‘180 Degrees’ tells of returns to Judaism

180 Degrees: 25 Amazing True Stories… That Caused a Turning Point in People’s Lives by Abraham Leib Berenstein, Feldheim Publishers, Nanuet, NY, © 2017, ISBN 978-1-68025-293-4, p. 340, plus a list of benefactors, $22.99

By Fred Reiss, Ed.D.

Fred Reiss, Ed.D

WINCHESTER, California – The Jewish High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are perceived by Jews as a time for self-reflection, for seeking forgiveness, and vowing to improve as a person. Sometimes, often accidentally, and not necessarily during the High Holiday season, people reach a tekufah, a turning point, which takes them in unexpected directions, leading to a richer, fuller, and more meaningful Jewish life. 180 Degrees is an anthology of powerful stories describing the path taken by twenty-five people at an unexpected, yet defining moment in their lives.

Author Abraham Leib Berenstein, one of the books twenty-five “amazing true stories,” born in Buenos Aires to minimally-observant Jews, chronicles how, after a non-observant Jewish youth, and a peripatetic life in his twenties and early thirties, travelling between Argentina, America, and both Western and Eastern Europe as a skiing instructor, he finds his way back to Judaism. He recounts how, by chance, his father insisted that he meet a Moroccan rabbi visiting the city, and “from that day on, my life was forever changed.” He became a ba’al teshuvah, a Jew committed to returning to traditional Judaism.  Today, he and his family are Orthodox Jews living in Bnei Brak.

Shimon Iluz, an illusionist, famously known as “The Israeli Houdini,” tells of his early life, during which he experienced a growing love of magic. Iluz revels in the adoration of the cheering crowds and his growing reputation of being “the best” in his field. At the same, he passionately expresses his feelings of emptiness and disillusionment at the very height of his career, revealing how by chance, while walking through Jerusalem one Chanukah night, the light from a window menorah brings back a flood of warm childhood memories, eventually leading him to the life as an observant Jew.

There is a memoir about a Super-Bowl champion who experiences an unforgettable Sabbath with his cousin and subsequently rediscovers the faith, another about an areligious Japanese-American Broadway star who, through her husband-to-be, comes to understands the value of Judaism, and one about an Israeli fighter pilot, who returns to Judaism after a miraculous rescue from injuries sustained by missile shrapnel while engaged in battle over Egypt. In 100 Degrees’ final chapter, Pawel Bromson describes a life-is-truer-than-fiction story by portraying his metamorphosis from anti-Semitic Skinhead to Orthodox Jew.

All the narratives in 180 Degrees are first-person accountings of unintended encounters leading to personal transformations and a return to Judaism. The stories hold the readers’ interest through the fervor and passion of the authors as they describe their lives moving from hollowness to fulfillment through Judaism. 180 Degrees, worthy of being read at any time of year, but particularly meaningful during the High Holiday season, shows that life-long alterations and teshuvah—”a return”—are only an undiscovered chance away.

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Dr. Fred Reiss is a retired public and Hebrew school teacher and administrator. His newest works are The Comprehensive Jewish and Civil Calendars 2001 to 2240, and The Jewish Calendar: History and Inner Workings. The author may be contacted via [email protected].

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