Prayer led to an extraordinary connection between a Beverly Hills woman and an Israeli soldier in Gaza.
- Posted on Jul 21, 2016
When a rabbi claims one amazing story forever changed the way he prays, I can’t help but take notice. In an online video, Rabbi Yoel Gold of Beis Naftali Synagogue in Los Angeles shared an incredible true tale from his aunt Betsy, one that altered the lives of the people involved and gave even this learned scholar of the Torah new insight into the power of prayer.
I wanted to know more, so I called him up.
Storytelling is obviously a part of any rabbi or minister’s job. Why was this story different?
I’m always looking for a good story, so my father-in-law stays on the lookout for me. Last year, he said, “Yoel, you have to hear this amazing thing that happened to Betsy.” Betsy is his sister, my aunt through marriage.
I gave Aunt Betsy a call. What she told me left me completely in tears. I connected with it so deeply, it really changed the way I prayed. When I pray now, it’s more real. It’s much more real.
Take me back to the beginning…
It all started in July 2014, during the Israel-Gaza conflict, which was called Operation Protective Edge. When there’s a war in Israel, there’s this hotline that Americans can call to get the name of a soldier fighting in the Israeli Army to pray for.
My aunt and her husband, Simon, live in Beverly Hills, but they also own an apartment in Jerusalem. They identify very strongly with Israel and want to be supportive any way they can. My aunt called the hotline and was given the name of a soldier. She wrote it down and posted it on her kitchen cabinet.
Wait, the kitchen cabinet?
She has her favorite quotes taped on her kitchen cabinet, a collection of different things that are meaningful to her. She would pray for the soldier every morning because she’d walk into her kitchen and see his name right away. She doesn’t have any other names on the cabinet—he was the first and only soldier she ever prayed for. Barak ben Orna—Barak, son of Orna.
Barak, son of Orna? That’s it? No last name?
She wasn’t sent a last name, to protect the identity of the soldier. But how many Baraks, son of Orna, are in the Israeli Army who are fighting in Gaza? Only a few thousand troops entered Gaza, so the chances of another Barak, son of Orna, fighting there were very, very slim.
My aunt never stopped praying for Barak, even after the war was over. This went on for nine months. Then, last summer, Aunt Betsy and Uncle Simon went to Israel for a visit.
What made them go just then?
The trip wasn’t really planned, it was more of a spur-of-the-moment thing. While they were there, they decided to visit Herzliya for the day. It’s a beautiful city overlooking the Mediterranean and they had never been. It was around lunchtime and they were hungry.
There were two kosher restaurants in the area. Aunt Betsy was debating between Meat and Wine Co. and another place. But she remembered hearing from a friend that the food was more interesting at Meat and Wine Co. So she said, “Let’s go there.” Everything was, as some like to call it, coincidental.
What happened at the restaurant?
It’s a two-story place, and Aunt Betsy and Uncle Simon were ushered first to a table downstairs with no view. My aunt wanted to be able to see the view, so she asked the waiter to move them upstairs next to the window.
When they sat down upstairs, a different waiter brought them the menu and told them about the specials. As he walked away, he said, “By the way, if you need anything, my name is Barak.” My aunt immediately got the chills.
There are eight million people in Israel, probably a thousand Baraks, right?
Even so, she told my uncle, “Ask him for his mother’s name! Maybe it’s Orna.” My uncle, he’s this big, burly fellow, he’s not shy, so he called out, “Hey, Barak! Come here. By any chance is your mother’s name Orna?” Barak said yes.
In shock, my aunt asked if he’d fought in Gaza the summer before, in Operation Protective Edge. “How did you know that?” He was completely, completely floored.
So your aunt explained? How did Barak react?
He was crying, my aunt was crying; the other servers and everyone who’d overheard were touched. Here, at his table, was this stranger from the other side of the world who knew about him and had kept him in her prayers.
My aunt told him, “Two weeks ago, I wondered if you were still alive. I turned to God and prayed, ‘If I could just meet him to make sure that he is okay.’” They just cried on each other’s shoulders.
Before my aunt flew home, she took Barak out for coffee and met his mother, Orna. They all promised to keep in touch. Still, my aunt had no idea how big of an impact she’d made. Until Barak sent her an e-mail.
It came a few weeks after Aunt Betsy had returned to California. Barak wrote about tefillin, those small black boxes containing Torah verses that religious Jewish men strap onto their arms and head when they pray.
“I haven’t really done that, I haven’t really prayed in a long time,” Barak wrote. Like many Israeli Jews, he wasn’t particularly religious. “But ever since I met you, I was inspired to start praying and I’ve been putting on those tefillin every morning and connecting to God.”
So you’re convinced that this wasn’t just a random encounter—it served a purpose?
Absolutely. That’s the way to inspire faith sometimes. Not by telling people what to do, but by showing how much you care. That’s what really touched Barak. The divine providence is amazing here, how God brought these two people together from opposite sides of the world.
What speaks to me even more is the fact that someone was praying for someone else without knowing who they were. And how that ended up touching the other person so much that they began to pray themselves. My aunt and uncle live their lives with a heightened awareness that God runs the show.
Sometimes we’re just walking zombies come to life, just going through the motions of saying, “Hi, how are you?” We don’t actually check in with each other. But if we’re checked in, all of us have stories like this. Everybody feels the hand of God in their life and when they share with others, perhaps others will be transformed too.
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