An Officer in G-d’s Brigade – Moshav Agur

Nestled in the Judean Hills near the Elah Valley, Moshav Agur was founded in 1950. Originally founded by Yemenite immigrants, it later attracted Jews of Kurdish and Turkish origin. Today, Agur is known for its flourishing boutique winery. Belev Echad has been helping Agur residents grow closer to their heritage for 18 years.

An Officer in G-d’s Brigade

“Mm, look at all that cold cola!”

It was a hot summer afternoon at the soccer pitch. Moshav families were everywhere, watching their boys play soccer while their little ones tumbled around in the grass.

I’d set myself up near the pitch with a massive bag of snacks and a cooler of icy drinks. It looked like I’d found my first customer. – B

Glancing up, I saw a flushed, sweaty boy of about 11 standing somewhere between his family’s picnic blanket and me. He was eyeing my cooler with longing.

“You played a good game, eh?” I smiled. Pulling out a can of soda, I tossed it to him. “Enjoy, it’s yours.”

“Todah,” the boy’s father called across the grass. “Ben, tell him thank you.”

“My pleasure.” I grabbed a few more drinks and snacks and strolled over.

We chatted as Ben and his little brothers enjoyed their treats. Though his parents introduced themselves as fully secular, Ben seemed curious about this rabbi and his very different lifestyle. I told him a bit about the Torah classes for youngsters we were running on the moshav, and invited him to try one out.

A few weeks later, he took me up on the offer. Soon, he became a regular. Eventually, I set him up with a madrich (“big brother” or mentor) named Yoni, who would come to his house and learn with him. Together, they explored emunah, studied Chumash, and helped Ben understand more about his Jewish roots.

Two years later, Yoni watched proudly as Ben, now a bar-mitzvah boy, read his entire parsha perfectly from the bimah. 

Ben was proud too. He’d enjoyed that experience so much that he got Yoni to help him prepare the parsha every week. The moshav shul gained an enthusiastic new baal korei.

As Ben’s Jewish journey proceeded, bumps in the road cropped up often. Ben’s parents weren’t thrilled about the mitzvot he was keeping. When he wanted to start keeping kosher, it took lots of careful guidance from Yoni to help Ben refrain from his mother’s food without triggering painful fights.

Shabbat was also a struggle. When things became tense, Belev Echad’s Rav Elchaddad would sit with Ben’s parents, soothing them and helping them and Ben understand each other. He also gifted them with a free pair of tefillin for Ben – and, in time, for his younger brothers, who had started following Ben to classes.

When he joined the IDF at 18, Ben brought his enthusiasm for Judaism with him. He helped soldiers throughout his unit put on his tefillin. 

He was also as careful as he could be about Shabbat, despite the many obstacles army life set in his path. One Friday, during the Lebanon War, he received orders to spend Shabbat morning driving to the South of Israel with crucial intelligence information. Soon, Rabbi Elchaddad of Belev Echad received a frenzied phone call.

“Rabbi, how can I do this?” Ben cried. “I’ve been keeping Shabbat for years. I don’t want to start breaking it now!”

Rav Elchaddad quickly explained that when lives are at stake, we’re permitted to do forbidden work on Shabbos. “If it’s life-saving work, go ahead and do it. There’s no problem.”

That was far from the only phone call Rav Elchaddad received from Ben during his army service. Ben constantly sent questions his way – questions about fasting on Tisha B’Av. About keeping kosher. About issues with Shabbat and other Jewish holidays.

After his five-year army service ended, Ben decided to pursue a career in the police force. When he’s not at work keeping the Jewish People safe, he’s working on the spiritual wellbeing of his fellow officers. When halachic questions arise, he encourages them to call his Belev Echad mentor Rav Elchaddad. Now, an entire Israeli police precinct has a halachic “hotline” – which is regularly in use.

Ben is ready for the next exciting chapter in his journey. He’s looking for a wife who shares the passion and commitment for Judaism that was planted in his heart 16 years ago by a Belev Echad can of cola.

At Belev Echad, we’re exceptionally proud of this special officer in G-d’s brigade. And we can’t wait to watch him and support him as he builds the beautiful Jewish family he dreams of.

had taught them more than any class could about the joy of living modestly.

Tzniyut Taught Right – Moshav Azarya

Located near the city of Ramle, Moshav Azarya is surrounded by carefully tended vineyards and scenic national parks. Its original founders were religious Kurdish immigrants, who reportedly named the village “Azaria” as an acronym for “Oley Zakho ra’u yeshuat Hashem,” or “Immigrants from Kurdish village Zakho saw G-d’s salvation.” Belev Echad has been helping restore the moshav’s warm religious spirit for the last three years.

Tzniyut Taught Right

Ita Shapira, Belev Echad madricha at Moshav Azaria, had a gargantuan task ahead of her. How could she convey the subtle beauty of the mitzvah of tzniyut, modesty, to secular teenage girls?

She worked hard to prepare sensitive, compelling classes on the topic. And the girls seemed to respond well. 

But then the time came to make things practical.

“I have an exciting announcement,” she told her girls one summer day. “I’m organizing a trip to a public swimming pool next week.”

The girls started buzzing happily. “Sounds fun!” “Oooh, swimming!” “Which pool?”

Ita smiled. “It isn’t one you’ve heard of. It’s a religiously-run pool in Beit Shemesh.”

The positive buzz died down abruptly. “A religious pool?” “Oh, you mean one of those with separate hours? Girls-only, boys-only?”

Ita nodded. “Mm hm. What’s the problem?”

The girls looked around at each other. “Well,” one brave one said, “it just doesn’t sound like much fun without boys there.”

“Why not?”

“That’s the whole point of going to a public pool, isn’t it? Getting attention from the boys. I mean, what are we going to do the whole time if it’s just girls?”

Ita swallowed a smile. She couldn’t wait to let them see for themselves how much fun they would have despite the modesty rules – perhaps even because of them.

“You might as well try it out,” she told them. “Worst comes to worst, you’ll get some exercise.”

At the pool, the girls looked a bit uncertain. But the rippling blue water sparkling under the blazing sun convinced them to make their way in.

