Sid Roth - President of Synagogue Fired for Belief in Jesus
Sid Roth: Should the president of a large conservative synagogue be fired just because he believes Jesus is the Jewish Messiah? Next, on this edition of "It's Supernatural"!
Sid Roth: Hello, I'm Sid Roth, your investigative reporter, and Steve and Monica Kowalsky. Steve's president of his large conservative synagogue in Utica, New York. He becomes a believer in Jesus, but there's a slight problem, you know, being president of a conservative synagogue and a believer in Jesus. Tell me when you got a phone call one day and you knew that they knew you believed in Jesus as the Messiah.
Steve Kowalsky: Well, I was sitting in my office, Sid, at my business, and I get a call from the head of the ritual committee and he asked me one question. He said, "Do you believe in Jesus, because if you do and if you're "Jewish for Jesus", then you can't be president of the synagogue".
Sid Roth: Let's flash back ten years. In fact, even before that. Tell me about your Jewish background.
Steve Kowalsky: Well, my family's been Jewish forever, as far as I know, and I'm a 4th-generation Jew in this country: and I was raised a Jew - celebrated all the holidays. I was circumcised on the 8th day. I was bar mitzvahed. I later went on to get on the board of the synagogue and then finally worked up to president of the synagogue.
Sid Roth: Now, Monica, you were not raised Jewish, but you converted. What type of Judaism did you convert to?
Monica Kowalsky: I was orthodox.
Sid Roth: And why did you?
Monica Kowalsky: That was really not my choice, but there were orthodox rabbis there with my rabbi when they spoke to me after the...
Sid Roth: But why did you convert to Judaism?
Monica Kowalsky: Oh, I really don't know. I just felt when I met Steve and he spoke about his Judaism, I was drawn to, you know, a man of faith.
Sid Roth: So you did it for him, or would you say...
Monica Kowalsky: No, it did something to me inside. It brought something alive in me. I really felt the connection there.
Sid Roth: So you liked being part of the Jewish community.
Monica Kowalsky: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I wouldn't trade that for the world. It just felt right.
Sid Roth: Now, Steve, you were a successful business man. Tell me about your business.
Steve Kowalsky: Well, the business, again, 4th-generation in the family for our business. We're in the recycling business in upstate New York and my grandfather's uncle started the business with a horse and cart way back in the early 1900s and we've just grown the business over the course of four generations.
Sid Roth: So, why does such an established, nice, if I might say, Jewish family become drug addicts and alcoholics?
Steve Kowalsky: Well, I'm not exactly sure why we became that way, but maybe pressures of life. I'm not sure. You know, a lot of people say, "Well, Jews don't have a problem with alcohol". "They don't have a problem with drugs", and that's not necessarily so. I mean, in our case it wasn't so. In my case, and certainly I've met many other Jewish people who have the same problem who are getting help for it, and -
Sid Roth: So take me to that night where you came home and you were so angry.
Steve Kowalsky: Well, it was in the middle of the day, actually, Sid, and I left work and I came home and I said, you know, I'm done. I've had it. If there's a truck in the road, I'm gonna steer in front of it and I want to end it. I can't stand the pain. And no truck was there. I get home. Monica and I had this tremendous argument. I threw her engagement ring across the room and I said - she kept saying, "What do you want from me? What do you want from me"? And I felt this welling up inside me, this powerful thing coming up, and out of my mouth came these words: "I just want to be loved". It scared me. I went running down the hall to our bedroom, you know, and in anguish my hand went out against the wall, my hand went through the wall...
Sid Roth: Through the - was it a flimsy wall?
Steve Kowalsky: No, it was, you know, half-inch plaster wall, and I went - our door - our bedroom door was at the end of the hall. I went into our bedroom, slammed the door. I heard the door crack. I jumped into bed, threw the covers over my head and just started crying and screaming and said, "God, I'll do anything! Just please stop this pain! I'll do anything to stop this pain"! And I kept saying that over and over, that "I'll do anything, God", and it was the first time I really truly cried out for God in my heart, ever: really, truly cried out for him. And he answered the prayer.
