BETWEEN THE LINER NOTES
Lily's Bluegrass Jubilee
By Stephen Hubbard with Scott Ross
The 700 Club
If that don’t make you want to go (brother)
If that don’t make you want to go (sister)
If that don’t make you want to go (to Heaven)
I don’t know what does.
Do The Isaacs sing gospel, country, folk, or bluegrass? The answer is probably “all of the above.”
The family matriarch jokingly calls it “Jew-grass,” but Lily Isaacs is simply hinting at her heritage.
She is a German-born Jew from New York City who currently lives in the hills of Tennessee.
Her parents ended up in the concentration camps.
“My parents are Polish-born in a town called Chintztahov,” Lily says. “When WWII broke out, they were taken first to the ghettos in Poland and then transported to Germany. They spent five years like that. They were liberated from Belzenberger.”
Lily Isaacs’ parents suffered atrocities that make it a miracle she’s even here today.
“They separated my mother from her friend Sabrina,” she says. “Sabrina said, 'She’s coming with me,' and pulled her out of that line -- which normally they would’ve been shot immediately but somehow she got through. Later on she found out that the line she was to go to was for the gas chambers.
“Simply because it happened to my parents and I never knew my grandparents who were all killed, I taught my children and my grandchildren never to forget what happened.”
Young Lily came to New York City with her parents and dreamed of performing in the Jewish theatre.
Along the way, she formed a duo with a fellow actress named Maria and cut a folk album for Columbia Records.
“Because of that we started performing in a little coffee house called Gertie’s Folk City in Greenwich Village,” she says. “There was another act that we opened up for called the Greenbriar Boys from Kentucky. I’d never heard that kind of music before. Never heard a banjo before...
“That’s when I met Joe. We dated a couple of years and got married in 1970.”
A Jewish girl and a Kentucky guy… Talk about a clash of cultures.
“When we married we were in love, and we were blinded to anything else that was around us,” she says. “We didn’t think it was an obstacle. At the time he was not a Christian even though he was raised in a Christian home. He didn’t have any strong religious convictions about his salvation.
“I was nothing. I mean I was raised Jewish but I was practically an agnostic. I didn’t know what I believed. I just knew I was a Jewish kid from the Bronx.”
When Joe Isaacs’ older brother was killed in a car accident, the life of this “Jewish kid” would be forever changed as her in-laws gathered for a memorial service.
“I didn’t want to go because Jewish people don’t go to church,” she says. “I had never been to church in my life, and I really was offended by that invitation. But I thought I’ll go just to be a devoted wife and for the family’s sake.
“I sat in the very last pew because I was ashamed to be there. It was just so foreign. The spirit of God was so real there, and I’d never felt that before. I felt a feeling of peace.
“To be truthful with you, I don’t know how I did it, but for the first time in my life, I got down on my knees. I didn’t know the words to say because I didn’t know I was lost. I couldn’t ask God to forgive me of my sins. I didn’t know I was a sinner, but that night when I knelt, I cried. I cried and I cried my way through to the Lord. I’m glad that God understands my tears.”
The name of Jesus was hard for Lily to utter.
“His name was a hang-up,” she says. “I could say 'God,' but when it came to Jesus, it offended me.”
Lily began going to church and word got back to her family in New York that she had “fallen off the deep end.”
She says, “My mother called and said, ‘We’re very ashamed of this, and we won’t approve. If you don’t give up that crazy religion, this Jesus stuff, you can forget about ever coming home again. Your father and I don’t ever want to see you again.’ My father told me he’d rather see me walking the streets or dead than be a reproach to my family. I thought these are the parents that I wanted to bring joy to and suddenly they’ve rejected me when all I’ve done is accepted Jesus into my heart. So I had to answer them. I had a choice to make, and I told them that I loved them. I didn’t want to lose what I’d found in the Lord.
"When I went to the altar, it was easy to say Jesus because it was all that I had left.
Lily’s family went on to win Dove awards, chart No.1 songs, and play the Grand Ole Opry.
But all the while, she struggled to find peace with her own beloved parents.
“It’s been hard. There have been times when I really wanted to witness to them -- especially when my father on his dying bed. I got to pray with him. Even though he didn’t really understand, I felt his spirit just clinging to what I had to say.”
Lily faced another great difficulty in her life. After 28 years of marriage, she and her husband divorced in 1998.
“It was devastating for both of us,” she says, “but you move on. My life has been so rich with the Lord, and I’m so thankful that you can survive after catastrophe when you lean on the Lord.”
Through all of her trials, Lily has a message for the Jewish community.
“I’ve had Jewish people come to me and ask, ‘How do I do this? I don’t want to change the fact that I’m Jewish.’
“When I realized that I did not have to change a thing about who I was, my heart automatically changed. I fell in love with Yeshua. His spirit came in and took abode within my heart, and I looked at the world so differently… I know there probably are people out there that don’t understand but you don’t have to understand. All you have to do is give your heart.”
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