Rami Rachamim's Story
I always said: "Although the Tanach is the most important book from which wisdom and knowledge is learned, I am not convinced that there is a Creator of the world". One thing for certain: if He exists I am quite certain that He is not bothered as to whether I believe in Him or not.” To the astonishment of my listeners, I would go into detail: "It is too trivial for Him. The Creator of the World is not some petty politician running after voters to put a slip of paper in the slot. He does not need reinforcement from me. He simply wants me to be good. Look, I am already a good person.”
I was a typical Tel-Aviv academic, very active socially, I knew everyone, loved to go on trips, familiar with all the fashionable entertainment places in the city…"Your son is a tough cookie", the rabbis would say to my father. Although the meetings with them were fascinating and lasted for many hours, I was never convinced. "I do not believe in anything that is incompatible with my intelligence", I claimed.
I had similar conversations and arguments with Shmulik, a friend from university days. On one of his visits, he fished out a book from his bag and left it resolutely amongst my books. "It's good that you should have something like this at home even if you don't open it".
Three years ago, I read a book called "The New Age" for the purpose of writing a paper. There were many interesting ideas in it. Since I had always appreciated Jewish wisdom, I decided to find out about those ideas from our viewpoint, our sources. For the first time, I opened the book that my friend Shmulik had given me. There were stories about Rabbi Yehuda Patiya. Due to their innocence and simplicity on one hand and their accuracy on the other, they lifted the blindfold. The words opened my head and heart. Suddenly I realized that it was all true. I was amazed by the enormous gap between myself at that point as an enlightened, intelligent secularist and between the truth. In order to comprehend the messages, I took a sheet of paper and wrote: "This is the whole truth. The Father of the Heavens really wants his children to know him. He will help me."
The next day, I lay Tefillin with the help of a religious acquaintance. I cried like a child returning to the fold of his family that he had never met.
It was not easy during those first few months as an "active believer" when taking my non-religious past into consideration. I felt the great difficulty and a lot of awe to pray before Hashem. In spite of that, I felt that every deed that I performed held great meaning and was enhancing my soul.
A few years later, Shmulik told me about "Rosh Yehudi" in Tel Aviv. We went there together. If the book on Rabbi Patia had lifted my blindfold, then "Rosh Yehudi|" showed me the light!
Right at the beginning, I felt really at home. All the participants were currently undergoing changes and making transitions – just like me. The staff was excellent, on a high spiritual level. They gave of themselves to us. At last, I had people to ask the questions that had built up inside me. There was someone to give advice, share ideas. A supportive environment is very important for the newly religious. At "Rosh Yehudi", I learnt about "Teshuva" based on love in the wake of the teachings of HaRav Kook of blessed memory. I learned to "love" Hashem and my prayers became an uplifting, rejoicing experience. The amazing Shabbatot spent at "Rosh Yehudi" greatly helped me start observing Shabbat with immense joy in the company of wonderful friends. "Rosh Yehudi" was a porthole to the loving, giving, religious public.
I discovered that when I was exposed to ideas from a genuine, tolerant standpoint then the real picture became clear unlike the narrow prism that is presented by the media. Thanks to "Rosh Yehudi", I made progress in Torah and Gemara studies; there is no discipline in the world that is on that level. I felt that I was learning about my real self and revealing hidden treasures. Without a doubt, Hashem had heard me and helped me.
Blessed Be the Healer Of the Sick
Liat Buchbinder's Story
After my release from the army, I studied at the "Camera Obscura" Arts School. I became acquainted with a religious girl who envied me for being liberal and wearing pants while I envied her for wearing skirts. I had the feeling that in the future we would change around. That was what in fact actually happened.
During that time, my father had passed away. I had been very close to him and that made it very difficult for me. I joined a psychodrama group in which I acted in a play whereby I took leave of my father. Suddenly, I felt that I could communicate with him. Since then, I started to talk to him like one would talk to an invisible God. I felt that he was transmitting messages and that made things easier to me.
I got to know someone from the group who later became my boyfriend. He came from a religious family and had left that way of life. We were together for two years until he became depressed and we separated. Some months later, he died under tragic circumstances. I grieved greatly for him.
On top of it all, at the age of 29, it was discovered that I was suffering from kidney disease. It was the start of a very difficult period. I took strong drugs that did not help me. I turned to natural medicine and alternative medicine clinics. All this was intertwined with a spiritual search for the truth about life.
The functioning of my kidneys deteriorated. While my friends were getting married and having families, I was contending with a disease and needed dialysis. I felt that I was undergoing a very deep spiritual process.
The Hazara B'Tshuva process commenced with the medical treatment. I was working for an internet company whose managers were religious. I became acquainted with a religious guy called Tal. He seemed to be very righteous to me. He never spoke badly of anyone and did not gossip. He always spoke about seeing the good in people. His words attracted and encouraged me. At that time, I had heard about the "Shoshannat Aviv" Midrasha. I telephoned Rabbanit Ofra Shapira and she invited me to study the book of Genesis - "Breishit" that is a suitable starting point for Teshuva. After dialysis, I arrived to the Shiur in a state of exhaustion. At the Midrasha's entrance, I saw girls wearing skirts. I was put off: "What is this - Bnei Barak?!" Nonetheless, I went in.
