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Wednesday, February 28, 2024 - 19 Adar I 5784
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True Life

From his earliest childhood Uri Dunner liked to think about the meaning of life. He grew up in the southern Israeli town of Omer, part of an idealistic, educated society. Uri  followed that track and excelled in his studies, but they did not succeed in answering the questions buried deep in his soul.

When he was somewhat older, the family moved to Herzeliya, and Uri was accepted into  a prestigious engineering school, under the auspices of the University of Tel Aviv.  It seemed that nothing would stand in the way of a promising career for him, much to the delight of his parents.

However, at a certain point he surprised himself. The inner emptiness that he had always felt on a minor level intensified. They reached a point that actually interfered with his studies. Uri felt that he must discover for himself the meaning of life, but he did not know where to seek it.

What opened the way for him to the world of spirit was a physics instructor. This instructor was also an expert in yoga. He drew in Uri with his warmth, and Uri would spend many hours in conversation with him, conducting dialogues on the meaning of life.

Uri's father watched in dismay as Uri's grades declined and he lost interest in his studies. His father blamed the teacher, and he even complained to the school administration about the mysticism  with which this teacher filled Uri's mind. This led to the teacher being dismissed. However, the results were the opposite of what was expected. It only intensified Uri's loss of interest in his studies, which did not meet his needs.

Uri did continue with his studies. Like most of his friends he became a reservist, which allowed him to defer his military service in order to study in the Technion in Haifa. But his heart was not in it. Without his father's knowledge, Uri stayed in contact with that physics/yoga teacher.

During a vacation after his first semester in the Technion, Uri flew to Thailand at the advice of his teacher. He entered a  convent as a "spiritual inductee."

In Thailand, Uri had two surprising experiences. The first was an intense spiritual longing that gripped him one day, which he could not describe in words. Later he realized that the day was Yom Kippur.

The second experience was a piece of advice that he received from one of the chief gurus in the convent. "Don't invest yourself completely in meditation," he told Uri. "Live a normal life, and return to us occasionally for a spiritual lift." Unintentionally, this advice was what saved Uri from complete immersion in yoga and meditation. He returned to Israel with the intention of attracting some of his friends into a life of spirituality.

One of his friends, who noticed Uri's intense longing for spirituality, put him in touch with a Chabad chassid named Rabbi Shmuel Frumer.  What impressed Uri the most was that Rabbi Frumer had patented several physical inventions based on the Torah he studied. The synthesis between the physical and spiritual appealed very much to Uri.

Through Rabbi Frumer, Uri was exposed to the world of Chassidic teachings, which were like a breath of fresh air. He felt that he finally had the answers to the deep questions that had plagued him all his life. At a certain point he visited to the Chabad yeshivah in Safed for more intense study of Torah. He was strongly encouraged to remain as a full-time student, but Uri explained that it was impossible.

"The army is sponsoring my studies  in engineering, and will assign me a job when I finish in the Technion. As soon as they find out that I transferred out of that program, they will draft me on the spot." But Rabbi Frumer did not give up. "Let's write to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and see what he says."

Uri had already heard about the greatness of the Rebbe and agreed that he would act according to his advice.  This was in middle of Tevet (1994), when he received a positive answer of the Rebbe to remain in yeshivah.

Uri entered the yeshivah with a long ponytail. His friends from the Technion were sure he had lost his mind. However, Uri was not intimidated by the stares and continued in the yeshivah.

And what about the army? In a surprising development, a labor dispute broke out in Uri's college and a strike was declared, which lasted for 77 days. During this time, Uri's absence from school was not noticed and not reported to the draft board. Thus, Uri was able to continue his studies in yeshivah uninterrupted, with no fear of the draft.

During those 77 days Uri underwent a drastic change, both internally and externally. The long ponytail came off, to be replaced with the hat and beard of a chassid. Uri dedicated hundreds of hours to the study of Torah and Chassidism.

When his sabbatical came to an end, his rabbi in yeshivah, Rabbi Moshe Orenstein, advised him to return to the Technion. He completed his studies in engineering, seeing himself as an emissary of the Rebbe in the field of technology.



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