My name is Matthew Ray Culberson. I was given the name Matthew on the day I was born, because my grandmother told everyone in the room I would be a gift from G-d to the world. I live each day of my life trying to fulfill that purpose, and I believe I have had a divine presence over my life to do so. I will explain this in my journey back to the covenant of my ancestors.

I must first disclaim that my thoughts are my own, there is no endorsement or reflection of any congregation or denomination. Please understand where I’m coming from in my youth and accept my humble perspective. My experience is mine alone.

I’d like to think that I have been a lost Jewish soul since birth. I have had many experiences in my life that tell me G-d has had a special connection to me and a plan for life. Many times, I have faced death, but Hashem spared me. I was born in Stockton, California, on October 10, 1995. When I was born, my airways were obstructed, and I had to be revived and placed in an incubator for the first weeks of my life; I almost died. My mom prayed for me to survive. At the time, she and my grandma were Baptist Christian. However, I believe G-d answered her prayers because He knew where He would take our lives next. Months after my birth, my mom converted to Seventh Day Adventism (SDA).

My father has Jewish lineage, but had no Jewish identity or desire to observe the sabbath kept by SDA. His grandmother’s family fled Prussia and emigrated to New York in 1880. She married a Mormon man and they raised his mother in the Church of Latter Day Saints. She abandoned my father, Ray Culberson, when he was young, a consequence of, among other things, racism and drug addiction. My father grew up in poverty. His brother was murdered.

My parents parted ways when I was young. My father moved to another city and started a family there. I knew that his mom was white but never knew that I had Jewish ancestors. Yet when I discovered Judaism years later, my soul could not stop pursuing it. I believe in my soul that, in spite of the generations removed, Hashem has guided me back to the covenant.

When I was a child and young adult, I never fit in with groups of kids in my schools or communities. Often, people did not like me without reason, and I was bullied. I excelled in my academics, but the social rejection and absence of my father led me to act out. I was kicked out of multiple schools for my behavior. All this drove my mom crazy — lots of tears, phone calls from teachers, suspensions. My mom tried to help me through church, but I never liked church and always felt like I didn’t belong there. For all the time I spent in church, my spirit never felt at home there.

My problems persisted  inside and outside of the classroom. I eventually began to smoke weed, gang bang and live recklessly. I cannot count on my hand how many times I was almost arrested or killed from car accidents, fights, knives or guns. I eventually got kicked out of high school and went to live with my dad in Los Angeles. Hashem has spared me from so many things over my life, but he couldn’t repair my relationship with my father, who kicked me out after I confronted him about abandoning my mom and me.

My mom and I moved to Elk Grove, outside Sacramento, in 2011. The first high school she tried couldn’t accept me, so they enrolled me in a different one. I believe G-d allowed this to happen for me to connect with Mr. Hunter, the school’s African American vice principal. When I received detention on a Saturday, I told Mr. Hunter I couldn’t attend because, as a Seventh Day Adventist, I kept the Sabbath. On Friday nights, we sang until the sunlight was gone — Dear friend do you love Jesus, O’ yes I love Jesus, Are you sure you love Jesus, I’m sure I love Jesus — and sat in a circle for a vegetarian dinner, followed by Sabbath School on Saturdays.

Mr. Hunter shared that he was Jewish and a member of the Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento. I told him I was surprised — I thought all Jews were white. Mr. Hunter said I had a lot to learn. I don’t think he knew how right he was.

Thanks to the support of Mr. Hunter and Hashem, I made it through the last two years of high school and was admitted to UC Davis. After I graduated, Mr. Hunter invited me over for shabbat dinner.