Rav Betzalel gave a fascinating Shiur. He spoke enthusiastically and there were sparks in his eyes. The effort was worthwhile. I started attending the lessons of Rabbanit Michal Ganz on Parshat HaShavua, Rabbanit Ofra Shapira on the subject of virtues, Rabbanit Rivka Tzur on faith and arts. For a long period, I had not painted. Suddenly I produced religiously inspired paintings of gold and deep blue.
Fortunately, there were all types of girls there: those who were religious from home and those in the process of "Teshuva". They accepted me for what I was. I made the decision myself to wear skirts. I was invited for Shabbat. However on Fridays I had dialysis from five to nine, until Shabbat Eve. Over a period of time, I felt that I did not want to desecrate the Shabbat. One Shabbat, I got up crying and feeling sad. I walked to the Bet Knesset of "Rosh Yehudi" to observe the Shabbat that everyone spoke about. It was hard for me but something inside me said that I had to be there. Upon reaching the ground floor, there wasn’t a person in sight. I was about to leave when someone arrived and said, “let’s go upstairs.” We went up and saw everyone sitting at the Shabbat table before washing their hands. I was introduced to a girl of 19 called Avital from "Rosh Yehudi". Talking to her, I was not aware of the age gap between us. I cried as I spoke to her and she consoled me. After the meal, we took a walk by the sea. We talked about getting closer to religion. I felt that this had been a special and meaningful conversation. She bought me a Siddur. I read and came to love the early morning blessings, the Shema prayer at night. I felt that the Tefillot uplifted me. I discovered that I liked to bless G-d. I arrived again the day afterwards. I suddenly felt the family-like atmosphere that I had so lacked. I went for a walk with the girls by the sea. I felt the spirituality of the Shabbat. My family began to talk about a kidney donation for me. Dina, my fifty-year-old sister, volunteered her kidney without hesitation. She underwent the tests and was found to be compatible. Before the transplant, I prayed to G-d that it would succeed and that I would draw nearer to Him, that I would attend Shiurim and the Tefillot feeling invigorated and not exhausted, that I would find a partner and establish a family.
During the month of Shvat this year, I underwent the operation in "Beilinson" hospital. They took my sister's kidney and transplanted it into my body. The girls at the Midrasha prayed for me and came to visit me afterwards to find out how I felt. Thank G-d the transplant was successful.
After I left hospital, I went back to the Shiurim of the Midrasha and to the Shabbatot
at "Rosh Yehudi" I cannot live without them
Clarisse Dayan’s Story
I am a 71-year-old writer and the mother of 3 well-known musicians: Naor the eldest who is a professional guitarist, Igi, the drummer from the “Meshina” band and Hod from the “Madreigot” band.
Naor, Hod and I studied under “Yemima”. How did we get to her?
When I was 40, I went through a difficult period. I had just published my first book of poems, “Me” with poems such as “Why was I born? I’m not an insect nor a cockroach and was not born so as to secrete and to die”. I would go to university to sit in on lectures given by Prof. Asa Kasher and the likes, but did not find any satisfactory answers and I was angry over my very existence.
On top of it all I had broken my right hand. I was unable to use it and I was told that it needed to be operated on. Ready in my hospital gown waiting for surgery I asked the doctor what percentage of use would I have of my hand following the surgery? “Twenty percent”, came the answer. With that I hopped off the table declaring that I wasn’t willing to go through such pain just so as to have only 20% of the use of my right hand. I’m a senior secretary and I have children to take care of. Go learn how to heal!” I said.
I left the hospital without the operation. I told my hairdresser what I had gone though and he suggested I go to Yemima. In answer to my question, “what does she do?” he said: “It’s impossible to explain on one foot. Just go to her and see for yourself.”
I went and waited in line for a full day. Yemima told me in her direct fashion that I had come out of curiosity and not out of willingness. I told her I didn’t know where I had come to. She then told me about the Tzedakka rabbis, Yosef, Dovid and Yitzchak who were my mother’s uncles. I was astounded how she knew about these righteous men who were dead and buried in Iraq. “Are you convinced now?” she asked me. She invited me to come again and taught me how to open my hands and feel the abundance. On my third visit to her I waited outside with the rest of the crowd. Suddenly I felt a light and told my friend: “An electric current is coming down. Open your hands!” Just then the secretary came out and asked whether Clarisse was there. “Yes”, I answered. “You have received the healing. You can go home now. “
When I went to “Bituach Leumi” – the National Security, in order to get a disability stipend for my hand, I was told: “We’re sorry. According to the x-ray, your hand is indeed disabled, but from what we can see it’s working fine. . .” I thought: What do I care about the stipend – the main thing is my health! “
Yemima helped me amend things with my body and spirit. She was able to see in each person their essence, designation, and worth. She was able to pinpoint when the person went through a crisis that blocked him. The righteous personality she connected through was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.
