“Compelled to understand his son better, Frank [Boehm] became a student of biblical history. He learned that Jesus and all His early followers were Jewish. Over time, the father became impressed with his son’s integrity and compassion for others. Summing up his current opinion, 19 years in the making, Frank beamed with pride and declared: ‘A man couldn’t ask for a finer son.’” Jeff Koch
In 1989 Thomas Boehm stood there and asked two questions: “Who are you, God? And who am I?” Black-clad orthodox Jews surrounded him, swaying and bobbing in prayer. Thomas sang a single line of Jewish prayer that he’d memorized in the synagogue as a child: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is God. The Lord alone.” He sang it over and over, losing himself in the melody and rhythm.
Like a GPS fixing coordinates, he suddenly saw his life as a point in the broad sweep of history, part of an ancient yet living past. Boehm had arrived at the wall a 20-something kid from America. He left as a Jew. And five years later, in 1994, he became a Jewish Christian.
Boehm had recently finished graduate school and launched a thriving counseling practice, but he hungered for something more. Then he met some friends who boldly told him Jesus fulfilled all the Jewish hopes and promises. Boehm stayed up the entire night bombarding them with questions, after which they gave him a Bible—which “became food to my soul, and I was ravenous.” Three months later, he committed to following Jesus and took communion on Easter Sunday.
After professing faith, Boehm dreaded telling his dad, knowing it would be like “putting a dagger in his heart.” His dad, Frank Boehm, soon to become president of the Jewish Federation in Nashville, lamented, “We Jews have been put through hell because of Jesus Christ. We’ve been slaughtered, villainized, stigmatized, beaten, maimed, and desecrated in his name.”
Frank Boehm believed that personally. He associated Christianity with Nazi Germany; relatives had died in the Holocaust. Growing up, he had encountered anti-Semitic jibes ranging from accusations of deicide (“You killed Christ!”) to common bigotry (“I’m sorry, my parents won’t let me date a Jew.”) to menacing threats (“Hey, Hitler missed a few … should have killed you, too.”).
When asked recently whether he remembered the day his son first shared his faith, Frank Boehm stopped midstride: “Oh yes. There are a few moments in life where you remember every detail. … Tommy telling me his beliefs was one of those moments.” At the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta with family and friends, the senior Boehm had just ordered a bottle of champagne when Thomas blurted out, “Dad, I’ve become a believer.” Frank Boehm stared blankly at his son, without the faintest idea what he meant. Thomas clarified, “I’ve accepted Y’shua—Jesus—as my Savior.”
Frank Boehm was devastated and “felt a wall” come crashing down between them. A family member told Thomas, “I’ve only seen your dad cry three times—once when his mom died, once when his dad died, and the night you shared your faith.” Thomas recalls that his new believer zeal didn’t always foster productive dialogue. During one conversation, his dad slammed his hand down on the counter and yelled, “If you think I’m going to hell because I don’t believe in your Jesus, well that’s where your grandmother is and that’s where your grandfather is so I’ll be glad to go there!”
Moments like these kept Thomas praying. Neither father nor son gave up. Compelled to understand his son better, Frank became a student of biblical history. He learned that Jesus and all His early followers were Jewish. Over time, the father became impressed with his son’s integrity and compassion for others. Summing up his current opinion, 19 years in the making, Frank beamed with pride and declared: “A man couldn’t ask for a finer son.”
The dramatic quality of their reconciliation has recently taken a more public turn. Thomas takes time out from his doctoral work at Vanderbilt to travel with his father to speak in churches. Their mission: to galvanize support for Israel, and demonstrate the power and importance of personal reconciliation. As part of their presentation, Thomas robustly offers his testimony of faith. His dad hears it every time, no longer wincing, but with a hard-won appreciation of his son’s journey. Thankful and amazed, Thomas offers the following insight: “Those things we most fear losing, God most delights to redeem and restore.”
—Jeff Koch is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute’s midcareer training course