It was every author’s worst nightmare. Summer, 2005. Just another routine morning, or so I thought. The screen went dark on my computer, with no fanfare or warning, as sudden as a solid oak door slamming shut in the wind. And nothing I did brought it back to life. I tried restarting it, davening, begging, and yelling at it, but the computer before me seemed to have left this planet. Inside of this mysterious metal box was untold hours of work, my kosher cookbook and all of the recipes I had developed in the previous two years, thousands of files that represented the heart and soul of my work life for over ten years.
Thank G-d I have regular back up, I thought, as I made an appointment with the nearest Macintosh repair shop in another town. I had been regularly backing up my most important computer files to an external hard drive, well aware of the dangers of depending on a computer that could break down with no forewarning. All I needed to do was retrieve those files, buy myself a new computer, (ouch, not in the budget), and I’d be back in business.
One major problem. The computer technician gave over the horrifying news the way a surgeon informs the anxious family that he’s so sorry he lost the patient on the operating table. “Did you ever test this back up to be sure it was working?” the computer genius asked me. “No, never did,” I replied, the panic rising up my chest. “I’m sorry to tell you,” he responded, “there’s nothing on this back up. I don’t know what you have been doing all these months, but this back up is empty.”
I just about fainted. My computer was dead as a doornail, he confirmed, all the files gone forever. And my so-called back up was useless. I was distraught. In our town of Highland Park/Edison, NJ, we Jews rely upon a “Yahoo board” where we post electronic messages for one another – SOS’s like “I need a ride, I need a doctor, has anyone got this in their attic not being used?” It was there that I posted my call for help. “Any mac geniuses in town who can resurrect a dead computer and save the life of an author in a panic?”
Marnin Goldberg, Mac Genius, responded. He took my computer home with him and promised he’d see what was possible. He’d be in touch when he knew. I doubt I slept, ate, or functioned until I heard from him. When I heard from him the next day, his words were pure gold. “I was able to bring your computer back to life just long enough to grab your documents off of it, and now it’s completely dead, you can bury it. You’ll need a new computer, but I have your documents for you.”
I’m a religious married woman. I couldn’t hug him, but I would have if I could. With new computer, and retrieved documents, I was back to the land of the living, breathing author.
I don’t know what Marnin did to bring my computer to life for those precious few hours, some kind of techno mumbo jumbo with a magic wand only he and other geniuses like him would understand. But this High Holiday, twenty years after Rabbi Alan Ullman of Massachusetts brought my neshama back to life, I honor the Rabbi who revived a secular Jew whoseJudiasm was for all intents and purposes dead.
In 1991, I woke up just long enough to be revitalized. Rabbi Ullman spoke words of Torah to me, and from the slumbers of secularism, something in me started stirring. What looked dark, and dead, was only dormant, waiting for the right person to know how to bring me back to life. All those Yom Kippurs when I ate and drank because I didn’t know better, those Rosh Hashana’s when I didn’t go to shul because I didn’t have a clue how to daven, those sukkots that passed me by because I had never even heard of the holiday….I wasn’t lifeless. I wasn’t forgotten. I was just lost.
Twenty years later, my frum husband and our three frum-from-birth children will be davening in shul, pleading for a good year from Hashem.
Rabbi Ullman, you didn’t only change the course of one Jew’s life. You altered the course of history for my family for generations. When you met me, you didn’t see a dead Jew. You saw a Jew who had not yet been awakened. And I met you in the nick of time.
Thank you. My Hakoras Hatov knows no bounds.
Azriela Jaffe is a holocaust memoir writer privately commissioned by families who wish to document the surviving matriarch or patriarch’s life story for future generations. She is the author of 24 books, and also founded the worldwide movement for bringing more kavod into Shabbos by preparing by chatzos on Friday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.azrielajaffe.com