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For the week ending 12 March 2016 / 2 Adar II 5776

Yoel Yedidyah - Part 3

by Rabbi Shlomo Simon
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Age: 25
Yaounde, Cameroon
Diploma in Business Administration, BS Accounting, Diploma in Financial Planning, Diploma in Journalism

Currently in Ohr Somayach’s Mechina Program

Part 3: Finally at “Home” in our Yeshiva in Jerusalem

Yoel, while still in Sydney, had many questions and he asked them. He had deep conversations about religion with the Jewish brothers from whom he was renting office space. At this point they introduced him to their older brother, Hymie. This brother fit the image that Yoel had of a Biblical patriarch. He had a long beard, a head covering, and strings coming out of his belt. The answers he gave to Yoel’s questions were eye-opening. Yoel had never heard such logical and well thought out responses. After a number of discussions with him, Hymie told Yoel about a friend of his whom he thought Yoel would like to meet.

Rabbi Eli Cohen is a rabbi in a shul in the Sydney suburb of Newtown and the head of an organization in Australia called “Jews for Judaism”. Its goal is to save those Jews who are targeted by Christian missionaries. And its method includes pointing out the inconsistencies in Christian thought and outright mistranslation or fabrications of Torah texts. Rabbi Cohen was extremely well-versed in Christian texts and theology, and eminently qualified to answer all of Yoel’s questions. Probably the most impressive quality that Yoel observed about him was the rabbi’s willingness to admit to not knowing an answer, and then getting back to him with the answer after researching it. In his experience, no Christian priest or pastor had admitted to not knowing an answer to a question about religion.

After a while, Rabbi Cohen invited Yoel to attend his synagogue. He loved it. Rabbi Cohen suggested that he keep the sheva mitzvot (seven commands) a Ben Noach (Noahide; i.e., even non-Jews) is obligated in. Yoel accepted this obligation and observed these commandments, but after a few months he felt it wasn’t enough. He thirsted for a closer connection to G-d and the Torah. Rabbi Cohen tried to dissuade him from converting, but after months of persisting, Rabbi Cohen finally introduced Yoel to Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence, the Rabbi of the Great Synagogue of Sydney. Rabbi Lawrence recommended Yoel to the Beit Din (Jewish religious court) of Sydney, which agreed to supervise his study and eventual conversion.

In 2013 Yoel came on a pilot trip to Israel, and was introduced by Jeff Seidel (an Ohr Somayach alumnus) to Yeshivat Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem. Jeff also introduced him to Rabbi Zalman Weiss (another Ohr Somayach alumnus). The two started learning together on Skype after Yoel returned to Australia. Rabbi Weiss strongly suggested that Yoel should come back to Israel to learn full time in Ohr Somayach.

In May of 2015, after two years of study, the Beit Din of Sydney converted Yoel, and he came later in the year to the Mechina Program at Ohr Somayach, where he is studying today.

“I wanted to get a good grounding in Judaism and get closer to Hashem, and the way to that is by doing mitzvot and learning Torah”, says Yoel. “So far it’s been hard work, but I feel more settled in my learning. I’m growing and picking up skills. I love Ohr Somayach. The Rabbis are very open, and the guys in the Yeshiva are great. I find my Gemara shiurim (classes) quite challenging, but in a good way. They are also the shiurim I enjoy most, especially my morning ones with Rabbi Binyamin Weiner.”

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