top of page

I was a rebellious type, hated frames and tried to break them in every way

My parents were married for six years without children. They very, very longed for children. They came to Israel to the village of Haroeh, where my father was a rabbi at the high school yeshiva under Rabbi Neria. Two years later my mother became pregnant and after nine months of anxiety and guarding - I was born. The eldest.

Although I was not an easy baby, their joy knew no bounds and their devotion to the newborn, to the little miracle, was full. That is why they called me Elnathan, an original and uncommon name then, to indicate their gratitude. A few months later my parents returned to the United States, in part because some tumor had developed in my face and they thought the treatment in America was better. It later turned out that the tumor was not dangerous.

In America I had a sister and three other brothers. There were many pleasant moments and fun and shared walks. We were a religious family in a very, very "liberated" society, but for us religiosity was a very central element in life. We grew up in a Miami Beach place of hurricanes, and it was really fun to experience a hurricane in the strong, durable home we had.

Dad was tense a lot of the time and very very meticulous and perfectionist with a claim that I would succeed and be the best. The overwhelming feeling at home, for me, was an oppressive demand for excellence. To be the best student, the most diligent, the most brilliant, the most perfect. My father always loved to tell about smart students and talented people. I felt expected of me and hated it. Although I met some of the expectations, it only increased the internal tension and I was evasive and afraid to face all kinds of challenges.

In the summer I was sent to school for the gifted and I envied my friends who played and wrestled all the great freedom. I used to be in a very prestigious chemistry program where whoever misses three days flies off the course and decided I did not want to continue. Dad mobilized the whole world to put pressure on me and after two days of absence I came back and finished with cum and anger and resentment in my heart. I skipped four classes in math because of my father and I excelled at that too.

I was an outstanding student in school, but I was rebellious, I felt I was born for freedom. We once went out with the whole family for freedom and Dad forced me to pray out loud every word in his presence, so I prayed slowly for hours to spoil his freedom too, but he and Mom took turns.

At about the age of 9-10 I began to doubt the truth of the tradition and its vitality. I saw religion as an oppressive and harassing institution, suppressing freedom of thought and the natural flow of life. Shabbat was perceived by me as a prison where I was imprisoned. I was waiting for Sunday, the day of freedom that you can do whatever you want.

I did not like the synagogue, I did not see any interest in prayer, although I sat for hours and read Hebrew law, all kinds of murders and thefts and laws. It was interesting, but the rabbi's sermon and everything else was a burden. Reluctantly I went to a synagogue and tried to escape at every opportunity.

Although I excelled in studies, even in sacred studies, I saw no point in them and could not understand what interest God has in what I eat and what I look at and how I live my life.

I really excelled in my early years in school, but I really hated homework. I wanted freedom. When I was not fulfilling tasks I avoided school. I hated forced sitting indoors. In prison, in a cage. Once at a summer camp at 9-10 I did not enjoy. I do not know what I was punished for, but I was taken out of the pavilion at night and sang homeland songs - longing for the south (USA) where I grew up.

In fourth grade, the teacher taught us Rashi's commentary on the birth of Jacob and Esau - that two stones that go into a test tube, the first one comes out last and that is why Jacob was the eldest. It so annoyed me that I did not stop attacking this foolish idea, that the embarrassed teacher had to invite my father, who was the deputy principal, to take care of me. My father was not excited and even looked happy.

In seventh grade, I came first from my school in a district long-distance running competition. That week I won first prize at the District Science Fair. I was very interested in the natural sciences at school and excelled in it as well as in mathematics, but mostly I was attracted to the humanities of literature, creative writing, drama, etc.

I was a rebellious type, hated frames and tried to break them in every way. I had a personal refusal to submit to outside dictates. I did not tolerate hours of lights off, censorship of what I read or watch on TV, I was not prepared to be told who to connect with or when to get a haircut.

When I was 14 I was sent to a high school yeshiva in Baltimore, for the first few weeks I excelled and was put in a high class Gemara. I hated the framework and some of the teachers. I started reading books on ethical existentialism, Marxism and other interesting topics. The books were confiscated and it made a big impression on me. I was an infidel in general, tried to work with me and persuade to no avail. At one point I hooked up with a friend and we would hang out and go to the movies.

