From near death to a Minyan lifer

Story by Ezy Finkel

Today, Ezy’s heart pumps only two things: clean blood and pure love for Minyan. As he tells the next generation of participants, “Nothing makes me richer than being a Minyannaire.”

“My story isn’t special. My angel is.

“I grew up in Lakewood when it was just Lakewood. There was nothing going on, the streets hummed with the bore of suburbia, and meaningful activity was hard to come by.

“When my natural love of adrenaline intersected with the physiological and communal stressors of adolescence, I was turned onto a darker side of Lakewood: the pill-popping fringe.

“My family only knew bits and pieces, so I was shipped off to Israel like most of my peers. The freedom of a distant land and a nearby teen trap set me up for a roller coaster of drug abuse that lasted well into adulthood.

“I returned home from Israel at age 19. Drugs came and went for me, never far out of reach. My identity and sense of self were in tatters, and community felt like hoist and shackle. I didn’t belong, wasn’t too proud to show my face in public, and generally thought I was an outsider who had to act amenable.

“I once remarked to a friend how I wished there was a place where we could daven, hang out, and just feel comfortable being ourselves. Shul was out of the question, and there were no other answers. Lakewood “didn’t have” street teens like me; it certainly didn’t cater to such a demographic.

“My friend knew of Rabbi Chaim Abadi and said he would be the perfect person to create such a haven. That’s how Minyan Shelanu started, with a cluster of 10 close friends who would meet at Rabbi Gissinger’s shul after the regular minyan would disperse.

“We all held down day jobs, so we would meet, pray, smoke, eat (each day one of the guys would bring breakfast) and head out to work. Chaim gave me a job at his own company, and for the first time in years, I had a home.

“But stability wasn’t my strong suit. I was abusing drugs, and my coworkers noticed. I bothered the people around me, took things from the business, and harmed Chaim in ways that bring me shame… And yet, though I had to leave his company, Chaim stood by me, never allowing me to fall off the wagon.

“Throughout my harrowing journey and many run-ins with overdose, Chaim remained my one constant—the one person in the world who created an oasis where I could always return. Because when you’re with Chaim, you simply feel safe and okay.

“Fast-forward a number of years. I was already married, with kids, living in Israel. I was still suffering from bad addiction issues and my life was in chaos. When death came calling in my own home, Chaim was the guy who dropped everything, picked himself up on a random weekday, and flew down to save my life. He lifted me from the floor, hugged me like I was his pride and joy, and enrolled me in a strict rehab program.

“Not many people stuck with me. But Chaim always has, and that’s what Minyan is at its core: that sacred interpersonal space between its members where no fall, slip or misdeed can ever discredit any one of us.

“Chaim was also there to celebrate my gains and progress. He attended my graduation, danced long into the night at both my weddings, and remains my guardian angel to this day. I am alive because of him. It’s that’s simple.

“I no longer live in Lakewood, but still speak with Chaim multiple times weekly. I feel so connected to his Minyan that I attend the annual Shabbaton just to take part. If I walk into the Minyan building today I probably won’t know most of the kids. But it’s still my first home.

“I am fortunate enough to have a second home as well, in Brooklyn, with my beautiful wife and children. She is the most supportive person in the world, with selfless character traits that remind me of Chaim. We attended the January Shabbaton together, and she said she would really like it if I drove into Lakewood once a week to volunteer at Minyan. Because seeing what they do for children was simply giving her chills.

“I don’t know what good I have done to deserve either of these two miraculous human beings in my life. But I know that for so many teens who are struggling, Minyan is still there, just waiting to invite them in.

“Chaim means life. And if I had to guess, I would say Abadi means angel.”