Chapter 9 – Batya Segal
They Thought For Themselves, Chapter 9
Bat Shalom: Daughter of Zion
by Batya Segal
At the beginning of this century rumors began to circulate that a Jewish State was about to be reborn in the land of our forefathers. Excitement swelled in the Jewish community in Yemen as they felt the days of the Messiah were soon to come. Many Jewish people started to make their way back to Zion. Leaving everything behind except their most essential belongings, they set out on the long perilous journey across the desert, some carrying their children on their shoulders. They had little food or drink. Many suffered from exhaustion and many died—but they died full of hope and faith, knowing they were returning to the land of their forefathers.
In the late 1930s, my father left Yemen for Israel (then called Palestine), traveling by boat from Yemen to Egypt and from there by train. Most of the family had died either in Yemen or on the way to Israel. Upon arrival in Israel my father joined his one surviving brother. About this same time, my mother and her family settled in Jerusalem.
During the 1948 War of Independence, my father joined the Jewish forces fighting for the survival of the newly born Jewish State of Israel. He served in Ramat Rachel, a kibbutz just south of Jerusalem.
After the rebirth of Israel, the new government committed itself to bringing back the Jewish people from all over the world. In 1950, an airlift called Operation Magic Carpet brought home to Israel a large part of the Yemenite Jewish community within a short period of time. Most of them had never even seen an airplane before. The rabbi explained from Isaiah 40:31 that God would lead them “on wings like eagles,” which dispersed any fears they may have had of flying, for they knew prophetically they were being taken home to be prepared for the days of redemption.
He Hears Your Prayers
The Israeli Yemenite Jewish community in which I was raised was Orthodox. My parents kept a kosher home and were strict observers of Torah (the five books of Moses). They kept the Shabbat (Sabbath) and all the feasts of Israel.
As I grew up, I went to an Orthodox girls’ school in our neighborhood. Every morning we prayed as our forefathers had for two thousand years. At school we learned about the Messiah, who would come and redeem the Jewish people. He would reveal to the world that the God of Israel is the true God and would bring peace to all nations. He would sit on His throne in Jerusalem and rule the world with an iron rod. Though we learned this, the emphasis in our school was on the “Dinim,” the laws and commandments we had to follow as observant Jews. It was not a subject that excited us very much. I could not understand how it would bring me to a closer and deeper understanding of God, but I knew from studying the Jewish prophet, Isaiah, that God’s thoughts were higher than my thoughts, so I didn’t argue.
The atmosphere at home was warm, loving, and full of music. When we came together with family and friends on Shabbat, holidays, and special occasions, we sang and prayed according to the Yemenite traditions.
My father read his Bible every day when he returned from work. He instilled in me a love for and firm belief in God and His Word. He taught me, “Never forget that God exists. Whenever you need Him, for whatever reason, then He is always there to help you. Turn to God because He hears your prayers and He knows your needs.”
Every evening before I went to sleep my father and I quoted together a passage of Scripture I knew by heart:
Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad. Ve-Ahavta Et Adonai Eloheicha Be-chol Levavcha Uv’chol Nafshecha Uv’chol me-odech …. [“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might …” (Deuteronomy 6:49, NKJV).]
I followed this with a personal talk with God. I used to bring before Him all the things of the day about which I was concerned, and I had the assurance that He heard my prayers and was meeting my needs. I knew God was my Father in heaven and I loved Him, but there were aspects of His character—His righteousness, holiness, and judgment—I did not understand, and so I feared Him as well.
As a child I loved art and got good grades in painting and drawing. I also was very interested in theatre and had the opportunity to act in some productions. I began to attend a children’s group at the main radio station of Israel where we read stories and sketches on the radio. I loved it. This opened a whole new world for me. The director said I had an excellent voice for radio and he could help me to make this my profession when I graduated.
My father would tell me, “Don’t spread yourself so thin. Concentrate on one thing and do it well.” I knew this was very good advice, but I loved all I did, and it was difficult for me to give up anything.
I had the support and love of both my parents; my father, in particular, always encouraged and complimented me. Of course, the youngest child generally gets the most attention, so at times I was spoiled.
