web analytics
April 25, 2014 / 25 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Spa 1.2 Combining Modern Living in Traditional Jerusalem

A unique and prestigious residential project in now being built in Mekor Haim Street in Jerusalem.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

A Call to Arms: the Blessing of an Israeli Army

They didn’t have to ask twice – I was there.

Haredi soldiers of the Neztah Yehuda Battalion fight for Israel while maintaining Torah study in the army,

Haredi soldiers of the Neztah Yehuda Battalion fight for Israel while maintaining Torah study in the army,
Photo Credit: Sultan/Flash90

Share Button

When I was applying for a job working for Rav Adin Steinsaltz back in 1990, one of the questions he asked me was whether I had served in the Israeli army. Assuming the rabbi was from the haredi camp, and because I had just come from years in the yeshiva world, I provided the answer I thought would surely win me points. I told him how I had cleverly avoided being drafted, even though I had lived in Israel for many years.

To my horror and embarrassment, this was the wrong answer. In his quirky kind of way, only partially visible behind the smoke pillar rising from his pipe, he told me of a man he knew, a survivor of the Holocaust, who had been subjected to Nazi medical experiments. Both his arms had been taken off his body and reattached upside down. The man made aliyah and desperately wanted to join the IDF but was rejected because of his handicap.

The man trained day and night, teaching himself how to hold and operate a rifle, to the point where he was ultimately accepted not just into the army but into a sharpshooter squad.

Having finished the story, Rav Steinsaltz looked directly at me and asked, “And you are proud you got out of the Israeli army?”

The following year I was drafted again, at the time of the first Gulf War. They didn’t have to ask twice – I was there.

Our unit was comprised of a bunch of folks known as shlav bet (second rate), all religious and hailing from America, Europe and Israel. Our officer, a chiloni (non-religious person) from Tiberias, had never met a shomer Shabbat Jew before – let alone yeshiva bachurim, Chabadniks, and who knows what else thrown together in this misfit unit.

It was cold and windy in the middle of the winter at our base deep in the West Bank. None of us had the stamina for this kind of thing. Our officer was clearly frustrated with our morale, quipping “In this army we have the proud Givati and Golani army units, but you guys are the Gevalti!

And then everything changed. We were to practice throwing live hand grenades and had been given strict instructions not to pull the pin until told to do so. Suddenly we head a yell. A guy who couldn’t see his toes because of the size of his belly had pulled the pin without being told to do so, and when the officer screamed at him he dropped the grenade – whereupon it bounced forward off his stomach.

Without any hesitation, our officer dove onto the grenade. Did it matter to him that we were religious and he was not? Did it matter if we were from the political left or right? No – we were his brothers living with him in the Land, no questions asked.

As we all realized what had happened (thank God the grenade was a dud), we fell on our officer, weeping like babies.

From that moment on, the green IDF uniform became my new Jewish star worn by heroes and by my family, no questions asked.

A week later, our graduation tekes (ceremony) took place. The head officer told us we were all to sing Hatikvah or there would be severe consequences. As we stood there on the same hill our forefather Jacob slept on when he dreamed of the ladder, I began to daydream about our God-given homeland of Israel and what a blessing it was to be here.

I held a rifle in one hand and a Tanach in the other as the music for Hatikvah played. All the men – beards, payos and all – sang from the bottom of their hearts. All the men but me. I couldn’t make a sound. I was frozen in the awesomeness of the moment. The officer noticed I was the only one not singing and started coming straight at me. At that moment I burst out crying. I was so happy. I was so moved. I was so proud.

This feeling came back a second time when one of my children was accepted into an elite unit of the Golani forces. Attending his tekes up north, with burning logs in the middle of a cold night and hundreds of angels-in-the-form-of-soldiers taking their oaths, I spotted some other fathers I knew, also from the “yeshiva camp,” whose kids were there. The light in those fathers’ faces revealed their deep inner joy.

If I were a great rebbe, I would tell the yeshiva world to volunteer for the IDF by the tens of thousands. Take control of the kashrut and Shabbat situation (which really isn’t so bad to begin with) and show your less religious brothers how much you love them. Tell them you’d even dive on a grenade, if need be, without a second thought.

