April 17, 2024
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April 17, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks aptly remarked that “To be a Jew is to travel. Judaism is a journey, not a destination.” For some, the journey appears routine and for others miraculous, but for each it is firmly embedded in life’s grand master plan.

As my inspired friend Adam tells the story, it was an ordinary day years ago when he was sitting in a non-kosher restaurant with a group of friends. Adam grew up on the far end of Long Island with little knowledge of what his Judaism meant. As the conversation in the restaurant that day revolved around the latest high-end sports cars and the group’s ambitious materialistic goals, Adam’s eyes locked onto a random banana sitting on the table. The conversation faded into the background as Adam began his mental analysis of the banana.

Green indicates that the banana is not yet ripe or ready to be eaten. Seemingly without outside intervention the banana turns yellow, signifying ripeness. The banana contains a protective outer peel, which upon removal reveals a delicious and nutritious food. In addition to a sweet taste, the ripe banana offers a rich variety of nutrients and health benefits all in this small, neat package.

While relegating the surrounding verbal race to the materialistic mountaintop to the mental heap of irrelevance, it dawned upon Adam that the banana’s clear plan and intelligence testifies to the existence of its creator. For Adam, a simple analysis of a banana yielded to a clarity of the Creator’s existence and to a higher purpose to life itself. Adam’s newfound sense of purpose propelled him towards a new journey of Jewish discovery and eventually to a commitment of life as a shomer Shabbos Torah Jew.

In poetically explaining a foundational point in Tanya, Teaneck’s Rabbi Ephraim Simon remarked that “It’s possible for every Godly soul to emerge once again.” Regardless of how far away a Jewish soul may appear to be, Hashem has His miraculous ways of drawing it in.

In his inspirational 1980’s book about the teshuva revolution called “Anatomy of a Search,” Rabbi Akiva Tatz tells the remarkable story about a man named Jay. Rabbi Tatz describes Jay as “a serious type from New York City who had been searching for meaning since early adolescence.” Upon completing college, Jay embarked on a trip to the spiritual centers of the world, mainly Tibet and the Far East. Jay also included Jerusalem on his remote list of possible destinations.

During the ensuing year, Jay wandered throughout the east spending a few weeks at each stop, in search of a path toward spiritual fulfillment. Following months and a myriad of destinations which failed to impact him, he arrived in Thailand, where at a particular Buddhist monastery, Jay began to feel something slowly waking his spiritual slumber. Jay realized that his attraction was to the head monk whose presence permeated the atmosphere of the monastery. Eventually he mustered the courage to request an interview with the head monk, which was granted.

In Rabbi Tatz’s words, “Two monks in the standard simple saffron robes which left one shoulder bare, ushered him into the monastery’s ornate central hall in the center of which was seated the holy man, swathed in saffron and shaven-headed, with an assistant at his side.

To Jay’s surprise he was addressed in flawless English. His surprise grew when during the course of the conversation, the Buddhist unexpectedly asked, ‘Are you from New York?’

‘Yes,’ answered Jay.

‘Are you Jewish?’

‘Yes,’ he answered again, taken aback.

‘Well, so am I,’ said the guru, indicating to his assistant, ‘and so is he.’ Then quietly, after a long pause, he said, ‘I have been here for thirty years.”During the ensuing conversation Jay mentioned that he had thought of visiting a yeshiva.

The guru’s response to this was, “I shall give you something this evening that may help you.”

That evening at the meditation session, Jay found something at his place in the meditation hall. It was an article entitled “Next Year in Jerusalem,” reprinted from Rolling Stone magazine, about a young man who had profoundly changed his direction in life after becoming a student at Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem.

Jay left Thailand and made his way to Jerusalem. He went directly to Aish Hatorah and began learning, and later came to learn at Ohr Somayach.

When the Rosh Yeshiva heard Jay’s story, he wondered aloud, “What zechus did that far-off yiddishe neshama have that merited him to send a young man to yeshiva?”

This story has a sequel. On his way back from Thailand, Jay had traveled through India. On a particular occasion he had met two Israelis who were engaged in a search for spirituality similar to his, and they asked him for directions to the nearest center of Eastern religion. Already quite the expert, he had directed them to a local ashram.

Months later, in the dining room at Ohr Somayach, where students from the yeshiva’s Israeli section eat together with the Anglo-Saxons, a heavy hand landed on his back with a thud and incredulous voice said, “Jay?!”

It was one of the two Israelis, who had independently found his long way home.”

I remain deeply inspired by a recent mesmerizing episode of The Meaningful People Podcast in which the host, Nachi Gordon, interviewed Ayelet Elnecave. Ayelet was raised in Texas and Iowa as a deeply religious Protestant. A profound thinker and serious student, Ayelet’s lifelong religious beliefs began to unravel shortly after leaving home and arriving at Vanderbilt University to study religion.

Soon thereafter Ayelet embarked on a deep dive of several major religions, ultimately recognizing the holes in each. After immersing herself in the emes and beauty of yiddishkeit, Ayelet had no doubt that there was no turning back. Ayelet embarked on a long winding chase of the yiddishkeit of her dreams, culminating in her successful conversion by a major Bnai Brak beit din. Ayelet and her family have lived in Yerushalayim for the past 13 years where her husband learns in kollel and where she is a very popular teacher of Torah at several seminaries!

While Ayelet’s story is rich in inspirational twists and turns, one line in particular grabbed hold of me. When asked what gave her the strength to push forward in pursuing her Jewish conversion in the face of initial significant family and community opposition, Ayelet simply said, “Because I knew it was true. I knew it was true.”

While powerful stories like Adam’s, Jay’s and Ayelet’s are immensely inspirational, we need only to look inside ourselves to weave our own unique story. Regardless of our own launch points and religious backgrounds, a sincere and meaningful Jewish journey brings one to the ultimate emes and our own unique Jewish missions in life.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once said, “Sometimes we find our life is on the wrong track, not because of a specific sin, but because we have an overall sense of being lost. Teshuvah means coming home to God.”

The sojourn through life lures us in all directions but in the end all roads lead back home.

Daniel Gibber is a longtime resident of Teaneck and is a VP of Sales at Deb El Food Products. In addition to learning as much Torah as he can, he is also privileged to speak periodically on the topic of emunah and be involved in Jewish outreach through Olami Manhattan. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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