As I was preparing to finish elementary school and begin the summer holidays in June 1967, Israel suddenly found herself embroiled in what became known as the Six Day War. Israelis remember it as the “Miracle War.” I was surprised to see that both of my brothers and my father were called to serve in the reserves. For seven days our family sat in the neighbor’s basement, anxiously waiting to hear the news. Our only contact with the outside world was the radio. Every hour, when we heard the beep, we ran to listen to the latest bulletins.
On the second day of the war, all the adults in the room began jumping with joy, hugging each other, and shouting. When I asked why, I was told that Jerusalem had been reunited, and our Israeli flag had been lifted on the Temple Mount. Even as a child I realized this was a miracle only God could have performed. After two thousand years of foreign domination, Israel had expanded her borders to the heartland of her ancient territory! I began to understand God’s prophetic word for the Jewish people.
I Need Freedom
When I was 12 years old and in a secondary school, I started to question my way of life. I began to break away from the teachings of my youth and go my own way. Since I greatly respected my parents and did not want to hurt them, I waited for the appropriate time and then explained my feelings to them. “I can’t live this way anymore,” I said. “I respect your lifestyle, but I need to explore a different one for me. I believe very strongly in God, but the mitzvot (laws) that I have been taught seem old-fashioned and not suitable for life today. I find I am unable to keep them with my whole heart, and I do not feel they bring me closer to God.” I asked for their permission to go to a public high school.
My father has always been an open-minded man, so he said: “It is all right. You can do that as long as you are happy. But do not forget Who your God is and where you come from.”
And so I transferred to public school. This proved to be a great challenge. I was confronted with a totally different culture. And much to my surprise, some teachers, including the head teacher, did not believe in the Bible as the Word of God. Instead, they viewed the Bible as a collection of mythical tales, not really inspired by God.
An even greater shock was finding that one of my teachers was an avowed atheist and particularly sharp toward any student who believed in God. He singled out one boy in our class, who wore a kippah, as the object of sarcastic remarks and ridicule.
My frustrations at this new school challenged me to study the Bible for myself. It was an eye-opening experience to study the books of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and the other prophets. The prophecies concerning the return of the Jews to our homeland amazed me.
Because of my disenchantment over the way the Bible and other subjects were taught, I began to question the wisdom of attending public school. After two and one-half years, I left and enrolled in a school at which I could study mostly at home and go to classes just two days each week.
This was a period of deep soul-searching for me, a time of seeking for truth. Since I was studying at home I had a lot of time to think and read. I knew I had not found satisfaction in a religious Orthodox lifestyle, even though I appreciated and identified with the traditions. But I had to ask myself, If keeping the commandments does not bring me peace and a closer relationship with God, then what does? I was searching for the answers to other questions as well: What is the purpose of my life here on earth? Who is God, really? What will happen to me after I die?
I tried to find answers in philosophical books, but they left me confused, raising more questions than answers. I gained no satisfaction from studying them.
Yom Kippur War
My quest for truth was suddenly interrupted by the Yom Kippur War in 1973. This was the hardest war Israel has ever faced. All our Arab neighbors attacked us, declaring a Holy War for Allah, on the holiest day of the Jewish year. Their sole intent was to destroy Israel and annihilate the Jewish population. We were totally unprepared, and consequently this war was a terrible tragedy for us. In Israel, in time of war, all reserve units are called up to strengthen the army. My two brothers and my father were again fighting in a war they had not wanted. Unlike 1967, this became a very personal war to me, as many of my friends and neighbors were either wounded or killed. I was devastated and in deep mourning. I cried to God for answers.
In January 1974, I began my military service, which every Israeli teenager enters at age 18. I served in the navy. It was just after the Yom Kippur War, and I saw some of my friends and acquaintances coming home wounded, some very severely, from the war. This increased my longing to know God and to know what the hereafter had in store for me. I asked all sorts of questions, but never received any clear answers.
I had served in the navy for one year when I married and obtained a release from service. A release was generally granted to girls getting married and starting a home. My husband, Avi, was an old friend I had known before I went into the navy. He was six years older than I and a confirmed atheist.
