The Amazing Legacy of Successful Broadway Actor: Faith-Based Israeli Rehab Center for Homeless and Hungry

Shabbat dinner at the House of Victory (Photo courtesy)

There is a unique rehabilitation center in Haifa that shares Yeshua and hope for both homeless Arabs and Jews, living on the street with alcohol problems and other challenges.

House of Victory (“Beit Nitzachon” in Hebrew), since its inception in 1991, has successfully renewed hundreds of lives and with the vision: “To divide our bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house” (Isaiah 58:7).

The rehabilitation center was founded by Pastor Dr. David Davis and his wife Karen just after the first Gulf War. The couple were called by God to leave their successful lives in New York City to serve the hurting and needy in Israel.

David, who sadly went on to be with the Lord in 2017, had been a successful Broadway actor, as well as a professor and head of the drama department at Fordham University. He met the Lord in the mid-1980s while attending a prayer meeting with Broadway actors and musicians at a Times Square recording studio.

After being radically saved, he met Karen, a struggling actress, through a mutual friend shortly after. He writes in his autobiography, “The Road to Carmel” that God spoke to him in his spirit the first time that he took Karen out for coffee, telling him: “This is your wife.” Karen had also come to accept Yeshua, Jesus, as her savior not long before that, after reading the New Testament and realizing how Jewish it was.

Not long after that, David found himself on his knee proposing to her and they were married in 1987 in Brooklyn, at a ceremony in their church pastor’s backyard.

The following summer, the Davis duo arrived in Israel for a two-week vacation. While in Jerusalem, David visited with Frida, a Christian Arab woman whom he had met during a previous trip. She told him that Jerusalem, and especially the Old City, was suffering from a severe drug problem.

After visiting the Galilee in the north, David and Karen felt a calling to move to Israel and work with addicts. Not long after that, while attending Times Square Church, Pastor David Wilkerson confirmed that God was, indeed, calling them to Israel.

David, who had become involved in an all-night Friday prayer vigil for Israel, writes in his autobiography: “At another all-night prayer meeting, in the early hours of the morning, I was praying for Israel and the drug addicts there, when a spirit of travail came upon me. I told the Lord I would go to Israel and build Him a house for Jewish and Arab drug addicts.”

He writes that in the following months, he received continual confirmations from the Lord with regard to moving to the land. In one final confirmation, David described how he and Karen were in need of $300 to begin an intensive course in basic Hebrew before moving to Israel, when he was stopped by a stranger on the street. The stranger told David he had been looking for him and recognized him from the Times Square Church services.

David writes: “Oh, you’re the one I’m looking for!” he said in a strange foreign accent that I couldn’t place. I’ve seen you in the church. You’re going to Israel. Here, God told me to give you this.”

The stranger then shoved a roll of bills into his hand, which turned out to be close to the $300 that they needed for the Hebrew course. Soon after, David submitted his resignation to Fordham and took a two-week trip to Israel to investigate the drug problem for himself.

A social worker in Jerusalem told him that every third household in the Muslim and Christian quarters of the Old City contained a drug addict. The drug epidemic in Israel was additionally confirmed by doctors at Nazareth Hospital, who spoke of a drug epidemic on the city’s streets.

As David was at Ben-Gurion International Airport, he picked up a copy of The Jerusalem Post, whose headline read: “At least 40,000 Drug Dealers in Israel.” In the article, a source was quoted as saying that there were an estimated 100,000 hard drug users in a nation of less than five million, with other sources estimating at least twice that number. The article cited a Member of Knesset (Israeli Parliament) who wrote: “Addiction is the number two problem in Israel after security.” The article referred to the “drug plague” that had come upon the land.

In August 1989, David and Karen moved to Israel when an apartment became available for them in Jerusalem. They later moved to an apartment at the top of Mount Carmel outside of Haifa, but before David and Karen could begin their ministry, the Gulf War intervened.

While Saddam Hussein was attacking Haifa with his Scud missiles, the couple were forced to stay in their sealed room and wear gas masks. Thankfully, the war ended with very few casualties, however there was substantial property damage. Following the truce, two weeks later the Davises launched their drug rehabilitation program in Haifa.

David writes in his autobiography: “Our first two residents were a former Muslim communist and a Jewish immigrant from  New York – with a prison record.” In his book, he writes about successfully bringing in a growing number of Jewish and Arab youth against a background of an intense hedonistic lifestyle in the surrounding society, These youth had been exposed to drugs, pornography and satanic heavy metal rock groups. He describes how hard the work was initially when they began to help their residents become free from their addictions.

The ministry operated with the help of mostly foreign volunteers in the beginning, but by 1992, David realized they would need trustworthy permanent staff. On a trip back to New York and the Times Square Church, David began interviewing individuals for permanent staff positions.

