A Long Island Jewish Country Singer Finds Peace
King David says, “I sought the Lord, He answered me, and delivered me from my fears” (Psalm 34:4). And who would have thought that the girl who made her singing debut at three years old, at a bar mitzvah, would be almost paralyzed by the fear of performing as an adult? Yet it was that gripping fear that brought me to know the only one who could save me.
I’m a nice Jewish girl from Long Island (with accent). My mother grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home and my father in a Conservative one—he was bar mitzvah and went to Hebrew school—but our home was Reform. Yet my parents had a deep personal commitment to their Judaism and they sought very much to instill that in me.
Music meant everything to me. At five, the first record player; at seven, the first piano lesson. I won a couple of music awards in junior high and high school and then went on to music college. It was in the last year of high school and the years that followed that I began a spiritual search outside of Judaism. And I looked into everything: Baha’i, transcendental meditation, yoga, self-experience auditing, the Unity Church, the First Community Church of Religious Science. If it had anything to do with the New Age movement, I had probably seen it, heard about it or done it. A lot of the New Age movement teaches you that you are god in your universe and you can create it all, so… go ahead! Well, as you can imagine, that left me feeling very alone.
In 1990 I was living in Dallas, Texas, and hoping to have a career in country music. (By March 1991, I actually had my first—and last—national release on the country charts.) But in 1990 I was invited to the town of Valley Mills, Texas, with my producer and his wife. We were to be honoraries in the Valley Mills Fourth of July parade, and I was to sing.
On the evening of July 3, I had what I would say was the worst anxiety attack of my life. I was no stranger to stage fright; I had experienced that many times before. But this fear was so bad that at one point, dying seemed like a relief! Yet I sang the songs that I had to sing and I got through it. And everything seemed fine until a few weeks later.
I was hoping to be entered into a very big country music competition. I got a call for that competition on a Saturday night for a Tuesday night semifinal. What happened to me on the Sunday afternoon in between surprised me so much that, looking back, I have only two things to attribute it to: God’s perfect timing, and the words and prayers of so many Christian people who had crossed my path while I was involved in the New Age. People would invite me to Bible study and to church. I found out later on that people had been praying for me. At one point, one guy got in my face and said, “All you have to do is ask Jesus into your heart!” But what in the world would I do that for? I’m Jewish and Jews don’t believe in Jesus… or so I thought.
It was Sunday afternoon, and the competition was just two days away. I was in my van driving back into Dallas, and sure enough, there it was again. I began to feel that anxiety starting to well up in me, and that was it! Right there at the steering wheel of my van I cried out to God and said, “Dear God, I cannot go into another performance like this again. I need a transformation now.” Then, off my lips to my own surprise came the words, “Please let the Spirit of Christ fill my heart.” And in that instant I was drenched in the most incredible peace; I thought I’d never feel fear again! And for the next couple of days that peace remained. (I know the term “Christ” is generally anathema to a Jewish person, and it was to me as well. But that was the word that came out of my mouth. Later I learned that “Christ” is simply the Greek term for Messiah, which means the “anointed one”.)
But on the day of the evening competition, there was a battle going on inside me. Part of the time I could feel God’s presence, but the rest of the time, that anxiety was back again. So I cried out to God again, this time I was in the bathroom —proof that he’s everywhere!—and I said, “Dear God, please just kill off this other thing. I can’t stand it!” In a split second, I was standing in the direct presence of the One True Living God! And at that moment, he showed me my disloyalty: that I would do anything, say anything, promise anything, to get exactly what I needed. The second I didn’t think I needed it anymore, I would forget where it came from. Right after that, there were no visions, no voices; there was just the opportunity to take a vow to be true to Messiah. I took that vow. That was the last week of July of 1990, and I have no regrets.
My life began to change immediately. Where before I knew two things—one, I’m Jewish and two, Jews don’t believe in Jesus—now I knew three things: one, I’m Jewish, two, I do believe in Jesus, and three, everyone else needs to believe in him, too! I began presenting my new faith as opportunities arose. And the very thing that was so important to me, the music, became my vocation, but now with a message to share—and without the fear of performing that had crippled me.
Within two years of giving my heart to Jesus, I became part of the Jews for Jesus singing group, the Liberated Wailing Wall. In 1997 I did my first Jews for Jesus solo music tour —which was a big challenge, given my history—but also my heart’s desire. Today, I continue with the organization, making my Messiah known in song and through personal interactions on Long Island.
My musical performance, the thing that meant everything to me in life, was crippled by my fear of it. But once I encountered God through Jesus, it became the very thing that was at the core of the plan God had for my life.
My sin—the brokenness we all have—was separating me from the God I ultimately came to know and love. Once I said “yes” to Jesus, I was able to experience his love, his forgiveness and his plan for me—better than any music career I could have had without him. His spirit came in, overcame my fear and transformed my life. If you will let him, he will transform yours as well.
To hear Susan sing some of her “Jewish gospel” songs, go to jewsforjesus.org/jewish-gospel-favorites.
Susan Mendelson graduated from the Crane School of Music at the State University of New York and pursued a career in country music. Because of severe performance anxiety, Susan cried out to God for help the last week of July, 1990 and over the course of three days, had a profound spiritual encounter with Y’shua in response. She came to faith in Jesus as her Messiah at that time and in 1992, the Lord transformed music performance, the very thing that brought her to Y’shua, from a cause for anxiety into her ministry when she joined Jews for Jesus' traveling music team, the Liberated Wailing Wall! As music director of the team, Susan toured the U.S. for eighteen months singing Jewish gospel music, evangelizing, handing out tracts on street corners and creating many of the vocal arrangements for the team's 1994 album, David's Hope. She has also recorded an album of her own, Jewish Gospel Favorites. In 2003, Susan began serving as a full-time missionary in New York City. Susan served on the final Liberated Wailing Wall team in 2009-2010. After the completion of this tour, Susan returned to serve as a full time missionary in NYC. She moved to Long Island in 2011 to be near her dad until he passed away three months later. In July of 2011 Susan was able to open the Jews for Jesus outpost on Long Island and continues to minister there.