Just One Jew: The Grandson of a Gadol Tells His Story”


book_cover_-_just_one_jew1By Moishe Mendlowitz, Reviewed for Matzav.com by Fern Sidman
In this autobiographical account of the vicissitudes of his journey back to Hashem and a Torah life, Moishe Mendlowitz, the grandson of Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, ZT”L reaches deep into the hearts of his readers; teaching profound lessons that resonate within our souls. in “Just One Jew” (Feldheim Publishers), Mr. Mendlowitz does not mince words as he offers a refreshingly candid full disclosure of his departure from a Torah observant lifestyle, as a student at Brooklyn’s Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. He chronicles both his immersion into the abysmal darkness of secular decadence along with his return to an observant life with unbridled passion and honesty. As an added bonus, this memoir is replete with vintage black and white photos of generations of prominent rabbeim and members of the Mendlowitz family.

The son of Avraham Mordechai Mendlowitz, z”l, a hard working kosher butcher in Crown Heights, young Moishe rejected the lifestyle of his antecedents after graduating from Torah Vodaath. The next 15 years were spent building an entrepreneurial career that saw a highly successful string of lucrative businesses. Living in a palatial home in Rhinebeck, New York, Mr. Mendlowitz seemed at ease in his secular life; making money hand over fist, enjoying all the material possessions that he acquired, dating non-Jewish women and never entertaining the notion of returning from whence he came. It wasn’t until a near death experience in a horrific car accident, seven months subsequent to his father’s passing, that things began to change. “I was a total success and a complete failure”, he says. “The former was how I appeared on the outside, the latter was what I couldn’t even admit to myself”, he ruefully observed.

The year was 1986 and as a man in his early 30s, Mr. Mendlowitz took the first small step in transforming his life by shearing off his long hair out of respect to his family. As he points out throughout this book, he was never shunned or ridiculed by his family for his aberrant lifestyle and it is clear that the unconditional love of his mother and sister served as a source of moral strength throughout his odyssey.

Never knowing his revered and holy grandfather personally, as he was born six years after Reb Shraga Feivel was niftar in 1948, Mr. Mendlowitz speaks of his stellar accomplishments in the world of Torah with profound respect and deep admiration. Of his grandfather, he says, “What defined him more than anything was his love for Klal Yisroel. He constantly put the interests of the whole ahead of his own. He sent his donors to other yeshivas that needed shoring up; he sent his best students away to yeshivas where there was greater need for their talents; his constant aim was not building up his own yeshiva but improving education in America for all Jews.”

Irrespective of the love and guidance of his family, and the constant help from his prominent uncles, Rabbi Sender Linchner and Rabbi Yitzchak Karpf, Mr. Mendlowitz found himself negotiating some uneven terrain on the road back to a Torah life. Struggling with inner conflicts and battling with his own yetzer hara, his desire to change finally prevailed as he committed himself to learning Torah again; this time in Monsey. Before long, he came to the stark realization that he could not learn Torah everyday in Monsey and then return to a completely non-religious life in Rhinebeck. .

It was a maiden voyage to Eretz Yisroel with his sister and brother-in-law that was turned out to be a significant turning point in Mr. Mendlowitz’s life. He began to become cognizant of Hashem’s munificence throughout his entire life; not fully comprehending that a multitude of blessings and miracles were yet to come. Having experienced the holiness of Jerusalem and the sublime ruchnius (spirituality) of davening at the Kosel, he decided to stay in Eretz Yisroel a bit longer. “I touched the wall, and just like that, an overwhelming flood of emotion washed over me. I burst into tears and could not stop crying. In that moment, something that was closed opened, and something that was broken healed. I would never be the same again” he recalls. And indeed, it was tefilla (prayer) that would become the central aspect of his life; something he engaged in with a palpable zeal, something that he felt the compulsion to cling to, as it was the first mitzvah that he discarded as a teenager.

After returning home, he sold his estate and lived with his sister and brother-in-law in Lakewood. While there he committed himself to learning Torah, to fitting in to the community by making drastic modifications to his lifestyle and to increasing his level of observance. After a brief and bitter marriage, Mr. Mendlowitz was now divorced; yet his soul yearned for the completeness that had hitherto alluded him. Despite it all, he recalls that, “I will always consider my years in Lakewood as the turning point in my life. It was there that I regained the love of learning Torah, started to appreciate the significance of family and the importance of surrounding myself with people who were greater than I”.

