I want to recommend a book to everyone. The book is Unbroken Spirit by Yosef Mendelevich, it is autobiographical account of Yosef’s experiences as a Jew living in the USSR before the fall of the Iron Curtain. The book is an incredible inspiration.
In the book, Yosef tells of his youth, being raised, as he describes, outwardly as a good Soviet while inwardly observing strange rituals remotely associated with his Jewish Heritage. He was not privileged to receive a proper Jewish education or connection with the powerful spiritual tradition we all take for granted. In fact, Yosef describes his first memory of Hashem at age 10.
When Yosef was 10, he recalls, he returned home from school to find his house in shambles. His mother explained that their house was being searched by the government, and once the officials found various Jewish artifacts in their home, his father was arrested and taken to the Soviet prison. After describing the harrowing conditions he encountered when he went to visit his father in the prison, Yosef goes on to recount the fateful day when he first experienced Hashem. It was the day of his father’s sentencing. The entire family went to the courthouse to stand by as the court declared the verdict. When he saw his father, about to be sentenced, he was filled with an overwhelming feeling. From the depths of his heart, he cried out, “Hashem, please save us!” He was as shocked as everyone else, he had never heard of Hashem before, he had never interacted, or prayed, or really had any education about Hashem, but for some reason this cry tore forth from his innermost soul.
From that moment on, Yosef became consumed. He searched for other Jews, learned more about his Judaism, and desired more than anything else to connect with his people and move to Israel. He was eventually sentenced to 11 years in Siberia for his “refusnik” activities, but his desire for his people, for Hashem, and for Judaism was never broken. Every time he had an opportunity to connect with his fellow Jews he felt that same feeling welling up inside of him, that feeling he had on the day of his father’s sentencing, that feeling of a cry to Hashem from his deepest soul.
The Nesivos Shalom while explaining the machatzit ha’shekel, tells us that when the Jewish people come together, when there is unity, when there is a desire to be close to another Jew, Hashem’s Presence is there. The Shechina, or aspect of Hashem that dwells within and among each of us, is present, we are told, when two Jews learn together or even eat together and share words of Torah, because this aspect of Hashem is in each of us, it is the aspect that unites us. When Jews come together, when there is a strong desire for unity, the Shechina fills the people involved and brings great light and strength along with It.
This is the experience that Yosef had, the experience of Jewish Unity, of the Shechina, of the ultimate beauty that we can create when we desire to be close to one another and care for one another.
We don’t have to wait to get to rock bottom, to have our families ripped from us, or our lives shattered, to experience this. I hope we never have to experience any pain. We have these opportunities to draw close to Hashem and His people every day, we just need to grab onto them. We need to take advantage of the opportunities that come our way, to learn with fellow Jews, to teach fellow Jews, to pray for them, to desire to be close to them, to cry for them, when we do this, we bring Hashem into our lives, unite our people, and ultimately bring the ultimate beauty and completion to our world.
Let’s all be zoche to bring the Shechina into our lives.