I still do not know what induced me to marry. As I reflect on it now, I realize I was far too young and made an impulsive decision. However, there was a lot of confusion in those days and emotions were blown out of proportion. I had lost friends in the war and felt I was in danger of losing another. Even though the marriage was a mistake, I know God was watching over my life.
Our relationship fell apart after only one year. After giving up all hope that our marriage would ever amount to anything, we agreed to separate. But the day we decided to get a divorce, Avi had to go to the Galilee on a press assignment (he was a press photographer). On the way back he was involved in a serious traffic accident in which his friend, the driver of the car, was killed, and Avi was seriously injured. It was a miracle he came out of the wreckage alive. He suffered a severe concussion, which the doctors told him would require a long period of rest. Ironically, just a few days after the accident, I discovered I was pregnant. Because of Avi’s injuries and my pregnancy, we decided to stay together. When he left the hospital, however, Avi went to his mother’s home for several months to recuperate.
Meanwhile, I was under tremendous pressure. I was 20 years old, pregnant with my first baby and in a marriage hanging together by a thread. I was trying to earn a living and at the same time visit my husband in the hospital every day. I had to travel from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, and then spend hours in the intensive care unit. Since I could not really communicate with Avi, I would sit and watch the injured soldiers entering the hospital. One had been explaining to his friends how to dismantle a hand grenade when it exploded in his face. His brain had died but his heart kept beating. I saw others die or remain comatose.
Again I was caught in a web of circumstances that forced me to think about issues of life and death. I knew there had to be answers to my questions—answers that would change my life. I also knew I would have no peace until I found them.
I got a part-time job working for the Ministry of the Treasury. While there, I made friends with a lady deeply involved in transcendental meditation (TM). She knew I was going through a hard time and encouraged me to come to their meetings, believing they held the answer for me. In my desperation, I finally yielded to her persuasions and let her enroll me in a course. I had been very concerned this might be a religion, despite her assurance it wasn’t. However, toward the end of the course, my friend said, “I forgot to tell you, there is a closing ceremony, but you can ignore what takes place.” This aroused my curiosity.
We were told to bring an apple and a new white handkerchief as an offering for the maharishi (though I did not realize at first what was taking place). One by one we were taken into a small room with a TM instructor who stood in the back whispering incantations while the incense smoke arose by the picture of the guru. I laid down my apple as an offering to the maharishi. Then the instructor gave me my own special mantra to repeat while meditating.
The ceremony made me very uncomfortable, and I went home in despair. This was in stark contrast to TM’s promises of personal fulfillment, joy, peace, and contentment. I tried to ignore the religious part of the course and continued doing the exercises and the early morning meditations as I believed it would help me in my pregnancy.
I knew something was wrong, but I could not put my finger on it. Then suddenly it hit me: “By doing TM, I’m worshiping other gods!” Once I understood the implications, I was almost physically sick. I confronted my TM friend: “You said this wasn’t a religious course, but now I realize I was ensnared in idolatry!”
A New Profession
As time went by, Avi improved physically. He started working a few hours a day in his lab, but was frustrated with his physical limitations and inability to provide properly for his family. He became self-absorbed and lost his temper easily. It was difficult to communicate with him. After the dreadful experience of TM and with my married life deteriorating, I turned more and more to God with my questions, crying out to Him for comfort, appealing to Him for help in my distress, and begging Him to reveal Himself to me.
When trouble comes, it does not seem to stop. Avi broke the metal plate in his hip and had to be rushed to the hospital. He had an emergency operation and once again was confined to the hospital for several months. This time he had a plaster body cast. He was admitted to a private hospital close to home, so I didn’t have to travel as far to visit him.
Through Avi’s long-term illness, I had taken on the responsibility of supporting the family, but I was only working part-time at the Ministry of Treasury, so I began to look for a second job.
It was at that time that God began to answer my prayers. A friend of ours knew of a printing business looking for a computer typist to operate a typesetting machine. One day he called us to see how we were doing. He asked if I knew of anyone looking for a part-time job. “Yes, I know someone—me,” I said. “But I have no training in typesetting.”
He quickly replied, “That doesn’t matter. If you take the job, they will train you!”
