Hero Lives On Through IDF Torah Scroll Restoration Project

— by Toby Klein Greenwald

At the age of 17, boys in Israel receive their first draft notice. A fly on the wall can hear them discussing animatedly, with their friends, the units to which they hope they will be accepted. There are units whose names conjure up extra “prestige” — like the Shayetet (Israel’s Navy Seals), Duvdevan or Maglan.

But the most coveted assignment, for young men of sharpest wit and strongest body, is Sayeret Matkal — the General Staff Reconnaissance Unit. It is an elite special forces unit of the Israel Defense Forces, a commando unit that carries out the most dangerous and courageous operations, both in Israel and beyond its borders. The Entebbe rescue, in which commander Yoni Netanyahu was killed, was carried out by Sayeret Matkal. Even to be invited to what is called the “gibush” — the first intense level of screening — for Matkal, as it is called colloquially, is a badge of honor, and only a select few make it past that initial stage.

More after the jump.

In the Lebanon War of 2006, in which 44 Israeli civilians and 119 IDF soldiers were killed, the name of one man who belonged to Matkal stood out above the rest — “Moreno.” He was the highest ranking officer to die in that war, and the operations he performed during his career were so highly classified and so secretive that, to this day, it is not permissible to publish his photograph.

Moreno fell in combat towards the end of the war in a complex and secret commando mission, against the Hizbullah, in the Bekaa Valley. Among his commanders and his soldiers were those who compared him to Bar Kochba. One fellow soldier said, “James Bond films pale in comparison to Moreno.”

Who was Moreno?

Lt. Col. Emmanuel Yehuda Moreno was born in France in 1971. His family made aliyah when he was a year old and he grew up in Jerusalem, attending religious high schools and belonging to the B’nei Akiva youth group. He studied in the pre-army yeshiva military academy Eli, completed a degree in Law while he served in the IDF, and also worked for the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), before he returned to the Matkal unit. He was married with three children.

According to a 128-page book, Silence is Your Praise, published in his memory, he worked constantly on his character traits. The book’s chapters include: Belief, Kindness, Religious Observance, Leadership, Modesty, Truth and Dealing with Crisis.

In an powerful Jerusalem Post column of August 22, 2006, Caroline Glick describes not only Moreno’s heroism, but his humble behavior, how he lived quietly with his wife and three children in a moshav near Sderot. Shaul Mofaz, former minister of defense, who had been Moreno’s senior commander in Matkal, described how he heard, after Moreno’s death, how Moreno and his wife, Maya, lived modestly, and helped four or five other families from his paycheck. Mofaz also said, “Emmanuel was a man of stature; an officer, a leader, but also an individual of iron will.”

In a series of interviews on the Moreno website, “M”, one of his comrades in arms, says, “He was one of the most talented warriors who ever lived in Israel. I think the comparison to Bar Kochba, [the leader of Jewish revolt against Rome between 132 and 135 AD], made by one of his commanders, is accurate. I’ve known many fighters, but I don’t think the Jewish people ever had one like Emmanuel — for both his faith and his heroism… He never thought about himself, only about the big picture.”

In 1994 Moreno took part in a sensitive military operation in which Mustafa Dhirani was captured by the IDF, in his family home, in the heart of Lebanon. Israel TV Channel Two reported that, at one point, Dhirani had held missing IDF pilot Ron Arad captive, and it was believed that his capture might lead to information about Arad. For years Dhirani would sleep with a loaded gun under his pillow. When the sayeret burst into his bedroom in the middle of the night, he didn’t even have time to pull out his weapon.

Member of Knesset Avi Dichter, a former soldier in Matkal, says, “He was one of the sayeret of the sayeret — a member of a group that was the most elite even from within the Matkal unit. There is no way of knowing how many lives were saved by some of the operations [in which he was involved]. A lot of glory that nobody knows about and apparently will never know about — is related to Emmanuel’s abilities.”

Naftali Bennett, today a front runner for the Bayit Yehudi party in the Knesset and a hi-tech business guru, who served with Moreno, says, “His value system was different. Generally, people have regard for people who have succeeded, who’ve made money, who have a degree, who have military ranks on their shoulders. With Emmanuel, all that didn’t count. What was important was if you’re a good person, how much you help, how much you care about the people of Israel.”

Bennett spoke to him a few days before he died. “He said, ‘This war will wake up the nation, will cause the nation to understand what’s going on…I had the impression from him that he was preparing for something, I had no idea what it would be or when… I was impressed by his calmness…I think about him all the time, ask myself what he would do in this situation or that…and I hope it will help us to be better individuals.”

