Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Adar 5761 - February 28, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
From Central Park to Sinai:
How I Found My Jewish Soul

by Roy S. Neuberger,
Jonathan David Publishers
Reviewed by Sharon Litvin

It seems that every baal tshuva has a fascinating story to tell about his or her own road back to Torah. From the heights of the Himalayas to the depths of Death Valley, from exotic pantheism to austere atheism, from hippiedom to yuppiedom, many Jews have heeded the stirrings of their Jewish souls and returned, despite all odds, to Torah and Yiddishkeit. This returning of Jews to Torah is one of the wonders of our time.

These stories are compelling for a person first encountering the Torah way of life, which can seem so alien to contemporary life. But they can also be inspiring for the person who has always been religious, but wants or needs to be reminded of the basics. I remember, in particular, a Shabbos guest in my home, a young woman who had grown up in a very pious home but who had drifted away into a haze of "spirituality." Wanting to reconnect to Torah, she enrolled in a school for baalos tshuva and discovered new meaning in things that had become rote for her.

"From Central Park to Sinai," the new, best selling memoir by Roy S. Neuberger, is a chozer bitshuva story with a difference. This deeply inspiring book begins where most stories leave off -- at adulthood. Neuberger "found his Jewish soul" after he already had a wife, two children and a newspaper to run. His own parents were shocked at his decision to live a fully committed Jewish life, but fortunately, his wife, Linda, was with him all the way. This is really their story; the joyful discovery of a soul- satisfying way of life and the road taken towards building a Torah-based home.

Roy Neuberger was a tormented man. Already at the age of eight, he was preoccupied with overpowering thoughts of good and evil, afraid that the bad in the world would overcome the good in him. Little Roy confided these fears to his mother, who promptly brought him to one of the foremost child psychiatrists of the time, a Frenchwoman of few words. From 11 to 18, Roy talked about his misgivings with Dr. Glomb (rhymes with doom) twice a week but to no avail. He was still scared stiff.

Outwardly, he and his family had everything. Roy's father, Roy Rothschild Neuberger, is a founder of the prestigious Wall Street investment firm Neuberger and Berman, and an acclaimed collector of modern art. His mother, Marie Salant Neuberger, was an economist and partner in the firm. Beyond material wealth, the Neuberger parents wanted to raise progressive, humane and ethical children. Roy junior, his brother and sister, were sent to the Ethical Culture schools, private elementary and high schools in New York that emphasized ethical behavior based on rational thought. Roy was chauffeured to school in his grandfather's limousine. Neuberger recalled learning in school that "all religions are great, which, of course, means that no religion is great."

Plagued by fears, young Roy asked to be sent to Sunday school to learn about religion. He was sent to the Ethical Culture Society's Sunday school, where he was introduced to Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, even a smattering of Judaism-humanism taught by Jewish teachers. In his book, the author, today Yisroel Salant Neuberger, compares his education to a man who was fed a little poison for years until he became demented. "The man had no idea that he was being poisoned. This is how so many of us are raised. We didn't know it, but we became sicker and sicker."

Roy's life took a turn for the better when he met his future wife, the former Linda (now Leah) Villency, in high school. Sensing that their destinies were intertwined, the two were married four years later when they were both students at the University of Michigan. Leah's grandfather demanded that a rabbi perform the wedding, so Neuberger found the most Reform rabbi around and insisted that no Hebrew be used in the ceremony.

Neuberger's inner turmoil did not lessen in marriage. If anything, it increased. Then he hit the breaking point. "Our marriage seemed to be falling apart. I had always done well academically, but lately, I couldn't concentrate. I was afraid I was going to be thrown out of school. Thrown out of my marriage... Everything was spinning out of control... My life was coming to an end. Life was a long corridor... with many doors. Each door led nowhere... Was there no door that led to truth, to freedom, to happiness?"

In the early hours of January 10, 1966, a day Yisroel still commemorates, a sliver of hope burst across his mental horizon. Educated in the finest schools, given every advantage, surrounded by cultured, sophisticated people, Neuberger had never met "one normal person who believed in G- d."

Yet on that fateful, anguished night, Neuberger considered, for the first time, the existence of G-d. Hope dawned.

It would be several more years of false starts and dead ends before Neuberger found his spiritual home, but this first spiritual awakening -- admitting the possibility of a higher power -- sustained Neuberger through his journey.