Yemima connected my son, Hod to another student of hers - the singer Ilan Damari. She told him “Ilan’s soul wants to sing and you are a musician. Connect with one another!” That’s how the successful band “HaMedreigot” got started.
While many of her students became Ba’alei Teshuva, I related to her lessons as if they were Judaica Studies taken at the university. Then one day I was reading in Parashat Trumah “And build me a temple and I will dwell amongst you – “B’tochachem”. I was certain there was some mistake. It should have been written “inside it” - ‘B’tocho’. I looked up the word in other chumashim and they all said the same: “You” - “B’tochachem”. I thought: “If Hashem lives within me, I must be worthy of it! I decided to keep the laws of kashrut and began observing the other commandments.
After I stopped working and my children were grown and left the house, I divorced my husband and lived for a year in a hotel in Tel Aviv. The kashrut mashgiach’s nice wife taught me how to pray.
I bought a house in Tel Aviv and studied Jewish philosophy at the university. I also took part in activities and studied Talmud at Beit HaSofer. Yet on Shabbatot and holidays I was lonely. One of the young men from Beit HaSofer invited me to come to “Rosh Yehudi”.
That’s how I discovered Rosh Yehudi – one of the Almighty’s gifts to me. I participated in classes and prayed with them on Friday nights. I discovered there high quality and amazing people and Shabbat at Rosh Yehudi is just beautiful! People come there not only to grow closer to their roots but also to be part of a pleasant social crowd in a warm and homey atmosphere. I would spend my Shabbatot and holidays there.
One holiday we went to Rabbi Moti Alon’s house in Jerusalem. I told him: “These kids have no idea what a family looks like. When they saw how you sit at the head of the table with your wife and children around you, distribute the warmth around the table, you opened a channel to their hearts that would have otherwise remained closed.”
I was happy to have met, Roi, Liat and Dolev – the pillars of Rosh Yehudi who host many guests on Friday nights. Also Rabbi Eitan Cohen who adopts every person who comes to the Center. In my opinion, the most important thing that Rosh Yehudi does is to provide a warm Jewish family atmosphere – even more important that the studies!
My first book of poetry, “Me” – was written before I became observant and expressed mainly a cry for help. My second book of poetry, “Strengths”, came to terms with life. My third book, a book of idioms, deals with life philosophies inspired by Judaism. My fourth book is a children’s book with teachings how to cope with specific problems from a Jewish perspective. I have just completed writing a novel called: “Me and My daughter May”. The book deals with the conflicting relationship between a mother and daughter and the family unit and is an outcome from the therapy I received at the hands of Yemima. I hope to publish it soon.
Ayela Somech's Story
Twenty years ago, my father said Kaddish for my grandfather of blessed memory. Since then he became more devoted in keeping Torah and Mitzvot. My mother honoured his ways in some respects but otherwise remained disinterested. Then, 5 years ago, she started watching Rav Mordechai Alon's shiurim on the "Tchelet" Channel and became very enamoured with them. As a result, she started her own Tshuvah process.At the time, I was on a long trip in South America. Although, I did not keep the Mitzvot, still, I was very Zionistic. I heard about the Disengagement Plan for Gush Katif and the Northern Shomron communities which was, in my eyes, a calamity. Somebody asked me: "Do you believe in G-d?" I replied: "Yes". Then she probed further. "If so, then who makes the decision, the Prime Minister or G-d?" I felt that I had to do something, even something symbolic, to convince G-d to overturn the decree. I decided to keep Shabbat. Upon my return to Israel, I was still a secular Jew. My mother persuaded me to go with her to Rav Alon's shiurim at Bar Ilan. Although it was hard for me to understand him, I still gained a lot. When he stopped teaching there, my mother looked for another Rav from whom she could learn Torah. She found Rav Frank from Jerusalem who taught in Tel Aviv once a week. She asked me to join her for a class. When it finally happened it was a breakthrough moment for me. Not only was I thoroughly convinced of God's existence but also that I must act upon that belief and all it entails. I started keeping Shabbat again - this time through learning Torah and the commandments. Once I started observing Shabbat, my sleeves lengthened and I did away with the pants. On Shabbat, my mother brought me the "Rosh Yehudi" newsletter. I liked it. I looked forward to the forthcoming issues. I always would read the stories on the back page and noticed that everyone wrote about "Shabbat at Rosh Yehudi". I wanted to know about the special Shabbat that everyone related to. What was the great joy that had no bounds? I phoned the office and one of the girls invited me to attend Rav Yehoshua Wieder's shiur on "The Path of the Just". I went to the Shiur and it was amazing! I was impressed by the Rav's modesty, by his love for God and by the rays of light on his face. He connected me to a passage on faith and love. He taught me the meaning of the blessing "everything according to His wishes". Nothing just happens on its own. Everthing comes from G-d". I started to recite the blessings meaningfully. I participated in Rav Uzzi Beinfeld's shiurim on the "Kuzari". His love of G-d and his deep rooted connection to the Land of Israel did not leave any room for doubt. I felt that I was in the