A new partnership between the Israel Defense Forces and the Aleph Institute has been launched to ensure that IDF soldiers on United States soil have immediate access to kosher food, religious materials, holiday supplies, and more.
The Aleph Institute (www.alephmilitary.org) services the unique needs of thousands of Jewish members of the US Armed Forces who are stationed worldwide, providing chaplaincy training, advocacy, religious materials and more.
Aleph’s military department fields hundreds of calls a month from members of all branches with requests for guidance, advocacy, and aid.
The new official alliance formed between the IDF and Aleph launched in September will enable IDF soldiers stationed in the US to benefit from Aleph’s services and programs.
“We have occasionally had the opportunity to service IDF soldiers stationed on American bases for training or joint exercises,” says Rabbi Elie Estrin, Aleph’s military liaison.
“We always did our best to serve them, bringing the same professional support and personal care that we strive to bring to every member of the US military. But this only happened in an ad hoc manner, due to a lack of any formal collaboration and communication with the IDF. It pained us that there were hundreds of IDF soldiers on US military installations whose needs were not being met because they didn’t know of us, and we didn’t know of them.”
When two Israeli Navy crews were stationed in the US earlier this year, a range of kosher-related issues arose. The chief rabbi of the Israeli Navy, Commander Rabbi Ofir Tubul, contacted the Aleph Institute, which helped with providing kosher food and holiday supplies for the IDF crews through its network of Jewish chaplains, military organizations, and local Chabad Houses.
Rabbi Tubul subsequently invited Rabbi Estrin to travel to Israel to meet with the IDF Chief Rabbinate to discuss official collaboration.
“The intent was that Aleph should become an arm of the IDF Rabbinate here in the US, so that IDF soldiers on US soil would have immediate access to religious supplies and care, just as if the IDF Rabbinate was present with them,” Rabbi Estrin said.
In September, he met with Rabbi Tubul, IDF Rabbinate Chief of Staff Colonel Avner Cohen, and several senior IDF rabbis at the IDF Chief Rabbinate Headquarters, along with Aleph US Army Reserve chaplain, Chaplain (CPT) Elisar Admon, a native Israeli and former IDF soldier as well as IDF chazzan (cantor).
After a tour of the IDF Rabbinate Headquarters that focused on logistics and operations, the group sat down to work out the details, while the IDF Rabbinate described the need for the partnership.
“Traditional observance of Judaism is extremely important to a significant percentage of IDF soldiers,” Lt Colonel Rabbi Neriya Rosental, Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Air Force said.
“Practically speaking, that means when our troops head to other countries, we have massive logistics issues to overcome regarding kosher food and holiday needs.”
“This is where the Aleph Institute comes in. Their knowledge of the US military systems and their relationship with Chabad shluchim and other non-Israeli resources allows them to service our soldiers in ways that we would do for them in Israel,” Col. Cohen.
The Aleph Institute said it is honored to assist IDF soldiers with their observance in a formalized manner. Alongside taking on new responsibilities, Rabbi Estrin pointed out that the relationship is mutually beneficial.
“We have a tremendous amount to learn from the IDF Chief Rabbinate regarding their deep understanding of unique halachic issues in the military, their world-class expertise in casualty identification and care for the deceased, and other such matters that concern the military rabbinate. We look forward to hosting them at our yearly symposium in Miami and learning as much as we can from them,” he said.
The partnership has already borne fruit — Aleph ordered a full-sized sukkah and several sets of lulavim and etrogim for IDF soldiers at multiple locations in the States. Efforts are also being made to translate the IDF’s halachic manual for soldiers, Torat Ha’Machane, into English.
Rabbi Sholom Lipskar, founder and executive chair of the Aleph Institute, expressed his enthusiasm and excitement about the organization’s desire to assist the IDF.
“Our support for the IDF is unwavering,” he said. “They must know that they have brothers and sisters here in the United States, and the Aleph Institute is proud to provide them with any Jewish assistance they need during their mission here. It is truly an honor to partner with the IDF Chief Rabbinate in providing soldiers with everything they need, spiritually and materially.”