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.
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.