Introduction by Jon Lieberman:
Greg went to North Central High School, Indianapolis, and for a short time attended Indiana University. He grew up with his family attending Bethel Zedek Congregation where he had his Bar Mitzvah. Greg was a gifted communicator representing many companies in software sales.
As you will read in Greg’s story, God definitely brought him into my life. We had many meaningful and deep conversations about the Lord, attended men’s retreats together, attended the same church, Grace Community Church, in Carmel, IN, and enjoyed frequent Monday morning breakfast times followed by intense times of prayer in my car asking God for direction in his job and career, and that his family, that he loved dearly, would accept Jesus as their Jewish Messiah. I met Greg in 1997 through a most unusual circumstance. He wrote his testimony in 2001.
I grew up in a very conservative Jewish home in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, Delaware Trails, right across from the Jewish Community Center in Indianapolis. When I was three-four years old I started my religious education. It was all I knew. Hanukkah as well as every holiday was a big deal in our home.
I was very close to my Grandma Segal (maiden name Zendel) who was very orthodox and kept a Kosher Jewish home. One of my cousins in Evansville traced our family lineage back to the Tribe of Levi – “Segal-Levin.” Her own grandfather had been the chief physician for the King of Austria, but during the Austrian revolution in the 1870’s her mother was sent over here to begin a new life.
Grandpa Segal was born in Russia and his own father was so Jewish that when he first came to this country in the 1800’s it wasn’t Jewish enough for him! He eventually moved to Palestine before it was Israel. One of Grandpa Segal's cousins came over here as a tailor, just like the one in Fiddler on the Roof.
Grandma and Grandpa Segal were owners of a very successful tavern business which they ran in downtown Indianapolis for 40 years. Somehow they managed to keep their Jewish lives separate from their business.
At age 5 I was confronted for the first time with just how different we Jews were and that there were some beliefs that we were not even allowed to discuss! My father took me to a local fair at Agusta Plaza on 73rd Street & Michigan Road. At one of the carnival booths I had knocked over the milk bottles and the man running the booth asked me what prize I would like. All I remember as I was looking up was that my eyes were fixated on a huge gold crucifix on a white marble stand with a beautiful purple velvet backdrop. I can still see it today. I don’t know why, but I kept staring at it. I then pointed at it and said, “I want that, Dad.” My dad said, “No, You can’t have it." I said, "Why." Dad said, "You can’t; we’re Jewish and we don’t have that!” I think my parents were pretty disturbed that day, but we never talked about it again.
When I was seven years old my dad on Saturdays used to take me downtown with him to go to the Executive Athletic Club. Dad would work out there. Afterwards as we were leaving one morning, I noticed this man yelling something about Jesus on a street corner. Dad would look at that guy and say to me, “He’s crazy. He’s meshugenah. Stay away from those kind of people.” That’s all he would say.
But it wasn’t until I was eight years old that I learned that Jews are not to believe in Jesus. One day, the Reitz kids, members of a German family in our neighborhood, came over to our home. They all came up on their bicycles and as my dad was painting our gutters, one of them directed a question to my dad, “Mr. Segal why don’t you believe in Jesus?” He said, “We’re Jewish. We’re still waiting for our Messiah. We don’t believe in Jesus, and we don’t believe he is God.” The kids, however, kept asking, “Why?” My dad emphatically said, “We’re Jewish and we don’t recognize Christ as our God. “ I was eight years old.
I remember one time that there was a show on TV about Christ and, believe it or not, all my family watched it. It was narrated by Walter Cronkite, the famous TV news commentator and journalist. The whole family sat there watching this program. No one asked any questions. We always took the cue from my father about whether we would talk about what we watched.
A good gentile friend of mine, Bobby Back, was a southern Baptist. Every Wednesday and Sunday night we would have to stop playing because they had to go to church. I didn’t think much about it, but they lived out their Christian life in front of me. I never forgot those pictures of Jesus on their family room walls. I knew that they were a very nice religious family.
When I was younger I always felt that I had a connection with God. I never really prayed and specifically asked God for help in situations, but I subconsciously trusted in God. I saw him as this awesome heavenly person, more like a man of some sort that was always there watching you. I had a fear of the Lord, being raised as a Jew, and believed that God would punish me if I did something really bad.
