TORONTO — “Why are we losing so many kids to Judaism?” asks Rabbi Lazer Brody. “It’s very simple: because in the young people’s eyes, Judaism is not cool.
“If you don’t have a Judaism of joy, if Judaism is a pain – [kosher] chicken costs double, synagogue dues are so high, it’s all kvetching and complaining – who needs it?”
The 63-year-old Breslever chassidic rabbi, who grew up in a Conservative home before making aliyah in 1970 and serving in the IDF special forces, believes that the heart of Judaism is emunah, or faith.
Next month, he’ll speak in Toronto and Edmonton as part of a North American tour.
At Toronto’s Beth Emeth Bais Yehuda Synagogue, he will discuss “How faith can enhance your life” (Tues., Nov. 13, 7:30 p.m.), and “Why are we losing so many of our children to the negative forces, and how can we help get them back?” (Wed., Nov. 14, 7:30 p.m.) Tickets are $10 at the door for each lecture.
In Edmonton, he will speak on Mon., Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Fantasyland Hotel. His subject will be “The ‘Rambo’ Rabbi – Discovering God from the battlefield to our daily lives.”
Rabbi Brody’s spiritual journey began after the First Lebanon War in 1982, when he survived a commando mission in Beirut. “There was no way of getting out of there alive,” he said in a phone interview from Israel. “And when I got out of there alive, I knew there was a higher power.”
As a ba’al tshuvah, he studied with an eclectic range of Orthodox rabbis, and received rabbinic smichah from Aish HaTorah in 1992. He was drawn to the Breslev philosophy, he said, because its founder, Rabbi Nachman of Breslev, who lived in the late 1700s and early 1800s, was “a doctor of the soul of all time.”
Rabbi Brody is a disciple of Rabbi Shalom Arush, whose books he translated from Hebrew to English. Rabbi Brody said that Rabbi Arush brings Rabbi Nachman’s teachings to the current generation.
Likewise, he said, he and Rabbi Arush offer “remedies for the soul” that affect “every phase of your life.” He cited happiness, personal potential, marriage and children as examples. Rabbi Brody’s third book, The Trail to Tranquility – his first in English – was published in 2010.
Growing up in a Zionist home, the Washington, D.C., native, whose late father was born in Winnipeg, prepared for aliyah by becoming a high school and college athlete, and studying agriculture at the University of Maryland. “I wanted to be a settler on a border farm,” he said.
He still runs, works out, and eschews processed foods. “I don’t put garbage in my body, and I don’t put garbage in my mind.”
Rabbi Brody said the Breslev community in Israel is “completely non-political, and we try to be the glue of society” to bridge gaps between different sectors.
His goal, he said, is not to bring people to his way of thinking, but to get them to be as much themselves as they can be, and to connect them to God. “Once you do that, I don’t need to interfere any more… The Almighty will tell you exactly what you need to do.”