Many teenagers go through a rebellious stage, but most don’t go as far off “the path” as John Daly did. The life of the former Florida resident who has resided in Ashkelon, Israel, since making aliyah 20 years ago, has had several dramatic twists and turns, as he recently recounted at a number of Chabad-sponsored events in various Canadian cities.
Daly, one of four brothers who grew up in and around the Tampa area, spent his formative years going from school to school, as his late father, a high school teacher, was transferred between them. Feeling that he didn’t fit in with any group, he was lured by the sense of camaraderie of a local non-racist group of skinheads. “How they looked out for one another was attractive,” he said.
The members of his group knew that Daly was Jewish, but didn’t really care. Their main activities were “hanging out” and driving around various mall parking lots on the weekends. Each group had a “designated parking lot.”
The fun ended one night when members of a rival, neo-Nazi skinhead group arrived at the Daly family’s apartment, having been given his address by a couple of his frightened “friends.”
“My three brothers and my parents were inside and I had to make a very fast decision about whether to leave with these guys, or let them in. I wanted to protect my family, so I left with them,” said Daly. This was the beginning of his frightening association with the group, which later resulted in a night of horror, when Daly was badly beaten on a beach.
“Die, Jew-boy, die,” was shouted, as the thugs beat him.
“One sat on my back and the other choked me. The last thought I had was, ‘Who is going to cry? Who is going to care?’ And that is why I have dedicated myself to doing what I do – tikkun – to make something of my life that is positive, so that when I do die, someone will care,” he said.
Daly somehow survived that night and the perpetrators were eventually sent to jail, but, given that the last of them was released several years later, Daly left the United States and moved to Israel, where he has remained ever since.
Unfortunately, there was more drama to follow, as Daly was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2009 and has since undergone two brain surgeries. “My life basically revolved around doctors and hospitals. My life now is wait and see. I live every day like today is my last, because I know when the Almighty wants me, He will take me,” said Daly.
In addition to his visit to Ottawa, where he spoke at the Ottawa Torah Centre Chabad during a Shabbat dinner on Nov. 10, Daly gave talks in Halifax, Montreal and Toronto. A documentary about his life, titled, Escape from Room 18, premiered at Westmount Chabad in Montreal on Nov. 12.
“Because of Chabad, I will have the chance to see my family again,” said Daly, who will be travelling to Florida, following the speaking tour, to spend some time with his three brothers for the first time since their father’s death eight years ago.