At the same time that you enter into their world, invite them to your world – to the bet midrash; to your home for Shabbat; to your rabbi’s drasha; not to “make them religious” but to open your world for them to better understand from where you are coming. This will unify the Jewish people. Our number one weapon is unity. The day the yeshiva boys go to the army and the army comes to the yeshiva, put on your Shabbat clothes because Mashiach will be here.

Share Button

About the Author: Gedaliah Gurfein moved from New York to Jerusalem in 1974 and received rabbinic ordination in 1979. He has been a teacher at Aish HaTorah and Israelite, both in Jerusalem's Old City. Since 1992 he has worked in Israel's high tech sector and with film media. This article originally appeared in Kol Chevra. For more information, contact emunawitt14@yahoo.com


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

Leave a comment (Select your commenting platform)

6 Responses to “A Call to Arms: the Blessing of an Israeli Army”

  1. Ch Hoffman says:

    and yet, the heads of the Haredi world make life impossible for any of their people who go into the army

    because, as far as the heads of the Haredi world are concerned, if they can't control and totally dominate some issue or institution, it is ipso facto treif

  2. Basha Kline says:

    When such an article comes to light as this one by Edaliah Gurfein, one is so moved by the survivor of nazi experiments that you wonder how much sickness within the minds of those nazis could be so accepted by their peers – We came back with a vengence, even though they thought we could be eliminated – we came back like the brooms in Fantasia, onward and upward and no matter how much the Jews bear the brunt of hate, often with such generosity, it is the enemy that is consumed.

  3. Yechiel Baum says:

    This should be shown throughout the world to Rabbis sitting in Yeshiva stealing money from students so they don't have to work for a living that these brave men are practicing the Jewish religion and serving HASHEM's ARMY!

  4. Alan Ash says:

    What a great beracha to be in the Israel defense forces . the haredim should be ashamed of themselves .

  5. Alan Ash says:

    What a great beracha to be in the Israel defense forces . the haredim should be ashamed of themselves .

  6. This is a Mitzvah D'Orayta… if someone wants to kill you, you have to at the very least defend yourself and we have millions of Arab enemies in very close proximity that want to kill us, what bigger mitzva could there be than to LiKadesh Shem Shamayim, for Kiddush HaAm and Kiddush HaAretz and proudly serve in Tzahal.

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Loading Facebook Comments ...
Loading Disqus Comments ...
Current Top Story
Will Starbucks hire Boycott Movement officials when they find themselves out of work?
Starbucks-SodaStream Link Would Help Destroy BDS
Latest Indepth Stories
Students in Israel get computers to assist in their schoolwork.

Day schools can have boys and girls participate in the same online class but they don’t meet or interact in “real time.”

Richard Falk, FORMER  United Nations Human Rights Council’s Rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories.

Jews so hostile to their own people they’ve spun out into the orbit of rabid anti-Israeli and pro-Islamic radicalism.

Breaking the Fw:Fw:Fw Chain

Rav Pam said we must realize that God has no pleasure from such negative speech.

NIF support for BDS groups, writes Black, also included acting as a “go between for other donors….

Brandeis, which had to have known about her record of criticism of Islam, pulled the honor after pressure from a Muslim advocacy group and a number of faculty members and students.

Wherever I was invited around the world, I always met with people and let them know that I wanted to hear great stories.

R. Hadaya strongly argues in favor of establishing a festive day in commemoration of the establishment of the state of Israel.

The Palestinian Authority has jailed more than 350 Arabs for “security” reasons in just 2014.

Since Torah is the great equalizer, the great reconciler of divergent but valid opinions, this is also the place where common ground is reached.

Some American Jews feel their community has been hijacked from within by groups waging war against Israel seemingly in the name of the Jewish people.

Jerusalem only seems important in the Islamic world when non-Muslims control or capture the city.

Jordan’s king is adding fuel to the fire on the Temple Mount, blaming Israel for violence by Muslim Arab rioters.

At Brandeis, much of what counts as Western civilization got cold feet and won’t stand with Hirsi Ali.

But the lesson from this meditation is that hidden behind the anti-semitic act is the greatest light.

More Articles from Gedaliah Gurfein
Haredi soldiers of the Neztah Yehuda Battalion fight for Israel while maintaining Torah study in the army,

They didn’t have to ask twice – I was there.

    Latest Poll

    Now that Kerry's "Peace Talks" are apparently over, are you...?







    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/a-call-to-arms-the-blessing-of-an-israeli-army/2013/12/12/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: