I grew up in the United States in an upper middle-class Jewish family. Although we went to the synagogue on all the Jewish holidays, the real religion in our home was humanism. Intellectual achievement and education seemed to be celebrated above all else. I don’t think any of us, except maybe my mother, really believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. My father was an automotive engineer and my mother died of cancer many years ago. One of my two brothers died of an overdose on drugs when he was nineteen years old. My remaining brother is a jazz musician/psychiatrist in New York City.
Growing up, I was trained in classical music and later studied painting at an art school in Philadelphia. I then moved to New York to be part of “the art scene” there, where I continued to develop my musical ability through vocal training and song-writing workshops, while working as a shoe model for the high-fashion company, Charles Jourdan.
For years, I had been on a search for eternal truth. To my thinking, “God” was that “creative spirit” behind the beauty and harmony of music and art which so stirred my soul. In my longing to tap into “this force,” I plunged deeply into various New Age and occult practices. But after many years of trying one technique after another, I still felt an empty place in my heart. I had tried to fill that emptiness through romantic relationships with men, but instead I had suffered many disappointments.
Finally one day, realizing that I was worn out and had no answers left to make my life work, I knocked on the door of a friend who lived in my building, thinking maybe she would have some advice for me. Camille opened the door and I said, “Do you have a few minutes? I need someone to talk to.” She and I had been friends for two years, and she seemed to “have it all together.” She was an actress and comedienne who worked on the famous children’s TV series, “Sesame Street,” and created new characters for the “Muppet” movies. She had a peace about her that was different from my other friends who meditated, chanted and talked a lot about “inner peace.” Sometimes I would see her carrying a Bible and wonder how someone so sophisticated and intelligent as Camille would be interested in such an old-fashioned book.
Occasionally Camille would give me tickets to a gospel concert and I would go. I was always deeply moved by the music and would weep all through the singing. “These people have the spirit!” I would think. Then there would be an invitation to receive Jesus and I would run out, saying to myself, “I’m Jewish. This doesn’t have anything to do with me.”
As I sat in Camille’s apartment that day, I poured out my heart to my friend, who just listened. When I finished, I asked if she had any advice for me. She replied, “Would you like to pray?” I thought for a moment and answered, “I’ve never done that before. Why not? I’ve tried everything else. I’ll try it.” Camille then led me in a brief prayer in which I repeated the words after her. I asked God to help me and I admitted I could not save myself. I also asked Jesus to forgive my sins, even though I didn’t really know what sin was. Then I asked Jesus to come into my heart and thought to myself, “Maybe he’s another Master.” When I finished the prayer, I turned to her and said, “But Camille, this couldn’t be the only way!” She simply looked at me and said, “It is.”
At that moment the Spirit of Truth pierced my heart like a knife, cutting through all my preconceived ideas and the cherished philosophies I had lived by. Although I couldn’t explain it, I knew I had heard the truth. Truly “flesh and blood” had not revealed it to me.
Suddenly I remembered a dream I had had the night before. In the dream I was in a room with a bright light, but after some time the light grew dim. Then I saw another room with a bright light and went into it. After a while the same thing happened. I went from room to room always with the same result. Finally I came out onto an open field with brilliant sunlight. Then the scene switched to the poorest section of downtown New York City, where a group of children were on their knees begging for bread. The next thing I saw was a curtain ripped from top to bottom, and I woke up.
That morning the dream had made no sense to me so I had forgotten it. Now I understand that it was a picture of my life, of my long search for truth through the many counterfeits, my resultant spiritual poverty and finally to “the true light which gives light to every man” (John 1:9).
Because I had never read the New Testament before, I didn’t know that Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world,” or “I am the living Bread that comes down from heaven,” or that unless you come to Him as a little child, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God. I didn’t know that the veil in the temple in Jerusalem had been torn from top to bottom when Jesus died on the cross during Passover, and that no one could go beyond the veil into the Holy of Holies except the high priest on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Now I understood that in His great love and mercy God had allowed me to suffer many severe disappointments in order to bring me to the end of myself, to humble me, and to cause me to turn to Him. Through the atoning blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus, the veil over my Jewish heart was removed. “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13).