When it came time to begin serious religious studies, I personally was instructed by Rabbi and Mrs. Aaronson. This continued for several years. At the BJE (Bureau of Jewish Education) I had further private study the last 3 years leading up to my Bar Mitzvah at age 13. We studied the Torah, the Haftorah sections, how to put on tefillin, the Siddur (prayer book) and other areas of Judaism and Jewish history.
But like most of my friends, and many were non-Jewish, as we got into our teenage years, we all left traditional religion. I was preoccupied with my own selfish pursuits and was insensitive to others' feelings. I basically did what I wanted to do thinking that I was not accountable to any one, not even God. I on occasion would steal things, vandalize property, and never thought of the consequences.
Thinking back on that life style, I am ashamed about the foolish things that I did. But, at that time, I just felt that behavior was part of being a kid. Surprisingly, I still had this crazy idea that one day I was going to have a spiritual experience with God. I didn’t know when it would happen, but I knew that when it happened I would be set apart for God for some great spiritual purpose.
Years passed. I went to Indiana University in Indianapolis and studied finance and marketing. I began working as a corporate sales rep and had really great jobs. I was young, going out with friends all the time. Life was one big party. When my gentile catholic friends would get in real trouble, get drunk or arrested, I was always the one to bail them out. I rescued my friends and made sure that I would never go too far. I was a good Jewish boy! Now that I was older and more mature (at least in my own mind), to shame mom and dad would have been the worst thing that I could do. But I continued to live a sinful life, had plenty of girlfriends, smoked some pot, and mainly drank beer and partied. That was my life.
Things were about to drastically change in my life. When I was 26 I met Patty. She came from a conservative Catholic family. Her father was one of those self-made men, a WWII vet who carved his way through life becoming a very successful entrepreneur businessman. Not only did I put a lot of pressure on my self to succeed, but I also felt the obligation to please my father-in-law and live up to his expectations.
My parents wanted me to get married in Temple, but Patty was very catholic, and so we had a joint ceremony with a Priest and Rabbi at the Athletic Club in Indianapolis. No Rabbi wanted to marry us from Indianapolis. So we found a Rabbi Solomon Greenberg in Cincinnati who agreed to marry us, but we had to come to 8 classes and commit to joining the Temple. He later drove to Indianapolis to marry us.
At the same time, I signed a piece of paper for the Catholic Church agreeing that my son would be raised catholic. The Rabbi had even encouraged us to make a decision about how our children would be raised. It didn’t matter to him what way (though I am sure his preference would have been in Judaism), but he emphasized I needed to go one way or the other.
Patty said that unless the child would be raised catholic, we would not get married. In retrospect, I was open because to me it was not a big issue. I don’t know why I felt that way, but it just wasn’t a big issue at that time. So I signed the paper. My Mom and dad didn’t know about it until some time later.
Patty then became pregnant six months after we were married. The issue about Drew’s religious identity eventually came to a head when Patty insisted on Drew being baptized. I remember that this was the first instance of my being uncomfortable with the idea of going to a church. I delayed that day as long as I could until he was one-year-old. Then, the day of Baptism came. I was at a turning point and dreaded the arrival of that fateful day. I believed that this baptism would seal him into the Church. There would be no turning back!
As a Jew growing up, I never knew anything about the details of the ceremony of Baptism. All I knew was that it was for the gentile. I resisted it. I didn’t want to go into church, and was so was stressed out that I actually felt sick to my stomach. I believe that Patty and the Church, including the Priest, were very insensitive to my feelings. But looking back on it, I’m really glad for Drew. Even though it was very painful for me at the time, I began to develop a desire for the first time in my life to learn about Christ.
When we were married, we always had a Christmas tree. We celebrated Hanukkah and Easter. I actually enjoyed celebrating Christmas. I guess it was just a neat time to assimilate into mainstream cultural America. As a salesman I have always been visibly engaging others in the public. I never like feeling isolated in society. I was looking for that connection with all types of people. I just never liked being in any setting, secular, ethnic or religious, where people stayed on their own.
I did have many Jewish business friends who I observed dealt primarily with other Jewish business people. I wasn’t that way. I liked breaking away from that ethnic isolationism and tried to “forge my own unique identity,” and I did OK. I never, though, met any true Christians out in the business world and, because of that, I never understood what Jesus was all about.
