Until the age of 40, he was the undisputed king of the world of entertainment in Israel and the bohemian culture of Tel Aviv. At the age of 42, he shocked the country by deciding to move to Yerushalayim to learn Torah. Over the 40 years that have elapsed since then, he has reinforced his standing as one of the tzaddikim of Yerushalayim and the icon of the kiruv movement.
What impelled him to do teshuvah, what was the most difficult obstacle at the beginning of his journey, and what did his parents feel about it?
Rabbi Uri Zohar has been asked thousands of times over the course of his life to explain why he became religious. Many people insist on hearing the answers to the same questions over and over: “When did you reach your breaking point? And how did you feel when you wore a yarmulka or tzitzis or when you kept Shabbos for the first time?”
Rabbi Zohar has answered these questions time and again – in his interviews with the media, in the books he has written, in lectures, and in personal conversations. He has explained over and over that his decision to become frum was not sparked by a “breaking point,” but rather by his recognition of the truth. As soon as it was proven to him that the world has a Creator and that the Torah is true, he could not allow himself to live a life of falsehood. In fact, he knew all along that if those things were proven to him, he would have no alternative. In his book, he describes that day as a black day: “I found myself submitting, for lack of an alternative, to the fact that the Torah is the absolute truth. It was simply impossible to attribute this phenomenon of endless depth to any sort of human authorship. The only choice I had was to attribute it to a Divine source. The day that became clear to me was a black day for me.” At the same time, Uri would not allow his life to be dictated by falsehood. If that was the truth, then he would have to surrender to it.
It all began with a social event in Yerushalayim. Uri had driven from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim to attend an event organized by a friend who had become religious. He didn’t enjoy the experience very much, but he met a “righteous rov” while he was there: the famous Rav Yitzchok Shlomo Zilberman. They argued for a while, and Rav Zilberman asserted that he could prove beyond any doubt that the world has a Creator and that the Torah is true. “If you prove that to me,” Uri said earnestly, “I will act on it.” He had no doubt that the rov’s contentions could not be proven. The two settled on a deal: If the rov could convince him that there is a Creator of the universe, then the famous Uri Zohar would become religious. Uri had no doubt as to who would win the theological debate. But, as it turned out, he was wrong.
Rabbi Zohar’s return to Yiddishkeit is unquestionably a historic event, even a supernatural occurrence, and one that has had an unfathomable impact.
Due to his past, R’ Uri was on a mission.
Rav Uri dedicated his ENTIRE life to Peylim Lev L’achim! Their mission is to get every child into a Torah school and every not-yet-religious adult connected to their heritage.
Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin, director of Lev L’Achim, declared that there is no Baal Teshuva in Israel over the last few decades who doesn’t own his return to observance, at least in part, to the larger-than-life figure of Rav Uri Zohar Zt’l.
Thursday morning, Gimmel Sivan, the first day of the Sheloshes Yemei Hagbalah, where Klal Yisroel prepared for Kabbalas Hatorah, dawned bright and early. Rav Uri awakened early as usual to begin his day of non-stop learning and Avodas Hashem. After he finished one of his learning sessions, he suddenly collapsed. Hatzalah tried valiantly to resuscitate him, but the Gezeira was sealed. The man who had spent over 40 years preparing for the Ultimate Kabbalas Hatorah slipped away with a Misas Neshika.