Before making aliyah, my wife and I attended weekly Ulpan classes offered by our local Jewish Federation. And just in case you're wondering as to whether or not those infamous Ulpan classes really help much, you'll need to ask my wife (in English). My instructor was Ishai Ron. In Israel he practiced Law. He was in the United States on one of those temporary missions from Israel, together with his wife and their 10 year old daughter.
At our very first lecture, our class translated and discussed the meaning of Israel's National Anthem, the Hatikva. When Ishai brought up the "Post-Zionism" argument as to why the Hatikva , a song which expresses the yearnings and hope for the establishment of a Jewish State, would seem to be in our day and age, after the establishment of the State, "out of date", I kind of sensed as to where Ishai's leanings were coming from. Undeterred, I invited Ishai with his family to join us for a Shabbat dinner. He graciously accepted, and despite any apprehensions we both might of had initially, in the end we all enjoyed a wonderful family evening together and became the best of friends.
Over time, our relationship only strengthened, the Lubavitcher chassid and the Israeli kibbutznik. I enjoyed family visits to his home in Fair Lawn, and I even had the honor of taking Ishai to his very first NY Yankees game at Yankee stadium in the Bronx. When it was time for Ishai to return back to Israel, he informed me of his decision to commence studies for the Reform Rabbinate upon his return to Israel. His hope was that with this way he would be able to reach out to the secular Israeli.
I am reminded of the time I took my good friend and study partner, Rabbi Bruce Block of Temple Sinai in Tenafly, to visit the Lubavithcher Rebbe ob"m. I remember the impact of the Rebbe's words to Rabbi Block. After being introduced to the Rebbe, the Rebbe blessed Rabbi Block with the words, "to use your influence to bring Jews closer to Judaism."
So now, five years later, this is exactly what my friend Ishai is striving to do. We have stayed in contact all throughout this time. I recently attended his ordination in Jerusalem. Before the ceremony, he introduced me to his Rabbinic sponsor, and said to him half jokingly that I was the one in fact to blame for the decision of his to enter thr Rabbinate.
It was what Ishai said to me next that really touched me. We were reminiscing about when we first met. Ishai recalled how during that very first Shabbat dinner with our family, he heard from my 10 year old daughter Bat-Sheva her 'dvar torah' presentation she had learned in school, based on a teaching from the Ethics of our Fathers, " To judge every person in a favorable light".
That teaching made such a strong and everlasting impression upon him that he chose it as his life motto for his ordination.
Jewish Book Review » You Come for One Reason But Stay for Another: Making the Odyssey to Israel could be subtitled “It takes an Optimist”