Yuval Center for Worship and the Arts in Israel is a unique ministry which has served the local body for over a decade. Currently located at Yad HaShmona outside Jerusalem, they educate and train in the arts from a Messianic point of view.
“Our goal is to direct the hearts of the artists, both adults and children, to focus on God. Our talents and abilities are gifts from above, and we should use them for his glory,” said Liel Davis who leads Yuval together with her husband, Yoel.
“For us that’s an obvious fact, but it turns out, not everyone realizes this. There are children and young people who are amazing musicians and excel in the academy, but some have lost this sense of purpose. So in Yuval we give an education that is both highly professional and also a discipleship. Our believing teachers direct our students to the right heart. They graduate not just with musical abilities, but with the right spirit. We want them to take what they learn here and use it for worship in their congregations and wherever the Lord leads them.”
Yuval offers classes in music, both vocals and instruments, but also in dance, art and more. Many new ideas are currently taking form, including a class in media and filmography and also in writing. “We hire professionals who have been working in the field they are teaching. Just because it’s Messianic doesn’t mean it should be of less quality,” Davis said. “On the contrary, we strive for a high standard, and those who graduate from here should feel equal in skills to anyone who graduated from a secular school of arts.”
The past year has been a year of changes and new directions for the ministry. Liel and Yoel took over the leadership just as the COVID-19 pandemic shook the world, and forced more changes to Yuval than they had anticipated. Not only did they successfully ride out the storm, they used the opportunity to enable a fresh start and establish a new direction and vision for the ministry. “We are more than just a Messianic community center for children to learn music, we are developing in new directions,” Davis told KNI. “That’s why we call ourselves a center for worship and the arts. We do a lot of worship and music, but it’s about all kinds of different art forms. Currently, we have branches in Tel-Aviv, in Ramat Gan, here in Yad HaShmona and in the moshav Yitav in the Jordan Valley.”
Yuval’s name comes from the first musician in the Bible, mentioned in Genesis 4, and it also means river. The word is used in Jeremiah 17:7-8 which says “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river.” The vision and the idea to establish Yuval started with the Messianic artist and musician Irit Iffert and Alex Atlas in 2010, and they led it together with Jael Kalisher until they passed it on to Liel and Yoel Davis.
Iffert studied at the Rimon School of Music, a music school known for its academic excellence, with many now famous Israeli artists who have gone through that school. While Iffert studied there, it was on her heart to create a Messianic equivalent. She saw that the potential for professional teaching in the fields existed among the many gifted Messianic artists and realized that the dream was possible. So she turned with the idea to Alex Atlas, Messianic musician and worship director at Grace and Truth Congregation, and found out that he had envisioned the same for years. Together they turned to a number of leaders in the Body of the Messiah in Israel, and they formed the board of the new non-profit and provided the initial financing.
After a couple of years, Jael Kalisher joined Iffert in leading Yuval, and together they developed the ministry until 2020. For this first decade, Yuval operated from the facilities of the Pavilion in the Clal building in Jerusalem. At its peak, over 250 students were enlisted in the various courses. At one point they opened classes for adults as well and arranged worship evenings and song-writing workshops, often through cooperation with congregations and ministries. They were also involved in producing worship CDs.
In 2020, Iffert and Kalisher, turned to Liel Davis, who had previously worked at Yuval as office manager. “Yuval had always been on my heart, that’s why I worked there in the first place,” Davis told KNI. “I brought it before my husband Yoel, and it was like a puzzle coming together. God had prepared us for this moment, and it occurred at the exact right time. He closed his media company and together we took over the leadership of Yuval.”
They took over the ministry in perhaps the most challenging time. It was July 2020, and Israel was in its second lockdown, and Yuval’s financial future was uncertain. Shortly after that, an opportunity for us to move our center to Yad HaShmona opened. We went to see the facilities, and we were shocked! A concert hall, individual music rooms, an art room, office spaces, and even a place where we can build a recording studio. It was exactly what we needed. We moved in, and this is where we have operated since.”
Now they often use the studio to help Messianic artists record their songs. “These are artists we want to support,” Davis said. “Yuval’s goal is also to support artists and encourage them to create. We want our place to be a home for artists. People can use our facilities to practice, to do recordings, and my husband Yoel who has a background in media, can even help them produce a video clip. We want the Messianic artists to feel they have unlimited freedom to create here. Yuval is not about us, it’s about God’s heart and vision for the artists. We want this vision to be in the DNA of the ministry no matter who leads it.”
Davis added that it’s not only limited to musical artists. People are welcome to use their facilities to paint, or to come for a quiet place to sit and write. “We welcome all types of art. Writing is an art, creating video and editing is an art, carpentry is an art. It’s not just about the technical knowledge, but the thought, the creativity, the idea. We also welcome all styles. There is no such thing ‘bad art.’ Your art is good, because it’s yours and it’s your style, and since it’s yours, work on it and be the best you can at it. If you love it, God loves it, because it’s from him, and it’s all for him. We really believe this. We are here to give a place where you can create and worship God through your art.
Liel Davis herself grew up in a believing family in Israel. Her parents are both Israelis who grew up in religious Jewish families, and they were both new believers when she was born. As a child she excelled in gymnastics and dance – until the accident.
“I was twelve years old when I broke my leg so bad they thought they might need to amputate it. I was never able to go back to dancing. I was mad at God. This was my one passion, the thing I loved more than anything. I was on the verge of competing internationally, and I was aiming at the Olympics. Why did he take away all my dreams? I had serious doubts about God’s existence. I was one year in a wheel chair, another year on crutches, and I had to relearn to walk. For a long time I didn’t go to school, I just stayed home and was bitter.”
It was in this moment that she picked up her Bible, thinking “God, this is your last chance with me,” and it opened to John 1. “When I read ‘He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made.’ I realized I had been so in love with dancing, that I had forgotten about the most real and true thing – he who was in the beginning with God. I see this as the moment when I gave my life to the Lord.”
Sometime later, Alex Atlas, Messianic musician and worship director at Grace and Truth Congregation, turned to Liel’s mother and said he wanted her to sing for a CD he was producing. “It was exactly when I needed help from God to figure out what I’m good at. The one thing I knew how to do well had been taken from me, but this helped me realize I know to sing. I was included in more CDs, I started leading worship in the congregation, I learned to play the piano, and this is where my passion for art comes from,” Davis said. “My husband has been involved in the arts and media since a young age as well, so when they offered us to lead Yuval, it felt like it came directly from God. This was exactly what the Lord had prepared us for.”
Despite the pandemic, Yuval still engaged 80 students during the last year. Their goal now is to grow and spread out further throughout Israel, to reach as far as possible with their vision. May we see many more Messianic musicians, artists, writers, dancers, and film makers grow out from this amazing ministry.
[Full disclosure – Liel Davis has previously worked at KNI]