I was a typical non-observant Israeli, working as an actor and model in Tel Aviv, and enjoying the good life. So when I got an offer of a flight and a chance to participate in an advertisement to be filmed in New York, I couldn’t turn it down.
This was to be my first time in the “Big Apple" and I had just finished drama school. Life could not have been better.
The last thing I wanted was to sit next to a Chasidic woman from Brooklyn, a mother of 13 returning from a leadership seminar at Aish in Jerusalem. As soon as I realized that I was going to have to spend the next 11 hours with a "fanatic" who wouldn't even want me to breathe in her direction, I turned to her and said, "Lady, this is my first trip to New York and I’m really excited, so don't expect this to be a quiet and restful flight. It's going to be a bit wild. I'm sorry."
Her quiet answer surprised me. "That's fine. I like happy people."
The last thing I wanted was to sit for 10 hours next to a Chasidic mother of 13.
I was not the least bit interested in anything to do with Judaism. As far as I was concerned, being a native Israeli was enough connection to my roots and my heritage. All the other details were irrelevant.
Yet something intrigued me. Mrs. Reifer was very open and accepting, and a small voice inside said, This is an opportunity to get answers to some of your questions. I found myself slowly bringing up topics that I always found intriguing, such as:
Why do so many observant Jews seem to live such an "isolated" life?
What is the idea of a yeshiva and why do these men study all day?
Is Judaism what God really wants from us? If He really wants me to be happy, then why burden me with all these laws from thousands of years ago?
Mrs. Reifer answered my questions patiently, gradually breaking down barriers and revealing a world that I never knew existed. It was a world which the Israeli media – newspapers, TV, Internet – portrays as irrelevant today – that it is impossible to know whether Judaism is credible, and that Judaism is based on religious coercion.
Mrs. Reifer’s most crushing answer came after I started mocking “the rite called Shabbat” – how Jews have to sit in the dark with two small challot, with a suffocating amount of "Don't do that!" and never to leave the house unless to go to synagogue I couldn't imagine anything more boring for Saturday – my special day to go to the beach, meet friends, and ride my motorcycle!
Mrs. Reifer was surprised. "Do you mean you've never actually experienced a Shabbat?"
"Like Shabbat as Shabbat?" I answered. "Like with those guys with the big black hats? Umm… no."
"So," she said, "you must come to my home for Shabbat."
Before we landed, after 10 hours of non-stop conversation, we exchanged phone numbers and made arrangements for me to spend Shabbat with her family. So a few weeks later, prior to my return to Israel, I “landed" in the orthodox enclave of Boro Park. To say that I experienced “the most amazing Shabbat” is a huge understatement. I asked dozens of questions that had been on my mind, and spent the whole day delving deeper into matters most important to my life.
I returned to Israel with the realization that I do not have the whole picture and that I must continue to search. Mrs. Reifer recommended that I check out Aish, overlooking the Western Wall in Jerusalem, as the ideal place to find answers to my questions.
I left Tel Aviv, the city that never sleeps, and made my way to Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish people.
So I left Tel Aviv, the city that never sleeps, and made my way to Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish people. Besides its wonderful location in the Old City, I discovered at Aish a bounty of information – not only about Jewish history, ethics, and Bible – but on issues of self-improvement and leadership development. Rabbi Noah Weinberg's zt”l teachings were especially impactful.
Each day of study strengthened and intensified my sense of pride in being a Jew. It was clear to me that I wanted to continue.
The idea that I can apply Torah wisdom to building a better future for the Jewish people, has made my studies even more meaningful.
Through Aish, I have been able to combine my vocation – drama – with musical and interactive programs for the many visitors who visit the Aish Center in Jerusalem. For me, this is the ideal way to utilize the profession which I have dreamed about my whole life, and to help break the barriers that prevent other Jews from understanding what Judaism is all about.
Day of Unity
I’m now looking forward to the next big event.
You've heard of walk-a-thons and bike-a-thons. Well, here's a breakthrough idea with a Jewish twist:
On Sunday, May 5, 2013, Aish will be holding its first international “Learn-a-thon” http://www.stayclassy.org/fundraise/team?ftid=22722. Instead of sponsoring me to run or walk, I will be joining hundreds of other Jewish students to study Torah for an entire day.
Thirty students at Aish Jerusalem have committed to a "learning marathon" – spending the entire 24-hour period without a break from Torah study!
The money raised will go toward scholarships for young men and women to study in Jerusalem – to connect with their Jewish heritage.
Aish has exposed me to a world that I may not otherwise have been fortunate enough to discover. It’s a never-ending process of self-advancement, to understand who I am and my place in the world, while working on character traits and developing feelings of responsibility and caring
Thankfully, you can join the fun and participate yourself at one of the dozens of locations worldwide. Or watch a LIVE HD stream of the Learn-a-Thon on www.aish.com – all day Sunday, May 5 – packed with speakers including Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau (Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv), Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (Chief Rabbi of England), Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzky, and more popular speakers like Charlie Harary, Lori Palatnik, Ken Spiro and Motty Berger.
Through the Learn-a-thon and with your help, we hope to raise the funds to enable each and every Jew realize his or her potential.
So please open your hearts and help give others this opportunity.
The big day is Sunday, May 5. Together we can help bring unity to Israel and the world. Check out this website that explains everything: www.learnathon.org.