I’m writing as a Jew, yes, but also as a newcomer to Torah-observant Judaism.

On June 17,2020, during the height of the Covid lockdown, I received my bar mitzvah at the age of 74 via a Zoom video call with Chabad Rabbi Levi Gerlitzky, here in Kona, Hawaii. I had only known him a short time, and when I made it known to him that I wanted a bar mitzvah, he instructed me to purchase my very own pair of tefillin.

We had an ongoing arrangement that he would engage with me in Torah study over the telephone on Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. We had had several sessions, but on this day I had received my own pair of tefillin.

Rabbi Gerlitzky instructed me on the proper way to bind myself with the tefillin, which I did. At the time I knew absolutely nothing of Hebrew. The rabbi further instructed me to repeat after him, and he slowly read phrases that I now know as the Shema. I’m very sure I botched the pronunciation badly, but I got through it. At the end he congratulated me and proceeded to sing and dance, clapping his hands and moving rhythmically over the Zoom call – a truly great moment in my life.

I grew up in a family of secular Jews in a wealthy suburb of San Francisco; as a kid I had no Jewish friends and knew nothing of Judaism.

As a youth in the ‘60s, I was profoundly lost. Since Judaism was absent from my life, I was in a state of spiritual emptiness and became fascinated with a new, highly narcissistic philosophy that was sweeping the minds of young people who, like myself, had no grounding in religion. It was very seductive. There was marijuana, LSD, “free love,” and a sense that the norms of society could be readily discarded because we were the enlightened ones. The rock music told us that we were ushering in the New Age – the Age of Aquarius. It was heady stuff.

At the time I had no moral grounding. Like a person caught in quicksand, I began to sink, but in my mind I thought I was rising.

I decided to take the “New Age” concept seriously and see where it would lead me.

My life began to unravel. I dropped out of college. I got married, but the marriage ended quickly. I became isolated because I never had a sense of belonging to any group of “New Age” individuals, then known as hippies. As a confused young man seeking truth, I became attracted to writings regarding, ironically, an ancient sect of Jews – the Essenes. But there was no Judaism in the writings, just references to their dietary practices and their prayer observances known as angelology. I fasted on water many times in the desert around Palm Springs, but no revelations came. I became depressed and entered into what must have been a psychotic state, wherein I lost my ability to relate to people. Whatever self-awareness I had had, I lost.

Then someone handed me a book titled In Search of the Miraculous. It contained exercises to gain self-awareness, illustrated by an arrow pointing in two directions: one toward oneself and the other to the object or person to which one was relating. This concept became my god. I would hold what amounted to two thoughts in my mind at once – the focus on oneself objectively, and the focus on the other.

In this way, I started to extract myself from the deep pit.

I came to Hawaii and continued living an immature and irresponsible life. I married again to a woman with whom I was highly incompatible. I just wanted to escape my loneliness. When she became pregnant, I immediately sought to become a responsible person, since in no way did I want my offspring to follow in my footsteps. I found a profession. Though not suited to my nature, it provided me with resources to lead a life resembling normalcy. I became attracted to a certain talk show host named Dennis Prager, who would often speak of Judaism and its moral and spiritual teachings. Step by step, that led me to the point where this piece begins: my Zoom bar mitzvah officiated by Rabbi Gerlitzky.

In beginning the study of Torah, I learned that G‑d created the world through the expression of Hebrew letters. I studied some Kabbalistic teachings, and I learned that there was nothing in existence apart from the Ein Sof - the Divine Infinite. He contains all, and as humans, our profound feeling of separation from Him is a mirage created by Him for His Divine purposes.

Unlike animals, who merely exist, we humans have the ability to enter a state of non-being – that is, while absorbed in our random thoughts focused on our egos, to our subjective self we actually cease to exist.

In essence, as humans we are ‘talking spirits,’ and, while sincerely engaged and focused in prayer, we begin to exist again.

In listening, simply focused and listening to the sounds which create existence, one can begin to exist again. And one’s tears will dry with that focus.

Hear O Israel, the L‑rd our G‑d, the L‑rd is One.