Friday, March 23, 2012

Like Avraham of Old

One of the characteristics of the Jewish people is the desire to share intellect. I learned this from one of my Torah classes and I know it is true from so many experiences I have had in Israel. A stranger passing me on the street might tell me that my shoe is untied, my baby is too cold, the street is blocked up ahead, and all sorts of other information.
According to my teacher this desire to spread information is what characterized the chesed, the kindness, of Avraham Avinu, our forefather.  He came to the realization that there was one G-d who created the world and stayed involved with it. In his enthusiasm Avraham was compelled to share his knowledge with others. Only after he began his outreach program did HaShem appear to him in Haran.

Many of us share Avraham’s enthusiasm, especially those of us who are newly religious. One of my newer neighbors in Shilo epitomizes this better than almost anyone I know.
Eliyokim grew up in Jewish home where he knew he was Jewish but not too much more. As a child his mother did light Shabbat candles, but that phased out after his grandmother died. When he was only five-years-old his aunt was on a plane that was hijacked. The experience caused her to become observant and it greatly influenced Eliyokim. Every report he had to do throughout his school experience was based on that hijacking. More important, it gave him the message that he was Jewish, he was different, and he was special.
However, he did not do much of anything with that feeling besides joining a Jewish fraternity, occasionally going to Reform services, and once in a while reading the Torah. What he did do was go from smoking marijuana to snorting and selling cocaine. By the time he finished school and began working in his family business Eliyokim was adept at leading a double life. At one point he did try rehabilitation but it did not work.
Then on January 4th, 2008, ironically a Friday evening, when Eliyokim was twenty-seven years old everything changed. He went to buy drugs after work and was driving around while high. He took a wrong turn and ended up going the opposite direction on the highway. When Eliyokim first saw a car coming at him in his lane he thought the guy was an idiot. After dodging three more cars it began to dawn on him that he was the idiot. A police car spotted him and flashed his lights. Eliyokim did not stop. He was afraid to since his license had been revoked several months earlier due an unpaid speeding ticket in Alabama.  A forty-five minute car chase ensued with what seemed like twenty-five cruisers chasing after Eliyokim. It was like something out of the big screen; sirens, road spikes, weaving in and out of traffic. Fortunately for Eliyokim the policemen were concerned about innocent bystanders and there were no bullets. He was numb as he drove, looking at himself as if he were in a movie. Eventually fatigue took over and Eliyokim slowed down. A police car knocked him off the road and a number of policemen wrestled him to the ground, handcuffed him, and took him to jail. Again Eliyokim was fortunate that no guns had been used in the arrest.
Once in jail Eliyokim had to look at his life. He tried to call his parents but there was no answer. Had they finally given up on him? Bail was set at $36,000 and Eliyokim had no money like that. He remembered hearing that hell is internal regret. He knew something would have to change and he began thinking about his observant grandfather. How disappointed he would be in his grandson. At that point Eliyokim made a commitment to himself. If or when he got out of jail he would call Rabbi Friedman, the rabbi his observant aunt had asked him to contact.
Things looked better the following day. Eliyokim was able to reach his parents. They put up bail and hired a lawyer. The lawyer told him he would not take his case unless Eliyokim made a commitment to change his lifestyle. He did. The following Friday he went to Rabbi Friedman’s synagogue. The man was amazing, always smiling, and he told Eliyokim to come Monday so they could begin learning.
Eliyokim had no intention of becoming observant when he first met with the rabbi. In fact, he asked the man why he lived with such a restricting lifestyle. Rabbi Friedman’s answer was a foundation stone for Eliyokim. “Only G-d could have given the Jews what is written in the Torah. Once you believe that you will do the same.” 
Every Monday for six months Eliyokim met with the rabbi. In between those Mondays he delved into Torah on his own. For twenty-two months his legal case stayed pending. Finally a settlement was reached and Eliyokim was sentenced to four days in solitary confinement. Those four days were a gift to him, time for introspection and decisions.
Eliyokim now makes his home in Shilo, Israel. Rabbi Friedman’s statement was correct. Since Eliyokim now believes that G-d gave us the Torah he is happy to live the “restricting” lifestyle. He reaches out via his facebook fan page called Jews News, . He has also written a book, From Cocaine to Amen, which he hopes to publish in the near future. Like Avraham of old, he is eager to share his knowledge of G-d, His Torah, and Israel with the Jewish world.  

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