After a few minutes, they were all undeniably having fun. They swam, splashed, laughed, raced each other, played pool games they’d enjoyed when they were younger. Without the all-consuming pressure of having boys around, they were actually able to focus on – swimming! Sunbathing! Enjoying their friends!

When it was time to go, it took a while for Ita to fish her glowing, happy girls out of the pool.

“So? How was it?” she asked the girls on the bus ride home.

“I had a blast!” “So much fun.” “Can we do it again?!”

Ita’s ultimate validation came at the next class, when she overheard one girl talking to a friend who’d missed the pool trip because of a doctor’s appointment.

“Adi, you have no clue what it was like. Legit no boys, not even one. They didn’t let the boys in till every single one of us was done. And you know what? We had a ton of fun! I don’t know, I guess we were all just – relaxed. We got to, like, let go and just enjoy.”

Tzniyut isn’t always an easy topic to embrace. But Ita knew the girls’ experience had taught them more than any class could about the joy of living modestly.

Driven to Pray – Moshav Bar Giora

Founded in 1950 by Yemenite immigrants, Moshav Bar Giora later attracted a large Moroccan community. Known for its Sea Horse Winery, thriving farms, and scenic views, Bar Giora also attracts tourists to its mountain biking trails and campgrounds. Though largely secular, Belev Echas has been empowering successful change and growth among its community for seven years.

Driven to Pray

Avichai sat tensely, fingers drumming on the table. He was trying to pay attention to the Torah class Rabbi David Alkoby, the moshav’s Belev Echad representative, was teaching him and his friends. But he just felt too tense.

A week and one day. That was how much time remained until his driving test. He spent as much time as he was allowed practicing in the family car. But he wasn’t sure it would be enough. He wasn’t a natural driver like the rest of the family.

He leaned his forehead on his hand and massaged its worry lines. Oh, he just had to pass! His friends and brothers all drove like it was nothing. What was it his cousin liked to say? “Once you can drive, you’re a man.”

He simply couldn’t fail his test.

But what if he did?

Don’t think about it. Straightening up, he did his best to tune into Rabbi Y’s words. The power of prayer…the importance of prayer… stories about people whose prayers were answered…Well, maybe that was what he needed to pass his driving test. Some good strong prayer.

After class, he sat down next to Rabbi Alkoby. “Rabbi, can I ask you something?”

“Sure, Avichai.”

Avichai bit his lip. “How do I go about praying to pass my driving test next week? Am I allowed to pray for that kind of thing?

Rabbi Alkoby smiled. “That’s exactly what we talked about today. G-d wants us to talk to Him about everything, not just spirituality. He wants us to reach out about our worldly needs too, even the little ones. Pray all you want to pass your driving test. I’ll pray for you too.”

So Avichai started praying. He spoke to G-d his own words as he went about his day. “Please, G-d, let me pass this test. Let me earn my license. Let me do a good job.”

On the morning of the test, Avichai borrowed a Psalms from the beit knesset and recited a few chapters. But he quickly decided that wasn’t enough. Turning to a religious friend who was finishing morning prayers with the daily Shacharit minyan, he asked to borrow the boy’s tefillin.

Test time arrived. Avichai closed his eyes, sent up one more prayer – and did an excellent job. The thrilled owner of a brand new drivers’ license, Avichai couldn’t wait to show it off to his friends and brothers.

But first, he needed to show it to Someone else. As he walked home, he carefully recited the words to a short psalm his Belev Echad madrichim had taught him – Mizmor L’todah, the Song of Thanks.

A Tale of Two Bombshells – Moshav Gefen

Moshav Gefen was founded by Moroccan Jewish immigrants in the 1950s. Located between Kiryat Malachi and Beit Shemesh, it attracts tourists to the national forests, interesting caves, and boutique wineries nearby. Belev Echad has been bringing moshav residents closer to their Creator for 15 years.

A Tale of Two Bombshells

One hot summer’s day, Belev Echad’s Rabbi Borochov was setting up for his weekly shiur in Moshav Gefen. The room felt stuffy even with all windows open, so Rabbi Borochov propped open the door as well to bring in some cross-breeze.

He couldn’t have known then what that cross-breeze would really blow in.

A few minutes into the shiur, the listeners heard footsteps in the hall. A young, secular moshav member popped his head into the room curiously. He stood for a few minutes, listening, then popped back out.

Fifteen minutes later, he was back. Again, he listened for a moment and disappeared.

The third time he popped in, Rabbi Borochov interrupted himself and smilingly pulled an empty chair close to him.

“You don’t need to stand. Come have a seat!”

The next week, the young fellow, Eyal, showed up at the beginning of class and stayed straight through. As he did every single week for the entire next year.

Over that year, Eyal and Rabbi Borochov became extremely close. Rabbi Borochov devoted himself to helping Eyal draw closer to his Creator. As the year drew to a close, Rabbi Borochov was feeling thrilled for Eyal and proud of his progress.

Then, after a class, Eyal casually dropped a bombshell.

“I won’t be coming to class for a while. I’m headed to the Far East with some friends.”

Rabbi Borochov could barely hold back a groan. Though touring the Far East – and getting involved in its deeply idolatrous culture – was the typical coming-of-age trip for thoroughly secular Israeli youngsters, Rabbi Borochov had thought Eyal would choose a better path.

He wished the young man well with a sinking feeling, knowing this was likely the last time he’d ever see him.

A few months later, Rabbi Borochov got a call from Rabbi Nosson Kohn, Belev Echad’s director.

“How’s Eyal doing?” Rabbi Kohn wanted to know.

Rabbi Borochov sighed. “I don’t think I made as much of an impression on him as I’d thought,” he said. “Eyal decided to join some friends on a Far East trip. I haven’t heard from him since.”

Rabbi Borochov could feel Rabbi Kohn’s sadness through the phone line. “Oy. He was blossoming so beautifully. Now he’s hurting himself so badly.”

Rabbi Borochov nodded heavily. “It’s like the entire last year never happened.”

“Do you happen to have his address?” Rabbi Kohn wanted to know.

“I don’t have it now, but I can probably get it from his friends. Why do you want it?”

“I want to send him a little something in the mail.”

Rabbi Borochov shrugged. “I’ll do my best to get it for you. Can I ask what you want to send him?”