I was making a lot of money, but at the same time I was spending it quite quickly on extravagant things. I wasn’t that way. I liked breaking away from that ethnic isolationism and tried to “forge my own u Things were moving pretty fast; I wasn’t ready for this jet-set paced life. There was just something missing in my life. I was putting myself under this unrealistic pressure that I had to hold onto this success or it would leave me. I put a lot of pressure on myself and a part of it was trying to live up to the expectations of my wife’s family.
I believed that I had a lot of potential, but I was also scared. I was only 26 years old, and had a lot of responsibility. I began to think that I was not worthy and that I might not be able to maintain this fast track of financial success. I felt really alone in this world. I knew that I was putting on a mask, appearing to always being in control of my life and self-confident. I even deceived myself into thinking that I really knew God. I thought that I knew God. I didn’t have the security of a relationship with God where I could really place everything in his hands.
I could not handle the family pressure and after a few years Patty and I separated and we eventually divorced. I continued, however, to long for a closer relationship with my son. Even though he was baptized, I would not let those differences divide us. I never put down his belief in Christ, even though I did not understand what he really believed about Jesus. I just knew that Jews were not supposed to believe in Christ. I knew that Christians had a strong belief in life after death, and if there was an afterlife and Jesus was the only way to get to heaven, then I didn’t want to be separated from my son. I even began to think about what would happen when I died.
As I got older I tried to maintain this spiritual connection with Drew. That was part of the reason I even considered the claims of Jesus. I wanted that bond with Drew.
In 1995 I was going through a major crisis in my life. My grandma Segal, who I was very close to, was living in Florida alone and said that she was not feeling well and wanted to be close to family. She moved back to Indianapolis and was later diagnosed with cancer and for three months she endured through a slow lingering death at St. Vincent Hospital. I used to visit her often during the week.
The night before she was to have an operation, a very bizarre thing happened in her room. The crucifix over the doorpost suddenly fell off and broke. In the middle of the night, it just broke in half! Those crucifixes are nailed very securely to the door. When she came out of surgery she seemed to intuitively know that her prognosis was not going to be very good. The doctor told her that a tumor had metastasized. I remember being in the room and she said, “It’s not good.” She said, “I want this crucifix that fell on the floor.” She proceeded then to hold it next to her on the night stand. She told my dad that when she is gone, she wants the crucifix buried with her. He said, “You’re crazy, you don’t know what you are saying. I’m not going to do that.”
Throughout the summer when she was quite sick, I went over there to sit with her and she grabbed my hand and whispered to me one day, “I think I believe in Yessel.” Yessel was the Yiddish name for Jesus. Jews were taught to never say that name (Jesus), so they substituted “yessel.” Not knowing who Yessel was or who Christ really was, I couldn’t support her and I just said, “Yeah, yeah.” I knew she was talking about Jesus, though.
One day in April of 1997 I began to seriously contemplate a permanent break up with the woman I had been dating for 3 years. I was in Broad Ripple at Kinkos and while I was talking on the phone a young woman next to me out of the clear blue said, “You look familiar, are you Jewish?” I said, “Yeah I’m Jewish.” She said, “My name is Ellen Goldberg.” I said, "Did you have a sister, Beth?" She answered in the affirmative and then told me that she was a Messianic Jew. I said, “What is that; what are you talking about? Oh, if that’s Jews for Jesus, I don’t know about that stuff!”
Ellen said, “You have got to meet this guy, Jonny Lieberman.” I then talked to Jon on the phone right there for about 10 minutes and we ended up making a luncheon appointment for the next week.
Jon and I met at Renee’s in Broad Ripple with my business partner. Jon shared with me his own personal search for truth as a Jew and gave me a book, More Than a Carpenter. The next night, even though I didn’t really want to read it, I picked it up anyway and read the whole book in about 30 minutes while lying in bed. The book discussed the historical facts about Jesus and at the end the author challenged the reader to discover whether Jesus’ unique claims about himself were made by one who was either a lunatic, a liar or the Lord, the Son of God. The author, Josh McDowell, systematically set forth very logical arguments for Jesus being the Messiah and divine. All the questions I previously had about Christ seemed to fall in place.
At the end of the book, Josh McDowell had a sample prayer that a true seeker said, in which the one praying acknowledged his need for God and forgiveness and that Jesus was the bridge between God and man. Was this the experience with God I had always thought I would have one day? Several crises were developing in my life at this time, all demanding that I make some decision. (1) I knew I was at the very end of this relationship with the woman. (2) I had just started a new business venture, and (3) I was now confronted with the claims of Jesus the Messiah.
