By COLlive reporter
The 60 year-old Lubavitch Chossid who frequently walks Tel Aviv’s bohemian Dizengoff street does not resemble a criminal.
Bearded and wearing a long black Kapota, Rabbi Yankale Baruchman is headed to deliver another Torah class to local merchants.
Attendees vividly remember his past, but that does not stop them from greeting him with a smile and listening to his words.
“It always gives us chills,” says Nissim, an electronics store owner who didn’t give his surname.
“I know him for many years and we have gone through a lot,” he told Israel’s Channel 1 TV in a profile of Baruchman.
It was from his store that Yankale Baruchman operated an extensive drug and narcotics business some 20 years ago.
Out of a store with a display of appliances such as ovens and washing machines as a front, Baruchman led a high-stakes life and was a constant target of Israeli Police.
“I was high on the ecstasy of power and drugs. I felt as if I ran the world,” he recalled in an interview.
All this came to a halt during a deal that went bad in the Netherlands.
Baruchman was to have pocketed thousands from a deal, but a client ran off with it, leaving him humiliated and helpless.
“I promised Hashem, if I get 100,000 Gilden I will abandon this kind of life; I will become a baal teshuva and move to Jerusalem,” Baruchman said.
“At 5 am I heard a knock on the door. A Dutch friend walks in and asked if I know her friend. I said yes. She said: ‘I stole 100,000 Gilden from my friend’s safe. Please hold it for me. I’ll be back.’
“She left (to get more) and I left (to Israel).”
But his promise to change his life was forgotten as soon as he returned to Israel.
“I kept doing crazy things and was (eventually) arrested. When they brought me to the police car, I told them: I’m not getting in without my Tefillin.
“They said: You? Tefillin? With G-d? You’re not embarrassed?
“I told them: I’m not embarrassed and I’m not going without Tefillin.”
From then things went uphill for him – all from his jail cell.
“I recovered from drugs and became an instructor for Narcotics Anonymous. When I was released, I had already begun keeping Torah and Mitzvos. Slowly I became a useful Jew.”
Today, married with children, Baruchman lectures students and youngsters at risk about the dangers of drugs and addiction.
As an alternative for addiction, he offers Chassidus.
“Learning Chassidus puts you on a ‘high’ without a ‘down’ and without ruining people’s lives,” he tells them.
His autobiography in Hebrew, “A Lion Without Teeth,” elaborates how his former life was empty and dependent on artificial boosters.
His friend Nissim agrees. “This is the best thing that could’ve happened to him. He’s now calm and understands what life is about.”