Sid Roth: You went into an AA program, you got....
Steve Kowalsky: Went to a rehab, went to an AA program. After that...
Sid Roth: Were you set free?
Steve Kowalsky: I was set free before I went to the rehab. I was set free the moment I asked...
Sid Roth: How can you get free from - that's a strong addiction, alcohol and drugs.
Steve Kowalsky: Tremendous!
Sid Roth: You just - instantly you got set free?
Steve Kowalsky: I'll tell you, when I went to the rehab - there was all these other people in the rehab - and they were telling me in the meetings at the rehab, they were saying how hard it was for them and how they really wanted some alcohol or some drugs or something, and I was sitting there thinking, what are they talking about? I don't have any - not only don't I want them, but God really even took the memory of the drugs and the alcohol away from me. It was powerful.
Sid Roth: Monica, how about you? How about your drug and alcohol problem?
Monica Kowalsky: Well, when he went through this period I supported him and I didn't think that I had a problem with alcohol or drugs, because when you went into the rehab it got rid of everything, and supported him with the aa program. I never locked into it like he did as far as, like, going to the meetings every day, sometimes twice a day, but we - our friends changed so we had to let go of the past pretty much. It was very difficult because people kept calling and asking for drugs and there was none to be found and we didn't want to have to explain a lot of things to them. But I knew that it was the right thing. I mean, we felt like...
Sid Roth: But you still had a drinking problem!
Monica Kowalsky: Yeah, later on. Yeah, much later. We had really not necessarily grown close with that. We really didn't share the same things. He was really plugged in and I was pretty much, like, standing with him but not fully plugged in. I did - I ended up drinking and one night I got picked up for DWI, and it was a horrible night. I was arrested and handcuffed. Steve was out of town at the time. We were also going through a divorce. We had decided we were going to part ways and I went out to drink. I think I was - there was something lacking inside of me. I knew I was empty. I needed something and alcohol never did it, but it was something I could...
Sid Roth: How did you feel when you were arrested and how did they - did they just see you driving drunk? Is that how they picked -
Monica Kowalsky: No. Actually, my husband, Steven, had said to my girls that if they ever saw me drinking and they had to get in the car with me to call the police.
Sid Roth: So, you're - how old is your daughter?
Monica Kowalsky: She's 19 now.
Sid Roth: How old was she when this happened?
Monica Kowalsky: This was - she was about 16, something like that.
Sid Roth: She turned you in. Police pick you up, and what did - did they put you actually in the jail?
Monica Kowalsky: No. They brought me down and booked me and fingerprinted and took the pictures and, you know, I had the whole...
Sid Roth: How'd you feel?
Monica Kowalsky: I felt humiliated. I felt like a lousy mother.
Sid Roth: Hold that thought. We'll be right back.
Sid Roth: Hello, I'm Sid Roth, your investigative reporter. I'm chatting with Steve and Monica Kowalsky. And Steve - president of his conservative synagogue, successful business man, alcoholic, drug addict - gets set free when he says, "God, I'll do anything you want"! But his wife was still an alcoholic. And as a matter of fact, Monica, a month before you got arrested and humiliated with the DWI, something really unusual happened to you. Tell me about it.
Monica Kowalsky: Right. I think the Lord was really calling me because I went to have my fortune told, or whatever they do, soothSayers do up north. There's a little town pretty well known near Buffalo where people go up to get their fortunes told and whatever you want to have done, and I went with a group of ladies. The ladies always went out, you know, for the weekend type of thing, shopping and doing this stuff. So I went along with these friends of mine and I had mine done first and then I went back to the hotel. It was a little community, so they were actually, like, row by row houses with these witches and soothSayers in them, and the hotel was right in the center of it near, like, next to a lake. So I was in the room sitting there. The sun is pouring in and I started to hear this music downstairs. There was a group of people, and there must have been, like, a little church or chapel, whatever, nearby, and this group of people was by the lake and they were singing "Amazing grace" and that song just did something to me. It was so powerful. I had never heard "Amazing grace" sung like that in acapella, and I sat on the edge of the bed and I went out. I mean, I literally...
