It was a typical Monday night. I had all the necessary items in place to carry out the most sacred of my bachelor rituals: pizza and Monday Night Football. Everything was ready to go: the pizza was hot and the TV tuned to channel 7. I was in heaven. I used to live for those 16 Monday nights when Al Michaels and ABC were kind enough to continue my weekend for a few extra hours. At that time, it was the closest thing in my life to an enjoyable religious experience. It was a Monday night like any other Monday night – except it wasn't. Although I didn't know it at the time, it was the Monday night that would change everything. And it started with a knock at the door.
At first I ignored it. I felt like shouting in my best Wizard of Oz voice, "Who dare disturb the Great and Mighty Ross while he watches the holy Monday Night Football?"
The knock came again and I could no longer ignore it. When I opened the door, there stood a cute, smiling little African-American kid.
He seemed like a nice enough kid except for the fact that he was interrupting my hallowed football ritual.
"Good evening, sir," he said.
"Hi," I answered, "look, I'd really love to chat except that the 49ers are on TV right now and…"
"I understand," he said, still smiling at me. "Would you be interested in subscribing to the L.A. Times to help me earn a scholarship to college?"
Now I was trapped. This was actually a good cause. I kept glancing back at the TV and then to him, hoping not to miss too much of the game, but not having the heart to close the door.
"Well, um, to be honest, I don't like the L.A. Times," I confessed.
"That's okay," he said enthusiastically, "You could just subscribe to help me earn the scholarship!"
Now this kid had my full attention. Rarely do you meet little kids with such tenacity. "How old are you my friend?" I asked.
"Eleven years old. And if I sell enough subscriptions, I'll have enough scholarship money to go to college!"
Okay, he had me sold. He was cute, likeable and ambitious. My kind of guy.
"All right, I'll help you out. I'm also a big believer in education and I admire the fact that you're working to help yourself pay for your education. I did the same thing in college and law school."
So I subscribed to the L.A. Times and went back to the important things in my life: pizza and football.
People either loved the program or hated it. Whatever they were doing, it was touching people at a very visceral level.
One of the first papers I received had an article that caught my eye. It was a review of a singles program called 20-Something at some place called Aish HaTorah. What fascinated me were the reactions of the people interviewed: they either loved the program or hated it. I thought that whatever they were doing, it was touching people at a very visceral level. After all, the opposite of love isn't hate; it's indifference. I tucked that article and organization away in my memory. One day, I thought to myself, I'd like to check it out.
Fast-forward one year. My girlfriend (and future wife) and I were discussing all the great issues of life to see if we were really compatible. We matched on what were for us at that time the real important ones: abortion, the death penalty, politics and thinking each other was cute. Almost as a throw away, we checked in on religion. You know, just to be sure.
We were both in the same place: in our late 20's and completely ignorant about our religion. "Why don't we go learn something about Judaism together?" I suggested.
"Great!" Debbie said, "But where?" She had me stumped. I had no idea.
Then that L.A. Times article popped into my head. "I did hear of this program called 20-something at some place called Aish HaTorah. Why don't we start there and maybe they can steer us in the direction of a class." I thought this was a brainstorm particularly since my only other idea was to look up the word "Jew" in the Yellow Pages. Debbie agreed and we began attending this singles program as a couple.
There, the unexpected happened: we fell in love with Judaism. Okay, we didn't fall in love with it immediately – it definitely took a process over time. But from the first class, we knew there was something of value, something real being offered by the Torah.
When we arrived at our first 20-Something, we weren't even sure it was going to be the program for us. The room was filled with large round tables, and was dimly lit. We were seated at a table with nine other people and given a topic to discuss amongst ourselves. It seemed pretty harmless so far and the people were bright and interesting.
This was Torah?! It was too practical, too full of wisdom, too applicable to my own life. And worse – it really made sense!
Then the moderator, who was an Aish rabbi, facilitated a group discussion between all of the people. The rabbi was amazing. He was this incredible combination of thoughtful interviewer, philosopher, and regular guy who just happen to have what amounted to brilliant insights and wisdom. He was captivating. At the end of the evening, for about five minutes, he summed up what the Torah had to say on whatever the topic was for the evening.
When I heard those last five minutes, I was stunned. I couldn't believe (wouldn't believe) that what that rabbi was saying was Torah! It was too practical, too full of wisdom, too applicable to my own life. And worse – it really made sense! I was deeply confused. I was convinced that the Torah was just some antiquated document used by a bunch of people running around the desert in sandals thousands of years ago. But the rabbi was so genuine, so unpretentious, so real and what he was saying made sense. His words somehow touched my soul and awakened something in me – something I didn't even know was there. He awakened my Jewish soul. And there was another fascinating thing about the rabbi: he seemed to radiate happiness and contentment. I thought to myself, "I don't know what he's got, but whatever it is, I want some of it!" We were hooked.
From that night on we just kept coming back, taking class after class. We began to slowly change our lives. We decided that we wanted to have an orthodox wedding and had the rabbi from 20-Something, who was now our friend as well as teacher, perform the ceremony. We started observing Shabbat and keeping kosher. Finally, we made the ultimate commitment: we moved into the Jewish community within walking distance of the shul. From that point on we never looked back. We now lead an observant life and still live in the L.A. Aish community.
The Jewish sages say that there are no coincidences. They also say that doing one mitzvah will lead you to another mitzvah. I am absolutely certain that it was no coincidence that a charming 11-year-old boy came to my apartment door that night selling newspaper subscriptions. I also don't think it's a coincidence that after I bought that subscription my life started changing in significant ways. If I had continued to ignore his knock or decided not to spend the $26 on the subscription, I don't know if I would have ever found Aish and returned to my roots. But I do know that after helping that young boy out, I was lead to my wife and to the organization that changed my life. For 26 bucks that's a pretty good deal.