Lily Isaacs is a survivor, from a family of survivors.
The Christian singer and matriarch of the Gospel/bluegrass band “The Isaacs,” was born as Lillian Fishman, in 1947, two years after World War II ended. Her parents – both Holocaust survivors from Poland – had met at a refugee camp in Germany.
Lily herself overcame extreme circumstances. She grew up in dire poverty as a poor Jewish girl in New York and suffered from extreme scoliosis. Later, she fought through breast cancer and many back surgeries.
Her remarkable story of grit in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles is told in her autobiography, “You don’t cry out loud,” which was released in 2014.
Lily considers her very existence a miracle since both of her parents barely escaped death during the mass executions of Jews in Nazi concentration camps in Poland. Her father, Uszer (Oscar) Fiszman, was beaten to the ground and nearly shot, and her mother, Feigle Jakobitz, was pulled by a friend from a line of women headed for a gas chamber and placed in another line leading to slave labor.
The book opens with Lily’s parents’ story of the incredible brutality and mass murder they witnessed in the Polish cities and Holocaust camps, and it is not easy reading. It’s also where she got the book’s title.
Lily’s grandparents and most other relatives living in Poland had been hauled away by the Nazis, never to be heard from again. Her parents were herded into box cars amid unspeakable conditions on their way to the death camps: Buchenwald for him, Bergen-Belsen for her. In 1945, the U.S. Army liberated Buchenwald, and the British Army freed Bergen-Belsen. Lily’s parents met at a refugee camp in Germany in 1946 and were married. Then, they set out for America.
“But You Don’t Cry Out Loud.”
While reflecting on those terrible days, Lily’s mother said, “What can you do? Tell me, what can you do? In a situation like that the only thing you think is, I hope I survive. I want to see where my family is. That’s what I was thinking. Nothing else. Sure, you cry inside, but you don’t cry out loud.”
During her childhood, Lily had virtually no spiritual life, although her family observed Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as part of their Jewish cultural life. She learned to love music and to act in Jewish community theater, and eventually got involved with the folk culture in New York’s Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. Sensitive about her curved spine, Lillian Fishman grew her hair long to hide it. It helped that long hair was “in” at the time.
She began performing with her friend Maria Neumann, and they recorded an album for Columbia Records. One night they did a gig at a club called Gerde’s, a folk mecca where Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie and other budding stars had played.
It was here she met her future husband, Joe Isaacs, who was playing banjo for a group called the Greenbriar Boys. She was 100 percent New Yorker, accent and all, and he was the son of a preacher, a hillbilly from Kentucky who grew up without electricity or running water in the house.
But they hit it off, married, had three children, and built a singing career on the Gospel/bluegrass scene. The group was first called the Calvary Mountain Boys and later Sacred Bluegrass before becoming “The Isaacs.” Their marriage had many ups and downs as the family’s star rose. Lily had seen what alcoholism had done to her own father, who battled nightmares from the Holocaust. She fought hard against Joe’s drinking problem, which came and went.
Her Come to Jesus Moment
Just before Christmas in 1970, Joe’s brother Delmer, 27, was killed in a car accident. The memorial service was held in a small Pentecostal church, and it deeply moved Lily, who had never been in a church before.
“Delmer’s funeral gave me my first glimpse of Christian love and togetherness,” she wrote. “It had a huge impact on my life.” The family later gathered again at the same church, and she heard testimonies and felt God tugging at her heart. As some people answered an altar call, she began weeping.
“At that moment, in that little church, all the longings and confusion and emptiness surfaced and were swept aside,” she recalled. “I cried my way to salvation.”
Her newfound faith was not without cost. Her parents were aghast and her mother accused her of abandoning her people. Lily’s tearful pleas were shot down. But Lily stuck with Jesus, who gave her peace in her heart. She got to pray with her Dad on her last visit to him before he died in 1978.
In 1998, Lily faced another crisis as she and Joe divorced after 28 years of marriage. While he went on to do solo work, she continued to perform with their daughters Sonya and Becky and son Ben. In total, the family made more than 20 albums and had two Grammy nominations.
A Special Time at Carnegie Hall
The Isaacs often performed with The Gaithers, including a 2004 concert in Jerusalem, where Lily recalled being thrilled and deeply moved to be sharing a Christian message and singing “Hallelujah” in her ancestral homeland.
Another highlight was in 2001, when Bill Gaither, who had invited “The Isaacs” to perform with his troupe at Carnegie Hall, called Lily’s mother up on the stage. It was not long after the September 11 attacks, and the city was on edge. Lily’s children sang “The Star-Spangled Banner. “I don’t think I could have been more proud,” she wrote.
Later came the moment when Mr. Gaither introduced Lily’s mother as an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor to the crowd of more than 3,000. Asked if she had anything to say, Faye, as she was then known, replied, “Well, I am proud to be an American.”
It brought down the house.
Surveying her remarkable life, Lily offered this: “There was always hope. Tyrants tried to destroy as many lives as possible. They tried to snuff out our existence, my existence, yet God’s divine plan marched on. … There is always hope.”
(Note: The Timothy Plan, the pioneer in Biblically Responsible Investing, is honored to offer Israel Common Values in our family of mutual funds.)
A writer for Timothy Partners, Ltd. He is a regular weekly columnist for The Washington Times and Townhall.com and is frequently published by AmericanThinker.com, DailyCaller.com, OneNewsNow.com, and others. He has authored the following books: “A Strong Constitution: What Would America Look Like If We Followed the Law” (D. James Kennedy Ministries, 2018), Invested with Purpose: The Birth of the Biblically-Responsible Investment Movement, and A Nation Worth Fighting For: 10 Steps to Restore Freedom.