Sid Roth: What do you mean you went out?
Monica Kowalsky: I don't know. I just passed out and when I came to, I heard this banging at the door and that's what woke me up. I was startled and I sat up and I went, "Oh"! It must have been one of my friends coming back to the room. So I got up and went to the door and there was nobody there.
Sid Roth: So, now, a month later, you get humiliated. Your own daughter calls the police department. They arrest you for driving under the influence of alcohol. They take you - you're humiliated. Then what happened?
Monica Kowalsky: Well, the next day I woke up. My husband, Steven, wasn't home yet. He had gone to Double Bris in New York. He wasn't home and I didn't go with him, but we were going through divorce so we were ready to sign the papers that week. I had to tell him - he called me from the train. I said something happened. Actually my heart was in the right place because when I woke up that morning I was repenting to everyone. I was calling people who I had hurt and asked for forgiveness. I asked the babysitter for forgiveness. I asked my children for forgiveness, my best friend, who came and rescued me from the police station. If I had hurt anybody, please, forgive me. So Steven called and I said, "I have to tell you what happened", and I told him and he just was so happy that that happened and I couldn't understand, so what's going to happen when he gets home because he's going to kick me out because we had already worked out the divorce arrangements and...
Sid Roth: So you were headed toward divorce - both of you...
Monica Kowalsky: Yeah. I was going to get the kids and I would have the house and...
Sid Roth: Why did you want to divorce this woman?
Steve Kowalsky: Oh, because I had been sober and drug-free for ten years. She was - her drinking problem was getting worse and worse and worse and I just couldn't take it anymore. And I just came home - she was in Louisiana for a couple of weeks visiting her family and when she came home, even before she came home I called her up and I said, "This is it. I just, you know, when you get home I want to start the proceedings for separation and divorce".
Sid Roth: Now, Monica, you called a friend that you knew was a Christian and he introduced you to his pastor. You went to the pastor, and what happened?
Monica Kowalsky: Well, the pastor said to me after two hours of speaking with him, as we're walking out of his office, "Your marriage is not over. I believe your marriage will be healed". And I just, you know, I looked at him, I said, "What are you talking about? We're going to do this"! I never thought there was anything wrong with divorcing someone. I had never heard that divorce - I always thought it was an option, you know. I didn't know God hates divorce, so when I was hearing this Christian man, this assistant pastor telling me this, I said, "Oh, okay, if you say so", but in my heart I didn't really know what he meant by that. But what he did was, he planted a seed of belief, you know, that I would receive and I walked out of there changed. I mean, it was little by little, "Layer upon layer, precept upon precept", that I was changing.
Sid Roth: Actually you started going to a church service there. Tell me about it.
Monica Kowalsky: He invited me to the church service that week. Now, this was a Tuesday. He said Thursday night was a service that they have midweek, so I said, well, okay, I'll do that. So I did go and when I walked in, immediately when I sat down in my seat was the group musicians up there playing '"Amazing grace" and -
Sid Roth: The same song that had such an effect a month earlier.
Monica Kowalsky: And I sat there weeping, and I couldn't believe - I said "This is what he wants. God wants me. That's what it is. God wants me", and I was drawn to the presence of God there.
Sid Roth: Now, Steve, when your wife told you that she's going to a church and she now believes in Jesus, she converted to traditional Judaism, what did you think?
Steve Kowalsky: Well, I was president of the synagogue at the time and I said, you know, of course we were getting divorced, so I almost didn't care in a way, but I did because of our situation, and I said, "Listen, I don't care what you say, just don't tell them your last name because I don't want it to get back to the synagogue that my wife is going to a church".
Sid Roth: What difference does it make? You're divorcing this woman!