right place. The Rosh Yehudi Sherut Leumi (National Service) girls, Tehila and Shlomit received me with open arms. At last, I was invited to come to Rosh Yehudi for Shabbat. I felt so welcomed and at home. At midnight, Yair Mormorstein gave an incredible Shiur on Megillat Esther. I became a regular Shabbat participant at Rosh Yehudi. Every Shabbat is a truly amazing experience! Purim at "Rosh Yehudi" is a four-day festival. My experience up until then was that when people drink, they become imbeciles. When Rav Eitan HaCohen drank wine, he spoke about the message of G-d and I saw his love of G-d. I thought: "That is the essence of Judaism. Even when not sober, you speak naturally about the Love of G-d and the Love of the people of Israel! After the murderous terror attack at "Mercaz Harav" Yeshiva, the Sherut Leumi girls were totally heart-broken. Somebody asked them whether they knew anyone there. They answered that it is irrelevant if they personally knew anyone since the boys were their own brothers. I felt a shiver go down my spine. Suddenly, I understood the meaning of Ahavat Yisroel - love for the People of Israel. Today, I am 24 years old, studying Psychology with the intention of working in the psychiatric treatment field. In the Shabbat newsletters I have begun paying attention to matters relating to Jewish Psychology. The study of Judaism has given me another perspective on the psyche of man. I am debating whether to continue what I'm doing now or in addition to weekly Shiurim, to transfer to a Midrasha. Teshuva, in my view, is the path to G-d, to the truth. His choice of us is the greatest gift in the world. Upholding the Torah and Mitzvot brings us to a position that we would never have reached. When we study the Torah, we feel G-d's great love and discover our real purpose.
I grew up in the older part of Jaffa. During my childhood, I would wander with my friends amongst the yachts in the harbour. I was a shy child; always on the look out for an unknown mission. An inner voice told me that everything I did not hit the target "spot on"". However, I knew I would get there in the end. Similarly, as I grew up, I did not find my real mission. I was with everybody, yet I remained alone, My friends' desires were not in accordance with mine. I would try to search the inner depths of my soul but to no avail.
I served in the "Golani" Commando Unit because I wanted to defend the land.: to give of myself. I was ready to sacrifice myself even though I did not fully comprehend the reason. I understood that it was the right thing to die for my people. Yet, why should I die for sand? There were a few Yeshiva students in the unit who, from time to time, suggested that I help make up the prayer Minyan. At first, I refused, but afterwards I pitched in.
One night, I entered the Bet Knesset in the army base. I opened a book about Rav Kook's philosophy relating to the special quality of the Land of Israel. I felt on a high, spiritual level. Suddenly I understood what I was doing here. Up to then I had been a good soldier, but since then I became a much better one. Nothing seemed hard for me.
I was once deep in enemy territory. My friends, who were extremely tired from the strenuous activity, fell asleep. I stayed awake, feeling the scent of great danger around me. I was not afraid,. I knew that I was doing the right thing. I had an intuitive feeling that someone was watching over me. I really felt the Creator.
Before I was enlisted, I had a close friend called Yitzhak who was almost like a brother to me. During the adolescent period, he used drugs. At the age of 17, he used a drug which caused him to hallucinate and go crazy. He was hospitalized and suffered from the severe mental treatment. He did not function for a whole year. He fantasized and suffered from bouts of anxiety. It pained me to see my friend in such a state. He, who had been so full of life, became a shadow of himself. After joining the army, I would go to his home first and then to min when I had leave. During my army service, he began to draw closer to the world of Torah. That was the only thing that brought him back to life.
After my release from the army, I had planned to travel abroad before returning to sign up for additional service when Yitzhak asked. "Do you want to make me happy?"
"Of course", I replied. "So come with me to a Shiur", he requested.
We went to Bat Yam to attend a Shiur given by Rav Eliyahu Nataf. He spoke about the real meaning of the love of the Creator. For the first time, I encountered real, unconditional love that was dependent on nothing. I felt that if that was G'-d, then I would want to become acquainted with him!
Gradually, I entered the world of Torah. At the beginning I was at a Litvak Yeshiva in Bnei Barak for half a year. I once heard a tape of a Breslav Chassid,
Rabbii Shalom Arush, who said that Rabbi Nachman taught that there is no such thing as "Breslav". There is no such Hassidic sect. There is only Rabbi Nachman's way which is to strengthen each Jew from the place where he stands so that everyone will fulfill their role. It does not matter to which sect he belongs. Every Jew has his role and that everyone should fulfill it. It does not matter which sect he belongs to. I had always been looking for a general philosophy that was relevant for me.
I drew close to Breslav. I attended the "Shuvu Banim" Yeshiva in Jerusalem. I once heard from Rabbi Berland that the Rav Kook was the holiest of men.
He told how the Rav Kook would sing for hours on Shabbat Eve and that he had a real love for both the Land of Israel and the People of Israel. He finished by saying "we should learn from that righteous man and to cleave to him".
