Today's head of the "Ohel Sarah' Kehilla in Bucharest,
"I dedicate the story of my life to all my friends out there
who haven't been fortunate enough to escape the jaws of
secularism. Those of us who were saved have to take up the
banner to fight the horrible side effects of secular
When I heard this introduction, I remembered a piece I had
come across years ago. It had been written by a new baal
tshuva who was still busy settling his accounts with the
friends he had abandoned for a Torah life.
And here are a few lines of what he wrote:
"We dreamed... fostered illusions. We saw the world. We had
an opinion about everything. We criticized governments; we
knew better than everyone else what had to be done. We made
money, went into business and were the brilliant men of high
tech. We toppled parties, heads of government. We were a rare
breed. We reached the ends of the earth, and there, at the
end of the path, at the end of the road, we were left
suddenly very weary. We wanted life, pleasure, depth, power.
We were left alone. We were deluded, humiliated. Squeezed dry
of our small talk and that of others; empty from a wildness
of our senses and our dreams. Distant from our souls, we were
looking for another journey."
I rememberd this when I spoke with R' Eliyohu Kaufman. During
our entire conversation, he held to account all those who led
him astray in his secular past: people from the
establishment, state leaders, the state to whose borders he
was called to give his life. Now his eyes have been opened to
the truth, while the State has continued with equanimity to
pursue its perverse ways.
This is the country that tried to cut him off from his Jewish
roots; whose leaders run after materialism in the guise of
worrying about its masses. They continue to mislead and they
trap in their web of deceit young innocents who are tempted
to buy into hollow ideologies. He, at least, got away in time
and with Divine Providence, understood the Big Lie.
In the Extreme Left Wing Youth Group
Eliyohu has been on a long journey since he decided to
explore his Judaism. He didn't return through a Kiruv
organization but took a more independent path. In the short
time that he's been active in Bucharest and Vaviassi, two
cities in Rumania, he has succeeded, according to him, in
restoring dozens of Jews to their Father in Heaven.
Eliyahu Kaufman was born in the Ramat Eliyahu section of
Rishon leZion in a home whose ties to religion were very
weak. In any case, in contrast to other youth in the area,
his family was considered more traditional by virtue of his
mothers' Shabbos candles and her fluency in Yiddish. During
his high school years in Ramle, Eliyahu was chosen as
chairman of the national council of high school students.
This was after the Yom Kippur War when extreme left wing
youth groups sprouted one after the other. "The left wingers
weren't self acclaimed anti-religious," says Eliyahu. "The
only one among them who displayed animosity towards religion
was Shulamit Aloni."
In high school, he belonged to a youth group that defined
itself as socialist- Zionist. Even then, he knew people who
would later become famous, like Ran Cohen, today a Meretz MK,
and Udi Aloni, son of Shulamit Aloni.
Besides Eliyahu, there were eight other boys from Rishon
leZion who came from established anti-religious families.
Years later, all eight became full fledged Torah-observant
Most of the activities and conferences of the Students'
Council took place in Tel Aviv, so that as a matter of
course, the affluent Tel Aviv representatives, graduates of
the elite Herzliya Gymnasium (high school) and the like, were
always in the know and acted like they owned the place.
Eliyahu was aware of this. He had to crowd into stifling
buses from Ramat Eliyahu to Tel Aviv. So, understandably, he
preferred to forge relationships with the less privileged
right wing children from the disadvantaged southern towns,
and with Arabs.
The Arab knew how to evaluate logically
In the 1980's, he started to become affected by the
discrimination against Sefardic Jews. For some reason, this
issue connected in his mind with the humiliation which Arabs
suffered. Although he defined himself as Zionistic, he began
to understand that something was rotten. He didn't stop to
analyze the issue thoroughly because "It's not the nature of
a secularist to probe philosophical subtleties," he explains.
"But my mind kept sending me signals," he adds with a
Today he can point to the incident that guided him to the
recognition of the vanity in the Zionist ideology. "The truth
is, that in the path I am following today, I am actualizing
the same points of view that I had then, but from the other
side of the fence."
He was so far removed from religion in the 1980's that he
didn't even have an idea what a chareidi was. The only
kippot he ever ran into were knitted ones. But he does
remember Rechov Achad Ha'am where Belzer chassidim
lived. The high school students would make cynical remarks
and even sneering grimaces at the chassidim. Eliyahu
would feel his heart cringe at their mockery, feeling himself
"In time," he relates, "my eight friends from Rishon, who
also became baalei tshuva, admitted that they had also
felt uncomfortable with the antics of the Tel Avivians who
were following the popular trend of chareidi-bashing or
besmirching the "blacks".
Eliyahu was more extreme than his friends. He excelled in
dialogues with Arabs. His good friend was the chairman of the
Arab Students' Council. One Shabbos Chol Hamoed Pesach, Odi
came to visit the Moked youth group branch in Tel Aviv. In
those days, Pesach was properly kept in public and even those
who opened their stores on Shabbos Pesach sold only matza.
Eliyahu will never forgot how on Motzaei Shabbos, one of the
group ate a pita in the middle of the street without
anyone saying anything to her. Suddenly, Odi B'Saareth's
voice was heard criticizing the perverse behavior. It was he,
as a Christian Arab, who asked her, "What connection does
your behavior have with your political opinions? What
statement are you trying to make? You're after all, only a
Eliyahu sighed. "The Arab knew how to make a logical analysis
-- something which is difficult for a Jew to do. We just
stood there quietly. Even today, a leftist doesn't know how
to differentiate between his political opinions and his
hatred of religion and the religious. This is the generation
that then filled the high school benches. This is the same
generation that grew to lead the State. And what's worse,
some of these same people have turned into ideological
leaders, pacesetters whose voices are heard over and over
again in the media."
[continued next week]