“A little Torah book he might like. Maybe Torat Habayit.”

Months passed. One day, a friend of Eyal’s mentioned to Rabbi Borochov that Eyal was planning to come home that week.

“Wow, I’d be excited to see him,” Rabbi Borochov replied.

A few days later, as he was preparing for the week’s class, a young man walked through the open door. Rabbi Borochov looked up – and blinked. The fellow had Eyal’s face, but he was also wearing a kippah, tzitizit, and peyot.


Rabbi Borochov could hardly wait for his class to end so he could catch up with Eyal, who’d shared that he’d become completely religious. He needed to hear the story behind the young man’s unique, shocking turnaround.

“A few months into my trip, I was in a very low place. Spiritually, emotionally – I just wasn’t doing well.

“That’s when I got Rabbi Kohn’s warm, handwritten letter, and the Torah book. It felt like a hug from home – really, a hug from G-d. Alone and adrift as I felt, the book reminded me of you people, who cared about me and believed in me so much. Tears came to my eyes as I thought, what am I doing here, so far away from home, from these wonderful people, my people – my friends, my teachers?

“Everything turned around from there. I found a Chabad house and started living more like a Jew. I knew it was time to return to my true home.”

Eyal spent two years learning in a yeshiva geared toward baalei teshuvah. At the end of those years, he found his wife, also a ba’alas teshuvah brimming with idealism.

Today, several years later, Eyal serves as the rabbi of Moshav Gefen. He and Rabbi Borochov work together to bring their friends on the moshav closer to their Creator.

A Different Kind of Stardom – Moshav Luzit

Moshav Luzit was founded in 1955 by North African Jewish refugees. Taking its name from the almond trees filling the area, Luzit is largely surrounded by scenic farmland. It’s located near natural and archeological tourist attractions like the ancient Luzit Caves. Belev Echad has been inspiring its residents for the past 20 years.

A Different Kind of Stardom

Many twelve-year-old Israeli boys dream about becoming national soccer champions. 

Yosef Ben-Moshe was different than most. He knew his dream could easily come true.

By far the best junior player on his moshav, Yosef had already brought his team to victory in junior competitions around the country. He spent most of his spare time getting better at his sport, and loved every minute. 

His parents, thrilled about their son’s exciting prospects, did everything they could to support his training, even changing around their own schedules to accommodate his training times.

As he neared his thirteenth birthday, though, they asked him to make one small shift: fit in some youth classes given by Rabbi Meir, the moshav’s Belev Echad representative. Nonobservant but fondly traditional, they believed Yosef should do something to prepare for his bar mitzvah, and these local classes were a convenient solution.

Yosef went to the first few classes curious, and came home excited. He quickly connected with Rabbi Meir and enjoyed the fascinating Torah stories and ideas he was learning. He especially liked the sound of Shabbat and its special meaning to the Jewish people.

Then came a class where Rabbi Meir started detailing the activities we hold ourselves back from on Shabbat. Yosef listened with growing apprehension. No using electricity? No driving? No traveling?

Did that mean if he wanted to keep Shabbat, he’d have to give up Saturday soccer matches?

That class sparked an inner turmoil that lasted for months. Countless tournaments – countless crucial opportunities – happened on Shabbat. Not playing in those games would limit his chances of national soccer stardom.

But if playing meant riding a bus on Shabbat… Yosef so badly wanted to keep Shabbat…

After more than a few sleepless nights, countless conversations with Rabbi Meir, and even more serious thinking, Yosef slowly stopped playing on Shabbat. Soccer still filled the rest of his week, but he skipped the Saturday matches.

His parents and coaches weren’t thrilled about his decision. Rabbi Meir had to field some angry comments about “destroying the boy’s career” and “stealing him for our moshav.” So Yosef tried to reassure everyone that he wasn’t dropping soccer. His options were still open. Perhaps he’d still become a star one day.

Years started to pass. Yosef grew stronger both in his soccer prowess and his love of Judaism. He brought both with him when he started his army service at eighteen. 

Recognizing his blazing talent, the army offered him special accommodations so he could keep training and playing. On the religion front, he spent hours per week on the phone with Rabbi Meir, whose warmth and encouragement helped overcome the challenges of his new environment.

Then he left the army. “Real life” was officially beginning. And he knew he had to decide, once and for all, what he was going to do with it.

Throw himself completely into becoming a national soccer star – or commit to a fully Shabbat-observant life, and leave the fame behind?

It was a difficult decision. But with Rabbi Meir and Belev Echad’s loving support strengthening him, he chose Shabbos. Torah. Truth.

His Moshav lost a national soccer star. But Am Yisrael gained a faithful Shabbat keeper.

Today, at 24 years old, Yosef runs the sports department for the Beit Shemesh municipality. He arranges match schedules, trains young players, and plays in intercity games – but only when they don’t conflict with Shabbat.

A true student of Belev Echad, Shabbat is simply too precious to him.

A Series of (Very) Fortunate Events

Sofia smiled to herself as she walked past the moshav’s social hall. On its bulletin board hung three flyers announcing autumn events she’d organized – a children’s carnival next week, a women’s gathering that Saturday, and a post-harvest family potluck at the end of the month.

Her busdriver husband, Gadi, liked to joke that with all her event-planning prowess, she ought to run one of those traveling tours he sometimes drove for. But she was content bringing people together on her own little moshav.

When we started spreading Torah on the Moshav, Sofia was one of the first people we reached out to. Though she knew virtually nothing about Judaism, she did know how to pull off an exciting social event. She was the perfect candidate to organize a women’s weekly Belev Echad shiur.

Gadi wasn’t happy about it. “A Torah class? What do we need this stuff for? Better not to get involved, Sofia.”

But Sofia laughed him off. “It’s just another excuse for a get-together. You know how I love putting these things together. I’ll make sure it’s interesting and fun – we’ll have refreshments, maybe fruit and some cakes. We’ll listen to the rabbanit talk a little, and then we’ll enjoy ourselves.”

But the evening of noshing and chatting didn’t exactly materialize. The woman found our Rabbanit’s ideas so fascinating they forgot about Sofia’s glamorous refreshment table. They listened avidly and sent questions flying at the Rabbanit, who fired back with intriguing answers.