In the spring of 1974, Roy and Linda Neuberger were invited to a lecture at the local shul in Newburg, New York. At 31, he walked into a synagogue for the very first time. The lecturer, quaintly referred to as Rebbetzin (Esther Jungreis), a term he had never heard before, spoke about the long and glorious history of the Jewish people, and the "unique mission given to the Jewish people to proclaim the Oneness of G-d." The Neubergers were deeply moved. That night, "we were so drenched in emotion and awestruck by truth that we couldn't speak." They somehow knew their troubled souls had finally found a place to rest.

At this point, the real work and struggle started as the Neubergers began to invite G- d into every aspect of their life. Renamed Yisroel [after his family forebear, R' Yisroel Salanter], he and his wife discovered the wonder and peace of Shabbos and the beauty of taharas hamishpocha. They enrolled their daughter in a Jewish school rather than a Catholic one.

Starting from the sub-basement of Jewish knowledge, without a shred of exposure to Jewish faith or learning, Yisroel was determined to rebuild his life on the foundations of Torah and mitzvos.

The reader is privileged to accompany Neugerger as he weaves his growing Torah knowledge into everyday practical reality by asking "20,000 questions" and following the advice of their teacher and guide. Their story is a lesson in how to "keep one's feet on the ground while one's head is in heaven."

Today, 26 years, five children and many grandchildren later, Yisroel Salant Neuberger still rejoices in his discovery of Torah Judaism and believes we all need to "invite G-d into our lives." In his words, "The way back is very easy. It is very sweet. If you are a Jew, it is what you have been searching for."

Here ends the review but having read the book, your editor would like to transcribe two moving excerpts of his compelling story.


I "knew" that G-d didn't exist.

The problem was that I felt I also didn't exist.

Something was terribly wrong.

Suddenly, I began to turn the whole question around. Like Hagar in the desert, my eyes opened and I saw something I had never seen before. There was one unopened door in that long corridor. Why had I never noticed that door before? It was the door to G- d.

I had been sure that G-d did not exist. But now that my own life seemed to be falling apart, I began to wonder.

Maybe I had to turn the whole thing upside down. When I examined it, it was very logical. When I was honest about my life, I saw that I did not exist -- my life was empty -- and at that time I was sure that G-d did not exist.

But what if G-d did exist? Maybe then I could also exist. Maybe my existence depends on G- d.

Maybe there was a lie I hadn't even dreamed about. Maybe if G-d were really alive, I could be alive. Maybe I had been looking at things "upside down" or "backwards" or "inside out."

Why did my intelligence have to be the measuring rod of reality? Maybe I did not understand and G-d did understand. Did I have to comprehend something for it to be real? Was I the center of the universe?

Maybe there was a reality beyond my understanding.

I began to have this crazy thought. Could G-d exist? No, it's crazy. CRAZY! All my life I had been raised on "reality." No normal person believed in G-d.

And then I began to wonder if I had ever met any normal people.


[And another episode where he is sitting in the subway at the beginning of the line. p. 124]

Just little old me, sitting alone in the big car, in the middle of the big train.

Well, almost alone.

A few seconds into the ride, the door at the end of the car opened. Two tall young men entered.

You know how sometimes you just get vibes when someone enters a room... I got very bad vibes when these guys entered.

[They decide to sit opposite him. They begin singing a song, a `serenade' intended for him.]

"Hitler killed six million Jews. Why didn't he kill them all?"

A nice song. [He begins praying.]

"You got me out of so much before. Please get me out of this. I don't know how... but please help me."

One of the guys got frustrated because I wasn't paying attention to them. So he called out to me. "Hey mista."

I looked around.

"Oh, hi."

"Hey mista, how come Hitler killed six million Jews?"

This was it. The setup. How was I going to escape?

And then, all of a sudden, a feeling came over me. Nobody could have seen it, but I felt it. It wasn't a question; it was a certainty. A feeling came over me that I was absolutely protected. Nothing could hurt me; an army of angels was surrounding me.

I got up out of my seat and I walked slowly over until my face was a few inches from "Hey mista's" face. I was perfectly calm. But he wasn't. He jumped backwards in his seat, away from me, and began to tremble violently. All of a sudden, as soon as he saw I wasn't afraid, he became terrified, a mass of quivering jelly. I realized he was a nothing, a total coward.

I said to him in a voice as soft as you can use on the subway, "Do you really want to know why Hitler killed six million Jews? I'll tell you. It's because he was so sick! Only someone who is really sick could have done something like that."

[With this, we leave you to read on, before and after, from the source. A fascinating book!]


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