I married at the age of 24. One year later, I got divorced. Since then, I could not stay in the "Mea Shearim" area. I felt that it was not the place for me. After the crisis, I returned to my parents in Jaffa and rented an apartment in
I cannot define my identity. Two philosophies guide me. On one hand Rabbi Nachman's and on the other, HaRav Kook's. In my eyes, they become fused together. Now, at the age of twenty eight, I try to learn from the past, to live the present and to look to the future. Soon, of course, I expect with G-d's help to establish a true Jewish home.
The Skit That Became Real
Roni Sazir's Story
Fate works in wondrous ways. Once upon a time, when I was studying acting, I was asked to prepare a skit with my partner Smadar, playing a situation scene "before" and "after". Both of us were utterly secular and religiously adhered to our creed. Our religion was feminism and the radical left.
We looked for a novel subject for the skit that would be funny and uninhibited that would show "before" and "after" Finally, we decided on a re-union between two non-religious girls whose paths had diverged and after a number of years met up at the dentist. One of them, me, had made "Teshuva". How we laughed! It was something that only could have happened in stories or a fantasy movie.
My parents were pioneers who had been educated in religious homes. They Came to Israel at a young age. It was important for them to give us, the children, a little "Yiddishkeit". Out home was traditional some mixture between the Labour Party and tradition – Kiddush on Shabbat Eve, one on hand, trips on Shabbat on the other. I was the only girl in the neighbourhood who studied at a religious school and at the end of third grade, I told my father in no uncertain terms that I wanted to study at school with boys.
As I grew up, my mother begged me to go to "Bnei Akiva" a little since they were nice "Menchalech". I put my hands over my ears. In my eyes they were suckers and not of any account.
Years later, they seemed to be violent, wild and incompatible with my ideology, the enemies of peace. I said: "if it were not for the settlers, the economic situation would be better. If it were not for them, there would be peace. They are the real enemies".
I devoted nights and days to political activity, to drawing Jews and Arabs closer. I founded an organization for female political prisoners and served as secretary for the Tel Aviv branch of the "Shalom LeYisrael" organization. During that period, I ran a children's theatre and refused to appear in the "occupied territories" including times when my economic situation was not at its best.
Over the years, due to anthropological curiosity, I had occasional contact with the world of Judaism. It always was present to some extent in my conscious yet I did not want to see it. One Motzei Shabbat in the Jerusalem Nachlaot neighbourhood, I was with a group of Rav Shlomo Carlibach's followers, I felt spiritually uplifted. At another event, the wedding of the children of Arik Einstein and Uri Zohar, I saw welcoming faces. I felt frightened. Eighteen years ago, Shiri, my friend started making her first steps in the world of Judaism following a meeting with Professor Yeshiyahu Leibovitz. Every week, she would tell me about commentaries on the week's Torah portion. I loved it and slowly, slowly I began to take an interest.
A few years ago, I traveled to India. This connected me with myself and to the meaning of life. On my return to Israel, I came across an announcement of "Rosh Yehudi". It was near to my home and decided to go without knowing what it was about.
Efrat, a national service girl at "Rosh Yehudi", immediately made me feel at home. There were fascinating lectures there, pleasant and welcoming people "Menchalech". as my mother would call them. Five years ago in Chanukah, attending a seminar with Rav Mordechai Elon organized by "Rosh Yehudi", I felt that my soul was being enlarged and reaching out to high places. On Motzei Shabbat, at the end of the seminar, my voice choking, I admitted that it was such a pity that I had not listened to my mother…
From that Shabbat on, I decided that there was no way back. Yisrael Zeira from Maalei Hever invited for me Shabbat. It was the realization of the apocalyzpe. I crossed the borders of the green line and spent Shabbat with the settlers. It was very pleasant to be with them. Suddenly, I recalled that there is secular coercion. They brainwashed me saying that if I had started keeping Shabbat it was a sign that I had gone crazy, that I had been brainwashed. They are willing to respect all believers of all religions in the world and all strange phenomena but were not ready to respect me.
It is impossible to convey the amazing feeling, the tranquility and the calmness. Even today, I still hear the question accompanied by a raised eyebrow "what? You're not bored? What bad luck….not to travel during one whole Shabbat, no trips, no sea, movie, anything.."
Try explaining them about the great joy there is in being with other people who keep Shabbat, studying the week's portion. By the way they look at me I can see that they think that something has gone wrong with me. "Nu,. How do you say it….each to his own faith". That is what they say and are not willing to listen to another explanation of the sentence from me. Yes, the ways fate works are strange. My best friend today is a girl called Mayrav – a settler from Maalei Hever. We were in India last year. Mayrav taught Judaism to girls from the Menasshe tribe in north India and I had organized the women's trip. We have a lot of plans and I feel it is important to work towards meetings to bring religious and secular women closer.
The ways of fate are strange. Have I said that already? Let me take advantage of the opportunity of thanking all the wonderful people who are involved in the organization. I saw how it was when we would arrive two or three people to "Rosh Yehudi". The Rav would sit opposite us and give a lesson with such dedication. Today there are so many people there…there is a lot to learn from them. They deserve due recognition.