Sofia felt a little funny coming home from that first evening. Torah, mitzvot – they were starting to make sense. She couldn’t share that with Gadi, of course, but…

After a few weeks, Sofia had undergone such a mental shift that she couldn’t hold back anymore. When she gently tried to share some of what she was learning with Gadi, however, he let out a growl.

“Sofia, this is all garbage! I don’t want to hear one word! I wish you hadn’t started with these people. I can’t stop you now, but make sure you never bring any of their ideas home with you. And especially not any of their silly rabbis!”

A rather ironic ending statement, considering what happened a few days later.

It was pouring. It was dark. It was late. Gadi was walking around the house, checking that all windows were closed, when he heard the doorbell ring. Wondering who could possibly be out in the terrible weather, he opened the door – and gaped in shock to see a very wet Rabbi Sasson, one of the Belev Echad activists on the moshav.

His first instinct was to shut the door in the man’s face. But he knew he couldn’t leave the fellow outside in the storm. So he let the rabbi into his living room, asked for his coat, and offered him a hot tea.

“Wow, that’s really hospitality, I can’t thank you enough.” Rabbi Sasson poured out his gratitude. Gadi grunted a bit and went into the kitchen for a mug.

He didn’t plan to talk much with the rabbi. But Rabbi Sasson was such a friendly, interesting fellow that Gadi couldn’t help being drawn in. By the time the storm had eased, Gadi and Rabbi Sasson had become friends.

The changes crept in slowly, as their friendship deepened (to Sofia’s delight). First, Gadi showed interest in learning about Shabbat. Then, heavy smoker that he was, he decided to try keeping Shabbat on Friday nights. A few months later, he was ready to put away the cigarettes for the whole Shabbat.

Then came a test – as they often come to people growing in their Judaism. Gadi lost his job. He, Sofia and their boys were suddenly left without income.

Rabbi Sasson helped them stay strong. “You’re doing the right thing,” he assured them. “This is just a test of faith. Don’t worry, you’ll pass beautifully.”

On the practical end, he helped the family turn some rarely-used rooms into a separate studio apartment. The rent that unit brought in covered their needs until Gadi found another bus-driving job he was happy with.

Over the next few years, Gadi and Sofia completed their transformation. Today, they’re committed religious Jews. They sent their sons to yeshivat Hesder, and watched with nachat as each found a religious wife and established a Torah true home.

Today, Sofia still serves as Belev Echad’s right-hand woman on Moshav Luzit, running the years-old ladies’ class with aplomb.

The Dilemma – Moshav Nocham

The Dilemma 

Six years ago, everyone who knew me would have told you I was the least likely person to become a baal teshuvah. 

Though my parents were traditional, I rejected everything as a teenager. I spent my time running after every material pleasure I could find. My friends and I “partied” night and day – in school, and more often, out of it. In clubs. At the beach.

Life was full of fun – but I wasn’t happy. I was constantly fighting a painful sense of emptiness, of meaninglessness. I didn’t understand why, but when I wasn’t numbing my senses with physical pleasure, I felt continually sad.

My school years ended. It was time to enlist in the IDF. As you might imagine, I didn’t gain a sterling reputation for dedication and work ethic. After earning several charges of disobedience and desertion, I got myself sentenced to five months in military prison.

Prison was the blackest, most terrible thing I’d ever experienced. For a guy like me, whose lifelines were “fun” and “stuff,” prison turned my ever-present sadness into full-blown depression. I felt completely stuck. Completely miserable. Completely beyond help and hope.

Without any other option, I turned to the only Source of hope and comfort I could access – G-d.

I started praying. I started putting on a pair of tefillin lent to me by some religious organization looking out for soldiers in prison. I even started keeping Shabbat.

And, for the first time in my life, I learned what it meant to draw joy and satisfaction from something other than material pleasure.

As my connection to G-d grew, I felt deeply grateful for the relief and support I found in it. I promised G-d that once I was released, I would keep Shabbat every week. I would put on tefillin every day.

When I finally left prison, though, things didn’t quite play out that way.

When life is good, it’s easy to forget about G-d. When you’re happy and comfortable, it’s easy to forget just how desperate you once felt, and just how life-saving was G-d’s support. 

That’s exactly what I did. I went home. Got a job. Fell back in with my uber-secular friends. Started filling my time once again with clubs and beaches and parties.

My gratitude to G-d faded away – as did my promises.

Life went on. I worked when I had to and partied whenever I could. I was having lots of “fun.” But, slowly, that nagging sense of emptiness was returning. Growing. Growing some more.

During one particular moment of depression, I suddenly remembered the commitments I’d made to G-d about tefillin and Shabbat. Memories of my time in prison – the utter misery, and the comfort I’d found in connecting to G-d – filled my mind.

With my sense of gratitude back in place, I found myself in a dilemma. 

I really don’t want to break the promises I made to G-d. But I don’t want to keep them either – they don’t fit into my schedule. 

What to do?

Eventually, a brilliant answer hit me. I know! I’ll do hatarat nedarim – a halachic annulment of my vows.

Simple, neat and effective. Perfect.

There was a kollel next to the building I worked in. The next day after work, I walked inside, glancing around for a likely-looking rabbinic figure who could help me annul my vow. 

Soon, an avreich (kollel student) who’d noticed me walk in came over and asked if he could help me.

“Yes, thank you,” I told him briskly. “I’m looking for help doing hatarat nedarim.”

“Hatarat nedarim?” he asked in surprise. He glanced over my ripped jeans, my necklace, my bare head. “Why do you need help with that?”

So I told him my story. “I’m really not up to keeping Shabbat right now,” I wrapped up, “but I don’t want to break any promises. So I just want to get rid of them.”

“Hm,” my new friend said with a grin (I wasn’t sure what was funny). “Come with me. Let’s talk to the Rosh Kollel (head of the kollel).”

Ah, I thought. I guess you need to be a Rosh Kollel to annul vows.

My friend approached the Rosh Kollel and introduced me. With a warm smile, the Rosh Kollel invited me to sit beside him.

“Your story is beautiful,” he said. “You should be so proud of how much you’ve accomplished spiritually.”

