Leaving the fold

David Tal was born in San Diego as the son of a Messianic Jewish father and evangelical Christian mother. After making aliya in 1971, the family became "one of the best-known in the Israeli Messianic community," he says. Thus, it was a shock for the community when he decided to leave it. His family name was Goldberg; he had to Hebraicize it later as an overseas government employee. Growing up, all his friends were the children of Messianics, and he still keeps in close touch with his family and many of his old friends. His estimate is that "10 to 15 percent" of the children of Israeli Messianic Jews leave the religion. What happened to Tal was that at age 16 or 17, he realized that he simply didn't believe in God. "As opposed to Judaism, to be a [Messianic] believer you have to have a personal relationship with God, and for that you need faith in God. When I reached the age when you start questioning the beliefs you got from your parents and peers and congregation, I realized that I did not have that faith, which automatically meant I was not a believer anymore." says Tal, a tour guide, speaking by phone from Eilat where he was leading a tourist group. His parents were devastated. "As far as they were concerned, it meant I was going to burn in the fires of hell forever and ever." For a while he continued to attend congregation with his parents in Jerusalem, but the news of his apostasy spread. "We'd walk into the congregation and I'd see members looking at my parents with sorrow. They all thought I was going to turn into a drug addict or something," he says. Tal's loss of faith began an existential crisis that lasted several years; he compares it to what a haredi goes through upon hazara b'she'ela, or leaving the fold. He spent five years as an IDF officer, then four more as a Shin Bet security agent in the Israeli Embassy in Paris. Along the way he fell in love with an Israeli Jewish girl, and, since his mother was Christian, he converted to Judaism. Today he and his wife live two doors away from his parents in Modi'in, and raise their sons as secular Jews. His parents and siblings are still Messianics. "I'm the black sheep of the family," he laughs.