After finishing my degree studies at "Ruppin" College, it was a good time to think and decide what would be my next step (or as the saying goes "what am I going to do next year?"). I asked myself as to what I wanted to do now: a Masters, another trip abroad, move apartment….the truth was that I did not really want anything. One Friday, I was flicking through the television station and on Channel 1 were two "dosim" (religious Jews) talking. One of them, who looked somewhat familiar, spoke enthusiastically, waving his hands while the other was attentively listening to him. I changed station. The other stations did not have anything better. I returned to Channel 1 to see whether I could understand the uproar. I discovered that it was "the weekly Torah portion". I watched the program, either switching off or changing station. Just this once I halted: Personal providence? Maybe, the content of the program interested me and not more than that. The enthusiasm of one of Rav Motti Elon, caused a very pleasant feeling inside of me, the feeling of an innocent child who learns new things.
I started watching the program regularly and even prepared for it in advance. I read the week's portion to see what matters came up… These were the first occasions that I had opened a Tenach since high school. An unpleasant feeling started to come over me that I really did not know anything about Judaism. Nevertheless, Rav Elon's enthusiasm made me feel that I belonged to something that is much more overwhelming. I did no stop there. I looked for somewhere that I could learn a little more. The beginning of Teshuva? Certainly not! Only a little intellectual interest…
It happened this way. My friend who had started going to Bet Knesset on Shabbat invited me to go along with him. It was my third or fourth visit to a Bet Knesset since my barmitzvah. I did not know why I agreed to go. I remembered Bet Knesset as being a shadowy, non-air-conditioned place where the sound …shh… could be heard. This Bet Knesset as very different. It was lit up and there were a lot of young, happy people singing out loud. A few unusual things attracted my attention. There was no division between the men and women and overall their joy was a little exaggerated. I did not attach any importance to that and even joined in their lessons on the "Kabbalah". Although the lessons were interesting, I felt that there was something artificial about it. When I asked questions on the subjects of beliefs and opinions, I felt that I was not receiving real answers. One day, while I was walking with my friend in the center of Tel Aviv, I saw a sign "Rosh Yehudi – Various Lessons in Judaism". On that day I did not go there and only after a few days had gone by did I recall that I had decided to go there. In a modest basement, I was warmly welcomed by the Rav who was giving the Shiur and by the others who were sitting round the table. The Rav was teaching and around the table an interesting discussion was held on the subject of personal providence and faith. The Rav was asked a lot of difficult questions yet he did not evade them and gave a detailed, clear answer. Immediately, I realized that there was something really genuine so I decided to stay. In addition to studying there were joyous Shabbat gatherings, meals with a family like atmosphere, a company of pleasant young people and national service girls who were always willing to help. Due to all these factors, even after the first meetings, I felt a patriotic Jew-Israeli feeling which, having been forgotten since my adolescent years, came to life.. The same old-new feeling helped me make relatively quick progress in my spiritual quest and to enhance my soul with a new desire that I had no previously known – a desire to make Teshuva. This desire led me on as if I did not have any choice. However, it was clear to me that only good could come out of all this. Not long afterwards, I started studying in Machon Meir and I have been there for more than a year. In keeping with this yeshiva's philosophy, I become accustomed to putting my study into practice while studying Torah, mitzvoth, Jewish identity and the connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.
Gila Reuven’s Story
I was born in Tsfat. When I was seven, my grandparents passed away and my father started becoming observant. Our home became kosher and we observed the laws of Shabbat. Though I was sent to a Chabad kindergarten, my subsequent schooling was at secular schools. When I became a teenager and the kids from my school started going out to parties on Friday nights, I was faced with a dilemma. In the end I succumbed to peer pressure and joined the crowd.
In the army I had a boyfriend from a Shomer HaTzair kibbutz. Following our army service we traveled together for a few months to the Far East. While there, I distanced myself even more from Jewish observance though I continued saying the bedtime Shma prayer and some of the morning blessings. There were always two opposing voices inside me; one that wanted Judaism and the other that was in search of the world. Today I know that it is called the good inclination and the evil inclination . . .
When we returned to Israel, I lived with my boyfriend on his kibbutz and began my studies in education and art at the “Tel Chai” College. I was very artistic and had a passion for painting and photography. Most important to me was to get my degree.
It seemed like I had it all and yet I was unhappy. The atmosphere at college was that it was difficult living in Israel – a country that “consumes its habitants”, and there was always talk of immigrating elsewhere. The negative atmosphere began seeping into me until one day I packed my bags, left my boyfriend, my dog and my room on the kibbutz, hopped on a plane and went “looking for myself” in the USA.
I arrived in New York and found a job at an office that dealt with the diamond industry. Six months later I got on a plane to Alabama where I worked in sales for the Christmas season. I worked also on Shabbat and was completely cut off from my Israeli friends. When the season ended I flew back to New York and started thinking, ‘what next’? I was clueless where to go from there so again I got on a plane and came home, to Tsfat.
