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Rabbi Rambo

By Susan Silverman

The automatic station scanner in my car radio locked in on FM 106.7, Israel's Channel 10 radio station. Channel 10, an orthodox owned and operated station, is not exactly my taste in radio, but since I was negotiating some dangerous curves in the westbound descent of the Jerusalem highway, I couldn't fiddle with the radio dials.

The time was 9:30 pm on a balmy Thursday evening, prime time for Channel 10, when all of Israel is in the kitchen preparing food for the upcoming Sabbath, and listening to a favorite radio program in the background. "Welcome to the Avraham Geva show," chimed a happy-sounding voice with some bubbly klezmer music in the background. "Tonight's guest is Rabbi Rambo!"

"Rabbi Rambo?" I thought to myself, what kind of joke is this?

A pleasant, more serious voice began to speak. "Good evening to our radio audience. I'm Avraham Geva, and this evening I'm privileged to host a distinguished guest whom most of you know and love, former Special Forces commando, Rabbi Lazer Brody…"

"Impossible!" I yelled at the windshield. Everybody knows that ultra-orthodox rabbis don't serve in the army. My preconceptions, knocked into me by typical Israeli prejudice, were soon shattered into a zillion tiny pieces.

My hour-long drive from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv seemed to transpire in seven or eight minutes. I was literally glued to the broadcast. Brody is known affectionately as a street rabbi, since he prefers to be accessible to people from all walks of life rather than limit himself to the confines of a closed congregation. With the agility of a major-league shortstop, he fielded questions from listeners on everything from marital difficulties and child rearing to business problems to complaints from depressed soldiers. The callers were a cross-section of Israeli society; Brody seemed to have perfect rapport with each and every one. I'm not a judge of his rabbinical knowledge, but his mastership of a myriad of secular subjects was nothing less that remarkable. Even more so, his voice was warm and loving, treating every caller like respected royalty.

The minute I arrived home, I picked up the phone and dialed Channel 10. Fortunately, Geva hadn't left the studio. I identified myself and was subsequently connected to Geva. "Thank you," I said, "that was some program! Tell me, is that Rabbi Rambo of yours for real?"

"You don't know the half of it," Geva commented. "Why don't you call him directly?"

I jotted down Brody's home phone number. "One thing I will say," added Geva, before he hung up the phone, "Brody is probably the only Chassidic rabbi in the country who can talk to Orthodox, Conservative, or Reformed Jews, soldiers and kibbutzniks, and even Arabs. He once settled a feud between two hostile clans in the village of Tira, east of Kfar Sava, and I know that he has friends in at least a half a dozen other villages. I'll tell you another little secret: In the late seventies, he spent a lot of time as a military advisor to the Christian militias in Southern Lebanon, so the Christians admire him too. The guy simply loves humanity."

I had to meet this Rabbi Rambo Brody character; my journalist's nose smelled something brewing. A personality like Lazer Brody can't remain anonymous for long. That same evening, I phoned him and made an appointment to interview him.

* * *

I was feeling a bit mischievous; I know that Chassidic men don't shake hands with women, but I wanted to put Rabbi Rambo to the test, just to see how "cool" this guy really is. I knocked on the door of his modest office in the coastal city of Ashdod, and extended my hand. "Hi, Rabbi. I'm Susan Silverman." Neither baffled nor embarrassed, Brody flashed me a warm smile, reached into the right pocket of his long black gabardine, pulled out a halva bar (vanilla, my favorite - how did he know?!), and placed it in my open palm. Wow, I thought to myself, he really is smooth! He made me the best Turkish coffee I ever drank, and made me feel like an honored guest.

* * *

Brody is a combat veteran of two wars and tens of anti-terrorist missions, and has twice received citations of honor. Although very tight-lipped about his military past, he nods and flashes a shy grin, acknowledging that he received his nickname of "Rabbi Rambo" for his part in a near suicidal mission which led to the destruction of four deadly Russian-assisted terrorist rocket batteries in West Beirut, 1982.

When the Israel-Lebanon conflict erupted in 1982, he was among the first to be mobilized. While fighting in the streets of Beirut, he developed a burning spiritual thirst. Soon after the war, he left his farm on the Samarian ridge to study Torah in Jerusalem.

Nine years of intensive Talmudic, ethics, and legal studies, led to his rabbinical ordination in 1992. He devoted another two years of postgraduate study to personal and family counseling. After several years of pioneer work as spiritual rehabilitation director for inmates of an Israeli prison, in 1998, he became the understudy of the renowned Melitzer Rebbe, a contemporary giant in rabbinical law and personal counseling.

His rare combination of Special-Forces experience and rabbinical education has rendered him a leader in the field of high-stress situation counseling. In addition to Channel 10, Brody is a popular guest speaker on two other Israeli radio stations. Shmuel Ben-Attar, general director and producer of Kol Ha'emet, Israel's popular Sephardi owned and operated radio station, told me the following story:

The night before the last elections in Israel, tensions were dangerously high between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, and between religious and secular Jews. Rabbi Ovadiah Yossef, the "Rishon Letzion", or head Sephardi rabbi of the world, put an urgent call through to Ben-Attar, at the "Kol HaEmet" studio. "Find Lazer Brody, and put him on the air - immediately," ordered Rabbi Ovadiah, "he oozes brotherly love; he'll calm everybody down."

Brody is an emotional and spiritual bomb squad. His warmth and sincerity combine with his professional skills to diffuse explosive situations. During the course of our interview, he fielded telephone questions about handling a wife with post-natal depression, calming down a child who'd seen a car accident, and making peace between an irate longshoreman and his wife. My head was spinning just from listening. "How do you it?" I asked.

"I'm nothing," he replied modestly. "I close my eyes, and ask Hashem to put the right solution in my brain."

* * *

Gradually, the word about this remarkable emotional therapist with his unique system of therapy is leaking out of Israel. Rabbi Brody's method - known as "SAC", or "spiritual awareness counseling", enhances self-realization, inner strength, and healthy interpersonal relationships by way of spiritual growth. He's saved dozens of marriages. In the past three years, he has counseled in the USA, Canada, England, and the Ukraine. A Brody admirer - actor, singer, and director David Soul, known best for his Starsky and Hutch days - says, "Brody's not the sole property of the Jewish people. He belongs to humanity. The 21st century badly needs him."

Brody's first two books, Pi Habe'er and Naphshi Tidom, published in Israel, have helped thousands of people from all walks of life add meaning to their lives. His latest book, in English, is entitled The Trail to Tranquility, and is slated to appear on the North American bookshelves this coming year. We all look forward to it.

(translated from the Hebrew Original)


from the October 2003 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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