Chosen For A Mission

I talked to this bloke in Israel today. He was raised secular and then became chareidi (ultra-Orthodox Jew) for about 25 years (from approximately 1973 to 1998) and then became a nowhere man, neither secular nor religious.

His story reminds me of the Rabbi Milton Steinberg novel As A Driven Leaf about the Talmudic heretic Elisha Ben Abuya.

Andy* graduated from high school in 1973) calls me this morning. “You sound just like the picture on your site,” he says.

Luke: “You’ve been through so much. It’s an incredibly depressing story.”

Andy: “I carry it around with me, believe me.”

Luke: “The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is extreme stuff. It’s quite something that that is what got you into yiddishkeit.”

Andy: “I’ve always been oriented that way. It’s not extreme. I was interested in the meaning of life. How should one live? Virtue. It is an inspiring book. It seemed to me like the natural progression from Spinoza… In those days, it was the thing to do, to look for the meaning of life… I didn’t like Eastern religions. They seemed like idolatry. Monotheism is the way for me.

“I wasn’t aware of the pitfalls of Orthodoxy. I was looking at it from this theoretical point of view.”

“Later on, I got involved in yeshiva and found that I liked it. If all this had not happened, I’d still be a fanatic frum Jew.”

“I had a friend a few years ago who I learned Gemara with. He was the opposite. He converted from Christianity. He always saw the problems [in Orthodox Judaism] but he had to become Jewish. He saw it all. I still can’t see the problems.”

Luke: “How have you been able to maintain a sense of worth without working?”

Andy: “Not very well. This did get me. I didn’t manage well. It wasn’t that the rabbis tried to knock me down… You’re interested in this, but I could never talk to anybody about this for the past 20 years or so [since the divorce]. I’d just mention hints of it here and there and people would say, ‘Oh no, that can’t possibly be. Rabbis are perfect.’ I learned to keep my mouth shut.

“I’ve tried to do all types of projects. I’ve tried to write music. I’ve tried to write a book. I’m still trying to write. I was doing chavruta in Uman, Ukraine for a few years.”

Luke: “I’ve never earned more than $50,000 in a year. That’s been devastating on my self-worth. I’ve never married and had a family.”

Andy: “That is sad. There are people out there who are just chosen for a mission. The hand of God comes down and picks you, even if you don’t want it, you just want good things in life and you don’t need all this, but you don’t have a choice. You’re one of those people. This is what you are picked for. On the other hand, do you work faithfully and I am sure that God will reward you.”

Luke: “In the present, we always think we have free will, but when we look back on our lives, we see how we were fated to go in the direction we went.”

Andy: “I’ve been disappointed in people, but I’ve never been disappointed in God.”

Luke: “Do your kids regard you as having failed them?”

Andy: “That was their attitude for many years.”

“My parents didn’t like me going to yeshiva. They didn’t like me giving up all my other interests. In high school, I had a girlfriend and music and philosophy.”

“I wanted family and community. The frum world does a great job of presenting itself like that. Shabbos table Judaism. It’s the hook. Oh, come do Shabbos. We love you. They give a great impression of family values.”

“I’m surrounded by Mastorti (Conservative Judaism) people. They try to be Jewish. They keep Shabbos. There’s nothing about them that is frum (religious). They’re not part of a group. They’re not passionate. They don’t have a drop of philosophy in them. They get together on Shabbos and holidays. All the women hate Pesach.”

“The only friends I have in the frum world are in Israel. I don’t have any secular friends. Secular people don’t understand me. Frum people are the only people I relate to… Most frum people don’t care about the intellectual issues. I don’t bother talking to them about them. I don’t want to hurt them. They have a way of life that works for them.”

Luke: “How do secular people relate to you?”

Andy: “They have trouble. My whole mentality, my interests, my way of thinking and being, is still half between this and that.”

Luke: “What are the most common things that people say to you?”

Andy: “People don’t talk to me very much. After everything I’ve gone through, maybe I have a problem relating to people.”

“On the social level, I don’t think Orthodox Judaism has any validity. That’s where all the evil is — using Torah for power, marriage, making a living. That’s a seduction into the dark side (sitra achra)… When people use Torah for social reasons, they think they are connecting with holiness, but I think they are connecting to the evil side.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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