I was at a dead end. From the huge metropolitan I came back to a tiny town where nothing ever happens. I had no work and no plans. It was a depressing feeling. I thought that perhaps I had returned too soon, that I had missed out on something, that I wasn’t strong enough. I kept thinking I was better off when I was overseas.
And then the Second War in Lebanon broke out. My mother, brother and little sister left town where it was safer. Two of my sisters and myself remained behind to help my father, who runs a grocery store. It was during this time of crisis that I was able to feel my family once again and how much I had distanced myself over the past few years.
When the war over, I decided to go to Tel Aviv and study graphic design, an area I had always been drawn to. I shared a flat with a girl and a guy, took an odd job here and there, occasionally went out on the town and still felt emptiness and that my life void was of meaning. Something was bothering me and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I thought it might be my studies, the flat, my partying or perhaps a combination of all of them together.
It was very difficult for me, especially on Shabbat. I made preparations for Shabbat, would cook a meal, but remain alone to eat it in front of the television.
And then came Chanukah. I lit the candles. Something inside me lit up. One morning I got up and just started crying and was not able to stop. I didn’t even know what triggered the tears. I was afraid to tell my parents about it. I didn’t want to worry them.
One evening I was flipping channels with the remote control and found myself watching a class with Rabbi Yitzchak Fanger. I was enthused. I started looking for places where I could listen to interesting lectures on Judaism. One Thursday I was walking by my house and met the girls from “Rosh Yehudi” who were passing out flyers inviting passersby to lectures and activities. I decided to go to one of the lectures. It was amazing! On the spot I also received an invitation to come for Shabbat. I began coming regularly to classes and Shabbatot and felt a strong connection to the place. I loved going to Rabbi Mordechai Meir’s classes. He spoke about the Jewish soul and how prayer is the “kosher pleasure” and must come from a real place. My prayers started coming from a whole new dimension and I started feeling the Judaism within me.
One day I went to Jerusalem. On the way to the Kotel, walking through the special alleyways of the Old City, I considered moving to this magical area and then stopped in my tracks and thought: “What’s wrong with me?! I’m from Tsfat – also a uniquely spiritual place”. I was overcome with yearning for the city of my birth. I moved back to Tsfat and began studying at the ‘Bayit Yehudi’ midrasha with a charming couple by the name of Eliezer and Noah Betzer. In the evenings I study the parashat hashavua - portion of the week, Breslev, Yemimah, voice and movement.
I feel wonderful now! Every morning I say to HaShem, “Thank you for bringing me out of darkness and into the light!” Every day I encounter hashgacha pratit, divine providence and amazing things continuously happen to me. The Jewish studies quench my great thirst and enable me to feel the kedusha – holiness surrounding us. I feel real happiness and hope to soon build a Jewish home.
Ronny Alprin’s Story
I lived in Tel Aviv in an atmosphere very much removed from Judaism. I studied Theater at Tel Aviv University and found work as an actor performing at the Camarie and Beit Lisin theaters.
I got married to Ofra, also an actress, whom I had met at university. We have a son named Yonatan. One day Ofra took Yonatan to the park and met Tamar and her three children. They had recently moved from Maale Michmash in the Shomron to Tel Aviv. They connected and made up to meet again in the park. Tamar invited us for a Shabbat meal and we accepted. At the Shabbat meal I connected with Rabbi Eitan HaCohen and with another young man by the name of Roi. Rabbi Eitan was very interested in the theater and we decided to create a theater group called “What does it remind you of”? The idea was to prepare a play every week based on the parashat hashavua - portion of the week and to perform in front of the participants at “Rosh Yehudi”.
We met twice a week. During rehearsals we read the parashat hashavua together and hashed out the main issues in the portion. We attempted to translate the main issues in the parasha into practical messages. We would insert the idea into an everyday scene from our lives. Each meeting we would prepare an outline of 3 scenes and would act them out through improvisation. We would improvise the text as we went along.
What amazed me was Rabbi Eitan’s ability to cope with tough questions. He had no fear of secularism. He would listen to us and would receive a lot from us while managing to counter the very strong stigma that I held, that orthodox people do not ask themselves questions. That everything is crystal clear to them . . .
And so we performed in this manner for over a year. First at “Rosh Yehudi” and later at the Brodet Center – all voluntary. The plays were a hit!
Everything at that point was at an intellectual level for me. Emunah – faith had not yet entered my life and I wouldn’t go in for the prayer services at the synagogue at Rosh Yehudi. On Pesach, we joined the chevre from Rosh Yehudi for a Seder at Yeshivat HaKotel in Jerusalem. We stayed at the dorms at the yeshiva and participated in the Seder that was led by Rabbi Motti Alon. I connected with him on a personal level and asked him: “You say that Judaism is about love and compromise. Therefore, why don’t we just move 10 meters back from the Temple Mount and solve all the problems . . . “, and I mapped out my solution. The rabbi answered me for a full hour. I saw that he had thought my question through and dealt in an honest fashion with my claims.
Two months later I entered the synagogue at Rosh Yehudi for Friday night services. The Carlebach style service did its work on me and all at once everything came down from the intellectual level and entered my heart directly.
