If asked to describe the typical American the description would undoubtedly resemble something of a blonde girl drinking her Starbucks iced coffee, starting every other sentence with an overused “OMG”. It’s an easy character type to draw up in the mind but we all know that behind every white picket fence there’s always more to the story.
The same goes for the typical Israeli.
People think Israelis have a body makeup of 30% blood and a full spoonful of 70% hummus. They assume that all Israelis are incredibly blunt, unapologetic, and opinionated people who live day by day hoping the sun will rise again tomorrow.
When I set out to learn more about Yitzchak Elchanan, I was able to understand who he is beyond these stereotypes.
My goal exactly.
I come into a juicery located at the front of Shuk HaCarmel, to get my usual celery infused, apple bottom jean, ginger twist, lemon tang, son of a B!** kale, green juice, every other day.
“ALLO (Hello) MIKA”, “MAH-KOREH (What’s up) MIKA”, “AYYYYYYE MIKA!!!!”
This is the warm greeting I’m graced with every time entering the juicery. The man shouting at the top of his lungs is Elchanan himself.
Elchanan’s cheerful yelling always matches the energy of the juicery with its loud music, bell ringing, singing, and dancing. While I can tell it draws in a large crowd, I can also tell you it’s not ideal for a first name introduction.
My name is Nikki, not Mika, but it was always too loud for Elchanan to realize that. I never took it personally though. In fact, I didn’t correct him for almost a full year. It felt borderline rude and most definitely awkward, but most of all, at the end of the day the name he had called me had no interference with the pure kindness I felt from Elchanan. He made a foreigner like me feel welcome and a part of this extremely close-knit community, that is Tel-Aviv.
One day when I was just passing through to get to another place, I saw Elchanan sitting down for a midday break. I thought it was the perfect opportunity to clear up the whole “name thing”, and of course say hello. After a chuckle or two, we got to talking about just how much a tiny detail, such as someone’s name, can tell you about a person.
The Genesis of Elchanan
Elhanan was born, raised, and is still a resident of a moshav located close to the city of Beit Shemesh. On his farm, alongside chickens, rabbits, and pet birds, he was raised with six brothers and two sisters— talk about a full house!
As the eldest child of nine, Elchanan was blessed with a unique upbringing living in a moshav mixed with Secular Jews, all while attending a school for Orthodox Jews. His early exposure to two completely different ways of life made him open-minded and tolerant of others from a young age.
Still part of a widely criticized community within Israel, Elchanan always stood tall, abiding by the customs similar to those of any other ordinary Orthodox family. He was expected to learn Torah, keep Shabbat, and respect the commitment it takes to be an Orthodox Jew. However, at the age of fifteen things started to look a little different to Elchanan.
As a devoted member of a religious community, Elchanan’s father raised his children to follow in his footsteps until they reached the age of fifteen, at which point he decided they could choose their own path. Considering his options, Elchanan wasn’t exactly in a hurry to rid himself of his past, but working in Tel-Aviv, meeting strangers every day, and bringing a smile to their faces wasn’t a frightening thought either.
Today Elchanan wakes up every work day at 5:30 am to catch a bus that takes him roughly one and a half hours to Tel Aviv, just to make it in time to see those happy faces. With minimal sleep, he uses the positivity around him to recharge his inner battery and power through the day. His dedication to work at a place that means early mornings, long travels, and hectic days, shows his commitment to following through with his self-made decision of leading a life away from Torah studies.
Elchanan says that work isn’t all fun and games though. He admits it takes a beating on him. However, as quick as he was to mention how much of a toll it takes on his body, he was just as quick to make a note of how much it has added to his life. Taking on the challenge to feel more comfortable in an environment unlike his upbringing, and pushing himself to be more energetic and talkative, working at this juicery has been more than just a job for Elchanan. It has given him the confidence to step out of his shell which has also provided him with the reassurance that living a more secular lifestyle was the right decision for him.
But the question left on my mind was what did all of this mean for his relationships back home?
Because of the many other relationships I’d heard of between ex-religious Jews and their families, I jumped to the conclusion that Elchanan’s decision would lead to a story of burned bridges. But I assumed wrong. Elchanan still sees the beauty in his religious background and even made sure to emphasize that above all else. To Elchanan, his religious beliefs and devotion to prayer are like what a childhood stuffed animal is to the rest of us— it feels nostalgic and comforting. Still living at his parent’s home, he maintains his connection to religion by observing Shabbat, where he spends his day hiking in nearby woodland areas, eating, sleeping, relaxing, and avoiding all the forbidden fruits of Shabbat.
It’s important to mention that out of all the members of his family, Elchanan feels closest to his father. It’s a striking piece of information when you think of how polar opposite their life choices are, but it’s not so shocking when you think of the mutual respect and inner strength they must share. So, while everyone calls him Elchanan, his father is the only one in the world who calls him Yitzchak. Being one of the first facts I learned about Elchanan it is also one of my favorites. It once again shows how you can learn so much about a person and have a story come from just the tiniest details such as a name.
From First Impressions to Lessons Learned
It’s easy to see how much love Elchanan has for life. For someone to realize there’s more to life than just what you’re born into and for someone to spread joy without asking for any in return, shows Elchanan’s desires in life are pure. This is something everyone should and can take inspiration from. While I already had a sneaky suspicion you can get inspiration from anyone, anywhere, Elchanan is someone who has proven that to be true.
Being in Israel where divisions are large, and there are many untold stories with a barrier to get to know one another’s pains, paying attention to little details may be a powerful way of getting to know one another. I know at least for me, taking the time to get to know Elchanan has been inspirational enough for me to continue on this mindset to never presume someone’s past self and future abilities.
Thank you Elchanan.