Big Mike’s profile has been featured on JewishTelegraph.com, by Rivkah Lambert Adler
Mike Gondelman took a lot of hits before he found his life’s purpose.
He claims to have been molested by his school principal from the age of eight until he was 12.
Those in authority did not protect him from his abuser. Disillusioned by all the horrors and negativity in the world, he became an atheist at age 11.
He turned to alcohol and drugs to cope with the pain of life, and although he played a good standard of American football, his inability to stay sober cost him the chance to play professionally.
Today, he has taken all that angst and turned it into a powerful story of healing to inspire others.
Gondelman grew up a Conservative Jew in New York, but despite a clear memory of the ubiquitous JNF blue boxes in his parents’ and grandparents’ homes, he says he had “no real firm grasp on what it meant to be Jewish”.
A family trip to Israel in 1999 began to clarify the question of his Jewish identity.
The trip was marked by a new view of Jewish history, one that could engender Jewish pride. However, given that he wasn’t yet sober, his first trip included a party every night.
“I had a hole inside me,” he said. “What happened to me literally destroyed me inside. Drugs were the answer to dealing with the agony. With drugs, I didn’t have to think.”
Recovery required him to find God again.
Gondelman is a big man, standing over six-feet tall and weighing more than 28 stone; people everywhere call him Big Mike.
In order to stay sober, he needed to find a God that was stronger than he was. Thus began his journey to find a God he could believe in.
As his search progressed, he recalled, “everywhere I looked, Judaism was at the core.
“If you want to find out what Judaism is all about, you have to get to the core, which is in Israel.”
It wasn’t until he was sober and returned on a Birthright Israel trip in January, 2001, that the country’s power hit him fully between the eyes.
“Israel gave me a sense of Jewish pride,” he said. “It was always home to me. I knew when I got here that this is how I want to live my life.
“People help each other here. There’s a camaraderie here . . .
“We’re a huge family. It doesn’t matter if you’re a secular guy in Tel Aviv eating cheeseburgers or a charedi guy in Mea Shearim.
“Every single day, you see Jews helping each other all the time. We’re all connected.”
He lived in Israel on a student visa for eight years, studying Torah at the Ohr Somayach Yeshiva in Jerusalem and began his life’s work as an addictions counsellor.
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