My forehead wrinkled. I wasn’t here because I was growing spiritually. I was here because I needed a spiritually acceptable way to get out of growing spiritually.

But the Rosh Kollel didn’t say anything about annulling my vows. Instead, he sent me to Rabbi Ofir, the Belev Echad Kiruv coordinator in the area. Soon enough, I had started attending his local classes for young men.

The classes touched something deep within me. I didn’t want to annul my vows anymore. Now, I just wanted help keeping them.

Rabbi Ofir and Belev Echad were the perfect address for me. Rabbi Ofir became a mentor for me, holding my hand as I slowly took on Shabbat, then regular prayers, then kashrut. Eventually, I started dressing, acting, and fully living like a Torah Jew.

Two years later, I met my wife, a true Eishet Chayil who constantly spurs the two of us to new heights of gratitude and commitment to G-d. When I look at the beautiful life we’re building together, my heart fills with gratitude to Belev Echad, an organization that rescues thousands of Jews from the desert of secularism and helps them build long-term, joyful, committed relationships with G-d. 

I’m constantly thanking G-d for all the support Belev Echad has given us – and continues to give us as we work to build our religious lives.

Mazal Tov! – Moshav Taoz

Moshav Taoz was founded by Yemenite refugees in 1950 and later repopulated by Indian Jewish immigrants. Known by tourists for its biking trails and natural beauty, it offers nearby access to the famous Stalactite caves and the BIblical Museum of Natural History. Belev Echad has been helping its residents discover their Judaism for several years.

Mazal Tov!

Shai dropped his army rucksack onto the bus seat and sighed. It was never fun to say goodbye to his family after a weekend home. 

Not to his mother, who fussed and clucked over him like a worried mother hen. Nor to his brothers, who were some of his best friends.

This time, however, the hardest goodbye had been to his girlfriend, Noa.

From the first time they’d met a few years before, he and Noa had just – clicked. She was kind, fun, supportive, and he cherished their relationship.

But he was also growing stronger in his Judaism, and he knew something had to change.

Two years before, secular Shai and his buddies hadn’t expected to make such good friends with the black-hatted Belev Echad madrichim on their Moshav. But the madrichim were mean soccer players. 

The relationships that started on the pitch slowly moved into the moshav’s community center, where the madrichim introduced the boys to Torah learning.

Shai loved the Torah classes. He was a truth-seeker by nature, and he drank up his madrichim’s teachings. His faith and passion for Judaism started to blossom. When he was ready, Eli, his madrich, helped him take some baby steps toward mitzvah observance.

Then it was time to start army service. Shai was not looking forward to the fight that lay ahead of him – trying to grow spiritually in the incredibly unconducive army environment. And he indeed found himself fighting. But he also found his new relationship with Judaism to be extremely helpful.

The challenges of being a soldier – physical, mental, and emotional – were more intense than any he’d experienced before. His faith, sense of priorities, and the constant support of his Belev Echad madrich helped him deal with them from a healthier, more empowered place.

Now, nearly two years into his service, he was balancing army life with Shabbat observance, thrice-daily prayers, and more. It wasn’t easy, but having Eli and other Belev Echad guides to call for guidance or encouragement made all the difference. Shai was excited to keep moving forward in his observance – but dreading what that might mean for his relationship with Noa.

Over the weekend, he’d tried to find the right time to talk things out with her. She’d been very supportive of his religious journey, seeking out her own Belev Echad girls’ classes and taking on some mitzvot herself. 

Shai knew he wasn’t exactly going to take her by surprise. But he still couldn’t bring himself to open the conversation.

That night, when he had some downtime, he called Eli. “I don’t know what to do about Noa.”

Eli, who’d heard from him before about the topic, listened quietly while Shai poured out his heart.

“This isn’t who I want to be anymore. I want to live according to my values. But the thought of saying goodbye to Noa… I don’t want to think about it.”

Eli stayed thoughtfully quiet for a moment or two. “Shai. You feel very close to Noa, right?”


“You respect her. You appreciate her. You agree on the important things in life.”


“Have you thought about asking her to get married?”

Shai exhaled. “I can’t say I haven’t thought about it. But… We’re so young. I’m still in the army. I can’t see her being ready for that kind of thing.”

“What about you?” Eli asked gently. “Do you feel ready for that kind of thing?”

“I… I’m not sure.”

“Maybe it’s something to think about.”

Shai thought about it. Intensely. It took almost until his next leave to decide he was ready to take this brave step. He hoped Noa would be ready to take it with him.

As it turned out, she was.

The wedding was beautiful. Shai and Noa made a fairytale couple – even though they knew they weren’t headed for a smooth fairytale ending. Shai had to spend weeks at a time away from their new home, busy with army duties. 

It wasn’t easy for either of them. The bumps in the road were discouraging. But Belev Echad rallied around them, offering every kind of support.

Now, army days behind them, Shai and Noa are building a beautiful, Torah-true family. And they credit their greater Belev Echad family for helping them make the choices that have filled their lives with blessing.

The Radioactive Party – Moshav Tirosh

Located in central Israel, Moshav Tirosh was founded in 1955 by Moroccan refugees. Though its founders were devoted to Torah, their children let go of religion and turned the place into a secular settlement. Twenty years ago, Belev Echad started bringing Torah back to the moshav. First, they offered classes to the middle-aged inhabitants. Then, they started reaching the youngsters. These stories reflect the journeys of the great-grandchildren of Tirosh’s founders as Belev Echad helps them recommit to the holy ways of their ancestors.

The Radioactive Party

16-year-old Matan Gabay needed some pocket money. He took a job as an event waiter, serving food at smachot and parties.

The job was going well, but something was bothering him. One day, he decided to give me a call.

“Rabbi,” he asked, “I started working as a waiter for parties, and I’m worried that I’m doing something wrong.

“In one of our classes, I remember you speaking about the dangers of going to events where boys and girls mingle in an immodest way. mixed-gender events. Thing is, the events I’m working at are all liked… Does that mean I’m not allowed to do this work?”

It was a weighty question, and I wanted to answer it as compellingly as I could.

“Imagine this, Matan. You’re traveling to a massive party you’re supposed to be working at. As you get off the bus, somebody runs up to you and tells you they’ve discovered deadly radioactive materials in the hall hosting your party. What would you do?”

