The First Time in Israel
YM: When did you finally head to Israel and what made you come?
MZ: I came to Israel because I was disgusted with the crime rate and problems in America. As a child we had a television and a night didn’t go by without a report of several murders. So I knew I wanted to get out of there and come to a place that I believed would be more refined.
The first time I came to Israel was in 1958 at the age of 20. My parents were against me coming since they believed it was the “wild west” here, a very dangerous place. They said if you want to be a Zionist, give money to other people who are moving to Israel. They also told me that if I left America I’d lose out. They tried to convince me to stay put in America, become rich, and then donate to other people who are moving here.
YM: Where did you go when you arrived in Israel?
MZ: The Jewish Agency gave me a plane ticket on condition that I study at a Zionist yeshiva, either in Yavne or Mercaz Ha-Rav in Jerusalem. I chose Mercaz Ha-Rav and there I learned for about half a year. I had a chevruta (learning session) twice a week with Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook (Rabbi Avraham Kook’s son): once a week we studied Mesilat Yesharim of the Ramchal (an acronym for Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto) and once a week we studied the Igrot (Letters) of his father, Rabbi Avraham Kook.
YM: Who was studying with you at Mercaz Ha-Rav back in 1958?
MZ: Back then it was a small yeshiva with roughly forty students, still a few years before it blossomed into an “institution” following the influx of hundreds of new students who were graduates of the Bnei Akiva high schools. Nevertheless, there were quite a few students who went on to become very well-known rabbis, for instance Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, Rabbi Tzfaniah Drori, and Rabbi Zalman Melamed.
YM: That’s quite an impressive list. What did you do after half a year in the yeshiva?
MZ: I was uneasy since I wanted to teach so I left the yeshiva and began teaching in elementary schools for a short period. After being in Israel for about a year I headed back to America for two years to finish my degree, once again studying at the Ner Yisrael Yeshiva during the day and at Loyola University in the evenings. In addition to receiving my diploma in “Educational Psychology”, during that same two-year period I served for a short while as a rabbi in a small town called Newark, Delaware.
YM: From whom did you receive semicha (rabbinical ordination)?
MZ: The first time I was in Israel I received semicha from Rabbi Eliyahu Rom.
The Connection to Rabbi Avraham Kook
YM: Okay, so you went back to the states for two years. When and how did you become so connected to the teachings of Rabbi Avraham Kook?
MZ: I was very impressed by Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, he was an incredible person, warm-hearted and generously devoted to his students, as well as a tremendous tzadik. He told me stories about his father and I was very excited, so when I went back to the States for two years he gave me some of his father’s books. Also in the yeshiva there was a geniza where I found some damaged copies of his father’s books that had been tossed aside so I took these as well to America. During the two years in the States I avidly read and reread all of these books.
I remember being so excited about Eretz Yisrael that when I returned to the States I took some earth with me which I placed next to my pillow so that when I slept at night in Baltimore, Eretz Yisrael would still be close to me!
When I came back to Israel I continued with my studies of Rabbi Kook and through time I felt more connected to the father than to the son. On every page that I studied I wrote a brief summary of what the Rabbi said and his main point. This was the beginning of what eventually became Otrzot Ha-Ra’ayah.
Settling Down in Bnei Brak and The Unexpected Inheritance
YM: When did you “settle down”?
MZ: After I returned to Israel with my degree I began teaching in Hadera. Then I found a nice girl from Romania and we decided to get married. However, there was a hitch. I wanted to stay in Hadera because of my teaching job but she had a brother in Bnei Brak and a sister in nearby Ramat Gan so she didn’t want to live in Hadera. Being a good husband I agreed to live in Bnei Brak.
About the Author: Yoel Meltzer is a freelance writer living in Jerusalem. He can be contacted via http://yoelmeltzer.com.
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