I was born in Washington, D.C. and had extended family all around. I can remember attending family events and special events at synagogue when I was a small child, but I was too young to understand what it meant to be Jewish. I knew that my family had its own, very colorful, culture and behavior, and that it was somehow different than that of our neighbors. Still, our family celebrated Christmas and Easter—at least the secular parts.
When I was eight years old, my parents moved to Southern California. My father was a rocket scientist and had left his teaching position at Johns Hopkins University to work at Jet Propulsion Labs. When we arrived in Los Angeles, we were suddenly no longer Jewish, and faith was never mentioned again in the household. My mother did say once in awhile, that she’d had a Catholic governess, who had baptized her, but my mother never once went to a Church that I recall.
At the beginning of each school year, all the students filled out emergency cards—whom to contact if our parents weren’t home, any medical problems or allergies, etc. There was always a space on the card to list your religious affiliation, and I always left mine blank. I simply had nothing to write there. As I approached my mid-teens, I began to feel bereft. Not only that I should be able to fill in that space, but that there was a huge hole in my life and in my understanding that was meant to be filled. I began to attend various churches with my neighbors, and I enjoyed them all.
One Sunday when I was 15, I telephoned a girlfriend to see whether she’d like to attend a movie with me. She very politely and thoroughly explained why she kept the Sabbath day holy, and how movie-going was not considered a Sabbath activity. When I hung up, I felt embarrassed. I felt that I should somehow know about the Sabbath and what you do or don’t do on that special day. Shortly after, she invited me to a “Youth Conference” presentation at her church. I had enjoyed every church function I had attended with my neighbors, so I readily said yes. That empty place within me was growing more bothersome. I desperately felt the need to fill it.
Indeed, I had been to many churches. But when I entered this one, I experienced something profoundly new—a sudden and overwhelming feeling of absolute joy, which also seemed to have affected everyone in attendance. I knew I was in the right place, and that my life was about to change. Two sister missionaries began teaching me in the evenings at “cottage meetings,” which a number of the youth of the ward attended with me. Watching the conversion process was as enlightening for them as being converted was for me. Everything I was taught settled in like I had already known it all before.
I remember how frightened these sisters were to teach me the lesson on Joseph Smith and his “First Vision.” I suppose many people had gone along just fine with their lessons until they got to that point, and then stalled when taught that a modern man had seen God the Father and Jesus Christ. But for me, it was perfectly logical. If prophets of old had seen visions, why not now? It was more illogical to consider that visions had altogether ceased. Why should they? I remember the Sisters’ question, “Do you think you can believe that Joseph Smith really had a vision?” My reply of “of course” was a great relief to them.
My parents fought me, but thinking that my conversion would only be temporary (I was dating a boy in the ward by then; they thought—new boy, new religion), they relented. I was baptized a few months after I turned 16. I joined the Church in 1962, and its teachings and spiritual power protected me from many of the upheavals of the 1960′s.
I’ve been a member of the Church for 47 years. I married in the temple to a wonderful returned missionary, and we’ve been married for 42 years. We have 6 children and 11 grandchildren—all active in the Church. We’ve lived in 4 countries and traveled in many others, have exciting careers, great friends, and a lot of fun. Of course there have been challenges, but the gospel and the True Church have the power to guide, heal, and strengthen. I’ve learned personally that God loves me and has specific things He wants me to accomplish. We live by the Spirit and follow its promptings. Joining the Church was the best decision I ever made.