Photo Credit: Courtesy of the author and approved for publication by the IDF
The author and Rabbi Reuven Brand.

“I’m landing at 1:30 and coming straight to you,” read the WhatsApp message I received from my dear friend and colleague Rabbi Reuven Brand, the rosh kollel of the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel of Chicago.

Rabbi Brand and I have known each other for nearly 25 years, having spent time learning together in Kerem B’Yavneh here in Israel. About a year or so ago another of our close friends from Yavneh, Gabe Seghi, put together a small WhatsApp group of a couple of guys from our year. Its membership has grown since, and we post on it from time to time, usually photos of when we see each other or hear about each other’s exploits. It’s been a wonderful way to stay in touch. And since the war broke out on October 7 and I was called up, I’ve also used it to communicate what has been going on with me in my service.


I was called up late morning on Simchat Torah to report to my gedud (battalion). I had recently been brought back into the service by one of my closest friends, Elad, who also happens to be the commander of this gedud. He was my company commander when I was a soldier in the Givati Brigade nearly 20 years ago, and after we made aliyah he offered to have me join his unit riding alongside him as his radioman. I couldn’t pass it up.

Yachsam Nachal Commander Elad Carmel thanking Rabbi Reuven Brand for his community’s tefillot and support.

The gedud I am in is a new creation in the IDF called the Yachsam. It’s a special logistics unit that is designed to play a role on the brigade level, stepping in where regular infantry would have to resort to more complicated assistance from central command. My gedud is a diversified group of reservists specializing in several different areas of expertise, from evacuating and treating the wounded, to small, elite military assignments, and also resupply. For the last three weeks, nearly non-stop, I have been riding alongside my commander as we run daily (nightly really) convoys in and out of Gaza to resupply the forces of our Nachal Brigade with everything from water, food, and goodies, to the more critical items like fuel and ammunition.

Resupplying an entire brigade with heavy tanks and other armored vehicles in the middle of Gaza is not a simple matter. We’ve come under fire more than once, and the work is hard, usually lasting several long hours, and is usually performed in the dead of night with limited to no lighting. How to get the armored vehicles of an entire brigade refueled and resupplied over the course of a single night is a major challenge and logistical feat, especially when we can’t always determine how long it will take to get to our destination due to maneuver and activity along the routes.

Our first mission was a 25-hour ordeal. Ever since, we’ve learned and become far more efficient. The overall success we have had is in no small part due to Elad’s leadership, not to mention his outstanding company commanders. Somehow, they have masterfully and adroitly made it work. It’s exhausting, it’s exhilarating, it’s terrifying all at once, and it is also extremely humbling to share company with such incredible giborim – heroes – and to resupply and interact with our brave forces who are exhausted but who manage to continue to fight. These soldiers are inspiring and each night I see them I am more inspired than the previous. I don’t know how I was zoche to fill the role I’ve been handed but I feel blessed beyond words to be able to ride and work along with some of the most incredible giborim I’ve ever seen.

These are the updates I was sharing with our WhatsApp group, keeping them abreast of what we were doing. Then Rabbi Reuven Brand reached out to me telling me how moving my updates were and how he was coming to Israel next week and how he would really like to see me. I was excited see him, but the likelihood of the timing working out to meet him was minimal, considering I don’t know from day to day when we will be running a mission. There are road blocks on the way south toward the Gaza border and we didn’t know if he could get past them. Additionally, the last few convoys we had been running took place toward early evening so I might be gone by the time he even got there. We tentatively planned to meet up Monday afternoon after he landed. Sure enough, we got word that morning that we would be headed out that afternoon. Not looking good for a meet-up.

I wrote to Rabbi Brand that it wasn’t looking good and between connecting flights he responded: “I’m coming. I have a Romanian salami for you. Hope to see you be”H.” I sent him a location of where to meet me, where our staging grounds were to be, and we hoped for the best. I even sent him a short Hebrew narrative of what to say if he were stopped by a barrier so they would know that he had gifts for the soldiers and should be let in to see me. (I didn’t know if he had gifts, but I did know that I wanted to see him and I was very interested in that salami!)

