that I had understood it.
I also felt the absence of time. I had no time, and at the same time, I had all the time in the world. Time simply did not matter when I was dead.
After the life review, Jesus took my hand, and we surfed over a wave of light that rolled under our feet and pushed us forward. The light tickled the bottoms of my feet. I looked down and saw both of our feet, his feet and my feet standing on the light. The light rolled in sparkles and colors. Jesus grinned from ear to ear. We laughed and talked as we surfed along. I didn’t feel disembodied. I could feel the pressure and warmth of his hand in mine. We went faster and faster and faster. We were no longer on this plane of existence.
We approached a barrier like a doorway or a threshold. Before we crossed the threshold, everything had been individual things. Once we crossed the threshold, everything became One Thing, and I knew that One Thing was God. Jesus and I were still ourselves, but the One Thing was God—an undifferentiated light.
The light was alive. It was love. It was the brightest thing I have ever seen, yet I could look directly into it. It was not hot. It filled my entire field of vision. There was no flaw in that light. There was no blemish in that light. It was perfect and infinite in its scope. Jesus took me directly into that light, and the next thing I knew, I found myself sitting on God’s lap—in the lap of light, surrounded by love and acceptance. I put my arms around him. I buried my face in his chest. He had his arms around me, and I kicked my feet like a little girl sitting on her dad’s lap. I would have been happy to stay there for all eternity with my face buried in God’s chest.
I didn’t see God’s face. I kept my face buried in his chest. I didn’t even look up. I sat there for a long time until, at last, he lifted a corner of his robe of light, so to speak, and I found myself looking at green grass at an infinite distance away. The grass was alive. I could see every single blade of grass at once, each illuminated by the light. It absolutely mesmerized and fascinated me. I looked a little further and saw flowers. At once, I could see every part of every flower: every petal, leaf, vein, and grain of pollen. Their colors amazed me. The light illuminated them as they swayed in it. I saw trees, and I could see every tree’s leaves and every leaf’s veins. The leaves quivered in the light like aspens shaking in the wind. The grass, the flowers, and the trees were singing. They made music. They sang the praises of God. I could also see a pathway beyond and figures coming toward me. They were singing as well, but I could not see them clearly. There was a veil between us.
At that moment, Jesus interrupted the vision. “You didn’t die. You have to go back.”
I put my face back into God’s chest, and I objected, “No, I’m not going back.”
He said, “You didn’t die. You have to go back.”
I said, “No, I’m not going back.” I screamed and shrieked, “I’m not going back! I’ll feel pain!”
This time there was no tunnel, no surfing, and no transition. Instantly I was above my body and sucked inside it so abruptly that I hit the inside of my skull. In those claustrophobic confines, I experienced a panic attack. I was shrieking and screaming and struggling inside my body. But Jesus was in there with me, and he smoothed my arms into my arms, and he smoothed my legs into my legs, and he made me whole again body and soul.
Then he took his finger and literally wrote something on my heart with the tip of his finger. He wrote, “All paths lead to truth.” I can’t forget that. It’s written on my heart. I knew exactly what he meant. It didn’t mean I was going to become a Buddhist. It meant, “Everything matters, and in the end, you will see me because, in the end, I am truth.” I take it to mean that all those who seek will find. I’m Jewish. I keep kosher in my home. When I attend services, I attend a Chabad synagogue, which I love. I love the rabbi there. But I also attend an Evangelical church close to my house. I love the pastors. I see no conflict between the two paths.
The last thing Jesus said to me was, “Your life is in good hands.” I suffered a long, painful recovery. I still experience some back pain from time to time. I had a doctor look at my back, and he asked me, “When you broke your back, how did you get these vertebrae fused?” I didn’t know they had been fused. He said, “Well, somehow, they’ve fused themselves.” I believe that was the work of the good hands.
While still in the hospital, I told my parents, “I died, and I went to heaven. I saw Jesus.” My mom, who has been somewhat agnostic her whole life, said, “Oh honey, don’t be silly.” My father turned pale and left the room. He had often remarked, “Jesus is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind.” Since that day, he has never wanted to hear another word about my experience. My parents called a psychiatrist. He didn’t know how to deal with what I was telling him. They called the rabbi, who was actually an atheist himself. He said, “When we’re unconscious, we hallucinate; we imagine a lot of things.” I said, “I wasn’t unconscious; I was dead.” After that, I didn’t want to talk to anybody about the experience.
My life changed dramatically. Before the near-death experience, I had thought, “What’s the point of living beyond forty?” I had been skipping school. I had been hanging out with the wrong crowd. Afterward, I told them, “I don’t want to see you again.” I broke up with my boyfriend. No more fighting with my parents. No more wild and crazy behavior. I focused on school, graduated a year early, and went to Israel. I had not even read the New Testament, but I wanted to walk where Jesus had walked. I had to see where he had come from. At the age of seventeen, I spent six months in ulpan (Hebrew language school) on a kibbutz about an hour from Nazareth. I spent the rest of the year touring the Galilee, Jerusalem, the West Bank, Bethlehem, and a lot of other places where Jesus had been. Something within me resonated and came to life within the land. I was walking on the bones of history.
You might meet God, but that doesn’t mean that your life will be perfect afterward. Things were never perfect for me. Things aren’t perfect now. There are excellent things here, but perfection doesn’t exist on earth except, every once in a while, in a sunset. Each sunset is unique. That’s why I don’t tell people what to do or what to believe.