In September of 1996, Mr. Mendlowitz decided to move to Eretz Yisroel. “My soul was home at last” he writes, adding that “I knew that I wanted to do kiruv (bringing unaffiliated Jews back to a Torah life), but where and how, I was not sure. I knew that Hashem would point the way.” Indeed, it was the Hand of Hashem that guided Mr. Mendlowitz’s footsteps throughout his sojourn. Having met and connected with two outstanding figures in the world of kiruv work in Jerusalem, Rabbi Meir Schuster and Jeff Seidel, it wasn’t long before Mr. Mendlowitz’s prayers were answered as he was afforded the opportunity to realize his mission in life. Working part time at the famed Heritage House in the Old City of Jerusalem saw him convincing young backpacking Jews to accept free accomodations at the vibrant kiruv center amongst their brethren rather than lodging at Arab youth hostels in the Old City, as well as escorting young Jews to the homes of those who gladly took in guests for Shabbos meals. On a personal level, it was this juncture in time that saw a period of exponential growth in ruchnius for Mr. Mendlowitz as he was now learning Torah several hours each day and guiding other lost Jews to yeshivas and hence, a frum life.

There was only one thing missing and this major void was something that Mr. Mendlowitz was determined to fill. He was still single and wanted to get married and establish his own family of Torah Jews. With a broken heart, he cried out incessantly to Hashem, davening with kavanah and pouring out his supplications to the “One” who orchestrates all shidduchim. After a litany of disappointing dates, Mr. Mendlowitz found that yet once again his prayers were answered when he met Esther, the woman who would become his wife. Today, they both actively work in kiruv while raising their daughters and son.

The reader cannot help but be amazed by Hashem’s hasgacha pratis as Mr. Mendlowitz recounts the innumerable stories and anecdotes of those who lives he touched and who in turn touched his life in such miraculous ways. His love for each and every Jew, regardless of their background became the impetus for Mr. Mendlowitz’s attempt to form a new kiruv organization called “Just One Jew’ (hence the tile of the book). The premise was simple. Each frum person would commit themselves to mentoring a secular Jew who wished to learn more about Judaism. Based on his previous experiences in the world of kiruv work in Jerusalem, it became clear to him that when one commits to authentically devoting the lion’s share of their time, energy and resources to a person who is seeking to re-connect with Hashem, we are shaping the future of Klall Yisroel in such formidable ways.

Mr. Mendlowitz so deftly illustrates that within the soul of each Jew lies an enormous power that often remains dormant unless and until it is kindled. It is the power to change; to transform the mundane into the holy; the power to overcome adversity and personal travails; the power to lead others and ourselves to an awareness of the glory of Hashem and the fulfillment of a Torah life.{Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. Sick.

    Why do we glorify someone who went off the derech, who chose to rebel against Hashem and his Torah? This guy should spend his life wearing sackcloth and not turning himself into a celebrity.

    Look at Uri Zohar for what a baal teshiva should look like.

  2. I found this book to be fascinating, heartrending and humorous. The author was very factual and bluntly honest about his personal life. Great Reading material especially in these times, where we all know some teen-at-risk. Though he says he wants to save others 16 years of searching for the real truth, most teens at risk are not receptive to hearing any of this, and will likely not stop in their tracks just due to this book.

  3. Re J. Bertram: I don’t get your comparison to Rabbi Zohar, who most certainly has not spent his life wearing sackcloth. He has written several books and traveled extensively, and while not a celebrity of the same stature he is certainly well-known. And B”H for that. He is a phenomenal role model.

    Rabbi Zohar said, at a parlor meeting last year, that if you turn on Israeli TV, all over the place you can find old shows of his in syndication. He’s made peace with it, and it’s not a bad thing, because there is a whole generation that knows of Uri Zohar as Rabbi Zohar, the older B.T. and don’t know of him back then. Seeing him then and now, connecting the dots is a powerful limud for many of these people.

  4. J.Bertram, it is evident that you did not read the book and probably not even the entire post.

    Moshe is a kiruv master in the old city and has turned on hundreds of Jews to torah observances. You can learn gadlus from his parents and siblings who respected, honored and loved him throughout the years that he was searching. The parenting advice found in this book is honest and real. Try it…