“What would I do? I’d get myself far away from there. I wouldn’t want to mess with that kind of danger.”

“But this is your job,” I reminded him. “Your livelihood. Wouldn’t you want to try and find some kind of protective trick so you could keep the job?”

“No way. It’s just not worth the risk.”

I let that sink in for a moment. Then I said gently, “Matan, events like this are spiritually radioactive. They’re terribly dangerous for your neshama. You’ve made such beautiful advances in your spirituality. Doing this kind of work could send all your growth down the drain.

“Matan, I know it isn’t easy. You want this job. You need this money. Hashem is sending this as a personal nisayon, a personal test just for you.”

Matan had been a Belev Echad student for several years. Though he’d come in completely secular, Belev Echad had provided him with the framework he needed to grow religiously in every area of his life. Now, he had the strength he needed to pass this test.

The next day, he called to let me know he’d quit his job. Mere days later, he called me again – this time, to tell me about the new job he’d found manning the register at the local bakery.

With Belev Echad at his side, Matan continued to grow in his stride. And then, a few months later, came the next test.

“I’m a little stuck, Rabbi Kohn,” he told me. “A cousin of mine invited me to his birthday party. It’s going to be exactly the kind of event I don’t want to be at – boys and girls hanging out together in a way that’s clearly halachically not okay. 

“Aha.” I waited.

“Don’t worry, Rabbi, I don’t plan to go. That’s not the problem.

“The problem is that the way these kinds of parties work, each friend of the birthday boy is supposed to give him some money to cover expenses. My cousin and I are close, and I know he really wants me to be there for him. So I thought of an idea: I’d give him my share of the money, make him feel like I’m all excited to join the party, and then make some excuse not to show up in the end.

“Good idea, Rabbi? Or is that also the wrong thing to do, because it’s sort of lying?”

It was incredible to see just how much Matan’s learning at Belev Echad had over time refined him and his desire to truly follow the Torah. 

“I completely agree with you, Matan. It’s best to tell your cousin the truth. If you can, just be straight with him. Tell him that since you’ve grown in your religiousness, you’ve stopped going to these kinds of mixed parties. But, you’re excited to give him a separate birthday gift.

“If you can’t go that far – I know how hard it would be to say all that straight out – just make sure you do give him a gift some time afterwards. You don’t want him to come out of this thinking you skipped the party because you didn’t want to spend the money on him.”

Matan thanked me and said goodbye. As I ended the call, I wondered what he would do. Would he just avoid the party, or would he actually pick up the phone and tell his cousin the truth?

I got my answer a few days later. A triumphant Matan let me know that he’d chosen to be straight with his cousin.

I broke into a huge smile. “How did it go?”

“It went really well, actually. I just told him I loved him and couldn’t wait to give him a present for his birthday, but that I’d committed to halacha and couldn’t be at his party.”


“And – well, to tell you the truth, I was pretty shocked by how he responded. Instead of making fun of me or getting offended, he said, ‘Wow, Matan, good for you! It takes a lot of strength, what you’re doing. I’m jealous.’”

It did take tremendous strength. And Matan continues to show such strength as he climbs higher in the Torah life Belev Each has helped him choose for himself.

No “Tuppeny All-Offs” Here!

It was during the days of Sefirat Ha’Omer. The young men’s class in Moshav Tirosh made a courageous decision: not to shave or cut their hair until Lag B’Omer. They sent me a picture of their smiling, hairy faces. I was incredibly proud.

But after Lag B’Omer passed, and it was time for them to get their long-awaited haircuts, something went wrong.

In class together, I had taught them about the prohibition of cutting off peyot, the “corners” of the hairline that grow in front of the ears. I was surprised to see the whole class came in after Lag B’Omer with rounded haircuts – tupenny all-offs, as we call them in England.

“Well, boys, the yetzer hara sure got you good,” I told them.

“What do you mean, Rabbi?”

“Cutting your hair and beard during Sefirat Ha’Omer is a ‘D’Rabbanan.’ So the yetzer hara said, ‘Eh, I’ll leave them alone this time.’ But rounding out your hairline is forbidden ‘min HaTorah!’ The yetzer hara couldn’t let you get away with that – and he didn’t.”

The boys looked back at me soberly. Clearly, this little revelation had made a deep impression. So deep that three boys, Aviv, Matan, and Yonatan Gabay, immediately committed to stop cutting their hair in that style.

I knew they would inspire many more to follow them. And I was prouder than ever – but not surprised.

The sparks in these neshamos are burning bright. All it takes is a bit of education, a bit of encouragement, to fan them into leaping flames. That is the work of Belev Echad – to find and nurture the sparks within these forgotten souls, and give them the fuel they need to explode into pillars of light.

The Win-Win-Win

Keeping Shabbat had never been easy for young Amram. Slowly, with guidance and nurturing from Belev Echad, he grew stronger – until he was fully committed to shmirat Shabbat.

One week, he called me up with a question.

“I have a good friend who invited me to visit over the weekend. He doesn’t keep Shabbat, but that doesn’t have to be a problem, does it? I can keep Shabbat and just spend time with him, right?”

“Technically, you can,” I answered. “But it wouldn’t be so simple. Putting yourself in such a challenging environment on Shabbat would probably pull you down. It’s not worth it.”

Amram understood. He was disappointed, though. “I really want to visit with this friend. Shabbat is the only day we both can make it work.”

“So why don’t you switch things around? Invite him to your house instead,” I suggested. “You know what, that’s a real win-win. You won’t have to spend Shabbat in a damaging environment – and you’ll get to show your friend the beauty of a real Shabbat. Who knows? You might even get him to keep a Shabbat himself!

“Did I say win-win? Now, it’s a win-win-win!”

Amram took the idea – and made all three wins happen. He spent a beautiful Shabbat with his friend, whom he encouraged to keep Shabbat along with him.

He was able to preserve his own growth – and spread the light of inspiration further.

It’s In the Mechanics – Moshav Tzafririm

Moshav Tzafririm was founded in the 1950s by Jewish refugees from Morocco, Iran, Iraq and India. Located near the Elah Valley, the moshav sports its own winery and other tourist attractions. Though the moshav has been thoroughly secular for a generation, Belev Echad has brought about tremendous positive change in its work there over the last four years.