Steve Kowalsky: Well, something in me said to tell her that, you know? And so, I did. But every Sunday morning she'd get up and she would get dressed in this white dress, or, you know, with a Bible under her arm and scoot off to this church and I'm - finally one day I said, "You know, I'd better go with you, because I just want to see - I don't want to see anything strange happen to you". I mean, we still have our children and all that, and so I went and I walked in there and it was so foreign to me. I'm telling you, it was so foreign to me - this church, this service, the talking about Jesus, the preaching: it was all foreign to me. I remember they asked for people to come up for prayer. Monica says, "Well, go up there," and I went up there but nothing really happened.
Sid Roth: But then you got a phone call from a friend. You're talking to this person and he tells you about a rabbi, Barry Feinman. Tell me about him.
Steve Kowalsky: Right. I was sitting in my office one day and this guy who we do business with, a Jewish fellow who, he and his wife had been witnessing to Monica and I for a number of years about Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah. He called and asked for my brother about some business thing and I said, "I'll take that call". And I said, "Sam, I've got a problem. I'm president of the synagogue, as you know. Monica, my wife, has been going, running around to churches on Sunday mornings. What do I do, Sam"? He said, "Wait, hold on. I'm going to have this messianic rabbi - this rabbi call you from Albany". So that night, or the next night, I get a call at home from a rabbi, Barry Feinman from Albany, and I wasn't there. Monica and I happened to be out somewhere together, and when I got home I called him back. It was 10 o'clock at night. It was a Friday night, and I called him, and the conversation went on for two hours.
Sid Roth: Two hours?
Steve Kowalsky: Yes.
Sid Roth: Hold that thought. He didn't know it, but this rabbi was a messianic Jewish rabbi, a rabbi that believes Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. Wait until you hear what happens next on "It's Supernatural"! Be right back.
Sid Roth: Hello, Sid Roth, your investigative reporter. So, Steve Kowalsky, president of his traditional synagogue in Utica, New York, a big synagogue. About ready - headed toward divorce with his wife, as his wife is still drinking. They were both into drugs and alcohol. He got supernaturally set free! But, they're headed toward divorce and he's on the telephone at 10 p.M. At night with a messianic Jewish rabbi asking questions, and after two hours of conversation with rabbi Barry Feinman, you decided to go to his congregation: and what was it like?
Steve Kowalsky: Well, he invited us to the rosh hashanah service, of all services, which was coming up within a week or two, and I said, "Well, we'll try to come", and he really didn't think I was coming because he said, "Well, president of a synagogue, he's just - really kind of humoring me". But, really what happened was, something was stirring inside me, and he told me to read Isaiah 53. That night I read Isaiah 53 and the words were leaping up off the page. I said "There's something about this". So it really stirred something inside me, but for a president of a conservative synagogue not to be at his synagogue on rosh hashanah, you know, was...
Sid Roth: That's unusual.
Steve Kowalsky: That's very unusual, but I told the rabbi and the executive director that we were going to Albany. We were invited to be with friends and so we went, and when I walked into that messianic synagogue, and believe me, Sid, it was like a storefront. The conservative synagogue was, like, palatial, so I walked in and I was like, "Hmm, what is this place"? But when I stepped inside this building I just felt I was home. The service started, you know...
Sid Roth: What made you feel that you were home?
Steve Kowalsky: I don't know. It was a feeling inside me. It was just a feeling. And we went into the sanctuary and the service started in about 10 or 15 minutes, and I just started weeping. I hadn't cried in years! Tears were rolling down my cheek, and eventually, and I don't even remember the series of events, but at some point in the service the rabbi asked if anybody would like to, you know, accept Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah, into their heart. My hand went up. I mean, it was just - it went up. It surprised me.
Sid Roth: What do you mean your hand went...
Steve Kowalsky: I said "I'll do it"!
Sid Roth: The president of a conservative synagogue - a big one - your hand went up to make Yeshua Jesus your Messiah?
Steve Kowalsky: Well, I just felt that in my heart that that was the right thing, that something - that God was doing something in my life and Monica's life that I didn't know what it was, but all I know is, this is what I had to do.
Sid Roth: What effect was it, then, when you went back to a traditional synagogue? Tell me the next time you went in a traditional -
Steve Kowalsky: It was in the next service.
Sid Roth: The next day.
