Avi Golan was your typical secular moshavnik, raised in the lap of luxury on an affluent moshav surrounded by verdant citrus orchards. Avi and his brother Moshe, one year his junior, were the only two children of their enterprising parents, whose business interests extended far beyond their farmstead on the moshav.
Avi was twenty-three years old. He had completed his army service two years earlier, and was now bored to tears with his life. He had already satiated his curiosity of Israel’s natural wonders by touring and hiking the entire length and breadth of Israel, and now he decided to set his sights abroad, like practically every other Israeli young adult. Avi wanted to travel to remote locations in Asia, Africa, or even South America—and he wanted to take his younger brother Moshe along, too. After consulting with professional hikers and tour guides from all over the world, Avi and Moshe settled on a trip to the jungles of Africa. This was going to be the trip of a lifetime!
Two days before the two brothers took off for Africa, Avi spent an evening out with some of his old army buddies. Yossi Pelach, from south Tel Aviv, who had been the army division’s cook, also joined. But he was no longer the same Yossi; now his face was framed by a neat beard, and a large knitted yarmulke, embroidered with “Na, Nach, Nachma, Nachman” in blue thread, adorned his head.
As the evening progressed, the conversation turned to the meaning of the mystical words embroidered on Yossi’s yarmulke, and, as could be expected, the “discussion” soon evolved into a bashing of the “brainwashing that the Chareidim and rabbanim do to innocent guys, who then become baalei teshuvah“. Yossi was left alone to contend with Yigal from Kfar Shmaryahu, Baruch from Ramat Gan, Itzik the kibbutznik, and Avi. Truth to be told, Yossi didn’t have much ammunition with which to return the others’ fire. He had only become a baal teshuvah half a year earlier, and his knowledge of Torah and mitzvos was still rather scant.
Then, at a certain point during the conversation, Avi suddenly launched into a diatribe against G-d and rabbanim, using language unfit to be printed on paper. Yossi felt like he would explode with fury and was on the verge of a most unseemly reaction. To preclude any physical confrontations, he picked himself up and bid his friends a good night.
“May Hashem forgive you, Mr. Golan,” Yossi said coldly before he left. “And halevai, you should merit to do teshuvah.”
As he walked quickly away, Yossi heard Avi shoot back something about him going to Africa in a couple of days, and maybe there someone would convince him to do teshuvah. Yossi did not hear exactly who he was referring to, but whatever Avi said was enough to make the other guys burst into raucous laughter.
Avi and Moshe Golan landed in Africa equipped with plenty of maps, compasses, and a credit card, as well as sky-high motivation to conquer the jungle. They wanted to focus their trip on reaching locations that had not yet been tainted by civilization.
For three months they trekked through the deep forests, documenting everything they saw with their cameras, from herds of galloping elephants to fights between lions and deer, and rare birds against the backdrop of breathtaking canyons. They encountered local wild tribes, who at first treated them with suspicion. Luckily, though, the brothers quickly found favor in the eyes of the tribal chief, and instead of cooking them up in a huge vat of lime, he gave them gifts of bows and arrows and sent them on their way.
The Golan brothers were having a grand time. Everything was going really well. Until that terrible, reckless day.
Avi and Moshe were just about ready to return to Israel. They decided that their final trip in Africa would be on a motorized ATV (all-terrain vehicle) in one of Africa’s remote jungles. The two loaded up an ATV with gas and food, and with dawn, they took off at high speed towards the forest. As they rode along, they decided to explore a side path that branched off the main route. Moshe opted to go by foot to check out some interesting foliage that had appeared from seemingly nowhere, while Avi decided to see what was going on a bit further down the road.
Avi pressed on the gas as he headed towards a bend in the road, but suddenly, out of the blue, a huge giraffe galloped into view! He gasped in shock and began twisting the steering wheel in every direction, trying to avoid the giraffe. But it seemed that whichever way he turned, the giraffe did, too. If he didn’t know better, Avi would have said that the giraffe was intent on colliding with him. He slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. The ATV crashed headlong into the giraffe with a horrific boom.
Upon hearing the terrible noise, Moshe, just a few yards away, turned around…and nearly fainted from the sight. His brother lay sprawled on the ground, convulsing in a pool of blood. The giraffe was also lying on its side, obviously wounded and in pain. How was he to summon help? Moshe thought desperately.
He tried to resuscitate Avi, whose head was hanging at an impossible angle that Moshe found difficult to look at. With the aid of some bandages, Moshe succeeded in stanching the blood from several of the wounds. Then he ran back to the main path, where he noticed a rickety tourist bus chugging along. Desperately, he stopped the bus and asked the native African driver if he would take his brother to the hospital.
The driver was apathetic. “My bus is full of tourists,” he replied in broken English. “I can’t stop the trip.”
“But my brother might die!” Moshe cried. “How much money do you want?”
The driver suddenly displayed an alert interest, and a crisp $1500 from Moshe persuaded him to beg his passengers for forgiveness and make a detour to the side road where Avi lay. With Moshe’s help, the driver gently loaded Avi onto the bus and then set off for the small hospital in the rural African village.
Once in the hospital, Avi was stabilized, but he remained unconscious. His head was smashed and he looked extremely frightening. The Israeli consul arranged for Avi to be transferred by ambulance to the capital, and from there, he was airlifted by a medevac aircraft to a large medical center in Israel.
For three months, Avi Golan lay unconscious. The right side of his skull was completely shattered, and he had sustained a serious blow to his brain.
