A photo of Akiva "The Believer" Wharton

Akiva "The Believer" Wharton

Huntington, New York, USA


There is a faith which comes as a child because they teach you. There’s a man with a beard and you outgrow that and it becomes meaningless. Then something happens in your life and your heart breaks open, it’s shattered. And because it’s broken open, it’s available. Then you find that there is a living God in the universe. I found that. But the heart had to break open for me to feel that.

When I was about 22, my sister committed suicide. My father who had never said a Jewish teaching in his life said, ‘It’s time for you to visit Israel. I have had enough with America. Let’s see what they have for you.’ I had no Jewish education so I wasn’t headed to the Holy Land. I was in the Jezreel Valley one day, alone. I suddenly heard a voice that said, ‘Am here.’ I turned around and there was no one saying anything. And then that voice said, ‘Am really here, I exist.’ And my whole life changed. I choose to say that this was God speaking to me...trying to wake me up.

Daniel’s Reflection

When I met Akiva “The Believer” at a Jewish Renewal conference, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here was a guy in Hasidic dress with beard and payos [side curls] leading Shabbat prayer services, rocking out on tambourine and drums. How grateful I am that I then got to hear the depth of his story—his sister’s suicide at age 23; his father sending him to Israel out of desperation for his other child. And the story of Akiva’s own heart breaking so that he could be open to his own spiritual awakening.

So many spiritual awakenings happen after a great tragedy or pain or sin. I can only speak for myself—that my old self had to prove thoroughly flawed and powerless before I was willing to let go of it. I’ve heard it said that the first step of buying a new car is giving up on the old one! As I’ve gone around the world for this project, I have to admit I’ve been jealous and in awe of the small handful of individuals who, without crisis, received the message that they were infinitely connected to God, that they were loved completely, and that all would be well—just as it needed to be in God’s universe. It seems that most of us, like Akiva “The Believer,” need the nudge (or the earthquake) to wake us up and prepare us for a change in consciousness.

I wish for everyone to get the wake up call that each of us needs so we can become our better selves.  

Back to the interview