Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Letter from Rabbi Zev Reichman to His Congregation

Dear Friends,
I am writing to you at the end of a day that was truly thrilling and
inspiring. On my flight to Israel, I read the edition of Time
Magazine with the picture of the Star of David on the cover. It was
more than merely depressing. The magazine strongly implied it
believed that Israel would not survive. The article claimed that
there was no solution to Israel's problems. Between terrorists like
Hamas who try to attack us wherever we are and the fact that there
are more than five million Arabs in the land between the
Mediterranean and the Jordan, the magazine claimed that Israel cannot
survive as a democracy.
Today I experienced why the article is wrong.
I began the day in Alon Shvut. Rav Rimon and I joined Gabi Nachmani
from Livnot Ulihibanot and we set out to go south to give some love
to our soldiers who are fighting so bravely in Gaza. Rav Rimon has
invested tens of hours in this project. For the last week he has
constantly been on the phone with soldiers to try and determine what
they really need. He has heard from many units that they are cold.
Israel has historically waged its wars in the summer. The last war
in Lebanon was in July. The Six Day War was in June. Even the Yom
Kippur War was in October. Israel is not conditioned to a war during
winter. The soldiers in Gaza are reporting that they are very cold
at night Rav Rimon then found out that pairs of thermal, polartec
gloves and undershirts, as well as thermal neck warmers would really
make a difference for the soldiers. He found the manufacturer and it
turns out that the maker of these products has a son who is serving
in Gaza. This man, Aharon Gantz, was so moved by what we wanted to
do that he provided the products to us at cost. Our shul sponsored
the purchase, and Rav Rimon and I went with Gabi this morning to pick
up 1,000 pairs of thermal gloves, (the army typically only buys these
gloves for the most elite units), 1,000 pairs of thermal neck
warmers, 80 thermal socks, and 80 thermal undershirts. Aharon was
most moved by the fact that a shul in New Jersey would subsidize a
gift of such utility for soldiers. He said to me, "This is the nice
part of our nation. In times of crises we all come together.
Nothing can stand in the way of this unity. This strength is what
will defeat all our enemies."
We then headed down to Gaza. Gabi found a way for us to avoid the
military police and through back roads we arrived at a base about a
kilometer away from Gaza. When we arrived there we found the officer
in charge of logistics and we told him that we had brought gifts for
the soldiers - gloves, neck warmers, special cards with chapters of
Tehillim on them and packages that the children in our shul packed.
He was very happy with the gifts. He told us to follow him and he
actually took us to the staging grounds where the soldiers are
entering and leaving Gaza, about 400 meters from the fence that
Israel has broken through to enter Gaza city. We spent almost 4
hours with the hundreds of soldiers who are entering and leaving Gaza.
As we arrived, a group of thirty soldiers returned from Gaza. They
had been inside for 10 consecutive days. That is ten days with no
showers or changes of clothing. Ten days dodging mortars and
snipers. Ten days conquering territory and avoiding mines. For the
tankists it is ten days of not leaving a tank. Imagine what it would
be like to spend ten days in a row in a car without the ability to
leave it. Now imagine ten days in a tank. These soldiers were dirty
with sweat and mud. Many had battle paint on. The officer gathered
them and Rav Rimon and I spoke to the troops. The Rav gave them
words of encouragement. He pointed out that each of them is engaged
in a mitzvah activity protecting the Jewish people from enemies. He
pointed out how many miracles our nation is receiving. For example
think of the story of the soldier who woke up in the middle of the
night in a school and noticed a chord and saved 150 of his friends
and so many other stories that we must be thankful for. He then
introduced me to the soldiers. He pointed out that I had come from
the US in order to convey our community's love for the troops. I
spoke with the soldiers about the great unity that now fills our
nation. How in Englewood, New Jersey, in our shul our kids gathered
on Shabbat and each child prayed for one soldier. I told the
soldiers how we all bless them and pray that Hashem send his angels
to protect them and lead them to success. I told the soldiers how
God is one and whenever we become one here below we merit feeling the
presence of the One above. Finally we hugged each soldier and
thanked him for protecting all of us through his service. We then
started to hand out all our goodies. The soldiers were ecstatic.
They were so thankful for the gloves and the neck warmers. They
eagerly took our tehillim cards and chocolates, which now helping to
sweeten a very difficult time for thousands who are fighting for our
state. Undoubtedly, the favorite gift of all was the packages from
our kids. The handwritten cards were the most precious item. Each
handwritten letter meant so much. Soldiers told me they treasure
those simple displays of caring. As one told me, "The most wonderful
thing is the handwritten note. When we see that Jews elsewhere in
the world care and are writing to us it warms our hearts. This gives
us the strength and support." We could not leave. We spent hours
with the soldiers talking and davening, learning with them and giving
out thousands of thermal items, but we also were receiving a great
deal, more than words can ever describe.
We then went to Sderot. In Sderot, two officers came to meet us.
These soldiers are with a unit of paratroopers of very young
soldiers. They are still in their first year of army service. They
never expected to be sent into hostile territory. However, they are
deep inside Gaza and this unit of eighty soldiers has already had
five wounded members. One of their members, their commander, was
wounded by a mine. When the others went in to evacuate him, one of
the soldiers was hit with a sniper's bullet from a hamas terrorist.
The bullet penetrated his ceramic bullet proof vest and entered his
chest. They thought they had to do a surgery on him in the field
because they did not think he would survive long enough to arrive at
a hospital. In the end he was airlifted to Tel Hashomer and operated
on there. There was a great miracle. While the bullet broke through
the vest, it ended up flying through his body and missing his heart
and lungs. The bullet left his body and he is recovering nicely.
These boys are very young and are having a difficult time. For them
we got gloves, neck warmers, socks, and undershirts. Since they
still have two years of army service they wil certainly use these
gifts well after this war ends. They repeated their invitation to
Rav Rimon and me. When the war ends they plan to make a large party
of thanks to Hashem. They want us to come and speak at that meal
when the warriors will be honored.
We met with other units and we helped them as well.
Finally we loaded the car with fifty pies of pizza and headed back to
the front. We arrived at a base of paratroopers and tankists who
were returning from Gaza. By now it was dark out. We started to
distribute the pizzas to the soldiers; it became a yom tov. There
was such joy! Soldiers, who are really just kids, they are nineteen
and twenty years old, surrounded us and asked us to sing and dance
with them. They all had tehillim they had taken from Breslov
chassidim and they wanted to dance and declare that "Yisrael betach
bahashem, Israel trust God, ezram umaginam hu, He is their help and
protector, anachnu maaminim bney maaminim, we are believers sons of
believers, viain lanu al mi lihisha'ain elah al avinu shebashmayim,
and we have no one to rely on, we can only rely on our father in
heaven." Rav Rimon then jumped on a van and gave the soldiers a
short talk of encouragement. He then introduced me. I turned to the
soldiers and told them, "Today was Rav Rimon's birthday, he did not
even realize it but when he did, he said to me, `my present was
getting to spend an entire day running from group of soldiers to
group of soldiers to give them gifts and encouragement!'" When the
soldiers heard that they all burst into song. They pulled Rav Rimon
into a circle and from their depths of their being they sang
together, "Yisrael betach behashem ezram umainam hu anachnu maaminim
bney maaminim viain lanu al mi lihisha'ain ela ela al avinu avinu
So let Time Magazine claim that Israel has no future. They have not
experienced Jewish unity. When Am Yisrael is together, when soldiers
are singing and dancing of their faith, we will survive, we certainly
Zev Reichman

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