“Only a miracle will bring him back,” the doctor told Avi’s tearful parents.
After three months, however, it appeared that a miracle had happened: Avi opened his eyes. He seemed to grasp what was going on around him, although he was unable to utter a word. Only half a year later did he begin to enunciate some basic words, such as “Abba” and “Ima,” much like a baby learning how to talk.
Shortly thereafter, Avi was transferred from the hospital to a rehab facility, where he was to remain for an entire year and a half. During those endless days of forced silence, Avi thought a lot about life: his purpose in life, Who created the world and how and why He created it, and why this awful accident had happened to him. The questions he came up with, compounded with his inability to express himself, tormented Avi constantly.
A year after the accident saw some improvement in Avi’s ability to speak, and his physical condition had also improved significantly. One afternoon, out of the blue, two of his old friends, Yigal from Kfar Shmaryahu and Yossi Pelach, the baal teshuvah, came to visit.
As they were talking, Yigal suddenly pulled out his cell phone from his pocket. “Avi, remember that get-together we had before you flew to Africa? You guys won’t believe this, but I was playing around with the features on my cell phone at that time, and I ended up recording our whole conversation on it. Wanna hear?”
The recording was clear, and they could all hear their reminiscences of the army, the conversation about the “Na Nach” on Yossi’s yarmulke, and then, Avi Golan’s vulgar, arrogant monologue against Hashem…
Suddenly, Avi’s face turned white and he started shaking uncontrollably. “Did you hear that?!” he managed to croak.
He motioned to Yigal to back up the recording, as they wondered what had brought upon this violent reaction…
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“maybe in africa some native will make me do teshuva”, avi’s voice was heard sneering from the phone.”or maybe even a giraffe will knock me out and then I will wake up wanting to do teshuva”! Then the loud laughter of his buddies were heard. Back in the hospital room the three army buddies were speechless as they contemplated what they had just heard. yigal and yossi left the hospital in a daze epilouge: yigal avi and his brother moshe became full b’aalei teshuva and continued in the ways of hashem. yossi stayed a true follower in the ways of hashem.
“How sure I was of myself!” Avi buried his face in his hands and began sobbing. When he looked up his friends could tell that something had changed. “I thought I could take on the world and noone and nothing could stop me. All Hashem had to do was put a giraffe in my way and change my life forever.”
It began to dawn on Avi, that there were so many ways Hashem could have made him stop and take notice but he chose an animal going back to basic nature to let Avi know that even with all of today’s modern technology and all of our progress its easy to get sidetracked and fall into the trap of beleiving that man can achieve anything. Hashem reminded Avi that everything is, was and will be because of Him. If Hashem wills it, it will be.
Avi’s realization led to a transformation. He began looking at the world in a whole new way. Yossi continued to visit, mostly without the rest of the gang who didn’t seem to understand the path these two had chosen. When Avi was released from the rehab facility it was hard to say that he was back to his original self. Physically he was back to normal, but the old Avi would never resurface again. In its place was a man who had returned to his heritage and devoted his life to Torah and mitzvos.
Avi’s voice could be clearly saying, “I would never become dati unless G-d brought me back from the dead!”
In stunned silence, the three men looked at each other. Then in a broken voice Avi begged Yossi to teach him the Torah’s ways.
“May Hashem forgive you, Mr. Golan,” Yossi’s voice said coldly, “and halevai, you should merit to do teshuvah.”
“Yeh, maybe my grandad will come back from the grave and meet me in Africa and convince me to do teshuvah!” rang out Avi’s voice.
And then, after the burst of ruckus laughter from the other boys, an ethereal voice could be heard saying, “I will.”
“You see,” explained Avi, “I was extremely close to my paternal grandfather. He was a zookeeper. He wasn’t religious at all. And then, as far as we were able to tell, he went crazy. He woke up one day and told us all that the night before he had been at the zoo very late. He went to check on the giraffes because one of them was due to give birth. When he got to their enclosure, the youngest giraffe came up to him and told him that he must take a trip to New Zealnad and he had decided to go. We all tried to persuade him to stay, to explain that it must have been a dream. It’s not possible that a girrafe spoke to him. But he was adamant on following his giraffe’s orders.
He left a few days later. We could not seem to get a hold of him in New Zealand no matter how hard we tried. He seemed to have disappeared. We assumed there must have been some accident. My parents and uncle tried everything to trace him, but to no avail. We came to live with the knowledge that we would never know what happened.
And then, 7 years later we were contacted about his death. It was a rabbi from New York calling. He told us he would be accompanying my grandfather’s remains back to Israel. But, he wanted us to know what a special man grandfather was. That it’s not everyday that someone finds the strength to do teshuvah when they are in their late eighties.” Avi paused, as the other boys sat spellbound.
“I always held that rabbi responsible for the loss of my grandfather.” Avi’s voice quivered. “I knew he wasn’t the reason he died, but I did know that he was the reason I did not hear from my grandfather all those years. He knew that there was no way anyone in my family would ever be able to accept him as a ba’al teshuvah. My memories of my grandfather went from being warm and cozy to bitter. He had betrayed me and my family. I could never forgive him for that. I also knew that I would never be able to forgive that rabbi for brainwashing my grandfather, for making him into someone I couldn’t love.”
They sat for a few quiet minutes. “And now,” continued Avi, “he has come back to me. And on my initiative.”
After some subdued conversation Yigal and Yossi left. They speculated the affects of what they had just heard. There was no doubt that they would all be changed people from then on.