Peretz Teller may be one of the most interesting car donors I’ve ever come across in my day job as a writer at Kars4Kids, a car donation program that underwrites educational programs for children. Teller reminds us employees not a little of Clark Kent, the mild-mannered clerk who ducks into phone booths to become Superman. An accountant by profession, Teller lives in New Jersey, but spends anywhere between 50-70 percent of his time in Israel, volunteering as a border policeman and member of an Israeli SWAT team in charge of identifying and apprehending suspected terrorists in a large swath of suburban area. His wife and five children, meanwhile, are holding down the fort, back in the good old, U.S. of A.
And it’s no small sacrifice. Teller gave up a cushy executive job at a private firm to defend the State of Israel. But after much thought and study, his passionate beliefs left him with no other choice.
After choosing to volunteer for border patrol, Teller found out that he could join a local SWAT team and he knew that this was what he would do. “It was the most combative position I could get,” said Teller, explaining that at age 45, he’d already aged out of army service with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Teller, you see, doesn’t believe it’s enough to study Torah. He feels that we must defend Eretz Yisrael as soldiers, on the ground, with our warm bodies.
These past two years, Teller has been doing exactly that, doing volunteer border patrol after an initial training period of some four months’ duration. But that doesn’t make it easy. “It’s hard to go on patrol a day or so after a long trip. Jet lag is an issue. Imagine that early morning need for coffee, magnified tenfold.
“Not to mention doing patrol in the pouring rain or on scorching hot days, feeling the sweat dripping down my spine. But I’m doing what I can for Am Israel and trying to give back,” says Teller. “It’s not lip service. I’m not just giving lectures. I’m doing what I believe is right: what I think every Jew should do.”
But Teller’s got the lectures covered, too. In his “spare” time, he gives classes. You can catch some of them on youtube, where he has a comprehensive lecture on what the commentators have to say about living in Israel, and another where he speaks about turning Tisha B’Av from a day of mourning to a day of joy.
Asked where he gets his fighting spirit, Teller says, “Look, I learned in kollel. I’m a yeshiva guy and was taught that pacifism is righteousness. But pacifism is not what I see as the derech of David HaMelech. I see us as traditionally a warrior people, warriors for Torah.”
How did I end up finding and interviewing Peretz Teller? It’s like this: it was time to junk his clunker of a KIA. But rather than sell his car for almost no return, he figured he might as well donate the vehicle to a good cause.
Why Kars4Kids? The organization was a natural choice for Teller, who’s known Rabbi Mordechai Beer since taking his first job as an accountant, straight out of college. The two were office colleagues. But today Rabbi Beer works for Oorah, a Kars4Kids affiliate charity, where he serves as a coordinator for Oorah’s popular TorahMates Jewish learning program. Teller knew from his association with Rabbi Beer, that his car might not be worth much, but that whatever proceeds were realized from his donation would go to educate Jewish children.
“Rabbi Beer was different from the other people I knew. He handled himself with simple joy and honor. He was eloquent. His pureness was out in the open for all to see and when I met him, he really encouraged me to take on mitzvah after mitzvah.
Teller explains that once upon a time, back when he was in college, he knew little about his Jewish heritage. “At 19, I’d never heard the word ‘Shabbat’ (the Jewish Sabbath). Hearing that one word in college and learning that Jews refrained from “work” on Shabbat had a huge influence on me,” says Teller.
Rabbi Beer helped motivate Teller to build on that fledgling foundation, helped encourage the young accountant to do his spiritual work, too. Teller was glad to continue what he’d begun in college. Already back then, he’d begun to study Hebrew and Jewish texts. And the truth is, he never stopped.
“Is it difficult to understand orders in Hebrew?” I ask him.
“Not, at all, Baruch Hashem,” says Teller, and begins to speak in fluent Hebrew in order to illustrate his level of proficiency in the ancient Jewish language. “The only problem is when the other guys hear me speak—hear my accent—they immediately begin speaking to me in English. I tell them, ‘If you want to practice your English you’ve got the wrong guy.’”
Teller has come a long way from his college days and the early days of his career. It’s not just his fluency in Hebrew, a necessity for the important volunteer work he does in Israel. It’s what he does. Teller’s job in counterterrorism has him sniffing out suspected terrorists. Part of this is checking permits and paperwork and watching for illegal entries. But Teller isn’t just a paper-pusher; he has many arrests to his credit.
Once Teller found a suspected terrorist hiding behind a mattress. He has, in fact, discovered suspects hiding in all manner of different places. You might well say that our “mild-mannered” Kars4Kids donor has found himself on quite a different path than the one he originally set out on as a CPA!
I’ve come to the end of our interview, but there’s still one question left: “How does your wife feel about all this? Isn’t it hard for her to be there, and for you to be here? What about your children?”
“Look,” says Teller, reasonably. “Our youngest is 10, the eldest almost 17. It would be harder to do this with younger kids, but no less important, from my point of view. Still, none of them are in diapers, and the truth is, they’re very self-sufficient. Though my son is in yeshiva, my daughters really pitch in and help and my wife is incredible, she is the real Wonder Woman.
“Naturally, I can’t stay forever in Israel with my family over there in America. I have to come back and forth fairly often. They need me.
“But the truth is, we are planning to make Aliyah. It’s only a matter of when, not if we make Aliyah. Home is in Eretz Yisrael.”
Usually when people tell me they “plan” to make Aliyah, I hold my tongue and don’t quite believe them. But somehow, when it comes to Peretz Teller, I’m pretty sure he’s telling the truth.
We’ll just have to wait and see.