BACK NEXT WEEK"
In the early 70's,
a young man from a Torah observant home in New York strayed from his roots. Instead,
he became very interested in American Indian culture, to the extent that he eventually
decided to relocate to Montana and take up residence on a tribal reservation.
There he immersed himself in their life and customs, and even studied their religious
practices intensively with different Native American shamans ("medicine
After some time, he heard that the greatest shaman of
all was an old squaw associated with a tribe that lived in Newfoundland, on the
Atlantic coast in the northeast of Canada. He made the long journey there and
was able to arrange to be admitted into her presence. He was very excited. Such
a privilege! And what an opportunity to grow in knowledge at the highest level.
moment came. He went in. He started to introduce himself and state his purpose
in coming. Before he could do so, she interrupted him: "Go away. You don't
belong here. Go home."
"But I've studied so hard. I've learned so much
already. I live on a reservation. I
"As I said, you don't
belong here. You are not one of us and never will be. Go back to where you come
There was nothing more he could say. He had come to her, the
master, and she had dismissed him. And not just from her presence, from the path
itself. His chosen way and now it was barred to him.
And the words she had
said: Go back to where you come from. Did he really have to go again to New York
and get back into Judaism? After all, he had gone to her as the ultimate teacher,
committed to do whatever she would tell him.
He decided he had no choice.
At the least he would have to check out the Jewish scene, and that inevitably
entailed a return to New York.
When he arrived in New York he discovered
there were not so many choices available to him. Very few yeshivas or rabbis
in those days were prepared to deal with someone who had left Judaism as a teenager
and had for years been living as an Indian. After one or two false leads, he found
himself headed to Far Rockaway, hoping to speak to Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld
ob'm, rosh yeshiva of Sha'ar Yashuv.
If Rabbi Freifeld was shocked
by the young man's appearance, he didn't show it. He invited him cordially into
his office and they sat and spoke. Perhaps the young man himself was surprised
at seeing Rabbi Freifeld, who was somewhat of giant physique. At the rabbi's prompting,
he began to describe life on the reservation and Indian beliefs. After a while
Rabbi Freifeld told him that he was enjoying the conversation very much, but that
since he had come suddenly and unannounced he was not prepared to speak to him
any longer that day; would he please come again the next week when he would be
able to talk at length. They arranged it for a mutually agreeable hour.
young man left. Although he had agreed to go back in a week, he still didn't feel
sure that he should keep the appointment. On the one hand, he felt he had been
cut off somewhat abruptly. Also, the yeshiva life that he had glimpsed
seemed strange and alien to the frontier sensibilities to which he had trained
himself. On the other hand, the rabbi was certainly an interesting fellow, not
at all like the ones he remembered from his school days; plus, he had been very
warm to him and seemed sincere in wanting him to return. After some mulling, he
decided to go back on the agreed day.
Rabbi Freifeld greeted him heartily.
Again the young man explained to him in considerable detail his life with the
Indians. This time the rabbi interrupted him with a number of astute questions.
They had been speaking for quite a while when there was a knock on the rabbi's
door. He was needed in the Beit Midrash (study hall) to resolve a complicated
question. Rabbi Freifeld excused himself and said that he would return as soon
as he could.
After a few minutes the young man stood up from his chair and
started to wander around the office. He was amazed by how many books were crammed
on the wall-to-wall shelves. At that moment he noticed out of the corner of his
eye that there were two books on the floor next to the rabbi's chair. Surprised
that the rabbi would allow any of his holy books to remain on the floor, he bent
over to pick them up. At that moment took place the epiphany that changed his
What he found in his hands were two books from the local public library
about Native American culture and reservation life. Rabbi Freifeld had bothered
himself to acquire them in order to be better able to discuss and interact with
him! Well, if the Rabbi cared so much about him, certainly he should care about
the Rabbi and his values.***
From that day it was but a short time until
he enrolled at Sha'ar Yashuv and after that at the famed Lakewood Yeshiva in New
Jersey. Today he is a significant member of that community and the head of a large
[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles after hearing it from noted author
and lecturer, Paysach Krohn,who said that the identity of the young
man of the story is known to him, but that he has not the permission to reveal
Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld
(1928-1990), a main disciple of the famed Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner of Yeshivat Chaim
Berlin, was the charismatic rosh yeshiva of Sh'or Yoshuv in Far Rockaway NY, one
of the first non-Chassidic yeshivos to have programs for Baalei Teshuva.
to R. Freifeld's daughter, as submitted by Olivia Schwartz, he stayed up all night
before reading those books.