By Rabbi Meir Goldberg
When Rutgers students signed up to go on the Rutgers Jewish Xperience – Meor Israel trip this winter break, they were expecting to be inspired by the Torah, land and people of Eretz Yisroel.When trip leader Rabbi Yehoshua Lewis, director of the Rutgers Jewish Xperience on the Rutgers campus in New Brinswick, NJ, took some of the boys to the Kosel one morning, they were not quite prepared for whom they would meet.
Rabbi Lewis organized a minyan so that many of these boys could put on tefilin for the first time since their Bar Mitzvah. One student named Brian, had never had a Jewish name nor an aliyah. So when he got his first aliyah and got a new Jewish name – Boruch – a spontaneous celebration broke out. The students were joined by other people dancing and celebrating Brian’s “Bar Mitzvah” at age 20.
Davening at this minyan was a black Jew resplendent in tallis and tefilin, davening with a lot of kavanah. When R’ Lewis first saw him, he thought nothing of it. But after the dancing and a celebration for two boys who purchased their own tefilin and committed to put them on regularly, the black Jew, who had been in a semi meditative state, asked if he could say something. He told them that there was nothing as powerful as “Ju-Day-Ism” (in a Caribbean accent), and that studying the Torah is the best tool to master your life. He told them that he had had a lot of success in the world, but there was nothing better than being successful in mastering yourself, and the only way to do that was through Torah. Everyone was locked in on this holy man delivering very sincere thoughts from his heart.
They asked him his name but he said it wasn’t important, and the group rushed out to catch a cab back to the hotel.
Then they realized who the man was. Perhaps you’ve read about Jamal Barrow, the rapper formerly known as Shyne. Shyne learned about Judaism in jail, changed his name to Moshe Levi and converted to Judaism in Eretz Yisroel. He was the one davening with so much kavanah and delivering words of inspiration, devarim hayotzim min halev, words spoken from the heart, to these students now on their own Jewish journey.
One never knows who he will meet in Hashem’s land.
Rabbi Meir Goldberg is the Director of the Rutgers Jewish Xperience. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.