“Then I’ll take it,” I announced. “I would love to learn a new profession.” Little did I know what God had in mind.
From my first day at the printing firm, I knew I was part of something very special. There was a wonderful atmosphere, and the few people I saw were very kind to me. Even the interview with the manager was pleasant.
Although I started out with no knowledge of computers, after a while I became quite proficient. I worked in a tiny room where I operated one computer and Ibrahim, a young Beduin Arab, operated the other. He was about my age, 23, married, and already had four children.
A Different New Testament
One morning my employer handed me an envelope with a manuscript for me to typeset. When I pulled it out, I discovered it was the New Testament in Hebrew.
My first reaction was, “Oh no, this can’t be real! What sort of place is this? Why do they want to print the New Testament in Hebrew here? Are they missionaries?”
For a while I sat there struggling with my conscience: What chutzpah (nerve) they have! Shall I do it? What am I supposed to do? My mind whirled. I needed the job, but how could I work on such a thing?
I felt I had no choice so I began. It was difficult to open the manuscript and start typing, thinking I was contributing to the work of missionaries, helping them convert Jewish people and steal Jewish souls. I vividly recalled a story I had read as a child about a widow named Hannah who had seven children. She lived during the time of the Inquisition. When faced with the choice of death or bowing to the cross, she heroically refused to yield, choosing death rather than conversion.
As I began to type and read the New Testament, it was different than I had expected. To my amazement, on the first page was the genealogy of Yeshua, which showed Him to be a descendant of Abraham of the line of David. My first discovery was: Yeshua was a Jew! And the disciples were Jews! The longer I worked on the manuscript, the clearer it became to me the New Testament was a Jewish book! Then the questions began: What’s wrong with it?, I thought. Why are the rabbis so against it? Why do they reject this book? All these questions went through my mind while typing.
I had been brought up to believe that Jesus was the God of the Christians and that the New Testament was a Christian book, yet I knew I was typesetting a book that was completely Jewish. How could this be? And if Christians followed a Jewish book, how could they have persecuted the Jewish people for so many centuries?
And so the struggle for my salvation began. My heart was no longer at peace. In my head it made sense to me that Yeshua was the Jewish Messiah, but my upbringing kept my heart from accepting that idea.
As I read the words of Yeshua in HaBrit HaHadashah (the New Testament), truth began to shine into my life. Yeshua said all actions stem from a person’s heart, and God is concerned with our thoughts and motives—not just our actions. That really struck home.
Then came the amazing revelation of eternal life. I thought, This is the answer I have been seeking for a long, long time. All I have known up until now has been very obscure concerning eternal life, but Yeshua’s words are very clear and certain and I can understand them. The words of Yeshua pierced to the very depths of my heart, and although I was still fighting, God was winning the battle.
Is This Truth?
Two major questions remained: Is this really the truth or am I deceiving myself? and, Why does the name of Yeshua generate so much anger among the Orthodox Jews?
I began to look up the references in the Tanakh (the Old Testament) to check them against quotes in the Gospels. I wanted to know if the prophecies and promises of Yeshua’s coming were really written in the Tanakh. I delved deeply into the subject.
After many months of searching, I felt I could go no further without help. So I began to ask all my friends: “Who is the Messiah really?” “Why hasn’t the Messiah come yet?” “Why couldn’t Yeshua be the Messiah?” I bombarded everyone I met with my questions, even people I hardly knew. I was not ashamed, but was very open about it.
Still I had doubts about whether Yeshua was Messiah. Sometimes I felt as if I had found a great treasure, but a little later, I would dismiss it again. My turmoil lasted for months.
During this time, Avi was discharged from the hospital and came back to live with me again as we had decided to give our marriage another chance. While he had almost recovered from his initial concussion, his legs were still in casts.
After I had finished typing the New Testament, I was given various Christian books to typeset in Hebrew. These included The Hiding Place, a book about Corrie ten Boom, a Christian who had hidden Jews during the Holocaust; Run Baby Run, the story of Nicky Cruz, a New York gang leader whose life was changed by faith in Yeshua; and Joni, the story of Joni Erikson, whose faith had sustained her when she became a quadriplegic as the result of a swimming accident. Those books made a great impression on me. While I was working on the computer, tears would sometimes run down my cheeks. I saw how God’s love had touched people and radically changed their lives.