The next week I was leaving my girlfriend’s home and all of a sudden I found myself asking God to make Himself real to me. It was a beautiful starry night and I was driving quite slowly down the road. I opened up the sunroof of the car and these words came out of my mouth, “Lord, if you are there, I need a sign. I’m in pain and I need to know that you are really there.”
It was unusual at that time of night to see so many kids in the White Castle, and I eventually found the only empty booth. I then saw a gentlemen two booths over. The man looked at me and without nay introduction or hesitation said to me, “God loves you.” I then without any forethought responded by saying, “I need help.”
He started talking to me and then came over to my table and said, “My name is Pastor Streitelmeyer. Our bus had broken down, and that is why we are here at this hour of the night.” He then called over the kids and said, “Hey everybody, this is Greg Segal, let’s pray for him.” I was stunned when they all began to gather around me and began to pray for me – right there in White Castle!
This was literally just ten minutes after I had prayed that prayer in my car! That was the turning point in my life. I knew that by accepting Christ in what is called “the sinner’s prayer,” I was now in God’s hand. I knew that I had to trust Jesus and go with the truth and I also knew my life was going to change. Even though my life was not where I wanted it to be, from then on my spiritual walk began to blossom. When I shared this experience with Jon, he was thrilled, and yet at the same time he spoke as if he expected something like this to happen to help me in my struggles with unbelief.
I was still trying to affirm my Jewishness and figure out how I was to live out this new relationship with God in the context of the Jewish community. Could I still be involved with any Temple or Jewish Community social/religious activities? What would my Jewish parents think? How was I to live out my faith in the light of what I knew was in conflict with what the rabbis taught our people? I felt that somehow I would discover answers to these questions by studying the Bible. Jon and I met for a few times to talk about the Bible, but I was still struggling to understand my Jewish identity.
In the meantime I eventually ended the relationship with that woman. Jon had been praying that I would find a good Christian mate and that I would end the relationship with that woman. One day, unexpectedly, I ran into Jon and his wife, Tammy, while I was with my son, Drew, at Chris’ Ice Cream shop on 86th Street. We hadn’t talked in a while and we both knew that God had allowed our lives to intersect that day. Again some time passed and I hadn’t seen Jon for a while.
In September of 1997, I was at a neighborhood party in Broad Ripple. I met this wonderful Christian woman, Micki, and we hit it off right away. Almost immediately I asked her where she was spiritually. I would have never asked that question before knowing Jesus. No other man that she had ever dated had asked her about her spirituality. We both had this sense that God had put us together.
Micki on several occasions had visited a church in Hamilton County called Grace Community Church. I visited with her and was quite impressed with the open contemporary worship they had and the hundreds (today it is thousands) of people that attended, many of them young people.
Several weeks later I heard about a Jewish Succoth festival that was being held at the Broad Ripple Park by the local Messianic Jewish congregation. I “just happened” again to run into Jon & Tammy Lieberman and he mentioned that he just started attending Grace Community. Was this another one of those signs?
Micki and I continued to see each other and by now knew that God had a special plan for our lives and we began to look forward to being married. I had been single for 10 years and she had been single for 15 years. Micki had one 21-year-old daughter from a prior marriage. For over a year we attended Grace, had special times of prayer and devotions together, studied the Bible, met more believers, and always asked a lot of questions.
Then, right before we got married, I told Micki that I wanted to be baptized. I decided this on myself. Pastor Dave Rodriquez, the senior Pastor at Grace, taught me about the meaning of baptism. Since the veil had been removed from my spiritual eyes and heart, I now understood the true meaning of baptism, something I didn’t know when Drew was baptized 10 years before.
A week before I was to be baptized, however, I went through a great spiritual struggle. I heard this voice in my mind saying, “You can’t do this; A Jew doesn’t do this.” I was literally being torn apart again spiritually. Because I mistakenly believed that it meant giving up being a Jew, the devil was there fighting for my soul. I was tormented in my mind for three days. I shared this with Micki, but I don’t think I was able to articulate the full extent of my struggles. I pressed on anyway and knew that it was what God wanted me to do. After that baptismal experience I felt renewed and at peace with myself and my God.
