Meanwhile, in a painful process, Avraham was also imbibing new values from his teacher. “You mustn’t be like us!” Rajiv told him time and time again. “You have to be a Jew. Look at the sun and the moon. The moon is a mere reflection of the sun. It doesn’t have its own light. You have to be the sun.” Avraham had no idea what his teacher was telling him. “He would come back from his classes very frustrated, complaining that he had no idea what Rajiv wanted from him,” recalls Rachel.
Their intensive learning regime left the Kolbergs with little time to explore Indian, so they satisfied their travel bug with day excursions to nearby Hindu holy sites. “One day we visited a Hindu temple that could be entered only through a very low door,” says Avraham. “I knew that by bending so low to get in, we’d be bowing to the idols inside. Even though I had little understanding of what idolatry meant, something inside me was shocked to the core. My soul knew this was an abomination. I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong, but I couldn’t bring myself, or allow Rachel, to enter,” he recalls.
Rachel smiles. “In India you can’t remain unaffected. Things happen,” she says.
Breslov in Rishikesh and Beyond
The Kolbergs spent four months immersed in Indian culture before they had their first chance to come up for air. “We hadn’t seen a single European since we had arrived and we were longing to see someone who shared our mentality,” Rachel says. This longing took them to Rishikesh, a popular tourist site. Here, they saw a sign advertising a Pesach Seder. “I have fond memories of Pesach,” says Rachel. “My grandmother and I would travel to Moscow to buy matzohs and our neighbors loved sharing our ‘crackers,’ so of course, we were eager to join.”
The Seder, led by Orit and Sagiv, a Breslov couple, was celebrated by 300 people. It was the turning point for the Kolbergs. “We saw a couple who were living for eternal values. At one point in the seder, someone switched on a tape recorder. They begged them not to do that. ‘We’re hosting you, giving you food, please, please respect the values we have!’ they asked their guests.” Later on, during the week of Pesach, the fridge broke down and a huge amount of food spoilt. When the Kolbergs saw that this didn’t stop their hosts from enjoying the holiday, they were impressed. Here was a couple who were taking pleasure in something beyond the physical plane.
When they explained to Orit and Sagiv that they would be staying for another three months at least to complete their studies, they were equipped with a Jewish survival kit: a mezuzah, a kiddush cup, a copy of Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto’s Mesillat Yesharim, and a copy of the blessing recited when taking challah. As strange as it seems, the Kolbergs’ yoga studies had laid the foundation for their love of Yiddishkeit. Yoga had prepared for the self-discipline required to follow a life based on halacha.
Back in Tel Aviv, the Kolbergs tried to settle into routine. After the slow pace of Dehardun, life in Tel Aviv was akin to living on a roller coaster. The Kolbergs began going to a Sephardi shul on Shabbos in an attempt to connect to something spiritual. They made friends with Breslov chassidim. Rachel started attending Torah classes in Bat Melech, a learning program for women with little Jewish background in Hod Hasharon, while Avraham began learning Gemara with their new friends. At the same time, they attended the first yoga teacher’s training course in Israel given by foreign teachers. However, by this time, the Hinduism, the mantras and the scriptures that included philosophy of yoga were unpalatable. “We didn’t finish the course, but we were allowed to take the exam and become qualified yoga teachers,” says Avraham.
Eight years ago, realizing that they were ready to break away from the intense yoga culture in Tel Aviv, the Kolbergs moved to Ramat Beit Shemesh. While they continued practicing yoga, without a connection to a schedule organized around yoga, their drive was lost. When Avraham began to put on weight and suffer from minor health problems, the Kolbergs began to wonder if there was a way to hold on to the good that they had gained through yoga and perhaps to even pass it on. They had noticed a lack of awareness of health issues in his new neighborhood. “We felt that we could offer a solution providing that we cleaned out the Hiduism that was part of yoga.” The pinewood paneled roof studio is the result of their dream. Today, the Kolbergs offer regular yoga classes and, in addition, they reach out to even more people by training teachers who start groups of their own.
About the Author: Rhona Lewis made aliyah more than 20 years ago from Kenya and is now in Beit Shemesh. A writer and journalist who contributes frequently to The Jewish Press’s Olam Yehudi magazine, she divides her time between her family and her work.
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