I See an Angel
About nine months after I had started typesetting the New Testament and the other books into Hebrew, I was troubled more than ever with my many questions. But no one I asked was able to give me satisfactory answers.
One night in desperation I went to my bedroom and cried out to God: “God, please show me the way I should go. Is Yeshua the true Messiah of Israel or is He a false Messiah? If He is the true Messiah, I want to follow Him and serve Him. But if He is not, please let me forget about Him.”
Right after I prayed, I saw a vision of a man clothed in a long white robe. His bearded face was shining and full of glory. The countenance of the man was majestic. I did not understand the meaning of this vision, yet I felt God was trying to give me a sign.
The next day I left work at 3:00 p.m. and was standing at the bus stop watching for the next bus. Suddenly, I saw a man coming toward me from the other side of the street. I realized I had seen him before. He had the same face, the same long hair, the same beard, and the same clothes as the man I had seen in the vision the night before. A shock ran through my body, and the experience gave me goose bumps. I looked around to see if anyone else at the bus stop saw him, but no one indicated noticing him. As I looked back toward him, I saw that he had disappeared.
I realized this was God’s sign. The tall, bearded man was the man in my vision. It couldn’t be a coincidence, my meeting the same man from the vision in the street. I knew it was an angel and I rejoiced!
At last I was convinced Yeshua was the Messiah. I had total peace and an overwhelming joy in my heart. The struggles between my head and my heart were over. I was thrilled to know I was finally on the right path. This was my turning point.
When I got home, I was so excited about what I had seen, I blurted out to my husband, “Do you know what has just happened? I had a vision and after that I saw an angel, and he was from God. Yeshua is the Messiah. I’m certain of it!” The revelation was so real to me, I did not consider anyone might doubt it. But Avi, a confirmed atheist, looked at me mockingly as if I had gone crazy. He made fun of me in front of my friends. When he had an attentive audience, he would say sarcastically, “Have you heard? Batya saw an angel and now she believes in Yeshu!” (This is a derogatory name for Yeshua.) On those occasions I wished the ground would swallow me.
When we were alone I would say to him, “You just don’t do that sort of thing! This is something personal, something intimate. You can’t ridicule prayer and the things that I experienced with God. This is something between me and God.”
I Lose My Daughter
Our relationship continued to deteriorate. I was very vulnerable as a new believer in Yeshua. I had no idea what direction my life would take nor much inner certainty about the future. I needed brothers and sisters in the body of Messiah to support me. But Avi forbade me to meet with other believers or to read the Bible. “If you continue doing this,” he told me, “I shall fight you in the highest courts and take our daughter away from you.”
True to his word, Avi moved ahead with his vendetta. I was ordered to appear before the Rabbinical Court. When Avi arrived, I noticed he was carrying a briefcase. I had no idea what was in it. My lawyer, a religious man, could not guess either. When he came before the judge, Avi opened the case and produced all the books I had typed, plus my New Testament.
“These are her books,” he shouted, pointing at me. “She is a missionary! And I won’t have her bringing up my daughter!” There was a great commotion in the courtroom. The rabbis seemed gravely concerned. After consultation, they forbade Avi to allow me into the house and said that I could no longer raise my daughter. They gave him full custody. My lawyer requested a recess, but they refused. I shouted at the rabbis before I left the courtroom, “God is the only Judge. He will make the decision about where my daughter will be. If God wishes for her to be with me, He will make it possible.” My courage to speak amazed me. I almost felt as though the Lord had spoken those words through me.
With a heavy heart and tears streaming down my face, I hugged and kissed my daughter good-bye and closed the door of my house behind me. I had been banished. Defeated. I couldn’t understand why God had allowed it to happen.
Yeshua, Please Help!
“Lord,” I cried, “this is too much for me. Please help me! I cannot bear this!” With my mouth I said that I was sacrificing my Isaac as Abraham had, but my heart was not in it. She was my daughter! I was leaving my daughter! It felt as though a sword were piercing my soul. I cried, “Oh, Yeshua, please help me!”
