I had just come to Jerusalem about a month earlier. I was waiting for my yeshiva to start its classes, and was just kind of hanging. Didn’t really know what to do except write.
And then a friend of mine mentioned a class. She said it was amazing.
I remember walking into that first class. Remember that it was a relatively normal-sized classroom.
We came early. She told me we had to, or else we wouldn’t have space.
I watched the room slowly fill up. By the time the class started, half the room was standing.
The teacher, Rabbi Doniel Katz, came in slowly, a bit theatrically. He had peyos and a black hat and a kapota. He sat down without saying anything. He picked up the coffee he was holding, put it to his lips and loudly said, “Baruch atah Hashem, Elokeinu Melech Ha’Olam shehakol nihiyah bed’varo.” The whole room loudly responded, “Amen!”
Weird, I thought.
I had come to Israel wanting to learn more about Judaism and excited about Yeshiva, but didn’t believe that the Torah came from Sinai, didn’t believe any of the other guff. And all this baal teshuvah-ness kind of turned me off. People loudly yelling amen and all that business. I just wanted to learn about G-d, not all the extras.
But I sat through the class anyway.
As the class progressed from one hour to two hours to three freaking hours, I began to slowly understand why my friend felt the class was amazing.
The Rabbi had this way of talking and explaining things that made you want to be one of those people who said “Amen!” even if you didn’t totally get it. And his captivating, engaging way of speaking, didn’t make the class feel long. If anything, it felt too short.
We walked out, and I remember telling my friend I’d be coming again. When would it be, I asked. Tomorrow, she said. The man was teaching a 3 hour class every day.
And so every day I walked an hour each way to the old city of Jerusalem to sit through the three hour class. I could have been out partying on Ben Yehuda, but there was something that kept drawing me back.
And it drew many other people in, as well. I thought it was packed the first time, but soon the classes became almost unbearably packed. Students from around Jerusalem came to learn, some traveling much further than me.
Every day, he would stand up in front of the class, say his blessing, everyone would say “AMEN!” and he would slowly take us into deep Kabbalistic and Chassidic ideas. Used Gematria to reveal truths. Showed us how deep and real Torah could really be if we just let go of our preconceptions of what it really was.
But most importantly, what Rabbi Katz showed us all was that G-d was imminent. G-d was in front of our faces and real, and all we needed to do was just open our minds and our hearts, and Judaism could be more than just vague, confusing scripture or complicated Talmudic discussions. It could be real and alive deep in our psyches.
By the time I finished that class and began my studies at Mayanot, I was on fire and alive and ready to see G-d in everything I learned. It was the best preparation for real Torah study I ever could have hoped for.
Doniel Katz changed my life. If it hadn’t been for him, it would probably have taken much longer for me to believe that Torah was something more than just interesting. That G-d and Torah were inextricably intertwined and the only way to understand the former was through the latter.
It’s because of him that I believe G-d gave the Torah to Moshe on Sinai. Many others can say the same thing.
Rabbi Katz is slowly creating a revolution from Jerusalem. He’s doing it in a very simple way: by continuing to remind them of G-d’s presence in their lives.
He does all this without resorting to one discipline or belief in Judaism. Rather he constructs a world built out of Kabbalah, Chassidus, Mussar and every other part of Judaism, to help his students see how truly deep Judaism is.
And now he’s coming to America. In a week he’ll be in LA and on August 26th he’ll be in New York conducting a 13 hour (!) seminar designed to help turn prayer into a meaningful experience. As far as I’m aware, the seminar is open to all: super-frum, not religious at all, and everything in between.
If you’re near either of those areas at those times, you can’t miss this event.
For more information about and to register for the LA seminar, go here: http://aishlosangeles.com/blog/shiur-with-rabbi-katz
For more information about and to register for the NYC seminar, go here: http://www.aishcenter.com/elevation-seminar
Trust me, it’s worth your time.