I received an email from a woman who wanted to have a better understanding of the trajectory of my life; how did I get from there to here kind of thing, so….

I was born in Dec.1952 into an emerging paradigmatic Modern Orthodox Democratic Liberal family. My father is the retired Dean of Communal Services and Professional Rabbinics at Yeshiva University. He created over 100 Orthodox communities in North America in the 50’s and 60’s. He trained and placed over 400 rabbis in schools and synagogues. He created the first outreach programs, such as YU Torah Leadership Sumer Seminar. He also was a pioneer in bringing American students to Israel on summer programs, back in 1960. The home was hyper-intellectual on a highly competitve level. Intellectual rigor was the challenge of the day.

At the same time, at 6 1/2 years, I was turned onto Reb Shlomo Carlebach, with his revolutionary first record album in 1959 and by AUgust, I was introduced to him by my father, who had hored him to bring his contribution to that summers YU TLS. This began a tension between the purely rational/behavioral path of Soloveitchikian Orthodoxy and Reb Shlomo’s neo-Chassidic path.

I went to Modern Orthodox yeshivot that reflected the Zionist sensibility of my home. In 1967, I became actve in SSSJ – Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry. In my first year of high school, I had Rabbi Meir Kahane for Jewish Philosophy. Later that year he established the Jewish Defense League. Until my senior year, I rejected his path as I was put off by his angry militancy. While too long a story to recount here and now, I came to see truth and wisdom in much of what he was saying and what was required to be done to force the hand of the Soviet Union. And I continued to work both within the mainstream protest movement alongside my involvement with JDL for a couple of years. By 1973, I was done with Kahane and JDL. Whatever truths he represented, the problematic nature of his personality and the increasing ugliness of his rhetorical stance was more than I could endure. And like much or the rest of the country, I was burnt out by the harrassment of Nixon’s FBI and COINTELPRO, Vietnam, riots and Watergate. It was time to take care of Moish.

I was never much of a student. While reading voraciously, always curious, always learning, academic linear learning about ‘subjects’ taught by mostly bored teachers, never held my interest. And in the abstact sciences, I had no acumen and less interest. Consequently, colege was not much of an option. I wasn’t interested in pursuing an education to prepare me to earn a living. I was on fire for Judaism, Israel and Tikun Olam – fixing the world and making it better.

After high school, I spent time in Israel volunteering in a kibbutz and continuing my activism. By 1974, it became apparent I needed to become independent of family and find a way to sustain myself.

I moved out of my parents house at 21 years of age and began my working life. After working for a garment manufacture in the stock room, I was hired in June by EL AL Israel Airlines as a telephone reservaton agent: “El AL Shalom. This is Moshe speaking. How may I help you?” Thus began almost 12 years of working as a travel professional that included 2 years of being the lead agent in my family’s business and moving onto working for an elite coporate travel consultancy. I was an outsourced kind of ‘super-agent’ responsibile for executive suite officers, including working at the United Nations, arranging the most complex itineraries for the professional dimlomatic staff.

By 1986, I was burnt out on office life and all that that robotic life meant. Not knowing what to do, I found myself at loose ends ends until September when I became the manager of the audo department for a mid to high end consumer electronics store. Here, I was able to surround mself with music all day and enjoy the benefits of an engaging personality through direct contact with the public. However, I became increasingly disenchanted with life in Reagan/Bush America. And when a yuppie came into the store with a button syaing, “Eat The Homeless”. It was the last straw. I wanted out. But I despaired of where to go and what to do.

The turning point came at the end of services on Shabbat Parshat Bamidbar, when the Torah reader came to me and said, “Moish, you look partuclarly miserble these days. There’s a picnic in Central Park tomorrow. WHy don’t you come?” I asked, “What picnic?” And he replied, “JUst come.” It was the 1989 annual Memorial Day Weekend Rainbow Family Picnic. The next day, I didn’t return to work.

Making a really long story short, I said to HaShem, “I don’t want to live in the world anymore without knowing Shlomo’s Torah was true.” The vision he articulated and the pictures of what could/should be were just poetry in the four corners of his Shul. But when I went outside, I was in Reagan/Bush America. Thus began a four and a half year journey into a world I never knew existed.

I covered 45 states, 200 Grateful Dead Shows, 15 Rainbow Gatherings. I lived as much as 20% of the time in nature, went to places and met people that never Jews. I received an education. Among the billions of things I learnt was that New York was not America and that the permissable reality was just that and only that. It just wasn’t true.

In October of 1993, having finally purchased the building housing the Carlebach Shul, I was asked to become the Operations Manager to oversee the reconstruction of the crumbling infrastructure, while organizing and managing the growing population of people coming to the Shul. It was having a real renaissance and Reb Shlomo spent a greater amount of time in New York than he had in years. It was to be his last year in the world and HaShem blessed me to be him almost everyday for 7 months. That gave me enormous one on one time with him and afforded him the opportunity to prepare me for the work that would be mine after he took off.

Stay tuned to part two, tomorrow.

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