It’s In the Mechanics

Dudu was having a terrible day.

Truth be told, his days generally felt terrible. He worked as a car mechanic, employed by a hostile boss who made a hobby of viciously criticizing him.

After this particularly bad day, Dudu decided he needed some sympathy. He headed to his friend Yoav’s house, plopped himself on the couch, and started grumbling about everything and anything.

He wasn’t the only visitor to drop by Yoav’s house that afternoon. Seated on a chair beside the couch was Yoav’s friend Rabbi Nati Shoshan – a B’lev Echad activist.

Dudu, a staunchly secular fellow, eyed Rabbi Nati suspiciously.

“Chariedi, eh?”


“Hmph.” Dudu mumbled something about “parasites” and “it all comes down to money for you people.” Nati pretended not to hear.

Soon enough, the conversation turned back to Dudu’s ogre of a boss. Dudu poured out his bitter tale of woe while Nati nodded commiseratingly.

Though it came from an unlikely source, Nati’s sympathy hit the spot. Dudu felt a little stronger as he drove home.

A few months later, Dudu wanted to sell a used car of his. He put up some flyers with his phone number around town. A day or two later, he got a phone call.

“Hi, I saw you’re selling a car?”

Dudu launched into his sales pitch extolling the car’s virtues. At the end of it, the caller seemed highly interested.

“Sounds like something I want to see. Where do you live? What’s your name?”

Dudu rattled off his address. “I’m Dudu Cohen.”

There was a pause. Then a hearty, “Hey! I think I know you.”

“You do?” Dudu raised a suspicious eyebrow.

“Sure. I’m Nati Shoshan, remember me? We met a few months back at Yoav Ben-Tzvi’s house.”

“Ah.” Dudu nodded. “I remember you.”

“How’s it going? Have you found a better job yet? I’ve been wondering about you.”

Dudu was pleasantly surprised. He was about to say so, but Rabbi Nati jumped in first. “Just a minute. I’ll drive over. I want to see the car, and I’d love to catch up with you too.”

10 minutes later, the two were ensconced in Dudu’s porch, drinking seltzer. (“It has about six different kashrut stamps on it, is that kosher enough for you, Rabbi?”) They schmoozed for an hour, then for two. Dudu told Nati that no, he hadn’t managed to find a new job, and yes, he was probably going to go mad one of these days because of his monster of a boss.

Nati looked at him thoughtfully. Then he tapped his chin.

“Dudu, I have an idea for you.”

“You do? You know another garage that needs a mechanic?”

“No, no. I think you should start your own garage.”

“Me? Nah. How am I going to get customers?”

“That was part of my idea,” Nati said patiently. “You’re going to open your own garage. And you’re going to keep it closed on Shabbat. Actually, you’re going to start keeping Shabbat. And if you do, I’ll advertise for you. I’ll tell everyone I know about the excellent new mechanic in town.”

Dudu wrinkled his nose. “You think I’m going to do that?”

Nati shrugged. “It’s worth a try, no? You don’t exactly want to stay in your job.”

“That’s true,” Dudu sighed. He thought for a few minutes. “Ok. You have a deal. We’ll try it out. I’ll look for a place and let you know when we can get started.” He jabbed a finger in Nati’s chest. “But you better find me customers.”

“I’m sure I will. If you’re keeping Shabbat, G-d will send.”

Dudu found a suitable space and started paying rent. Nati networked devotedly, talking up the new business to every acquaintance who owned a car.

And the customers came.

One referred another, who referred three more. Soon, Dudu’s garage was humming with constant business.

“Rabbi,” Dudu rumbled into the phone one night, “I’m exhausted.”

“Oy,” Rabbi Nati tsked.

“And it’s all your fault!”

“My fault?”

“Sure. You set me up with this wonderful business. I’m busy with clients from morning till evening. I’ve never made so much money. And no one is yelling at me! Nati, how can I ever thank you?”

Nati laughed. “I know how. Get a bunch of your friends to come to the garage once a week, and I’ll give a Belev Echad Torah class.”

How could Dudu refuse?

The class, given among tires and spare car doors, quickly gained popularity. It ran strong for two years, and it hasn’t stopped yet.

In that time, Dudu’s business boomed. His Shabbat observance – and other areas of his Judaism – blossomed. And he became a much happier, stronger person. When a rival mechanic sent the municipality knocking on his door threatening to close his garage due to a lack of permits, the new Dudu reacted calmly. He turned to Nati for support in overcoming this test, dealt with the involved parties in a calm, respectful manner, and patched things up beautifully.

With Rabbi Nati’s constant support, Dudu moved closer and closer to Torah. He started going to shul on Shabbat. He started spending less time with his bitterly secular friends, and more time with friends who supported his growth.

Dudu’s wife isn’t yet religious. But she religiously sets up a beautiful buffet of refreshments for Rabbi Nati’s class every week. She’ll tell you she’s even more grateful to Rabbi Nati and Belev Echad than Dudu is. Why?

“What do you mean? He’s a different man, my Dudu. He got himself a business and a religion, very nice. What did I get? A calm, happy mensch of a husband!”

But He Doesn’t Deserve It! – Yad Binyamin

“But He Doesn’t Deserve It!”

Home to around 4000 people, Moshav Yad Binyamin was founded in 1962. Originally a ma’abara (immigrant absorption camp), the Poalei Agudat Yisrael built it into a flourishing settlement with a well-regarded Yeshivah. After the Gaza disengagement, many families from Gush Katif made their new home in Yad Binyamin. Belev Echad has been helping the Moshav strengthen its residents in Torah for 4 years.

Avraham Cohen was an apple that had fallen miles from the tree.

Teenaged Avraham loved helping people. You could usually find him doing a favor for someone or making someone else smile.

A bit surprising, to those who knew Avraham’s father.

Avraham once approached Belev Echad teacher Rabbi Uri Masala after a Torah class, his usually cheerful face clouded with bitterness.

“Rabbi, I think I should be exempt from the mitzvah of honoring my father.”

Rabbi Uri raised his eyebrows. This harsh proclamation didn’t match the generous, dedicated boy he knew. “Why, Avraham?”