We opened a mutual kindergarten with Rosh Yehudi with children from 4 families including our sons Yonatan and David. Everyday another mother took turns being the kindergarten teacher.
As of late, I quit working with professional-industrial theater. I did many theater activities at Bnei Akiva. I am working on the connection between Judaism and theater, by writing, for instance, plays or my work in “What does it Remind You of?”
Nowadays I act at the Playback-Game of Life Theater. A group of 7 actors improvise on the spot a personal story that someone from the audience relates. That is theater that connects people together. We perform three times a month at the ZOA House, the “Simta” Theater as well as for private audiences through organizations, companies and communities.
I can safely say that today I have made a 180-degree turnaround from when I first got started. I read many books on Judaism; I have a much greater ability nowadays to connect with people whom I was unable to connect with beforehand. I feel today part of Klal Yisroel.
Judaism for me is a source of inspiration, also in the artistic realm. It connects me to the deep echelons of my being. I have a mutual connection between the world of creativity and the world of Torah. They inspire and nurture one another. The Torah teaches me how to relate to people on the inter-personal and social level. It teaches the right way to live and how to view life, which in turn influences my art
Atomic Bomb in the Heart
Robby Weintraub’s Story
There are those who think the term “Ba’alei Tshuva” refers only to secular Jews who have returned. My story is of somewhat a different nature but shares the same intensity of “discovering the light”.
I was raised in a National-Orthodox home. Under the influence of the famous and charismatic Ba’al Tshuva recruiter, Rabbi Amnon Yitzchak, I left my yeshiva high school at the end of 10th grade and enrolled in a “black-hat” yeshiva in Bnei Brak.
I was referred first to an “Arachim” seminar and from there it was a short leap to the hareidi world-view. In time, I became a regular at Rabbi Amnon Yitzchak’s “Shofar” organization.
I never switched to the black hat dress code of the hareidi world because I never connected to that aspect of it. At the same time, I was fully committed and believed in their world-view, wrote articles on the topic and was even employed by “Shofar” and was somewhat close to Rabbi Amnon Yitzchak.
I looked upon secular Jews as people who were living a lie (today I see them as lighthouses without batteries) and most of the National Religious people I viewed as superficially observant people.
Yet something at the root of my soul did not completely connect with the hareidi world. Though I was given proof that the hareidi world is the right way, I did not truly connect to it. For years my soul was torn and hovering over an abyss. Likewise I never delved deeply into issues that touched the Jewish people as a whole nor did I study books of Emunah, (like the “Cuzari”, Rav Kook’s “Orot”, the Writings of the Maharal, etc.) because I thought that I needed to study only the Talmud.
My process of “discovering the light” began when my grandfather passed away. I found a book in his bookcase about Rav Kook called, “Angels in the Form of Men”, written by Simcha Raz. Before even knowing what the book was about or who he was, I was drawn towards Rav Kook’s noble and refined image as portrayed on the cover of the book.
In this book I experienced my first glimpse into Rav Kook’s character and world-view. I was surprised to learn that what had transpired the Rav, on a small scale had befallen me as well. I felt a wonderful identification with him. When I got to the place in the book where the Rav says - “Whomsoever says of me that my soul is torn is correct in saying so. For certain it is torn, there is not a soul on earth whose soul is not torn, only the inanimate is whole” - it was as if an atom bomb had exploded in my heart! Those words summed up accurately my spiritual situation during those years.
At that very moment I knew that I had found the light at the end of the tunnel. I also found myself a Rav.
I made a decision to explore the topic of Religious Zionism - how did it all begin? I consumed volumes of books on the subject matter. Very slowly, through exhaustive investigation, I began to comprehend the principles of Religious Zionism.
At that time, I took a meaningful step in my life’s direction and went to study at Machon Meir in Jerusalem. There I was able to dive into topics of conflict between the hareidi sect and the National Religious camp. The Creator opened my eyes in a wondrous way and as a result of the Torah of the Land of Israel and the atmosphere at Machon Meir, I felt that I had become wiser and my life became illuminated in a way that everything started connecting for me in the clearest way.
I dedicated two years of my life to inquiring into this world-view while reading and learning extensively everything I could find on the topic. I was spiritually strengthened throughout the process and in the end I published a book (unexpectedly) called, “The Holiness in the Profane”, which sets out to prove that Religious Zionism is a ladder set up on the ground with its top reaching the skies.
Nowadays I know that all those years I was searching for worship of Hashem from a place of happiness and love, from a place of freedom of thought, connecting to all the Jewish People and a positive view of the rebirth of the Nation. All the concepts of love, faith, Torah and repentance were recreated within me – more alive, fuller, more powerful and more refined.
These days I work with youth in Migdal HaEmek and I registered at Bar Ilan University to study editing. I’m looking to publish an expanded second edition of my book and am searching for my soul mate to build a Jewish home based on Emunah and love, modesty and purity, Israeli idealism and connection to the People of Israel, the Land of Israel, and the Torah of Israel.