Bound for the Promised Land
Book review by Bodil F. Skjøtt, Danish Israel Mission
Bound for the Promised Land is indeed a very fitting title of a newly published book which tells the story of Haya (and Menahem) Benhayim and their journey from the United States to Israel as far back as in 1963 when they – as the first Messianic Jewish couple – made aliyah and settled in the land of their forefathers.
The beginning of their stories – both Haya and Menahem are children of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and both the seventh child in the family – resembles that of so many Jewish immigrants who came to America at the turn of the 20th century. Their parents settled on the east coast of the new home land and orthodox traditions – brought along from “the old land” – impacted daily life and family traditions through the years of their upbringing. However, their encounter with committed believers in Yeshua soon impacted the lives of both of them, and this in turn let to a course very different from most other Jewish immigrants and certainly from the rest of their family. It led them to be the first American couple ever to settle in the “Wild West” town of Eilat.
Haya and Menahem did so as early as 1963 after having arrived by ship in Haifa in March the same year. They were not only the first American couple to settle in Eilat, but also the first Messianic Jewish couple to move to Israel from America. Their now more than forty years in the promised land have impact-ed not only them but also the Messianic movement here in a significant way. They have served the Messianic community in Israel in different capacities and are, as David Stern writes in a foreword to the book, “beloved by the entire Body of Messiah in Israel.” To this could be added “and members of the LCJE”, where they are among the veterans and where their contribution is much appreciated.
However, the story told in the book does not focus on positions they have had and contributions they have made. Rather, it is a very personal story of what it was like to start a whole new life in what might be the land of their forefathers, but which was still a new and very different place to them. The chapters take the readers through life on a kibbutz, years spent in hot and humid Eilat, where Menahem worked in the office of a shipping company, through troubled times of wars both in 1967 and again in 1973 and finally their move in 1977 up to Jerusalem. At this time Menahem had begun writing articles for both secular and Messianic English language publications and had been asked to serve as (part time) Israel secretary for the International Messianic Jewish Alliance. Living in Jerusalem made it easier for Menahem to stay informed of what was happening in the country and in the Messianic community, and this was an advantage for his writing activities. However, it also meant having to deal with hostile neighbors when these learnt about their faith and connection to the Messianic community. At a certain time posters were put up all around their block warning others that “the Benhayims were dangerous missionaries.”
Throughout the book the readers sense the joy and the vibrant life of Haya. That doesn’t mean it omits the troubled and difficult times they experienced living in Israel both as newcomers and as Messianic believers not welcomed by the majority if their own. Also through such time God has been faithful and seen them through. The perfect is in the life to come. As it says in the final chapter: ”In heaven with Yeshua we’ll find our final home.”
Bodil F. Skjøtt