I am a Jihadist

2016-07-18 19:22

I am a Jihadist. There. I said it.  For the last 9 years I have had to report  on the terror attacks around the world and I am always left trying to make sense of the senseless. Until I realised that it is my story too. I am a Jihadist and from a Jihadist point of view, I believe I can explain some of what is going on in the world.

I grew up in a traditional Jewish family in Johannesburg. On Friday night my mother lit candles and we had a special meal. Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Pesach (Passover) meant a large dinner with the whole extended family, new clothes and new shoes. Whatever the Jewish holiday, it was the social occasion, with the cousins and the family that held significance rather than any spiritual meaning.

As I grew up, weekends were spent riding horses. Often I would be deposited at the stables on a Friday afternoon and collected on a Sunday evening. While I have always had a consciousness of G-d, religious practices had no space in my life. By the time I reached my early twenties, I was as far as a Jew could get from Judaism - and frankly, I was more interested in what the Buddhists were saying anyway because they used words like "meditate", "spirituality" and "reincarnation" which is exactly what I was looking for. Meaning.

Fast forward and I'm in my late twenties. I have two wonderful children and I'm divorced. I have a successful business but inside I am falling apart. I think astrologers call it a Saturn Return - when the planet goes retrograde. I was retrograde. I was in a crisis where none of my relationships were real. I had no idea what would fix me.

My younger brother, who is far wiser than me, came to see me one day and suggested I go and meet with his Rabbi. He had been involved with a Jewish outreach organisation called Aish HaTorah. "What is your Rabbi going to teach me about my life?" "What do Rabbi's even know about the real world and my demons?" That was my response. "Well, what do you have to lose?" was his and I didn't have an answer for that so I went.

I began learning about Judaism through a book called "Derech Hashem" (The Way of G-d) by Moshe Chaim Luzatto. A Torah scholar who lived in the 1700's. And for the first time my life actually made sense. And it was good. And I knew I had found truth. I felt it. It was like leaving behind a blindfold and diving off a cliff, knowing you'll be caught because there is a bigger plan for each of us and my life was my perfect plan for what my soul needed. And G-d was paying attention. And G-d had brought me to this place to find Him. It was personal. I had found the ultimate love. And I was in love.

The Jewish idea of love is that your happiness rests in the happiness of your beloved. When your beloved is happy, few joys are greater. And if G-d said I should keep the Sabbath Holy, and I felt that would make Him happy,  then that was exactly what I did.  In a very short space of time I was keeping Shabbat, only eating Kosher, doing every possible Torah prescribed deed. I would start my week with learning every Monday night for 2 hours, process what I had learned and then teach what I had learned, in a language and in terms they could understand, to my two young children at bedtime on a Tuesday night. I was also learning on Wednesday afternoons and Thursday afternoons. It was a magical time and for the first time I felt that I was actually a good parent too. My kids would not have to wait thirty years to find out what life was about and how G-d operated. Life had meaning on every level.

I happily gave up movies. Theater. Wild parties. I gave up my Levi 501's. And swearing. And I was truly happy for the first time in my life. But I was becoming what today is termed "Radicalised". There was nothing I wouldn't do for G-d. I started a Radio station to make the information accessible to His people.  That's what love does. But my teachers were concerned. Slow down they said. You're moving too fast they said.  I would have done anything that my teachers asked of me, in the name of G-d, of course, except slow down.

You know the saying, "There but for the grace of G-d, go I"? When I look at the profiles of the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks around the world, none of them were religious. They were all "secular" a few years ago. Then they became "Radicalised" and very quickly became very religious.  They also committed heinous acts of violence against society and the values it holds dear. The difference between us is that I had teachers who preached love, understanding and tolerance while it seems these terrorists are being fed a misinterpreted version of their holy book, the Koran.

What do we do about it? I don't know but I can tell you that I did eventually become more moderate, it only took 12 years, and even then I'm not sure how moderate I really am. We all need good, reliable and honest teachers who will teach the truth of our holy books rather than teaching a toxic misinterpretation in order to drive a political agenda. Maybe we should be starting there.

There is still, nothing I won't do for G-d.

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