Eric Benson, a member of Times Square Church, had been raised a Roman Catholic in Connecticut. He recounts watching a television documentary about the Holocaust as a
10-year-old boy and being moved to tears. In high school, he read Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel’s “Night,” including the author’s life with his father in two Nazi concentration camps,  and was again moved to tears. In college, he took courses relating to Israel and Jews.

Then, in 1979, Benson was on Venice Beach in Santa Monica, California when someone told him the Iranian revolution was like the beginning of Gog and Magog and told him to read the Bible. That same year, on July 4, he was reading Ezekiel 38 which speaks of “Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshek and Tubal,” and the news headlines read that Iran was seeking to destroy Israel.

At that time, Eric said, he wanted to commit suicide because he didn’t know what to do with his life. By 1982, he had come to the conclusion that Jesus was the Savior of Israel and he asked God what the call on his life was to be and felt the Lord say something about the Holocaust and Israel.

By 1987, Benson went to Bible school and as he was about to graduate in 1990 and asked God, one again, for direction. At that time he heard in his spirit “ Israel via New York.” He felt he needed to go to New York City and ultimately ended up working to help drug addicts. He also felt called to join Times Square Church and work with the New York School of Urban Ministry, helping addicts. Soon after Benson met Davis and was hired to work at House of Victory.

Benson moved to Israel to join the staff at House of Victory, would later become the assistant director to the center and, in 1997, he was to become the director.  Time Square Church provided support and David appointed him with the responsibility to run the House of Victory’s Haifa facility and the drug withdrawal program.

Benson said the rehabilitation center ministry creates “an atmosphere of love that allows the participants of the drug center to see the love of Yeshua.”

“The residents of the program are encouraged to read through the New Testament, as well as the Old. They need to know Yeshua. Bible study, prayer and worship are emphasized,” Benson added.

Although he had a burden for Jews going through withdrawal, Benson said he recognized that he did not have as strong a love for the Arab community with the same challenges.

God asked him, “Do you love Arab people?” Benson said he felt ashamed with the answer in his heart and asked God to give him a love for Arab people.

Shortly afterwards, an Arab man came into the center. Eventually, Benson met his sister, fell in love and about one year later they were married at  the Stella Carmel Chapel, with David officiating.

At the House of Victory rehabilitation center, Benson described how they generally encounter new residents, and referred to the center as a home that welcomes each one, adding that the average stay is about six months. Most participants are over the age of 18, and they once took in a 73-year-old man, who successfully went through the program. The participants are not required to pay, although House of Victory will sometimes receive donations from grateful family members. Most of our support comes from abroad. He said the center currently has 8 participants that they are treating and that it is about “as many as they can handle.”

“The ministry finds those in need through word of mouth and by street ministry,” he said. “We find alcohol and drug addicts out on the street and bring them to the home where they are cleaned up, fed, go through withdrawal, and begin participating in prayer meetings and Bible studies. Some are referred by lawyers or the courts.”

“We share our beliefs with them,” Benson continued, “and tell them that through faith in Messiah they can become a new person.”

Benson emphasized that the residents do not receive any psychological help or medication, but instead that they are healed through repentance and the Word of God.

“They must say no to sin and yes to Yeshua, Jesus. And they must follow the rules, like not smoking. If they agree they are admitted, if not, no.”

“There are those who leave and may return as many as two or three times after being in other programs. We have received news of some participants who have returned to Russia and who are still clean after 20 years. Others have left and started their own ministries or have become pastors.”

Benson said they have a 100% success rate for those who have accepted Yeshua and followed the rules set down by House of Victory, including refraining from addictive behaviors and continuing to be a member of a believing community.

The Israeli government has attempted to shut down House of Victory because of its faith-based programming and due to restrictions on organizations that offer drug rehabilitation, requiring the center to hire professional staff, such as psychologists and licensed physicians who are able to prescribe medications, which Benson believes only replaces one form of addiction with another. Because of this House of Victory is geared more to helping the homeless and alcoholics, but they can’t help those who need medication, they take people off of alcohol and drugs “cold turkey.”

Describing the situation further, Benson said, “There are those who receive fentanyl from doctors for pain and end up buying it on the street, illegally. They are not able to go through withdrawal here. We are not set up medically to help them with withdrawal, we can’t afford the necessary medical staff, psychologists, physicians, etc. We help them to deal with life-controlling issues. We bring homeless men into our home who have no place else to go.”

“We are rehabilitating the homeless,” Benson added.

When asked about future plans for House of Victory, Benson said “We just want to continue to serve the needs of the land of Israel and, if needed, we will rent additional space.”  The center currently has three full-time staff members, plus volunteers, but are still in need of additional funds in order to hire more full-time staff.