The hour drew near and though his flight landed and his driver took off toward our location, it was going to be close. Suddenly he calls me and the person at the other end of the line is speaking in Hebrew. I realized it was a soldier and I went into the rehearsed routine telling him to admit him when I realized that the soldier was telling me that Reuven was in the wrong place. Waze had taken his driver to the wrong location! It looked like we were not going to meet up in the end. Reuven was relentless and pushed on despite my warnings that I might not even be here by the time he arrived. Nevertheless, we hung up and I hoped.

About a minute later it was announced that the convoy would be delayed. We were waiting for another unit to arrive and we had at least an hour. I couldn’t believe the hashgacha. I called Reuven back and told him not to rush, and that I would see him soon.

He arrived shortly after and we embraced. I couldn’t believe he had made it and he couldn’t believe that he was less than five minutes from the Gaza border interacting with soldiers who were about to go in. Suddenly he pulls from his cab a duffle bag filled with individual packages for soldiers and begins to distribute them. The soldiers were so moved by this generosity and also when they learned that he had literally just landed and came straight here to see them. I then introduced him to Elad, and wherever we went the soldiers were excited not just to receive the small parcels but also to hear the American rabbi speak his fluent Hebrew in his very distinct American accent – and to hear Reuven tell them how countless American Jews are praying and learning and doing everything they can to support them.

Before leaving Reuven handed me a salami and told me “This is for you.” I had never had a Romanian salami and before leaving to the staging area I had one of my friends pack us a knife and some baguettes to make sandwiches just in case this little rendezvous worked out. We said our farewells and with literal tears I thanked Reuven for coming and he couldn’t stop thanking me. “To be able to see this, to see you, to see our soldiers, our heroes, I think was the zechus of a lifetime.”

Shortly after our convoy made its way to our destination, deep within northern Gaza. At around midnight during a lull in the work, I pulled out Reuven’s salami and started making a sandwich for myself and others. Once people started eating it there were requests for more. Before I knew it, the salami was gone. I don’t know how many sandwiches I made but I know we had a lot of happy soldiers in our gedud. We completed our mission and made it home safe. Before going to bed I texted Reuven the following:

A soldier from the Yachsam unit enjoys a salami sandwich, courtesy of Rebbetzin Zisook, and the Chicago Jewish community.

“Thanks for the salami. I brought baguettes and a knife and basically polished it off. Nothing like Romanian salami sandwiches from Chicago and a birkat HaMazon in Gaza. Zechuyot for you. And for me, first time enjoying Chicago red meat in over 20 years. What a treat. Love to all.”

The next morning I woke up with a text message from an old chavrusa of mine, also from KBY. Rabbi Joshua Zisook, from the Hebrew Theological College, texted me a screenshot of my message to Rabbi Brand and wrote: “The salami was from my wife.”

“What?!?!” I wrote him back. I knew there had to be a bigger story so I asked him what he meant. He sent me the following voice message:

“You’re not going to believe this. Okay, maybe you will, but my wife bought that salami. When she heard that Rabbi Brand was going to Israel on a mission, she felt she had to do something special for the chayalim, so she went out and bought Romanian salami. I told her, ‘What are you buying that for? You don’t know who is going to get it, you have no idea where it’s going to end up. Why are you buying that?’ She said to me: ‘That’s not my job. My job is to buy it. Hashem is the shaliach and will get it to the right person.’”

She saw the screenshot and asked me if this Akiva Weiss was related to Rabbi Willig. She had no idea that you were that Akiva Weiss and that she ended buying salami for my chavrusa.”

She also had no idea that her generous gift of a salami would help feed a gedud, and give extra strength to the chayalim working in the dark in the dead of night in the middle of Gaza to get their fellow soldiers rearmed and refueled.

Such is Klal Yisrael and so is Hashem’s hashgacha: We just need to do our part, and then we can rest assured knowing that Hashem will do His.

From the entire Yachsam Nachal 933 – Thank you!


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Rabbi Akiva Dovid Weiss made aliyah with his family in 2022. He is a Torah educator in the Old City and Bar Ilan University. He can be reached at [email protected].