Moshav Zlaffon was founded by Yemenite refugees in 1950. Later joined by Moroccan immigrants, the ensuing decade saw a major decline in the community’s religious connection. Belev Echad has been working to bring the residents closer to their Creator for many years.
Golden-hour sunlight slanted through the woods bordering Moshav Zlaffon. It played on the faces of Gavriel, a moshav teenager, and Ofir, his Belev Echad madrich, as they picked their way along the forest path.
It was time for Gavriel to apply for high school. Ofir, who’d been helping his younger friend rediscover his Judaism, wanted Gavriel to give the local religious school a try. They’d been strolling and talking about it for an hour, however, and Gavriel still didn’t seem ready.
“I don’t know, Ofir.” Gavriel stopped walking and turned back towards the woods’ entrance. “If G-d Himself sends me a sign, I’ll try the Dati school. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s for me.”
Ofir lowered his head. A shame. But there was nothing he could do if the boy simply wasn’t ready.
Less than 60 seconds later, as they trekked toward the woods’ opening, a middle-aged man appeared from between the trees.
“Hello,” he introduced himself. He was wearing the uniform of a forester employed by Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (JNF). “You lost? Need any help?”
“We’re fine,” Ofir assured him with a smile, putting a hand on Gavriel’s shoulder. “We just needed somewhere quiet to talk about some important things.”
“Hm,” the forester nodded. His gaze moved over Ofir’s kippah and tiztzit, and Gavriel’s bare-head and shorts. “Well, young man, I have some advice for you.”
Gavriel raised his eyebrows. “Me?”
“Yep. Here it is.” He stepped up to Ofir and jabbed him in the shoulder. “Listen to these Dati’im. They know what they’re talking about.”
Now both Ofir and Gavriel were curious. “What makes you say that?”
The forester leaned back on a tree trunk. “Twenty-three years ago, I served in the army with two good friends. When we were discharged, they both headed to America to pick up the gold in the streets.
“Early on, one of them befriended a religious fellow, who told him: ‘When hard times come, stick with Hashem. Turn to Him. Listen to Him. And you’ll win.’
“My friend followed his advice – and his business boomed. The other friend, who went into the exact same business, failed. Why, I don’t know. But I do know this second friend ran away from involvement in his Judaism.”
“Nice story,” Ofir said. Gavriel couldn’t say anything. He just stared, speechless.
“I’m telling you, listen to this Dati fellow,” the forester repeated. “You won’t be sorry.”
And he strolled off.
Gavriel sank down onto the ground, head in his hands.
“Gavriel?” Ofir said gently.
It was a minute before the boy looked up. When he did, Ofir saw wetness on his cheeks.
“What do you know,” he said hoarsely, clearing his throat. “G-d sent me a sign.”
Gavriel sent off his application to the religious high school that evening. When he called Ofir to tell him he’d been officially registered, the madrich smiled.
Not that he needed a sign to know how pleased G-d was with Belev Echad’s work. But this story, and the hundreds of similar ones Ofir had seen and heard, were the clearest sign of all.