Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Nissan 5765 - April 20, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family


by Chedva Ofek

Today, Dr. Chaim Addato, a successful doctor of acupuncture in Ashdod and his wife, Michal, an experienced lawyer, are unraveling the story of their lives. They point to the significant turning point that altered their relationship to life. "Now we know that we're nothing but messengers, that everything is dependent on the Creator of the Universe."

"I was born in Mendoza, Argentina," Sylvia begins. "My parents emigrated from Bessarabia to Argentina, following the failed attempt at the settlement organized by Baron Hirsch. The city of Mendoza is situated on the edge of the huge country, near the Chilean border, a remote city, in terms of Judaism. I knew that I was Jewish but that, unfortunately and ashamedly, was the only information I had regarding my Jewishness. My parents never explained to me anything about Judaism and what it requires from its members. I don't know if my parents even knew the deep meaning of Judaism. Perhaps they did, but like other weak Jews, wanted only to save me from "the Jewish fate", the hatred of being different and separate.

But in spite of everything, the concept of "Judaism" simmered inside me from a young age. Once I read in a book I happened to have that the Jews don't eat pork. From a feeling of identification with the nation I was born into, I took that item off my menu, although it is very popular in our country. Later, I heard that the Jews have a homeland, and that they even established a state there. I dreamed of making aliyah to Israel and thus to realize my affiliation, my belonging, to the Jewish people.

After completing my law studies at Mendoza University, I made aliyah to Israel. At "Canada House", an absorption center in Ashdod, I changed my name from Sylvia to Michal. I became aware there of the variety of Jews from all parts of the world, new immigrants from different and distant countries, with different languages and traditions but still with a common Jewish denominator. Only someone who has grown up in a completely non-Jewish environment can appreciate the Jewish people and its sensitivity, to notice that in its behavior are ingrained the three innate character traits that the Jewish nation is known to possess: Modesty, compassion and lovingkindness.

At the absorption center, I was exposed to the same low dosage of Jewish tradition that all new immigrants are. Judaism modern-Israeli style was summed up, for example on Purim, with the singing of Shoshanat Yaakov with a side order of crisp homentashen or on Pessach, with a symbolic seder featuring excerpts from the Haggadah.

I was happy that they were teaching us about Judaism but I didn't know that it was only the tip of the iceberg. Of course I heard about religious people who observed laws but in the vernacular, this is religion and not Judaism. After a few years in the throes of a not-so-easy absorption in the new land, I married Dr. Addato, a family doctor in the health fund who had a reputation for the humanity that he radiated and an honest interest in his patients. I continued my courses towards getting a lawyer's license and I specialized in customs law and drawing up contracts. When our two children, Moshe and Devorah, were born, we enrolled them in a state religious school so that they would have a bit more tradition and learn some customs so that they would be more "Jewish".

We also knew that Judaism was a belief in the Creator of the World. In fact, I always had that belief. It was the same spark that guided me not to eat `the other meat', that urged me to make aliyah, the same deep spark in my soul that led me to a belief in the Creator, but a belief without practical obligation.

Dr. Chaim Addato: "In Turkey, we all believed. We went to the synagogue, watched candles being lit, we kept the Sabbath and holidays. My medical studies only reinforced my beliefs. When you see how the human body functions and how complicated and sophisticated its systems are, in what amazing combination they work, only a blind person wouldn't believe; only an obstinate person could deny that there is a Creator of the most amazing machine in the universe!

But we were brought up on the opinion that the Creator of the Universe demands nothing of us. It's enough to know our national identity that is, that we belong to the Jewish people. Only the religious have some long Torah which is optional and not really binding to everyone.


Michal: In order to specialize in law, I began working in the office of a famous lawyer. In time, the chareidi sections of Ashdod became populated with chassidim and the Lithuanian Grodno Yeshiva was also filled. An insurance agency, whose managers were chareidi, opened up near the office where I worked. When they needed professional advice about drawing up contracts, they turned to the office I worked in.

I wondered at their monotoned clothes: white shirt, black suit and the kippa that never left their heads. Not to mention the long "strings" that dangled from the edge of their clothes. I kept my curiosity to myself. When the lawyer started to direct them regarding the precise language of the contract, I sat in the next room and listened to the conversation. I was surprised at their ability to understand, to analyze. They stood firm on small details and that amazed me. I couldn't understand how a person with no university education, without a law degree, could understand the intricacies of law so well. I wondered how these chareidim, who had learned Torah all their lives, could be familiar with the fundamentals of law. They were always described to me as having a low level of education. I was very surprised.

"You have legal logic," the renowned lawyer complimented them honestly.

"We develop it at Yeshiva, when we learn gemora," they explained.

I listened attentively to what they said: "Judaism is a wonderful and magical world, a world of deep thought." They didn't expand on this by speaking about their studies at Yeshivah, they only said that there were a series of lectures for anyone interested and if he wanted, there was going to be a seminar for academics. The lawyer answered carefully, "I'm always ready to listen, but there won't be any consequences to my lifestyle."

"We don't force anybody. Everybody reaches his own conclusions," they were quick to reassure him.

Their speech on free choice led me to believe their words, simply uttered, and broke the myth I had also clung to regarding religious coercion.

