Three years ago, I wrote about the Alon Hesder unit that had lost seven soldiers in the battle for Beirut during the Peace for Galilee operation, otherwise known as the First Lebanon War.
The article was about how Yossi Levy inspired his commanding officer Effi Margi to study Talmud decades after his death, and how the entire unit came to celebrate his siyum in Daf Yomi at Moshav Ramat Tzvi, thirty-three years later.
The unit recently met to commemorate 36 years since that fateful battle. Yaakov Levy, one of the soldiers, told me two stories, each of which speaks of a legacy.
Before Yossi Levy had left for that fateful battle thirty-six years ago, he had purchased a new pair of Tefillin, more mehudar than the ones he had gotten for his bar mitzvah. On a Shabbat he was spending at home, he received the order to return to the army. Not wanting to carry anything unnecessary on Shabbat, he just took his Tefillin, which he would need the next day. His father suggested he not take the mehudar pair, but Yossi said he didn’t buy them for them to sit in the cupboard.
When the family was sitting shiva, someone returned Yossi’s backpack, but it was empty. His Tefillin were missing and so was his camera, which he kept with him during maneuvers. After shiva, his brother Arieh, three years his senior, who was also in the tank corps (as a miluyim soldier) went to where the tanks were repaired.
“I asked them to show me Yossi’s tank, says Arieh. “I crawled inside and there, in a hidden space, I found the camera and Tefillin. The Tefillin had been burned, but we kept them as a remembrance of Yossi. The camera was in good shape. We had the pictures developed and they were all published in a book written about our unit.” The book, An Oak in the Storm was written by Israel Wolman. And the pictures, documenting the events, taken by Yossi, provide an invaluable historical legacy.
And of course, Yossi’s legacy of inspired learning continues as well.
Another soldier from the unit, Rabbi David Gavrieli is the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Neve Dekalim, Ashdod. The Yeshiva was originally founded in the southern community of Yamit in 1976. When Yamit was evacuated in 1982, as a concession to Egypt, the yeshiva was transplanted to Neve Dekalim in Gush Katif. And with the disengagement in 2005, it was once again uprooted. Although many cities vied to be the yeshiva’s new home, Rav Gavrieli decided to settle in Ashdod, a very secular city with a varied population that didn’t have a hesder yeshiva of its own.
During the yeshiva’s first few weeks in Ashdod, a woman asked the Rosh Yeshiva about making her son’s bar mitzvah there. The Rosh Yeshiva agreed and, out of curiosity, asked why she wanted to have it in the yeshiva. She said that she had been walking her dog on Friday night, and heard Kabbalat Shabbat in the yeshiva and it sounded so beautiful. She didn’t feel comfortable in a chareidi atmosphere and, as an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, she didn’t feel that a Sephardic minyan was right for them either. Her neighbor told her about the yeshiva and she decided it was a good fit. The boy’s father laid Tefillin for the first time with his son.
When Rav Gavrieli heard the story about the dog, he decided to go out to welcome the Sabbath queen literally. The yeshiva davens Kabbalat Shabbat outside and does kiruv at the same time. And far from complaining, all kinds of schools seek out the yeshiva for learning and inspiration.
The Amirim School, located 200 meters from the yeshiva started a chavruta program. They asked the yeshiva to send 12 boys to each learn with two boys in the seventh grade. The yeshiva boys prepare material on Judaism and religious Zionism and learn with the boys. “It’s a win-win” situation,” says the Rosh Yeshiva.
The yeshiva sees a lot of attendance from the not yet religious populations before and during the holidays. They come to learn and pray and to be inspired. The study hall is always full and it looks like Yeshivat Neve Dekalim Ashdod has come to the end of its wanderings, laying down roots while connecting other Jews to theirs.