I grew up with Jewish faith and traditions on one side and a blend of many religions on the other.
by Vered (Baykadan) Birnbaum | September 01 2022
My family comes from a diverse religious background, and we all immigrated to Israel in 1991 from Ethiopia. I grew up with a Jewish father and a Gentile mother. My mother felt very connected to the Jewish faith and traditions, while my father struggled with believing in only one way. He adhered to all kinds of beliefs and “followed” different religions. Having two parents who were so divided in their beliefs caused me confusion and an identity crisis. My journey from where I’ve come from has taken a lot of twists and turns that have led me to where I am now.
My story with Yeshua (Jesus) starts from a very young age. When I was about six years old, I had a dream. In that dream, Yeshua came into my room when I was asleep, hugging me tightly and telling me that everything would be fine. He then turned and walked through a golden white tunnel. I woke up still feeling His hug upon me. This was my first experience with Yeshua, although I did not start following Him at that time.
At the age of 16, there was a big turning point in my life. Like many teenagers at the time, I thought that I wanted to try smoking marijuana. One night during my summer break, my friends and I went out to a bar, drank alcohol, and smoked cannabis. Then a terrible thing happened: I lost all control, and I could not distinguish between reality and the hallucinations I had begun having. In hindsight, the marijuana I had smoked was probably laced with something more dangerous, which caused the hallucinations. My friends called my older brother to come and take me home. After that, I refused to leave the house and didn’t even want to talk to other people. I could not sleep and did not eat, which all greatly affected me. It was a very intense time in my life. I even began hearing voices.
What brought that distressing time to a close was that I asked my parents if I could visit my sister who was living in Jerusalem. My parents said, “Yes,” and for almost a month, I lived with my sister, and she spoke Scriptures over me and prayed for me. My sister was a Jewish believer in Yeshua, however, I was still not interested in accepting Yeshua into my life.
One day, she read from Proverbs 3:7–8: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” I felt something stirring in my heart, and I felt the desire for inner healing. I accepted Yeshua as my Savior and began studying the Scriptures daily. In the days that followed, my fear and anxiety began to diminish. By the end of the summer vacation, I was getting stronger and was ready to go back to school feeling full of God’s grace. Once I was back at school, I began telling everyone about Yeshua all the time. I had many good conversations about the gospel. It was an amazing year for me. Later, I was baptized and accepted Yeshua as my Savior.
That initial explosion of faith into my life was very powerful, but it didn’t stay potent forever. Slowly, the fire inside of me began to cool down, and I didn’t read God’s Word often or study it in depth. I didn’t lose God, but, over time, I lost sight of the grace He had given me. I began to live my life for me again and was not faithful even though God remained faithful. God released me to run away from Him and live a worldly lifestyle, but He did not leave me even for one moment. On the contrary, He chased after me even as I ran away.
After graduating high school, I had to do my military service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), so I moved to HaTzeva, a settlement in the desert. It was during my service time that I encountered God in a powerful way again. In my third year in the IDF, the 2011 tsunami hit Japan. As I watched the news coverage, it felt like God was speaking to me. I got a strong sense that God cares for people all over the world, and that He wanted me to care for people who have also been in distress. I immediately packed all my belongings and moved back to my sister’s house in Jerusalem. I repented and knew that God had forgiven me and still wanted a relationship with me.
Over the next few years, I seemed to go in a lot of different directions as I tried to figure out what God had in store for me. First, my little brother had a serious accident, and my mother needed my help at home, so I returned to Tiberias for nine months. After helping my family, I went to Mozambique to take part in a mission-based program in Africa. I appreciated the program that God had sent me to because I felt like I could approach Him without any distractions and was able to rest my body and soul. After my time in Africa, I returned to the Upper Galilee where I began school. I realized that I was not ready yet and left for India for two and a half months. I felt that I was stepping into a bigger role than I was ready for, but it was something I was willing to take on. As I began to share the gospel more, my fear of doing so dissipated and it felt so much more natural and comfortable to me. I spent my time preaching and returned to the Land, exhausted but satisfied.
I then officially began my studies and stayed in the Northern Galilee for six years. I received a bachelor’s degree in modern education. My last six years in the north were very spiritually challenging. For six years I lived in a remote location, disconnected from believers. It was a challenge to keep my faith together and keep to the standards I had as a follower of Yeshua. But I felt like God was directing my way to Him every day and reshaping me. Each experience was significant, and there were days I felt I was more than a conqueror, and there were days I felt completely defeated. But God did not leave me during these days, nor has He left me today. Slowly, I met another believer and then another, and we became a small group that started praying together and praying that God would establish a congregation. God answered our prayers, and today there are several churches in the area.
After my long and twisting journey, I eventually connected with Jews for Jesus and started working with them. That’s where I got to know my future husband, Chaim. We both work with Jews for Jesus, and after several years of knowing each other, we dated, and eventually got married.
Today, I work with Jews for Jesus’ Mekomi team, serving the homeless men and women on the streets of Tel Aviv. We build relationships with homeless people in the area and distribute food and clothing. In a turbulent world where every day can feel like a disaster, through Mekomi, I can share the peace that Yeshua has brought into my life with others.