His brother, who fought in the same unit, said that the last time they spoke, Emmanuel said he knew this was a difficult war and it would require a human toll, “And we spoke about the fact that we both have families, children, but if we had to, we were ready to sacrifice ourselves.”

Another brother, Rabbi Shmuel Moreno, says, “Emmanuel, like his comrades-in-arms, was a sealed vault – he took the key and threw it into the sea.”

Medals and Decorations

Lt. Col. Emmanuel Yehuda Moreno was awarded the Jerusalem Prize for Jewish Heroism by the Jerusalem Conference. He was awarded the Medal of the Chief of Staff of the IDF. He was awarded the Medal of the Chief of the Intelligence Services for his life’s work. He was awarded many additional decorations for military operations, the nature of which, for security reasons, cannot be publicized.

At the azkara (memorial service) held for Lt. Col. Emmanuel Yehuda Moreno, on the sixth anniversary of his death, a senior intelligence officer said,

From a place of anonymity, Emanuel became a national figure, an emulated role model for the nation, for young fighters, for commanders, for comrades, for his family…From a man who lived in the shadows Emanuel became a figure of distinction and renown… From a person who, in his lifetime, influenced military operations and command strategy, through his character and his connection with those to whom he was close, he became a figure who has impacted almost an entire people.

If Emanuel will enter our lives as a mythical figure we will miss the point. Emanuel teaches us about the possible, about how to accomplish today what we did not achieve yesterday. It is about how we will become a little bit better, yet we are still only human beings, not angels and not sons of angels.

From his death we can take with us love, courage, kindness, sacrifice, great faith and great joy among the sadness. Our lives that have been emptied of his physical presence are filled with a different presence…All this we can do because Emanuel is with us. And even though I am not a religious person in the usual sense, I can say that Emanuel can be with us, because God is with us and God is among us, within human beings.

And what is the meaning of God being with us? The meaning is that we, too, are creators of worlds – creators of our own internal worlds. The choice is in our hands.

SafraVeseifa -The Torah Scroll Project

The IDF is a professional, well equipped army with some of the most advanced weapons systems in the world. But Tzahal marches also on the power of faith and courage of warriors like Moreno, and on the mission of Am Yisrael as outlined in the Torah.

In April 2012, Rabbi Shmuel, head of the Beit Midrash of Derech AMI, the post-army Institute for Jewish Studies in Honor of Lt. Col Moreno, of blessed memory, initiated a project called “SafraVeseifa” — “The book and the sword.”

SafraVeseifa repairs sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) that have been damaged, often due to the rugged physical conditions in the field. “What distinguishes the IDF from other armies in the world,” the project directors say, “is that there is a Torah Scroll on each base, that strengthens their fighting spirit and reminds them about what they are fighting for.” Moreno’s family created the SafraVeseifa project as a tribute to his memory, and to the bravery and belief of those who serve.

Derech Ami has taken upon itself to repair the more than 200 IDF sifrei Torah that now invalid. The checking and repairing of the scroll must be painstaking and thorough. The Moreno scrolls undergo hundreds of hours of meticulous proofreading and editing, including a final computerized scan and check to ensure accuracy. The process takes between three months to half a year. The students of Derech AMI are being trained in this skill so that, in addition to their Torah learning, they will acquire a profession. The fact that they are studying in an institute dedicated to Moreno’s memory affords them additional motivation and inspiration in their work of tikun on the sifrei Torah.

When the scroll is pronounced “kosher” it goes back to “active service,” sent to an army base, and a re-dedication ceremony organized by the IDF, a hachnasat sefer Torah, is held. The project is dependent on donations, and the IDF permits the donor to decide in whose name he or she wants to re-dedicate the Scroll. The cost of repairing each sefer Torah is approximately $10,000.

In the first two months of the project, donations to repair five Torah scrolls were already pledged. It is apparently the aura of Moreno’s heroism that is prompting people to take part in this important mitzvah. Torah scrolls dedicated by Marc Belzberg of Jerusalem; Isaac Appelbaum of Oakland, California; the Mizell brothers of Denver, Colorado; and the community of Raanana, Israel will go to the Iron Dome battery near Ashkelon; emergencies and the IDF delegation to Poland; the unit of Emergency Preparedness of the IDF; and an Air Force base, respectively.

Uri Dopelt, who directs the Safra Veseifa project, was recently in the U.S. During his first week there, he received donations to repair fifteen more Moreno Torah scrolls.

Bronfman: Obama’s Support for Israel “Bone Deep”

— by Rachel Shabad

Former President of the World Jewish Congress Edgar M. Bronfman wrote an op-ed in Haaretz saying that President Barack Obama has led an incredible effort to strengthen the U.S.- Israel relationship. According to Bronfman, Obama’s support has made the Jewish State of Israel safer and more secure than in the past.