On June 7, 1998, Dave Rodriquez baptized me. I publicly identified with my Messiah Jesus, and acknowledged that I was a new person in Christ, that I had died to my old self, and that the Holy Spirit was now in my life.
For the first time in my life I gave up my sinful ways. Before this time, I had been frightened thinking about what was going to happen to me when I die. Now I knew! I am going to heaven. I wanted to change my life. I had lived 40 years for self and now as of my 40th birthday, Nov. 6th, 1998, I chose to spend the rest of my life living for God.
I am just now realizing that I need Him everyday. I may be tempted to return to my old ways, but I know that I am not alone in my struggles. I make a conscious effort to think about what God wants in my life. My ultimate goal is to be used everyday by him and to raise my son to know Jesus the Messiah.
I wanted so much to have this strong father-son bond with Drew, but there was always something missing, something separating us. Now I know that it was “Someone” that was missing in my life. Drew has been a real delight in my life and we have spent many days and weeks together discussing ways in which we can grow spiritually together. He discusses with me his interest in learning about his Jewish heritage. I could not have helped him before, since I personally did not know the Messiah. Now I can pray together with him since we are both serving the greatest Jew that ever lived, Jesus the Messiah.
I have come a long way since that day at the carnival when, as a little 5-year-old boy, I was fascinated with the mystique of that crucifix. The crucifix appeared again 30 years later in Grandma Segal’s hospital room. In 1997 I learned that the Jewish Messiah, the greatest Jew that ever lived, died on a cross for my sins, so that I might have eternal life by believing in Him.
The paradox is this: What I thought was such a non-Jewish belief (accepting Jesus as my Savior), ended up being the most “Jewish” thing that I could ever do. An irony is a word that can be used to explain an outcome that is the reverse of what would normally be expected. A paradox is a self-contradictory statement. In this case, “Believing in Jesus and being a completed Jew” is the greatest irony or paradox in history --- But it is the “emets” (Hebrew word for “the truth”).
MY PRAYER IS THAT EVERY JEWISH PERSON WHO READS MY STORY WILL KEEP AN OPEN MIND AND INVESTIGATE, AS I DID, THE CLAIMS OF JESUS. YOU WILL NEVER BE THE SAME IF YOU DO! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE AND EVERYTHING TO GAIN.
Greg had been having stomach and digestion problems for years, and he often told me that he just lives with his physical problems and that he is ok. In November of 2009, Greg was experiencing some bleeding and scheduled a colonoscopy. The surgeon discovered a malignant tumor, and he had to have an emergency operation.
Greg almost died post-op, and he languished for days in a drug-induced semi-coma. It was an absolute miracle that he even survived the surgery. Our small group of Messianic Jews and Micki, his wife, and her extended family that were also strong believers, interceded around the clock for him. God answered our prayers! We believe God brought him back and restored him for His purposes for whatever time he had left on earth.
Greg survived and lived for another 15 months and had time to develop an even deeper relationship with his son, Drew that he loved so much. It was quite a humbling experience for Greg to suffer physically and be so weakened by the chemo treatments. Before he died, Greg told me that He had peace with God and was prepared to go to heaven and be with Jesus.
He went to be with the Lord on February 21, 2010, to now be in the immediate presence of His Messiah that so graciously came into His life at just the right time. All of those in the Messianic Jewish community and other Christians at Grace Community Church will miss Greg’s vibrant personality. He had a profound impact on everyone he met. We know, though, that Greg is now rejoicing in heaven and can’t wait to see all of us that have trusted in God’s only way of salvation – faith in God and what God did in sending the Jewish Messiah, His son, to die on a cross in our place and for our sins.
The “trail of the crucifix “ message had reached its intended goal in Greg’s life when he found new life by dying to his old self and receiving an eternal life with God! Though he wanted more time with those who loved him, Greg affirmed what Rabbi Paul of Tarsus said:
1 "For to me, living means living for Messiah, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Messiah. So I really am conflicted between these two desires. 23 I really long to go and be with my Messiah, which would be far better for me." -- (Letter to the Philippians 1:21-23)
In the end, Greg finished his time on earth. He now waits to see all of us as we individually…
“fight a good spiritual battle, finish our journey and race, and keep the faith, because there is reserved for us in heaven a crown of righteousness for all of us that look forward to either their own death or His Second Coming." (Paraphrase of Paul statement in 2 Tim. 4:7-8)