I felt like a star-struck teenager. I wanted to scream in adulation like a fan at Beatles' concert.
What could provoke such a reaction from a 42-year-old long-married mother of nine? It wasn't Bruce Springsteen, it wasn't Ricky Martin, it wasn't a famous sports figure or politician or movie star. But my eyes sparkled and I felt tongue tied at the opportunity and privilege of having dinner with Eliyahu Essas.
Eliyahu Essas was the leader of the underground teachers movement in the former Soviet Union, a man who was literally willing to put his life on the line for his beliefs. In the face of KGB threats and pressure he remained calm and focused.
He taught Torah even though it was forbidden. And he brought Jews in Russia back to their heritage. He trained teachers. He risked all. And he trusted in the Almighty.
A JEWISH HERO
He isn't finished. He continues his work from his home in Israel today, traveling back and forth between his native country and his true homeland, reaching out to his unaffiliated brothers and sisters.
A man with a mission. A man who means what he says, who acts on it, who goes to bat for what's right -- for the cause of conscience and morality, for Torah and the Jewish people.
Where do you find such courage and commitment in our world today? I felt that I was in the presence of a true hero.
In a world where leadership has a bad name, it's uplifting to see real Jewish heroes.
If you saw Eliyahu Essas on the street you would walk right by him, grouping him with the other nameless, faceless observant Jews you see. You'd miss the depth of pain and compassion in his eyes. You'd miss the strength and composure of his presence. You'd miss the calm certainty of his words. You'd miss an opportunity to learn about greatness.
In a world where leadership has a bad name and getting to the top involves serious ethical compromise, it's refreshing and uplifting to see real Jewish heroes.
A MODEL FOR US ALL
I ran around the restaurant grabbing all my friends and acquaintances just to come over and meet him.
If we could all learn from his deeds, if we could all take away a tiny piece of his courage, a tiny piece of his single-minded devotion, we could change our world.
I'm glad I was like a star-struck teenager. It means I haven't lost my hope, my idealism, my conviction that we can make a difference.
Meeting Eliyahu Essas I was reminded that we each have the power to make our dreams a reality.