Nick realized that capitalism, not the socialist ethos in which he had been nurtured, was the motivational key to stimulating initiative and growth, and he began to reevaluate other tenets of his upbringing. In 1999, he studied construction science and subsequently spent over a year in Oklahoma and Texas building towers and fixing cables hundreds of feet above the ground. One can imagine the cascading thoughts of the searching young man suspended between heaven and earth.
In 2002, Nick opened his own telecommunications company, Prometheus Methods Tower Service. Together with his entrepreneurial evolution, his Jewish identification deepened significantly. Independently, he cultivated a repertoire of Jewish religious observances. In a eulogy, a non-Jewish co-worker revealed that Nick would not work on Saturday or even accept telephone calls.
A chance encounter leading to renewed contact with an old classmate accelerated Nick’s unfolding religious consciousness. Aaron Spool, who had intensified his own Jewish commitment, immediately detected the telltale curiosity of the incipient ba’al teshuva. “They’re easy to spot,” he explained.
Nick started coming to the Spool home for Pesach sedarim, Shabbat meals, and other occasions. Aaron marveled at Nick’s ability to sustain his “Karaite Shabbat” based almost exclusively on refraining from work.
The American Jewish World Service, a volunteer support organization, sponsored Nick’s third trip to Africa, this time to Kenya and Tanzania. Anya Guyer described Nick’s uniqueness: “Some volunteers are intensely Jewish, while others come with a strong social justice agenda. Nick came with both.”
In Nairobi, he worshiped in an old English colonial synagogue. “He was,” said Anya, “very driven, very smart and very effective. He made things happen and wanted to change the world.”
After his death, the Maasai tribe he helped sent a message of tribute: “Nick was a true global citizen.”
Texas contacts had alerted Nick to opportunities for free-lance contractors in the reconstruction of Iraq, an enterprise that deeply appealed to Nick the altruist and the entrepreneur. Nick’s lifestyle was by this time saturated with Jewish awareness and he had reached as rich a level of mitzvah observance as he could attain on his own. He adhered to kashrut wherever he was, and he was adamant about cleaning for Pesach.
Aaron recalls being shocked at his wedding rehearsal when Nick arrived displaying the tsitsit he was wearing. Indeed, many friends last saw Nick at Aaron’s wedding, dancing with abandon, carrying a youngster on his shoulders.
Nick also embarked on a weekly chavruta learning regimen with a Rutgers Ph.D. student. They chose Sefer Yeshayahu (Isaiah) and sessions usually took place by telephone. The two continued to learn together daily via e-mail while Nick was in Iraq.
Nick made two trips to Iraq. On December 2, 2002, he traveled first to Israel, a brief stopover that was stamped into his passport and may later have cost him dearly. He arrived in Iraq via Jordan and remained until February 1, 2003, busily moving around the country, taking notes, assessing needs, and hatching plans for a variety of projects. He even generated a design to create a company called Babylon Towers with an Iraqi partner. Nick toured most of the Iraqi heartland (including the soon-to-be notorious prison complex of Abu Ghraib).
Nick’s second visit to Iraq commenced on March 14, 2003. The countryside was volatile. On March 24, Nick was detained at a checkpoint outside Mosul and incarcerated in an Iraqi police compound for three weeks. The FBI interrogated Nick repeatedly: Why was he in Iraq? Did he have contacts in Iran? What was his connection to Israel? Had he ever built a bomb? Prisoners in the Iraqi jail from Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan began to chant “Israelein,” believing he was an Israeli agent. After his frantic parents filed a writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. on April 5, he was immediately freed.