Amazingly, the separation from my daughter lasted only three days. A finding by the civil court annulled the verdict of the religious court because of a technical error. But I knew it was a miracle from God.
My daughter was with me again! I could take her in my arms and hold her. By the grace of God, I have been able to bring her up, and she is still living with me to this very day. She is now 18 years old and about to enter the Israeli Army. I am proud of her and love her very, very much. The battle in the courts for custody of Tali lasted eight years, including about four years in the Supreme Court of Israel. Year after year it dragged on until Avi decided to marry another woman and pressed me to agree to a divorce.
It is amazing how God can use the evil things in the world to bring about good. This fight, which was really persecution for my belief in Yeshua, stimulated my spiritual growth. I had to learn to fight to survive, even though still a baby spiritually. The fight strengthened me and the problems refined me. The Lord gave me many insights and my relationship with Him became very deep and secure.
A few years later I became involved with a group of believers who were musicians; we would meet to sing and pray. One evening, we were praying together in a circle and when I opened my eyes, I saw a young man who had come in late. There was something very familiar about him though I had never met him before. After that, I kept running into him in Jerusalem. I learned that his name was Barry, and I found that I enjoyed his sense of humor.
Barry’s whole life before he came to the Lord had revolved around music. He once had been a professional rhythm and blues musician, a style of music totally alien to me. I had heard such music one time as a child, but did not like it at all. When Barry found Yeshua he gave up his guitar (although later God was to use this talent in ministry for Himself). Barry was one of the best guitarists I had ever heard, and, as I also played guitar, we really got on well together.
As the years went by, Barry and I got to know each other well. He was a constant prayer companion for me in my court battles over Tali. We began to work together and finally came to realize that God had brought us together to be man and wife. We had two wedding celebrations, a traditional Yemenite Jewish wedding and a Messianic celebration. It was a wonderful time for both of us. It was not easy for our parents to accept our faith, but the wedding helped give them some insight, and praise God, they never cut us out of their lives. Barry’s father, a traditional, Conservative Jew, does not agree with the ultra-Orthodox position that Messianic Jews are no longer Jews.
My parents know I am a believer in Yeshua and they accept it. They love Barry, and I am still my father’s little girl. They love our children: our daughter Tali, our lovely six-year-old son, Ariel (“Lion of God” and one of the names of Jerusalem), and our beautiful daughter, Liran, who is almost two. My parents get great joy from their grandchildren. We have spent many a Shabbat at their table—a mixture of Yemenite Orthodoxy and Messianic Judaism. As Jewish Orthodox people who have great respect for God and His Word, they express their joy at seeing how God has blessed me with a new family.
Commentary by Sid Roth
The “Lubavitchers” are a sect within traditional Judaism. Many believe their rabbi, Manachem M. Schneersohn, who died in 1994, is the Messiah. This group has taken over a traditional Orthodox synagogue in Siberia.
The president of this synagogue recently visited a local church in his area because he was friends with the pastor. At this meeting there was a Messianic Jewish dance group comprised of Jews, Gentiles, men, women, African American, white, and Hispanic dancers that touched the synagogue leader deeply.
Afterward, he said, “Our traditional worship is dead. Many of our young people are leaving the synagogue. But I feel such joy and life in your worship. I feel God’s presence. We want what you have. What is the difference between us?”
The leader of the dance group said, “There is only one difference. Our Messiah is Jesus. He died and rose from the dead 2,000 years ago. Your Messiah is Rabbi Schneerson, whom you expect to rise from the dead. But he has been dead for more than ten years and will never come back. What you are experiencing from our dance group comes from their intimacy with God. Without Messiah Jesus it is impossible to have intimacy with God.”
After we Jewish people have intimacy with God, then our assignment is to tell Gentiles about the Jewish Messiah. Isaiah says the call of the Jew is to be “a light to the Gentiles [nations]” (Isaiah 49:6, nkjv). The assignment of the Gentile believer in Jesus is to tell Jewish people about the Messiah (Romans 11:11). And when we all do our job, Messiah will return and usher in an age of peace.