Steve Kowalsky: Yeah! The next day for the second day of rosh hashanah. We walked in. Monica and I, on the way home that night before we were saying, she said, "We can't go back there! How could we go back to that synagogue when we've experienced this incredible feeling of God in this messianic synagogue"? I said, "Well, we have to go back. I'm the president". So we walked in there that day. Everybody knew we were going to be divorced. I hadn't been to synagogue for the previous day, which was an important day of rosh hashanah. We walked in together, smiling, and everybody turned around to look, you know, and I can imagine what they were thinking. But when we sat down in our seats quietly, I said to Monica, "I feel the presence of God in this place".
Sid Roth: In the traditional synagogue.
Steve Kowalsky: In the traditional synagogue, and I opened up the prayer book and I'm reading the prayers and all of a sudden I see in Hebrew the name of Yeshua.
Sid Roth: Which is Hebrew for Jesus.
Steve Kowalsky: Which is Hebrew for "Jesus", or "Salvation". And I look and I said, "Monica, he's in this prayer book! Yeshua's in this prayer book"! And they had the Torah service. They opened the ark, and as soon as they opened the ark, Sid, it was amazing. It was like a wave came flying out of that thing and hit me, and I just - tears started coming to my eyes. I just knew that God was there in that place and that he was showing me that he could be there in that place. It was just so powerful.
Sid Roth: What happened to your marriage? I mean, you were headed toward divorce! And you might have been smiling walking in there, you might have felt all the presence of God, but what happened to the two of you?
Steve Kowalsky: Well, the day before when we went out to lunch with the rabbi and his wife from the messianic synagogue, they said, "Well, what do you think"? And I said, "Well, you know, it's wonderful, but we're still being divorced". The rabbi's wife looked at us in the eye and said, "God hates divorce. God hates divorce and your marriage is going to be healed. You are not getting divorced. God's got a plan for the two of you and that's it". And, you know, from that point on, God started working in our lives and eventually the marriage - of course, we're here! Five years later.
Sid Roth: You're here, but Monica, do you love this man that punched through the wall?
Monica Kowalsky: Yeah, I love him. You know, God has a way of supernaturally changing your heart so you don't remember what that person thought he was. He becomes, really, who God intended him to be.
Sid Roth: And Steve, you said, "I just want love".
Steve Kowalsky: I just want to be loved.
Sid Roth: Have you received that?
Steve Kowalsky: Oh, have I received that! You know -
Sid Roth: But wait - how did you receive it from the conservative synagogue? What ultimately happened when they found out you believed in Jesus?
Steve Kowalsky: Well, that was a wild time. They asked me to - actually, I told them. I ended up telling them and we had a meeting. We had various meetings of the executive committee and I gave my testimony to them and I told them how God has healed our marriage and the drug addiction - everything. And so, they decided to keep me on at the first meeting, but all the men went home to their wives and one thing led to another and the rabbi called me the next day and said, "We can't have you as president".
Sid Roth: So all you have to do is renounce your belief in Jesus and you can be president".
Steve Kowalsky: Right.
Sid Roth: Why didn't you?
Steve Kowalsky: They asked me. They said...
Sid Roth: Four generations of Jews in this synagogue! How could you do that, Steve?
Steve Kowalsky: I said, "Listen, I believe in my heart that this is the right thing believing in Yeshua, that Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah. I can't put this on the shelf! It would be betraying not only what I believe, but it would be betraying God! God has put this in me! So I can't do that. I have to believe. And if I have to step down, I'll step down. I'll do whatever I need to do". So they asked me to step down as president and I did.
Sid Roth: Steve said, "All I want is love. All I need is love". But he's not talking about love of a husband and wife, because that's good and that's what God wants. But he's talking about something inside of him that was so empty, and he knew there had to be something more, and when he reached out and made Yeshua his Messiah, his marriage was restored, his mind was restored, the shalom inside of him was restored, and he became - I'm not going to say he became a Jew because he already was a Jew, but he became a "True Jew": a praiser and worshipper of God. He knows God!