They Drink Blood - Don't They?

I was born in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan in 1976. At the age of nine, I heard some school friends talking about “the Jews” who drank the blood of children. When I asked my father if he'd heard of these people, he started to laugh and rocked backward and forward in his seat, “Rita, you are one of them; we’re Jewish!” Until that point my parents had concealed our Jewish identity for fear of persecution.

Sweeties from Stalin

At the tender age of twelve I heard another word for the first time. I asked my eldest brother what this mysterious word meant. The word was “God”! The state imposed religion, Atheism, had its own dogmas and priests. The over-zealous crusaders for state-sponsored atheism did everything they could to eradicate any consciousness of God from the Soviet people. Their anti-God inquisition was unethical and merciless!

During a school lesson the teacher asked us if anyone prayed to God. She then announced that we were going to conduct an experiment. First, we would all repeat the prayer, “Oh God, please give us our daily bread”. The whole class complied and the teacher asked where the bread was. We were then told to offer a prayer to the late, great Soviet leader Josef Stalin, “Oh father Stalin, please give us some sweets”. As we prayed a roof tile opened and someone showered sweets on us as we sat at our desks. The experiment was over, and the teacher declared that although God didn't answer prayer, Stalin did.

I was puzzled but not convinced by this exercise in atheistic indoctrination. I thought for myself and rebelled against the system in my own way by not wearing the compulsory red neck-scarf of the Communist Youth Pioneer movement. I was often caught by the teachers and told to put it on. They were not happy with me and threatened to tell my mother; actually, she was proud of me!

That Man!

One day a woman on the bus gave my mother an illustrated children's book. Knowing that I loved drawing, she took it home, unaware that it was an illustrated children's gospel story. If she had known, she would not have accepted it.

Just as I had never heard the word “God” until the age of twelve, or understood what the word meant, so too I'd never heard of this Jewish man born in Bethlehem. Yet as I read of the revolutionary Jewish rabbi who grew up in Nazareth, I was captivated by his story and was drawn into the powerful drama. Suddenly, I turned a page and was shocked and horrified by what I was reading. “They can't do that,” I exclaimed. I was gripped by the unexpected twists and turns of the narrative. My heart was broken as I read of the lies told about him and the injustice that was his trial. His execution left me distraught and in tears. But nothing could have prepared me for what I was to read next as I mournfully turned the page. Tears of joy replaced tears of sorrow as I saw that Yeshua had risen from the dead. Who was this wonderful man? I went to my room and, not knowing how to pray or what to say, prayed the Lord's Prayer as my confession of faith in Yeshua as my Messiah.

From Krym with Love

In his childhood my father used to go to Krym near the Black Sea for his holidays. One year, an elderly Russian lady dressed all in black had beckoned him over and given him a book as a gift. This book sat on the shelf amongst the many Russian classics, from Pushkin to Dostoyevsky. As I grew up I read through all these books until I came to this beautifully bound book which had a strange sounding name. When I had first picked it up at the age of eleven, I didn't even recognise the words as Russian. My brother told me that I wouldn't be able to understand a “spiritual book” without spiritual insight but I thought he was kidding me. However, as I read, I didn't understand anything so returned the book to its home on the shelf. Five years later, after the revolution I had experienced through reading the illustrated story of Yeshua, I once again picked up the mysterious book from Krym. This time things started to make sense. I realised that Yeshua was a real historical figure. If he was who he claimed to be, then the account of his life should be totally out of the ordinary.

A Sense of Divinity

Each day after I got home from school I would go to my room to read more of the Bible. After a few weeks my mother began to wonder where I was all the time and what I was doing. When she found out that I now believed that Yeshua was the divine Messiah and Saviour of Israel, she thought I had gone crazy. She said to me, “Rita, you are a clever girl; you’re not stupid; you don't need to believe in this”. After a while, my mother realised I had not joined a cult or lost my mind. She accepted that I was following my mind, heart and conscience.

Wanting to know more, I looked for a place where I could learn more about Yeshua. After visiting a few churches where they just sung songs all night, I found some people who seemed to study the Bible seriously. However, they turned out to be Jehovah's Witnesses. When it became clear that they taught Yeshua was not the divine Messiah, I left them. After all, if Yeshua was not both human and divine, what was the point? He could only die for his own sins and not mine!

Some time later, as my family prepared to make aliyah to Israel, someone from a Baptist Church in Fergana gave my older brother a Bible. It was an ordinary Bible; however on the back page there was the address of a congregation of Israeli Jewish people who also believed in Yeshua. It was these few “chance” lines in the back of a Bible that led me to the Grace and Truth Congregation in a town south of Tel Aviv, And it was there that I met my husband.

A Persecuted People

Many Jewish people brought up in the West are unable to see the real Yeshua because they are prejudiced by stories of persecution carried out “in his name”. However, like most Jewish people in the former Soviet Union, my experience of Christians was as the persecuted not the persecutors. After 70 years of Stalinist and Soviet oppression of the Jewish people in the name of atheistic communism, many had no knowledge of Yeshua. He was not the cause of our troubles. Initially, in my case, he seemed to be just another persecuted Jew. I soon realised, though, that he was much more than that; more than the Stalinists, Jehovah's Witnesses and most rabbis in Israel were ever willing to admit.

This article first appeared in the September 2005 edition of the Herald

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