From Skinhead to Orthodox Jew

Continuing the theme I explored in an earlier post about Muammar Qadhaffi’s possible Jewish roots, we read in the New York Times about people discovering they are Jewish, after all. The theme from one of the last prophecies in Sefer Yesha’yahu, that the Gentile Nations will bring back those who were captured or assimilated in their midst, to Judaism and the Jewish People, resonates strongly (see my Qadhaffi post, linked to above, for an analysis of that prophecy).

WARSAW — When Pawel looks into the mirror, he can still sometimes see a neo-Nazi skinhead staring back, the man he once was before he covered his shaved head with a yarmulke, shed his fascist ideology for the Torah and renounced violence and hatred in favor of G”d.

“I still struggle every day to discard my past ideas,” said Pawel, a 33-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jew and former truck driver, noting with little irony that he had to stop hating Jews in order to become one.

“When I look at an old picture of myself as a skinhead, I feel ashamed. Every day I try and do teshuvah,” he said, using the Hebrew word for repentance. “Every minute of every day. There is a lot to make up for.”

Pawel, who also uses his Hebrew name Pinchas, asked not to use his last name for fear that his old neo-Nazi friends could target him or his family.

Pawel is perhaps the most unlikely example of a Jewish revival under way in Poland in which hundreds of Poles, a majority of them raised as Catholics, are either converting to Judaism or discovering Jewish roots submerged for decades in the aftermath of World War II.

He lauded a new general receptivity toward Judaism among the younger generation of Poles, but said that some had nevertheless internalized the hatred of their parents.

“When younger people see me on the street with my top hat and side curls they sometimes laugh at me. But it is the old ladies who are the meanest,” he said. “Sometimes, they use the language I used when I was a skinhead and say, ‘Get out and go back to your country’ or ‘Jew go home!’ Others feel the hole left in Poland by all the Jews that were killed and come over and say, ‘shalom.”’

Whatever the challenges, Rabbi Schudrich said Pawel’s transformation offered a decidedly Jewish morality tale about the possibility of change.

“The lesson of Pawel’s story is that one should never lose hope,” he said. “The impossible just takes a little longer.”

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