by Tamir Kugman | December 08 2022
Ever since I was young, I’ve had a simple faith in God, despite my secular upbringing with minimal tradition. At different ages, I would ponder the thought of going after God, but it was without an understanding of what it meant, except for knowing that there was a way to believe in God through the Jewish religion.
However, my life continued normally with a small faith in my heart. From time to time, I would turn to God in prayer for help and felt reverence towards Him. I knew in my heart that He was good, but I also felt that I had to please Him in some way.
Ever since I can remember, I have loved to draw and paint—it was my identity! I invested a lot of time and energy in the arts and later enrolled in the Alef High School of Arts in Tel Aviv. There, I was exposed to the world of art, music, cinema, and dance. My life was quickly consumed by this new world.
Around the age of 16, I experienced a huge disappointment in my life, and after that, I challenged God and declared that I no longer believed in Him. I remember the very clear and sharp feeling that I felt, like I had started a war against God. But in that same moment, I realized that without God, my existence was meaningless, and in fact, everything was meaningless without Him.
This started my search for meaning in life, and I started looking for it in the world of music and the arts. I read many books on science and philosophy that were actually quite oppressive. Without God, it seemed to me that the world was full of selfishness rather than selflessness. This inner turmoil lasted for about two years until I was drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
My enlistment to the IDF was a massive change. The military service abruptly cut me off from my familiar world and put me in a system of rules and disciplines that were foreign and strange to me. It felt as though my life had stopped in every possible aspect (especially with art) and brought me to the point where I had to turn to God.
The thought of turning to God did not appear until our swearing-in ceremony during basic training when we laid a hand on the Bible. I didn’t give much thought to the idea of God until I had returned to the tent with the Bible that I’d just received. I laid down and opened to the book of Isaiah. As I read, I didn’t understand it, but I could feel my faith in God beginning to return.
I had very conflicting thoughts as I served in the military. Part of me wanted desperately to get out of my depressing role in the military police, but the other part of me wanted to know how I could serve in the army with my skills as an artist. Either one seemed impossible to me!
One day in our dining room, a friend from my department asked me, “What do you want to do in the army?” I said I wanted to be a graphic artist, and he answered back, “From your mouth to God!”
After a few weeks, my words became a prayer that God answered. First, my commanders responded positively to my proposal to paint a mural on the walls of the base. Soon, I was painting on the walls of the military headquarters and sketching detailed designs of the military.
A few weeks later, we were being assigned our duties, and it turned out that the role of a graphic designer had opened up about six months before I enlisted. This was no doubt a marvel to me, and that God had heard the desires of my heart. As bewildering as it sounds, during my military service, I was a graphic artist and an animator, and my life was happily surrounded by art again. But there was still a longing in my heart.
At the age of 20, my time in the army was coming to an end, and my plans for the break after my enlistment were to study art abroad. Around May of that year, I was in two car accidents that happened within two weeks of each other. In the first one, I had been sitting in the backseat, and in the second one, I was hit as a pedestrian.
It was quite strange to go through two accidents within such a short period of time. I began to think about my life and what death looked like. After the accidents, a comrade from the army, whom I had served with, reached out to me and began to tell me about the Gospel. A part of it all seemed so strange and abnormal to me, but she also was one of the most normal people I knew. After my conversation with her, I remembered that I already owned a copy of the New Testament—the one I had received from the Arad Rock Festival five or six years earlier.
I went home and started to read it. The first words, “The book of the genealogy of Yeshua ha-Mashiach, Ben-David, Ben-Avraham” (Matthew 1:1, TLV), struck me. How is it that I, a lifelong student, had not noticed throughout all these years that Jesus is called Messiah? How did I not see his Jewishness or his origins?
I began my own journey through the Bible and New Testament with only a dictionary, a map, and some old encyclopedias. Later, I was able to meet with believers of different ages and from different parts of the country and ask questions, as well as receive answers. The most intriguing and common factor in meeting all these people was that I felt that something different radiated from them. It was an inexplicable and common difference that I noticed in each and every one of them.
Chapter 1 of Isaiah was a turning point for me. The clarity and understanding I got from the prophet surprised me. He helped me understand more about the people of Israel. I began to realize some of the hypocritical parts of religion that had previously distorted my belief and view of God. Our forefather Abraham suddenly seemed to have a faith that was simple and pure.
While this new realization caused me to open my eyes, my time spent reading the New Testament also exposed me to the sin I had in my life. My sin became transparent in the light of Jesus’ words. It felt as if someone had turned on a light and things that I had not seen for years in myself, my parents, my brothers, and my friends, suddenly became extremely clear. As I continued reading the Bible, two questions began to form in my mind, which troubled me every day: What do I do with Jesus’ call for me to follow him? and, Is he really the Messiah?
I was still getting the opportunity to meet with other believers throughout Israel. While I was at one of the meetings, I heard about a more controversial Bible verse: Isaiah 53. I wanted to understand what it was about, so I read it. It was very clear to me that it was speaking about Jesus.
I wanted to know what I needed to do for my salvation, when really, Jesus did it all through his sacrificial death and resurrection from the dead. He completed what we humans can never accomplish with our meager power and “good works.”
But somehow, it took that head knowledge time to sink down into my heart. I still found myself trying to achieve the favor of God that I believed that I had already been given through Jesus. Apparently, I did not fully understand what it meant when Jesus said right before his death, “It is finished.” I didn’t understand what he accomplished when he came to earth as the promised Messiah.
It was only years later when I came to understand that Jesus was not only the door, but he was also “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). As Paul says, “Therefore if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17 TLV). I thought that I had to make myself a new creation. How silly that was—only God can create a new heart! And He already did! How did I not see that His work was complete?
If that is so, then He has already given me all His love and made me close to Him, not because of my own efforts, but because of His atonement for sins. Even though I was taught differently, I now understood for the first time that He cannot love me more than He already has. The Lamb of God: God, who was made a lamb, died for my sake, and who can take that away from me?
He truly liberated me. And now, more than ever, I want to share it with all the world because this is what all of us really, desperately need.
I met my wife, Hadas, on a service trip that she had organized to Burundi, Africa. Hadas had served in an orphanage in Burundi for six months in 2002 after she had finished her bachelor’s degree in social work. Later, she organized some shorter ministry trips there, and I joined one in August of 2006. She and I worked together to create a short course for the nurses at the orphanage where we were serving. Later, we worked together again at a summer camp for kids and fell in love. We got married on May 18, 2007.
Today, my family and I are part of a loving congregation of followers of Messiah Jesus. We emphasize the forgiveness we have in Messiah, the power of his resurrection, and the power of his life and righteousness in our life.
I’m part of the leadership of that congregation and serve as an elder. I also teach the Word on Saturdays. My wife oversees the kid’s ministry, and she teaches their classes too. We now have five wonderful kids. We are very thankful to God for all He has done in our lives, and above all, for saving us and bringing us into His kingdom.