A search for spirituality and meaning in life is sweeping Israel. According to Israeli and Indian officials, tens of thousands of post-army Israelis have moved to India for an extended stay. Most view their own Jewish heritage as empty. Below is the story of Oded Mizrachi whose yearning for wholeness in life led him to Judaism.

I grew up in the older part of Jaffa.  In my childhood, I would wander with my friends among the yachts in the harbor.  I was a shy child, always on the lookout for an unknown mission.  An inner voice told me that in all my endeavors, I was a bit off target.  However, I knew I would get there in the end.  Similarly, growing up I did not find my real mission.  I was with everybody, yet I remained alone. My friends' desires were not in accordance with mine.  I would try to search the inner depths of my soul, but to no avail.

I served in the IDF's "Golani" Commando Unit because I wanted to defend the land and give of myself.   I was ready to sacrifice myself even though I did not fully comprehend why.  I understood that it was the right thing to die for my people.  Yet why should I die for sand?  There were a few religious yeshiva students in our unit who, from time to time, suggested that I help make up the ten-man minimum requirement for communal prayer [minyan].  At first I refused, but eventually I pitched in.

One night I entered the synagogue in the army base.  I opened a book about Rabbi A. Y. Kook's philosophy on the special quality of the Land of Israel. Suddenly, I understood what I was doing here. I felt that I was on a high spiritual level. Until then, I had been a good soldier, but after reading Rabbi Kook's words, I became a much better one.  Nothing seemed hard for me.

I was once deep in enemy territory.  My friends, who were extremely tired from the strenuous activity, fell asleep.  I stayed awake, sensing great danger around me.  But, I was not afraid.  I knew that I was doing the right thing.  I had an intuitive feeling that someone was watching over me.  I felt the Creator.

Before enlisting, I had a close friend named Yitzchak who was almost like a brother to me. During our adolescence, he used drugs.  At the age of 17, he used a drug that caused him to hallucinate and go crazy.  He was hospitalized and underwent severe mental treatment. He fantasized and suffered from bouts of anxiety, and did not function for a whole year. 

It pained me to see my friend in such a state.  He, who had been so full of life, became a shadow of himself.  While in the army, I would sometimes visit him while on leave.  He began to draw closer to the world of Torah. That was the only thing that brought him back to life.

After my release from the army, I had planned to travel abroad before signing on for more service when Yitzhak asked,  "Do you want to make me happy?"

"Of course,” I replied. 

"So come with me to a Torah class,” he said.

We went to the Tel Aviv suburb Bat Yam to attend a class given by Rabbi Eliyahu Nataf.  He spoke about the real meaning of love for the Creator.  For the first time, I encountered real, unconditional love, dependent on nothing.  I felt that with this unique approach to G-d, I would want to become acquainted with Him!

Gradually, I entered the world of Torah.  At first, I was at a Litvak [black hat] yeshiva in Bnei Barak for half a year. I once heard a tape of a Breslov hassid, Rabbi Shalom Arush, who said that the 18th century founder of the Breslov Hassidic sect, Rabbi Nachman, taught that there is no such hassidic sect as "Breslov.”  There is only Rabbi Nachman's way, which is to strengthen each Jew from where he stands so that everyone will fulfill his role.  It does not matter to which sect he belongs.  I had always been looking for a general philosophy that was relevant to me.

I drew close to Breslov.  I attended the Shuvu Banim yeshiva in Jerusalem, where I once heard from Rabbi Berland that Rabbi Kook was the holiest of men.  He said that Rabbi Kook would sing for hours on Shabbat eve and possessed a real love for both the Land of Israel and the People of Israel.  He concluded, "We should learn from that righteous man and cling to him.”

I got married at the age of 24. One year later, I got divorced.  I could not stay in the Mea Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem.  I felt that it was not the place for me.  I returned to my parents in Jaffa and rented an apartment on Florentine Street.  I had lost my way and needed a new point of contact. 

One Shabbat, I went to the Rosh Yehudi Jewish Center, which was precisely what I needed in that state of mind.  I felt an affinity to the tunes of Carlebach and the prayers of the youngsters searching for something.  I felt that although enthused, they were not detached from reality.  I continued to attend both services on Shabbat and classes given mainly by Rabbi Uzi Binenfeld and Rabbi Uri Sharky.  Rosh Yehudi brought me back to life.

I cannot define my identity.  Two philosophies guide me:  on one hand Rabbi Nachman's, and on the other Rabbi Kook's.  In my eyes, they fuse together.  Now, at the age of 28, I try to learn from the past, live in the present and look to the future.  Soon, with G-d’s help, I expect to establish a true Jewish home.

All the stories in the Journey to Judaism section are true and were originally published on the Rosh Yehudi website