Humble Beginnings

Isaac Tamir - May 28, 2019

I grew up in Miami Beach, but my parents are originally from Israel. My father served in the IDF and was a war hero. My parents moved to Florida and connected with Chabad almost immediately. They were always observant, but they started out more Mizrachi/Modern Orthodox and became more religious, more Lubavitcher as I grew up. All my sisters went to Lubavitcher schools.

In the middle of 8th grade, I went away to study in Michigan. I was in a very hardcore Lubavitcher yeshiva. We only spoke Yiddish there, no English. All the exams were in Yiddish. Very hardcore. Between 8th grade and college, I had no formal secular education whatsoever. I didn’t have a high school diploma and didn’t go to college, but I had Semicha (Rabbinical Ordination).

My First Job

After I got married, I started working for my wife’s uncle (Mendy Merel — the owner Mendy’s Deli). He has six locations and I basically opened the one in Rockville Center. The work was horrible. I liked the fact that there was meat because I liked meat and my wife didn’t know how to cook. She had to look up how to hard-boil an egg. But otherwise, I hated working there. I was so bored in the deli; I was spending 5 hours a day pulling my hair out. So, I decided to work out. And I did — several hours a day. I got buff, but I was still bored out of my mind at work. I felt like I was wasting all my potential.

Law School

My mother and sister were on a mission to get me into law school. They literally sent in applications for me to various law schools. They even applied for the LSAT for me and I found out when they told me one day that I’m taking the test at Touro on this and this day. I felt it was moving too fast, but I was so bored in the deli, I went with it.

I’ve always looked up to lawyers. The legal profession always seemed very appealing to me, but at the same time seemed unattainable for me. I didn’t have a high school diploma, I didn’t go to college, I didn’t have anything. But my mother told me, “You have Semicha, that’s a degree in the Hebrew language, it’s like a BA.” So, I decided I’ll see what happens.

Taking the LSAT (Law School Admissions Test)

I probably got the lowest LSAT score in American history. I don’t think any college ever took someone with such a low score. I didn’t read fast enough; it took me three minutes to get through one question and they only allotted a minute and a half per question. I was only half-way through the last section of the exam when the proctors called time and I handed my exam in.

The Law schools said, “Oh, so English is your second language.” And I think about it and I say, “You’re right, it is my second language.” Touro Law school informed me that I was accepted but stated that “You’re starting off on active probation, but we’ll take you because your study schedule is very impressive [I was studying from six in the morning to nine at night], and that’s going to take you a lot further than the ability to read English.” I was ecstatic.

Money to Live On

So, as I said, I was ecstatic. The impossible had suddenly become possible. But now I wasn’t working, and I wondered, “What are we going to live on?” I was in school all day, my wife Avigail was also in school. “How do we do this?”, I thought. So, Avigail and I got a job in a school for the disabled. We were given the Shabbos shift and one night during the week, which worked out because we were both pretty busy the rest of the week. We would go in on Friday night and work until Saturday night, and again on Tuesday night. We made seven hundred dollars between us, and that was what we lived on.

Getting a Weekend Job

It was funny because the first couple of places we interviewed with for weekend jobs were only looking for male counselors. At one organization we visited, they told Avigail, “We’ll give you a title, and you’re welcome to tag along, but we’re not going to pay you.” And she lost it. She was like, “Excuse me!! You’re not going to pay me? For work? Is my time any less valuable than my husband’s time? How does this work exactly? Is this for any female or just me!?” She lost it and I was like, “I’m with her.”

But then we went to an offshoot of Mishkan, which was a human-care service. We met a lady over there; she was such a feminist. And Avigail pitched her, “How can your staff not consist of couples coming in on Shabbos? You want this to be a home, and every home needs a man and a woman taking care of the family. If You want it to feel like a family, you need to have a man and a woman, not like some bungalow colony or campsite of guys doing their thing.” And they were so taken that they said, “Oh, yeah! From now on we’re only taking couples for Shabbos.”

Mishkan is a center for adults with Autism and other mental health challenges. The individuals we worked with were especially high-functioning. On top of that job, we also both took on waitering jobs on weekends when we had off. We would drive or take a bus to Williamsburg on Friday afternoons, walk back to Crown heights at midnight after waitering all Friday night, and I would walk in on Shabbos day to waiter during the day, in the Pupa Shul on Bedford Avenue. We did this for six years, during which time we had three children.

Rabbi of the Law School

I loved law school. I was like the Rabbi of the law school. I always had very good luck with food. On my first day in law school, I walked into the kitchen looking to refrigerate my food. I asked to speak to the Mashgiach (the rabbi that supervises the kashrut status of a kosher establishment). They were all, “Ohh! You know what, we actually need a Mashgiach! Our old Mashgiach, blah blah blah, he can’t do it anymore, and we really need a new Mashgiach. Would you like to do it? You’d have to come in twice a day, and we’d give you free food and twenty-five dollars a week.” I was like, “Free food! Hell, yeah.” I’d have done it without the twenty-five dollars. I also did the benediction at the graduation.

Today

Today, 15 years later, as I look back, I am filled with so much gratitude for so many reasons. For my family, all the relationships that I made along the way, and of course to G-d. As I meditate on this, it keeps me humble.