After a few months I was thrown out, but out of respect for Dad, they phrased it as a transfer to another branch of the same yeshiva in Toronto Canada. When I got there, I soon connected with a bunch of criminals and we hung out in the places of the hippies and so on. Also from there of course I was thrown out after a while. I did not tell my parents and stayed in Canada for a while longer. My parents were obviously disappointed, but I decided I would continue my studies at a Gentile school. In the summer I did a drama course in Washington, where my parents moved from Florida, my father was the principal of the Jewish school in the city.

At the age of 15 I started studying at a prestigious high school and at first I excelled in studies and was mainly interested in drama, but on the eve of Yom Kippur Dad yelled at me and gave me $ 2 to get a haircut. I took the money and finally left the house.

I went to the Bohemian Quarter. I did not know anyone in town, I did not know what I would do, but I knew I would not return home. I called someone I knew from the drama class and he came and picked me up at his house. The next day his parents went to the Reform Synagogue ...

On the evening of Yom Kippur the friend introduced me to a gentile friend, and I moved in with him and a bunch of beautiful 17-18 year olds. They received me well, we did things, we drove an open car ..., but I was not really one of them. They were three years older than me on average, they were all Gentiles (me too, according to my statement, but I was not an authentic Gentile). Two months later I ran away from school and the city.

It was the sixties! I was very carried away by tasting it all, giving free rein to the inner spirit of being me and realizing myself. I tried to stay away from any attachments to any rule, not just religion and Judaism, to A. in extremes. Some drugs made me a kind of mystical experience of meeting some harmonious unity that includes, a supreme power that encompasses and affects everything. Following a negative and frightening journey I came to the conclusion, together with another friend, that the purpose of life is to reach nirvana and live a fusion with the Supreme Power without external things, but independently. Since then I have practiced Eastern religions, yoga and the like, mostly self-work and without guidance. Sometimes in meditation I came to a kind of religious experience, the feeling of connection with a higher power.

At one point when I was not yet 16, the Six Day War broke out in Israel, it did not speak to me, but I was invited to visit my aunt at Kibbutz Hulata and I felt it brought me closer to my destination, India.

When I arrived in Israel at the age of 16, right after the war, I had an experience of cutting meat, really. I felt that precisely, paradoxically, my true self and the realization of my powers lay in the same experience of unity that prevailed in the land. I developed a feeling of intense love for the country, for the kibbutz, for the army, for the landscapes, for growing things. I did not deal with the religions of the East so much, because I was immersed in the life of the kibbutz, in the knowledge of the land and the land.

The kibbutz wanted me to study at a school and I entered a class of my peers who welcomed me nicely and I was part of the group, but I felt a little different. The language, the accent, the background. I attended school for a few days, but immediately retired. I did not like the school setting and had no intention of entering it again.

I am a man of reason and could not give the connection to the land a proper explanation. The enthusiastic explanations about homeland and safe haven did not really appeal to me, despite the sense of unity that sparkled for a moment, I was looking to move east, but then came the romantic part. I knew my wife, who came from an assimilated home, but fell in love with Judaism, the delicacy and grace of the Jewish tradition and diligently studied its principles.

We met and talked and I could not convince her that Hindu yoga was more logical and plausible than Judaism. And if already Judaism, then at least Spinoza. I found myself in the house of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda HaCohen Kook, I was hairy, rebellious and critical and he accepted me as a father. Slowly, day after day, we came to terms with the secret issues.

We dealt with Torah and science, the absurdity of practical mitzvos, coercion and freedom and what we are and what our lives are and who the people of Israel are. Rabbi Zvi Yehuda made me personally acquainted with Avraham Avinu, with this good and kind soul, and he put me into the depths of the nobility of binding and we will slowly realize a very big picture.

Since returning to the faith, I have had many positive experiences, observing God's grace and providence. At all sorts of intersections in my life, I experience positive experiences from holy times, Torah study and prayer.

I still have the desire not to lose myself and to have the ability to make my mark and not be active, but devotion to God frees me from a lot of other bondages.


bottom of page