“Because I don’t respect him at all, and I don’t believe he deserves my respect.” Avraham gave a stormy sigh. “He’s a real deadbeat, my father. I mean, he works, he brings in money, but he won’t bother himself to do anything else.

“He comes in from work, plops himself down on the couch, and ignores everyone – except when he wants to order us around. 

“You know what? My mother also works hard. She has a part-time job, and then she has to pick up the kids from school and shop and cook and clean and take care of everyone. But my father doesn’t lift a finger to help. When she asks him for the smallest favor, like bringing in the mail or even taking a drink of water to one of the little ones at bedtime, he snaps at her to leave him out of her responsibilities.” 

He stopped, thought a minute. “Actually, I can’t remember the last time she bothered to ask him for something. She probably realized it’s just not worth it.” He gave a humorless laugh.

“Guess who does what normal fathers do in my house? Me,” he continued. “I help my mother with the heavier housework. I help my brothers with homework. I stop at the store and take out the garbages and run around taking care of things before Shabbat.”

He kicked at a pebble on the ground. “You know me, Rabbi. I don’t mind helping out. But I can’t stand seeing how my father treats my mother. She doesn’t deserve all this. Neither do the rest of us.” He looked up at Rabbi Uri. “So tell me – how am I supposed to treat him with kibbud av? Don’t you think he lost his rights to it?”

Rabbi Uri stood quietly. He could feel the pain radiating from Avraham’s raw voice. Slowly, he put a hand on the boy’s shoulder.

“Avraham… that doesn’t sound easy. It actually sounds very, very hard.”

Avraham gave a short nod.

“But the truth is, you’re still obligated to treat your father with kibbud av. Even if he isn’t doing what he should, the fact that he’s your father means you still need to fulfill the mitzvah of honoring him.”

Anger flashed across Avraham’s face. He clenched a fist, then started cracking the knuckles on it.

Rabbi Uri searched for the right words to help Avraham feel ready to accept the truth.

“What’s the hardest mitzvah?” he asked.

Avraham looked up and shrugged.

“It might not seem obvious on first thought, but we’re taught that kibbud av v’eim is one of the hardest mitzvot to keep. Even when a person’s parents fail miserably, even when it seems totally unreasonable to honor them, the Torah still asks us to work on ourselves and treat them properly.

“I know it’s a challenge. But we need to try. You want so badly to talk back to him – but try to hold yourself back. He asks you for something and you want to ignore him – but try to do it anyway.

“Of course it isn’t easy. But I know you, Avraham. You can do it.”

Avraham thanked him, but he didn’t look too sure.

Rabbi Uri made sure to keep the conversation in mind over the next several days. After the next week’s Torah class, he stopped Avraham at the door and asked subtly how things were going. 

Avraham hung back as his friends filed out, then turned to Rabbi Uri.

“It’s not easy, Rabbi,” he said.

“I know,” Rabbi Uri responded.

“But I’m trying.” He looked down.

“That’s wonderful.” Rabbi Uri clapped him on the shoulder. “May G-d bless you with more and more strength!”

A few weeks later, when Rabbi Uri gently checked in again, Avraham broke out in an excited grin.

“You know, Rabbi, it still isn’t easy. But I see how G-d must be happy with me. Since I’ve started being more careful with kibbud av, so many things have started going right for me. Some things in school were hard, but suddenly I’m getting better grades. I keep winning sports games. I’ve been dying for an electric bike for two years, and suddenly now there’s money for it.”

Rabbi Uri happily celebrated with Avraham, basking in the blessing G-d sends when a child commits to doing his Father’s will.

Cocoon of Growth

The only part of Belev Echad Torah classes Ariel didn’t like was… the Torah part.

He came because of the other perks – time with friends, good food, something to do. But as the other boys started to connect with the material and even make changes in their lives, Ariel tuned it all out.

He did keep showing up, though. And he stayed respectfully quiet, waiting till the end of the class to cash in on the schmoozing time with his friends. Noticing those two things, Rabbi Uri, the class’s teacher, knew that one day, things could change.

It happened after a class Rabbi Uri taught about barriers to spirituality. He explained that _______.

After closing every class, Rabbi Uri stayed around to address one-on-one questions. Today, for the first time, Ariel sidled up to his chair.

Rabbi Uri looked up, hiding his surprise. “How can I help you, Ariel?” he asked with a smile.

The teenager shrugged uncomfortably and dropped into the chair next to the rabbi.

“Were you talking about me today?”

“Why do you think so?”

“Because that person who just doesn’t feel anything – that’s me. Judaism, spirituality – I don’t connect with any of it. It doesn’t resonate. It feels so… foreign.” 

He sighed. “My parents are very traditional. They keep Shabbat, and they love it. Me? I just don’t feel it. So I struggle with keeping it. And my parents are furious. We fight about it all the time.”

Rabbi Uri nodded quietly. “First of all,” he started. “You should know, Ariel, that it’s not just you. There are many, many people all over the spectrum of Judaism that struggle to feel connected. (explanation why…)

While Ariel digested this, Rabbi Uri reached into his briefcase and pulled out a thin book.

“This is called Pirkei Machshava (Chapters of Thought). It was written by a very smart Rabbi, Rav Yaakov Ades. Rav Yaakov does a good job explaining this issue and helping people feel more connected to Torah and mitzvos. Why don’t you look it over?”

It isn’t always easy to get a teenage boy to read a book on philosophy. But when Ariel entered next week’s class with a new light in his eye, a new set to his shoulders, Rabbi Uri knew he’d made the right recommendation.

“Rabbi…” Ariel wove his way through the chattering boys toward Rabbi Uri’s chair. Handing him the book, he asked, “Can you order me my own copy?”

“You found it helpful?” Rabbi Uri smiled.

Ariel nodded. “I feel different. I understand things better. I feel like there’s a path forward for me.”

Ariel got his copy. And with Rabbi Uri supporting him from the sidelines, he slowly transformed. His apathy toward religion started melting. He started connecting with Torah, with mitzvos.

Belev Echad had created a safe space for him to ever-so-slowly get to know himself and his personal relationship with Judaism. Today, that relationship is deep, strong, and ever-growing.