I was told this story by Rabbi Mendel Daren who heard it directly from Alex P. as he was driving him to his home near Tel Aviv.
He told him how he became an observant Jew.
In 1996, Alex, like so many of the Russian immigrants in Israel, was very ‘far’ from Judaism.
Then two things happened that changed all that.
The first was one late night when a friend drove him to his parent’s home after an evening at the bars and he discovered he had misplaced his house key. Not wanting to wake his parents he was at a loss of what to do. But his friend immediately came up with the answer.
‘Come with me, we’ll make some money and have some fun as well” he suggested. “You can help me plaster up posters”
1996 was an election year in Israel and his friend’s job was hanging posters for the leftist Shimon Peres on as many billboards and over as many of the opposition’s (Benyamin Natanyahu’s) posters as possible.
Of course there were also those working for other candidate also had the same task: to cover THEIR posters.
So what it boiled down to was the entire night they tried to cover each other’s posters and evade one another before the dawn’s early light when everyone went home to sleep.
Things were going smoothly until they got to one place where, after they covered ‘Natanyahu’ with one of their posters they noticed next to it a poster of some white bearded rabbi with a Hebrew word written under it.
Alex’s friend automatically took one of their large Peres posters, smeared the back of it with glue and, happy to be rid of another poster, was just about to plaster it over the Rabbi’s picture when Alex yelled out …‘Stop!!’
His friend turned to him in surprise. “Stop what?” he asked.
“Don’t cover that Rabbi’s picture!” he replied.
“Why, is it your Grandfather or something? What do you care?!”
But Alex just answered “Just don’t cover that picture!”. Meanwhile the glue made the Peres poster soggy enough that it drooped over his friend’s hand and got all stuck together.
Both of them were well drunk from their earlier escapades his friend got really angry, threw the poster to the ground, said a few Russian curses, got back in the car and resumed their mission.
But a few minutes later the inevitable happened: they met up with their rivals! Four drunken Israelis who were in love with Natanyahu and hated Peres! Curses were exchanged. Threats followed, then challenges and finally a decision to fight it out in a nearby empty lot; Two huge Russians, certain of victory, against four hotheaded Israelis.
In moments they were alone; facing each other ready to go. But surprisingly one of the Israelis turned to his three friends, told them to take off and he would take care of it alone. Then as soon as they jumped in their car, he pulled out a pistol! Alex and friend were frozen in shock! He took aim, fired one shot and Alex’s friend slumped to the ground whereupon the Israeli jumped into his car and sped off.
Someone must have heard the ruckus and shots because in moments the police appeared, called an ambulance and took Alex’s friend to the hospital and Alex in for questioning.
Alex was trembling and totally traumatized which was a bit strange to the police. Here was a huge, brave man pale as a sheet one hour after the incident. It made no sense to them until he explained why. He had been standing in FRONT of his friend when the shot was fired! There was no logical way to explain how the bullet detoured around him and struck someone standing behind him!
He just kept stammering “It, it, it just must have been, it must have been that, that Rab, that that Rabbi! The poster!”
“What Rabbi?” the police asked. “Was there someone else present? Can he come and testify? Do you know his name? What was his name?”
‘You know!” Alex stammered (Really Alex didn’t know ANY Rabbis). “The picture! You know!! The Moshiach!!”
“That,” Said Alex to Rabbi Daren as he was driving, “was the beginning of my transformation. But here in this very busy intersection (they happened to be passing through a large intersection) was where it finalized. Right here!!
“That’s right. It was several months later. I was driving my car listening to the radio when suddenly they announced they were going to play the Lubavitcher Rebbe singing a song. I was about to turn it off but from curiosity I decided to listen for a second.
“As soon as I heard the first notes my eyes filled with tears and I had to stop the car. Everyone was honking behind me! But I just couldn’t do anything. Never had anything like that happened to me. It was only a minute long but after it stopped and I resumed driving I was shaken up for a long time. So I asked around until I found out that it was the same Rabbi that was on the poster.
“That’s when I decided to become Religious.”