Before I left her that day, Camille gave me a New Testament, and assured me that as I read, God would begin to answer my many questions and confirm to me who this Jesus was. I returned to my apartment and began reading the Gospel of Matthew. I noticed that it was all so Jewish. Jesus was a Jew and so were His first followers. I began devouring the Bible and in the weeks to come I saw how the Old Testament and the New Testament were one book—that the promise of the Messiah in the old covenant was fulfilled in the new covenant. For the first time in my life, I began to realize what it meant to be Jewish, that God had called out a people for Himself to know Him personally, to share Him with the rest of humanity and to be a “light to the Gentiles.”
As I continued to call upon the Messiah of Israel, Yeshua, the love of God began to stream into my heart. Old hurts were fading away as a new joy and peace took over. No longer could I sing romantic songs of human love, selling a message of false hope to the world. Now my desire was to sing of the true love of my life, of the One whose love had touched and healed the deepest places in my soul.
Alongside this new unspeakable joy that swept over my life, I began to feel as never before the deep pain and comfortless grief of so many of my own Jewish people who still stood outside the door to the Father's love and healing. As I began to cry out in prayer for them, the Lord put a promise in my heart that one day I would live in the land of my inheritance and share this gift of life with my people.
That day came in 1989 when my husband David and I moved to Israel, leaving behind the world of the arts in New York City, with a vision from the Lord to help drug addicts through the power of God's love. It was not accidental that it had been through an Arab woman in the Old City of Jerusalem that we first learned of the drug epidemic in Israel. It was also not by chance that our first invitation to minister as a couple in Israel came from a pastor in Turan, an Arab village in Galilee. As we were approaching the village where I would sing and David would preach, I suddenly realized that I felt nothing for the people before whom we were about to minister. I didn’t feel hostile or angry, but I realized that my heart was cold toward them. After all, hadn't I come to Israel to reach out to my people—the Jewish people—who were hurting and lost? And weren't the Arabs really our enemies?
I told my husband that we needed to stop the car and pray—that I couldn't stand before them with my heart in this condition. As we began to pray, the words of Jesus from Matthew 5:46-48 suddenly came to my mind: "For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brother only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
I knew the Lord was saying to me that He loves the Arab people as much as He loves the Jewish people and that He had called me to this land, first and foremost, as His ambassador, to represent Him and His love here on earth. Even though I was now an Israeli citizen, my true and deepest citizenship was in the kingdom of heaven (Phil. 3:20). He was telling me that in everything I would do here in Israel that He wanted me to carry His heart at all times for both peoples, the Arabs and the Jews. I began to weep as the Spirit of the Lord came into my heart, melting away the coldness, and enlarging and filling it with His love for the Arab people.
We started the car again and drove into the Arab village. As we entered the little church, the Arab women greeted me with open arms and kisses. I stood before them and sang one of my favorite songs, "Behold I'm New in Jesus," thanking God that He enabled me to sing those words "in spirit and in truth."
Some months later we began reaching out to drug addicts in Haifa and founded "Beit Nitzachon" (House of Victory), a residential rehabilitation center for Jews and Arabs. For over a decade now we have witnessed the miracle of the transforming power of God's love as He works in the hearts of afflicted men to be reconciled to Him through the blood of Yeshua and then toward each other.
The Lord has continued the good work He began in my heart that day on the road to Turan. For some time I still found it difficult to hear the Arabic language spoken, as I had usually heard it spoken in anger and for so long associated it with acts of violence toward the Jewish people. Now as I was developing relationships with my Arab brothers and sisters in the Lord and heard their prayers and their worship in Arabic, I began to hear the true beauty of the language when it became a language of love. I sought out an Arab sister in Haifa, Ibtisam, and asked her to teach me some of her worship songs in Arabic. As the worship leader of Kehilat HaCarmel (the congregation which arose alongside Beit Nitzachon), I now often include an Arabic song in our mostly Hebrew worship services.
The Lord has called us as Jews and Gentiles—Jews and Arabs—into one body (Eph. 2:15-16) in order that we would become a dwelling place of God, a habitation for His Spirit (Eph.2:21). We have sought in our work at Beit Nitzachon and Kehilat HaCarmel to express this unity, in hope that many would glimpse the reality of the kingdom of God—that those who have never known His love would "taste and see" that Yeshua is the "new and living way" to true peace.
Whether or not a political solution is ever found to our situation here, it will only be through the atoning blood of the Lamb of God that we will be delivered from the hostility and pain lodged in our hearts as Jews and Arabs here in the Middle East.
© Karen Davis www.carmelcongregation.org.il May be used with copyright information