Ethan Benenson// Hunterdon County, NJ
Berel Solomon was born and raised in Montreal, Canada in a secular home. In school, he got involved with drugs and eventually started dealing them. After getting jumped and violently beat up, he turned to the nightclub business. Although Solomon found a great deal of success organizing parties, he felt there was still something missing from his life.
That’s when he started getting involved in all different kinds of religions and faiths, to the point where he was begging his parents to go to a Buddhist Ashram. Instead, they encouraged him to talk to the Rabbi, and that’s when his life was completely turned around.
Upon rediscovering his Judaism, Solomon found what had been with him all along, yet he had been looking for his entire life: Hashem. Soon after he went to Yeshiva in Israel and came back a changed man as he fully embraced orthodox Judaism. Recently, he gave a talk about his experiences and life story at the 2022 INTL Shabbaton. These are my top eight takeaways from that discussion.
8. Using Your Jewish Name is Powerful
Berel Solomon didn’t always go by Berel—his secular name was Ryan. He talked about the power of using your Jewish name and how its meaning connects to a part of your character. By using your Jewish name in public, you express your Jewish pride and identity on a whole other level, and that is why it is so empowering for us to do so.
7. Drop bombs of Jewish pride
One of the most important things to Solomon is being loud and proud about one’s Jewish identity. While much of the world uses violence and horrific weapons, we rather are equipped with our faith in Hashem and the power that comes from it. So we should express our Jewish pride publicly in as many ways as possible, because Judaism is not just for the synagogue; as the motto of this year’s INTL Shabbaton says, you can be Jewish whenever, wherever!
Tefillin is a powerful mitzvah that every Jewish boy can do. Solomon talks about how it can connect you to Hashem in a very special and personal way. Doing it every morning (except for Shabbos) brings blessing and empowerment to a person through the rest of their day.
5. The only real truth is Hashem
Solomon spent much of his life searching for happiness and contentment in money, women and drugs, but in the end he realized that the real truth lies in Hashem. The wisdom and teachings of Judaism are what brought him fulfillment, not these external things that only led him into destructive loops. Therefore, rather than searching for happiness where it certainly cannot be found, Solomon’s advice is to look within yourself where Hashem and your Neshama have been since the day you were born.
4. Yeshiva is not a brain-washing operation
When Solomon approached his parents asking to go to Yeshiva, they thought that it was a frightening brain-washing operation. But Solomon flips that around; for him, Yeshiva washed his brain. It helped him cleanse himself of all the confusion and bad influences that had plagued him throughout all of his existence up to that point. Going to Yeshiva showed him the true path to fulfillment and leading a better life, and he urges all Jewish teens to do the same.
3. Never stop moving forward and persevering
Although this one is kind of cliche, it’s one of the ultimate takeaways from Solomon’s success story. There were many moments throughout his life where he was on the verge of giving up, but by holding out for just a little longer, he was able to find success. For example, he spent a long time on Jewish dating apps searching for the right woman to marry. It had gotten to the point where he thought he would never find a wife…until he got a message from a woman in Panama. Next thing he knew, he was on a plane to meet her, and soon after that they were married. They now have three children together.
2. Trust in Hashem
All of his life experiences show Solomon how Hashem is always watching over and protecting him. If everything did not happen the way it did, Solomon may have reached the same place he is in today. If he had not gotten beat up that one night he may have never come out of drug dealing. If his mother had not suggested that he go to the Rabbi as a final resort he may have never discovered fulfillment and truth. If he did not find that woman from Panama when all hope seemed lost, he may have never gotten married. There are many “if’s” such as these throughout Solomon’s life. In hindsight, he recognizes that within all of these “coincidences”, Hashem’s hand is clear. That is why he urges everyone to have faith in Hashem, because with some perseverance and patience on your part, Hashem will always ultimately lead you to where you need to be.
Giving charity is one of the most important mitzvot. It not only helps people in need; it also brings blessing to the individual that is giving it. Solomon makes sure to give plenty of tzedakah because he recognizes how much Hashem has given him, and he wants to continue to give to more people.