Although we are meeting precious Jewish souls on a daily basis, there are those who stand out; whose stories beg to be told.
Meet Yoram, an Israeli, who has lived in Ireland for 26 years and established himself as a prominent Celtic artist.
Walking into his studio in the humble town of Castleblaney, we were greeted by a vast array of quite non-Jewish looking sculptures. “Lo taaseh l’chah pesel– You shall not make for yourself a graven image1,” he said with a grin as he welcomed us in. “I know about that. But I know very well who I am; I’m not worried about them,” he said, pointing to the sculptures. Among them we noticed a plaque inscribed with Hebrew prayer for prosperity.
Unfortunately for Yoram, business has recently slowed. Although he has been visited by Chabad rabbis in the past, the current lull in activity allowed us the luxury of an in depth conversation.
Yoram told us how he ended up living in Ireland (he married an Irish woman he met on a kibbutz in Israel) and his rise to fame in the Irish art community. Understandably, not all the locals took his intrusion into their own area of expertise very well. Nevertheless, with his talent and ambition he has found much success.
In the middle of our conversation, as if on cue, Yoram’s father phoned from Israel. “Shalom Abba!” he said. “I have two rabbis here who have come to visit me, and we’re going to put on tefillin together!” His father, an active member of a Jerusalem synagogue, sounded very pleased, his pride palpable over the speakerphone.
When Yoram was ready to put on tefillin he proudly procured his own beautifully-made pair, given to him by his father. But when we removed their plastic coverings, Yoram appeared shocked. “Why are you taking those off?” he asked. When we explained that wearing tefillin with their covers is questionable according to Jewish law, he told us that he had mistakenly done so for a three month period last year, during which he experienced terrible luck in business. Now enlightened, he put them on with enthusiasm.
While reading the Shema, Yoram’s voice began to change noticeably. Then, as he said the words, “V’lo taturu acharei l’vavchem–You shall not stray after your heart2,” the floodgates opened and he sobbed. After several moments he recomposed himself and concluded, thanking us for our understanding.
He invited us to take some photos with him, but only in the next room, “Away from the forbidden images.”
A short while after our visit, we received an email from Yoram: (Translated from Hebrew)
Hi Rabbis Dovid and Osher,
Thank you very much for your visit. You have done a great Mitzvah sitting with me; I was very excited to sit with Jews like myself. I suddenly realized how important it is that there are Jews who care about me. I’m in Ireland 26 years now and never felt so close to Judaism. I cried with excitement. I hope I will be okay and that G‑d forgives me.
When I put the Tefillin on, I felt as if the heavens had opened and G‑d heard me and my prayers. You did a big Mitzvah on that day, and I hope G‑d will reward you as such.
I put on Tefillin every morning, and it uplifts me, I feel Jewish and am happy with my lot.
You literally saved a Jewish soul–such a good, important thing–which I will never forget.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Shalom and next year in Jerusalem,
Yoram and family
These are precious words, written by a precious soul in the Irish wilderness. How profoundly inspiring it is to witness such an outpouring.