Everyone has a journey. From the moment of conception to one's last breath, we are on a journey. Sometimes that journey is like a roller coaster, lots of slow ups with a few curves to be followed by harrowing downs. Sometimes, if we are lucky, life is like a cruise. We just sit back and enjoy the sights as we pass through life.
My journey began in 1973. Four of my older siblings had been at Woodstock four years earlier. People were lost and trying to find themselves. By the end of the 1970's, I would have three brothers, one a Buddhist, one a macrobiotic hermit, one a hippie Rabbi and three sisters, one a junkie, now clean and working as nutritional expert, one a member of a nefarious Christian cult, now, thank G-d, married to Dentist and working as a colonics expert, and one a punk rocker, safety pins in earlobes the whole works, now a working mother.
I was raised in a traditional Jewish home. Note: the word traditional means that whatever we did had to be done in an Orthodox Jewish manner. Reform and Conservative Temples were churches. But, we never did anything. I received the compulsory five years of afternoon Hebrew education. The only thing I learned was that sharpened pencils, when thrown just ever so correctly, would stick into a drop ceiling. After my bar mitzvah, I made a promise to myself that when I retired, I would again go back to shul. After all, who were in the synagogues?, old men and young boys. It was not that I was turned off from Judaism. On the contrary, I enjoyed the Passover seders, the lighting of the Chanukah candles and various family get-togethers. Judaism just did not present the answers to the questions that I, as a teenager, was asking.
One day, while in chemistry class in high school, the teacher was explaining quantum mechanics, you know: ΔS +ΔG = ΔH. If that doesn't mean anything to you, it no longer does to me either. I asked the teacher, "Why does it do that?" She patiently explained the whole equation and I again wanted to know why? Her response, "That's just the way G'd wants it." Something hit me. Was it possible that science could not answer all of my questions? Was there in deed, something more? This began my journey.
Having spent five years in Hebrew school, I felt I had had enough of a background in Judaism. I thought about Christianity. At that time, as Providence would have it, I was taking a Bible as literature class (I had been late in signing up for electives and this was the only open class). We were given the assignment of comparing and contrasting the literary style of the Apostles. What caught my eye was a contradiction: Each of these books started with a lineage that connected JC to King David through Patralineal descent. I posed the question to the teacher, "Don't the Christians believe that JC is the son of G'd? How then, can they attribute a patralineal descent?" The teacher demurred that he was an English teacher and recommended I ask the Choirmaster, a Protestant Minister.
I was in choir and knew and despised the choirmaster greatly. I posed my query. The man's veins popped out of his neck. The steam rose from his collar, his eyes bulged from his head. The man verily began frothing from the mouth and threatened to fail me for the course and have me expelled for making fun of his religion. End of my journey into Christianity.
I then turned to Hinduism. TM was becoming popular and perhaps my questions could be answered. I went to the source, the school library, and took out the definitive book on Hinduism, at least according to the Jewish librarian. The first chapter began by listing the 5000 gods that Hindus worship. Having been raised with matzo on Passover and brisket on Rosh Hashanah, 5000 gods went against my grain. End of my journey into Hinduism.
My eldest brother went off to Thailand at age 19 to learn the secrets of Buddhism. He kept a 32-volume set of Buddhist philosophy in my mother's garage. I began reading it and became enthralled. Its simple complexity hit a chord with me. I decided to follow my brother's footsteps to Thailand.
My grandmother had recently passed away. My mother had rented her apartment, downstairs, to a young Lubavitch couple. We became close friends and I began a debate with them, Judaism verses Buddhism. We were both beginners and the playing field was basically level. They did have an advantage; chocolate brownies. I would come home on Friday nights, having worked a full day, after school, at the local A&P, a job from which I was eventually fired because I would not work Saturdays. Before going up to my room, I would stop in at the downstairs' tenet, and feast on brownies and peppermint tea and discuss philosophy until well after midnight. This went on for three years. One evening my host asked me when my Hebrew birthday was. I replied that I did not know what a Hebrew birthday was. He explained the nuances of the Jewish lunar calendar and produced a book that had corresponding dates. As it turned out, that night was my Hebrew birthday. He told me that if I went to shul the next morning, I would be called to the Torah, an honor I had not thought of since my bar mitzvah, four years past.
