I often reflect on the 20 years of my life spent in “narashkeit” (foolishness) and the amazing journey I have been on these last 3 years. While we all come from differing backgrounds, whether you are Jew or one from the Nations, I am sure some of you can relate. There has been good and bad, ups and downs, twists and turns, new and wonderful friendships, and broken relationships. However, at the end of the day, we could never expect that we would feel so happy and free.
My mind then wanders and I begin to regret and feel anger about those lost twenty years. How could G-d let someone like me, someone who people consider intelligent, and knowledgable, stray so far from the faith of his fathers? Why did it take over twenty years for me to come to my senses?
Then I snap out of it. I remember that I would not be the man I am today, and would not have the impact that I am having with so many, if I did not have this journey. My dear friend, Rabbi Tovia Singer once said to me, “I envy you Ira.” I was stunned. How could someone who is so well known, and who has done so much for the Jewish people, be envious of me? He continued on, “Ira, I have never been tested like you. I have been observant all my life, but you my friend have been tested and have come out on the right side.”
I have told people that the only good that came out of my foolishness of those 20 years was meeting the most beautiful woman in the world, both inside and out, and being blessed that HaShem would make her my wife. However, there is another story that is being written and being played out as I write this.
It was January 1994 when I first walked into that place and met a very interesting woman with a young daughter. I was often invited to spend time in a group that included this mother and daughter, and slowly got to know them both. Over the few years that we knew each other we became very close, so much so, that I began to act as a surrogate father to this young girl who had lost her own father at a very young age. I remember how excited they both were at the prospect of going to Israel to participate in the annual celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (Succot) in Jerusalem. After they announced their intention to go, a mutual friend began to help them make plans for flights. He approached me one day and told me that he had found a great flight for them, but in order to get the best price, the tickets needed to be purchased the next day. He asked if I could put up the money for a few weeks, until the congregation took up an offering, and assured me I would get my money back. Having a very successful business at the time, and wanting to help, I agreed. The tickets were purchased.
A few weeks later an announcement was made about their trip, and an offering was taken, however, it would barely cover their expenses. Needless to say, I never got the money back. I didn’t blame the mother and her daughter, because they were not involved in the request. It did bother me for quite some time about the way things were handled, and how a very financially stable congregation did nothing to make my situation right.
There would be things that would trigger this incident to play back in my mind from time to time, but eventually I let it go. Now, here we are 20 years later. Just a few months ago, after having no contact with either the mother or daughter for over 10 years I receive a friend request from the little girl who is not so little anymore. How things have changed, now that the little girl I tried to be a father too, now has children of her own. But, this is only part of the story.
As most of you know, I am the Outreach Coordinator for the East Coast office of Jews for Judaism. As such, I get copies of all the submission and info requests that come in to our website. One of them really piqued my interest a few weeks ago. I looked at an email from someone that was asking about how someone who has left Christianity, is trying to learn more about Judaism, and reading from a Siddur can proceed to move forward, and perhaps even become Jewish. The name sounded very familiar, but was a little different. I decided to investigate, and my hunch was right. I went to the Facebook of that little girl, that is not so little anymore, and sure enough the woman who submitted the request to Jews for Judaism was on her friends list. The something different was her last name, which was now her married name. You see, the woman on her friends list was her Mom, that very interesting woman I had met in 1994.
In this last week, we have not only exchanged emails, but finally have had several phone conversations. She has shared with me many of the stories that I had heard about her faith and childhood growing up. We caught each other up on our lives and journeys. Most importantly, she shared with me where she is now. She has finally, like many of you decided to make the break from a lifelong commitment to what she now knows was a idolatry. Why is this so significant? She recounts that the real turning point happened on her trip to Israel 20 years ago. She was not able to come to terms with not being Jewish. Now, here she is after 20 years, finally coming to the truth. Finally finding peace. Finally realizing that she can have a relationship with her Creator that does not require a Golden Calf (mediator).
One of the things that most impacted her in our few conversations, was my teaching her about the “neshama,” the elevated soul that we as human being possess above the animal world, and our own animalistic nature. I spoke to her about the divine spark that is placed in each of us, and how each neshama originates from beneath the Kisei HaKavod (Throne of Glory). She told me a story about being nine years old, and feeling that she had fire in her chest. After a short time she had an accident that was going to require a trip to the emergency room, and she cried, and cried, because she thought they would take her fire away. She believes that this was her neshama, her divine spark seeking to connect to HaShem.
I had a few days to think about this amazing connection. I had thought that the only good thing that ever came out of my foolishness was my amazing wife, but now there is more to that story. Here I am 20 years later, no longer concerned about the $1500 that I lost in order for a mother and daughter could experience Eretz Yisrael. I am learning every day that I cannot dwell on those lost 20 years of my life, because there is nothing lost on HaShem. While we all have free choice, we have no idea what amazing blessings can come out of other peoples foolishness. What is the value of a neshama to HaShem? In this case it took 20 years of my life and $1500 to be the one blessed enough to help gather in another one of the “sparks.” A small price to pay for all that HaShem has done for me, and for us, in spite of our failings.