I, Zev Porat was born in Israel, raised in Bnei Brak – considered the most ultra-Orthodox city in Israel. There famous Rabbis live and thousands of men spend their entire life studying in the yeshivot (rabbinical schools).
To religious Jews, our ancestry is very important to us. So here is mine: My father, grandfather and ancestors were rabbis. Some were “dayans,” meaning “judges of rabbis.” My grandfather, Rabbi Pinhas Porat, escaped from the Holocaust in Poland. As he fled, he helped two women who were sisters escape with him. One sister died on the way and the other became my grandmother.
My mother wasn’t born into a religious home. Her father, Zev Goldman, was a member of the Knesset in the Likud party – now headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. But when she met my father, she was ready to become part of the ultra- Orthodox community.
My father was offered a position in Los Angeles to be principal in a Hebrew day school and Rabbi of a synagogue in southern California.
One day when we were leaving school, a group of Christians stood across the street handing out tracts and Christian literature.
My father was furious and told us to stay away from those people because they were dangerous. He told me that God would be angry with me if I just mentioned the name of Jesus because it was blasphemy and against Judaism.
I remember growing up being particularly scared of two things – the name of Jesus and pork.
After junior high my father sent me to a very Orthodox yeshiva – a rabbinical school – called “Emek” in downtown Los Angeles. I wore black clothes with the shtreimel, the big black hat, and peias, the long sidecurls.
My father and grandfather - the whole family - was expecting me to continue the tradition of becoming a rabbi - the most honored profession by far among Orthodox Jews.
But I never actually wanted to be religious. It was just too difficult for me, too intense with rules, rules, rules, and I begged to go to a public school. My father finally agreed on condition that I study in the afternoons at the synagogue.
I didn’t really connect with the kids in public school as I was “the rabbi’s son,” and not allowed to mix with the outside world. So I grew up without many friends.
Then my father suddenly died of a heart attack and we returned to Israel and buried him in a special cemetery in Bnai Brak – where rabbis and religious soldiers are buried.