It's Not Quite That Simple

For the week ending 20 October 2018 / 11 Heshvan 5779

Jacob Janofsky

by Rabbi Shlomo Simon
ArtscrollLibrary

Age: 26

Mt. Laurel, NJ

Drexel University, BS in Business Management (2015)

Center Program since June, 2018

The Meshech Chochma in Parshat Bechukotai outlines what might be called the “Wave Theory of Jewish History.” Without going into detail, he observes that the Jewish People go through periods when they are very connected to G-d and his Torah, and periods when that connection is weak.

This theory certainly seems true in the case of Jacob Janofsky’s family. Both sets of his grandparents were among the founders of Reform synagogues in America — one in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and the other in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Jacob’s “Jewish Tradition” was thoroughly Reform. He had Friday night/Shabbat dinner with his grandparents, and afterwards went with them to their respective synagogues for the Friday night services. He attended Reform Hebrew School from third to 12th grade and in the summers went to a Reform kosher-style camp. By the time he was in high school he was a regional leader in BBYO, a pluralistic Jewish Youth movement.

This involvement with Jews and Judaism, albeit Reform, was an important factor in his eventual and commitment to Torah and mitzvahs. When he left for college at Rutgers University, he immediately sought out the company of other Jewish students at the Hillel House. While there he met Rabbi Yehoshua Lewis, an outreach rabbi on campus, and started learning Torah with him.

In January 2011, Jacob went on his first trip to Israel with a Birthright group from Rutgers. The leader of the group was the director of the campus Hillel, who happened to Orthodox. While visiting Tzefat, he suggested to some of the boys that they might want to come with him to the Ari’s mikveh. Jacob was intrigued and joined the group. While submerged in the freezing waters, he had an epiphany. He saw in his mind’s eye a large black letter “Shin”. He felt moved to recite the Shema. His neshama was touched.

After returning to Rutgers he became more involved in the religious life at Hillel, but felt the need to return to Israel. Rabbi Lewis connected him to the JIntern program at Ohr Somayach. He also did a six-week program at the Yeshiva in 2011. Rabbi Dr. Yitzchok Greenblatt was the madrich, and the group had classes from many of the outstanding rabbis here, including Rabbis Breitowitz, Gottleib and Lazarus. After that summer Jacob decided that he needed more time in Yeshiva, and so he stayed and learned in the Mechina Program for eight months.

In April of 2012 he returned to the States and transferred to Drexel University in Philadelphia where he was active in the kiruv program on campus run by Rabbi Shimon Kaye, another Ohr Somayach alumnus. In 2015 Jacob graduated and started working as an operations manager with Amazon in Baltimore. He was responsible for the fulfillment department with its 175 employees. The job was grueling. A typical workday was 10-14 hours with nary a few minutes to gobble down lunch or dinner. After a year-and-a-half of this routine, he had had enough and quit to work for a Chinese tech start-up in Washington DC as its US supply chain/logistics manager. As happens often in the tech world, that start-up failed a year after he started.

While the start-up was winding down, Jacob, who is not one to let the grass grow under his feet, began working on political campaigns as an operations manager. He collected data, organized volunteers to knock on doors and designed tee-shirts and campaign signs. In the six months between January and June 2018, he worked on six state and local primary elections. He found it dynamic, energizing, fun and a good use of his skills.

For all the excitement of his working life, his spiritual life was suffering, and it bothered him. He felt that he had to come back to Yeshiva.

He spent the summer in the Ohr Somayach JLE Connect program and has been in the Center program since Elul zman. He plans to spend at least a year here. Describing his experience so far at the Center, Jacob says: “It’s been life changing; spiritually awakening; deeply fulfilling; inspiring; and humbling. The quality of the talmidim and rabbeim is very high. It’s an amazing opportunity to work on myself and see where it takes me.”

With such an attitude, we think it will take him far.

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