I prodded my husband. He agreed to participate with me in the seminar for academics. Our stay at the seminar passed like an enchanted dream; very impressive lectures, logically constructed and influential for their truth. For the first time, we understood that Judaism wasn't only a feeling of abstract identification and a few holiday rituals. All of a sudden, I was made aware of where that weak, latent spark that had whispered to me about my Judaism was leading me, to the threshold of authentic Judaism — to the doorway of happiness inherent in it, whereby one fulfilled the will of the Creator.

We returned home, having made the decision, "to obey and to hear". We'd do a bit, listen more and do some more, then we'd listen again. The first thing we decided to observe was keeping kosher. We started eating on disposable dishes until the "koshering team" could come to our house. We held classes about Judaism at our home. Every week a lecturer came. We found an audience among our neighbors, acquaintances and friends who initially refused our invitations and laughed at the idea. They thought we were naive: "You, our educated neighbors, Dr. Chaim, and attorney Michal, are having lecturers on such a shallow level?" they asked and came to the lectures only out of a sense of duty, because they felt uncomfortable refusing.

When they heard the lectures, they were also drawn as if by magical strings to the deep and wonderful world of Judaism. Many of them, after finding the truth, went, of their own volition, to the seminar. As for us, the lectures provided a foundation and strengthened our observance.

Among those listening was, to our great joy, our daughter Devorah, who at the time was an officer in the army. She listened and it made an impression on her. She signed up for the Seminar for single girls and from there went to regular classes at SELA (the seminar for learning about Judaism) in Bnei Brak. We like to think that it was the merit of the many people who attended classes in our home that aroused in Devorah, our young and distant daughter, the desire to listen and in the end, to internalize what she heard.

I was rather skeptical about Devorah. I didn't believe that a successful officer in the army would be capable of abandoning her lifestyle. Her return lit our new path, still laden with obstacles, with a beam of light. We felt that our Father in Heaven was helping us.

"It's important to emphasize," adds Dr. Addato, that "there are those who participate in the seminar who discover a deep world outlook and through the seminar, they enter the world of mitzva-observance. I believe that with it came a deeper change. Our entire approach to life changed for me as a doctor and for Michal as a lawyer. We were used to thinking that we were the initiators, the doers. I thought I was the healer and my wife was the rescuer. Now we know that we are only messengers and that everything depends on the Creator of the Universe! Our outlook changed from one end to the other and it was a major one.

"Since then, when a patient walks into my clinic, I pray in my heart that I will be a good messenger for his recovery. It's hard to describe the change. It's uplifting to think that Someone up there is helping the whole time, especially when I frequently encounter difficult situations.

"A month after the seminar," relates Dr. Addato, "I decided to take an early pension. I transferred to a private clinic, where I combine regular medicine with alternative complementary medicine. I'm an expert in acupuncture and using healing plants. This way, I can devote time to Torah study. I have study partners who learn with me Maseches Shabbos and Masseches Chulin, chavrussos in the morning, afternoon and evening. And of course, the regular lectures in our home, which has become a Torah home."

"You can almost say that we've reached hamenucha vehanachala," Michal continues. "Only one thing overshadowed our great happiness; our son Moshe, a young man who stood apart. The Torah classes didn't interest him. He was busy in his world, a world of secular youth and all their vanities. Although from time to time, he pricked up his ear, without meaning to, to hear the lecturers, but it was an ear pierced with an earring. His mind was occupied with exciting entertainments and friends. It was hard for him to disassociate from it. In the privacy of his room, he continued to live a secular life.

"It has cost us many prayers," remembers Michal. "The Rav strengthened us, encouraged us and guided us: `Don't push him. Treat him patiently and with much love. Warmth melts ice slowly and patiently.'

"We were disgusted with Moshe's lifestyle, but like the Rav advised us, we didn't push him. And then, the moment arrived. We were invited to a Purim Seudah in Bnei Brak at a family of chareidi acquaintances. My husband requested that after the seudah there be a mishnayos class for the benefit of his deceased father's soul and our hosts gladly agreed. I asked Moshe if he would join the class.

"If it's for Grandfather, I'll go," he answered.

"But without the earring. They're not used to it. When we come back, you can put it back," I said, my voice thick with sadness. The tears of a Jewish mother praying for her son poured from my eyes relentlessly, tears full of hope and much prayer and beseeching. Moshe cast me a tormented look. I'm certain that it was my tears that cut through the barrier of his heart. The earring was removed — and wasn't returned.

On Purim, the turnaround happened and on Pessach, he was already participating in the seminar. At the beginning of summer session, he was registered at Orayta and after that, he continued learning at Netivot Olam in the afternoons. In the mornings he opened, with his father's initiative, a yeshivah for academic baalei teshuvah in Ashdod, Yeshivat Hamaor Sheba.

"Since my return to Judaism," Michal says, "I have no words to estimate the importance of hosting baalei tshuvah in chareidi homes, the contribution both in drawing people nearer and in offering practical guidance: to show how one conducts a Shabbos table, to sing zemiros, to demonstrate family togetherness. Also, since we became baalei teshuvah, our house has turned into a center for drawing others nearer to help them find the truth. We are happy to offer our help. Our only purpose is that other Jews, children of the nation of Hashem, be happy, as we are, in the true happiness of the Torah.


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