My entire life flashed before me
Team HaShem TeShuva Story!
I was born in the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan during the cold war between United States and Soviet Union, and the continued war of Soviet government on any form of spirituality. As a result for many generations, my family was completely secular. Growing up, I knew that I was a Jew, but I had no idea what it meant to be a Jew, except for the fact that my mom would always tell me that I have to marry a Jew. And when I grew up and received my first passport, the government in the section of Nationality put a stamp labeling me a “Jew.” During my high school years, I learned that my father had to be a member of the Communist party in order to keep his job, otherwise, that position would not be available for him as a regular Jew. I didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah and didn’t even know what it was or what it meant. I never kept Shabbat and didn’t even know how to spell it. After I finished school, I was admitted to Tashkent State Technical University along with my very nice and smart Russian friend.
In the University, we met a fellow by the name Alex with a big Jewish nose. We quickly became friends. Back then, life in a Socialist country was a constant hassle: shortage of everyday necessities such as food, water, electricity, and other basic supplies was a norm. Very few people could afford to own good books. However, my father-in-law was very successful in many areas and was able to obtain an impressive collection of books. Among them was couple of religious Jewish books, which were very hard to come by. I don’t recall any of these books, as it had no meaning to me back in those days.
During the third year of our college journey, my friend Alex immigrated to Canada. We lost touch due to lack of technology and danger of being put under surveillance by the KGB for having contact with people overseas. Sixteen years later, when I was already living in the United States, one of my high school friends send me an email that somebody by the name Alex from Uzbekistan is looking for me on social media. After all those years, we got in touch again and soon I learned that Alex lives in Florida, became an orthodox Jew, and had wife and kids. I was very surprised to hear that he became religious. My family and I were very distant from Judaism. My wife always fasted on Yom Kippur and to support her, I joined the club. That was the extent of my religiosity. When I asked my friend what happened to him, and why he became religious; his answer shocked me to the core. He said, "I became religious because of you." I remember that moment, my entire life flashed before me and I couldn’t find anything to support Alex’s statement. He told me that during our college years, when he was visiting me at my apartment, that he was surprised to see a big Jewish book collection. One book drew his attention and he asked me if he could borrow it. Apparently I lend him the book. He read the entire book and it changed his outlook on life. That book was Chumash. It was extremely difficult to be an observant Jew back then in Uzbekistan. Absence of Jewish schools, synagogues, learning materials, kosher food, etc… There were very few religious people and they were hiding their identity for a good reason. But after moving to Canada, Alex found everything he needed to start his journey to Judaism.
Little by little, he started to direct me towards the derech by sending me lectures and articles, he gifted my first Chumash, and we even started to learn on the phone sometimes. Alex pushed me to have a Bris, and then he signed me up with Partners in Torah organization, which helps people around the world to study Torah with a partner. I was very lucky to get Rabbi David Jacobson from Los Angeles as my learning partner. We started learning together once a week on the phone and until today, we still do B’’H. When the time was right and I had to start praying with a minyan, Rabbi Jacobson put me in contact with Rabbi Dovid Horowitz who is the Rabbi of Makor Hachaim, the shul in the area where I live. B’’H, my family and I have been members of Makor Hachaim for the last 8 years.
Few years back, I came across lectures on YouTube by Rabbi Yaron Reuven. I was very inspired and touched by his passion and love of Torah. Soon after, during my family vacation in Florida, I learned that Rabbi Reuven was giving classes a few miles away from where we were staying. It took a few attempts, and my wife and I finally made it to the class. It was a magnificent experience to listen to Rabbi Reuven in person. After the class, the Rabbi spend over an hour talking to me and my wife. This was the moment that gave me an opportunity to become a member of BeEzrat HaShem team. I began to work on the Torah & Science movie and distribute CDs with the lectures and flyers.
At some point, we decided to start a learning group at our shul, Makor Hachaim. Few people got together and we started learning the Chofetz Chaim book, the Laws of Proper Speech. Classes were given by Daniel Hersko Ha’Levy, who has a huge respect for Rabbi Reuven. Rabbi Reuven was very kind to provide guidance when Dany Hersko and our learning group were in need. The classes were so good that we decided to publish them on the web so we can have access to the material and share it with the world. I started a website called www.Torah4You.com and now we have many hours of Torah classes available to anyone who is interested. Looking back on my life, I realize how lucky and privileged I am to be a Jew.
P.S. My favorite book of all time became “To Remain a Jew” by Rabbi Itzchak Zilber zt’l. It is a very inspiring book, which teaches by telling the story of a life of a Jew in Soviet Russia. Rabbi Reuven has used some the materials from this book in his classes, it was fantastic.