I went to shul the next day. The Rabbi greeted me at the door. When I told him that today was my Hebrew birthday and I would like an aliyah, he almost fell through the floor. It had been many years since attending that shul. The Rabbi invited me to lunch, which, I, knowing the better part of valor, declined. I did not want to push this Judaism business too much.
As our discussions continued, it occurred that I needed to know his material to be able to better argue with him. I began studying the weekly Torah reading and attending Tanya classes at the local shul. For more than three months this continued. All the while, I kept up my Buddhist readings. By Mid-December, I was a regular at the shul on Shabbos mornings and had accepted the invitation of the Rabbi for lunch. I was still quite careful not to get to close. Buddhism was my journey.
My meetings with the Lubavitch Rebbe left me unimpressed. What drew me to Chabad was the philosophy. The Rebbe's talks were in Yiddish and dealt with topics with which I was too unfamiliar. I appreciated the local Chabad Rabbi's Tanya class. These weekly classes inspired me to thinking deeply about our purpose of existence and how to achieve that goal. In one of my Friday get-togethers I admitted to my host that Buddhism and Chassidus were very, very similar and that I enjoyed the contrasts and comparisons. His response to me was, "If you believe they are saying the same thing, why run to Thailand? You have it right here!" At that moment I thought one thing, "Checkmate." I could not argue. I had to agree.
The Lubavitch Youth Organization conducts a weekend in Crown Heights, Brooklyn every year around New Year's. My friend showed me a brochure and asked if I wanted to go. Twenty-five dollars was a lot of money for me and I balked. He made me a deal: If I didn't like the Shabbos, he would pay for it. I agreed.
That Shabbos I was billeted with a modest Lubavitch family. In the middle of the meal the phone began to ring. After about 20 rings, I asked the host if he was going to answer the phone, perhaps it was important. His response, "Maybe it's not." A lightening bolt hit me. Here was the inner peace, the simplicity I was looking for. In one small phrase, "Maybe it's not," this simple man had transcended time and space, something I had been trying to do for three years. I felt encouraged.
At the end of the weekend, I was offered a week of study in Teferus Bochurim, a remedial, Baal Teshuva Yeshiva in Morristown, New Jersey. I found the food foul and the learning incredible. I understood that there was a world underneath the Judaism to which I had been exposed. After the week, I went back to my mother's home. I took off the talis katan and Yarmulke I had procured in Crown Heights and sat down to the spaghetti and meatballs (with parmesan cheese) my mother had prepared. After I ate, I went into the bathroom and threw up. I put the tzitzits and yarmulke back on and announced to my mother that I was frum.
My mother's reaction, "Not in MY house." I packed a small bag of clothes and left. Three days later, I called my mother back on the phone and asked her if she wanted me back. I quizzed her as to her reaction. My brothers were Buddhist, Shinto and Hippie Jewish. My sisters were strung out and Christian. Why was mine different? She never answered the question. A month later, I was in Yeshiva full time, at the beginning of my journey.
After eight years in various Yeshivas, I received ordination from the United Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Brooklyn and married Chana Rothschild - the mother of our seven children. Four Years in the kollel in Melbourne, Australia provided a wonderful venue to grow and develop a deeper understanding of all aspects of the Torah and engage in some serious kiruv work in Tasmania, outback Victoria and Perth.
Since 1988, we have been serving the greater Detroit Jewish community. The main focus has been teaching Torah to adults. The Lubavitcher Rebbe once gave me instructions that I should do whatever things others are not doing. This insight has given rise to chaplaincy in the Michigan Department of Corrections, the Jewish Hour radio show, the e-Parsha and YouParsha and Michigan Kosher Supervisors.
I trust you will find this website entertaining and educational. That is why I am here.