Bronfman wrote:

President Obama has led a resurgence of joint military cooperation between Israel and the United States. In fact, following President Obama’s directive, the United States Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces have increased their strategic collaboration on defense technology, deployment, tactics, and intelligence to levels never before experienced.

Whether it is joint military exercises to stave off threats from terrorist and rogue regimes, or advancement and deployment of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, President Obama has led a breakthrough in a mutually beneficial partnership with Israel.

Nevertheless, despite the clear facts and substantial evidence, political partisans and opponents of the president continue a coordinated campaign to sow seeds of doubt about President Obama’s support for Israel. The effort is not new. It began in 2008 when people stressed his middle name and used it as a weapon. From there, they began to call then-Senator Obama a Muslim. With the Muslim myth debunked, these same critics moved on and began questioning the president’s place of birth.

Now, they are claiming that President Obama cannot be trusted to keep Israel safe. Despite all evidence to the contrary, these political partisans believe the American people-and particularly the Jewish community-are uninformed and that we cannot tell the difference between rhetoric and reality.

The reality is that when confronted with rhetorical attacks and efforts to sow doubts about his support for Israel, President Obama could have simply adopted the swagger and bravado of his predecessor. It would have been easy for President Obama to go on a speaking tour pandering to the Jewish community and those in America who love Israel. But that is not his style. President Obama is a thoughtful, decisive and pragmatic leader. He values substantive solutions over political gamesmanship. Forgoing the bluster and bravado of others, President Obama continues his practical and deliberate support for the State of Israel.

I have had the great privilege to work with successive U.S. Presidents over the past half-century on countless issues. On matters relating to Israel, one comment now stands out in my mind more than any other. While sitting in the Oval Office not long ago, President Obama looked me in the eye and said, ‘My commitment to Israel’s security is bone-deep.’ It is reflected in his actions; it comes from a passion to secure the Jewish State, and it traces through his roots.

President Obama is a man who has taken those words and honored them with action. As a result, the State of Israel is more secure and I will be proud to vote for him this November.

Friends of the IDF: Having An Impact and Changing Lives

— by Ronit Treatman

Have you ever wondered what people talk about in a bomb shelter during a war?  I found out in 1973.   The Yom Kippur War was raging around me.  My father was away, fighting on the Syrian front. In the middle of the night, the air raid sirens were sounded.  My mother, brother, and I stumbled down the stairs to the bomb shelter of our building.  Our neighbors were having a tempestuous discussion about the stupidity of the design of our air raid retreat.  One neighbor had the last word when he commented, “even if we survive a direct hit, our building’s propane tank is here with us.  It will explode, killing us instantly!”  I sat with them, watching over my infant brother and thinking about my dad.  We had no way to communicate with him.  I also thought about another neighbor who was on the front, a fighter pilot.  The next day we got the terrible news: our fighter pilot had been shot down.  He was killed in action.  His father, Albert, owned the grocery store on our street.  I adored Albert!  One month later, his grocery store was locked, and a notice had been glued to the door.  Albert had died.  “Of a broken heart,” I was told.  “Once his son died, he had nothing to live for anymore.”  At that moment, my five-year-old heart shattered as well.  I never forgot Albert or his brave son.  A few months later the Yom Kippur War ended, and my family was sent to Venezuela.

More after the jump.
Thirteen years later, I left my family behind, and flew fifteen hours from Venezuela to Israel.  I did this so I could volunteer to serve in the IDF as a Lone Soldier.  At the concluding ceremony of my basic training, tears rolled down my cheeks as I swore over my Uzi machine gun and Torah to protect the State of Israel.  Albert and his son were in my thoughts.

It has been twenty-four years since I was honorably discharged from my military duty.  I have been busy with studies, building a family, and living my life.  My oldest daughter, Devorah, was born and raised in Philadelphia.  This year, she spent a semester in Israel at the Alexander Muss High School.  It was a transformational experience!  “Everything I did was full of meaning and purpose!” she shared with me.  As a result, she has decided to volunteer to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

Devorah will also be a Lone Soldier.  She will be in good company.  According to Major General (Ret.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, national director of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, last year there were 2,500 lone soldier volunteers in the IDF.  Forty percent of them came from North and South America, forty percent from the former Soviet Union, and the rest from Europe.  

As I proudly watch Devorah make her own choices and take off, I want to do something to help her and all the other soldiers in Israel.  What can I do when I live in Philadelphia?  I can support them through the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. The FIDF is an American nonprofit organization whose mission is to help Israeli soldiers, and the families of fallen soldiers.  It is a community of Zionists who are passionate about Israel.  

The FIDF supports bereaved families by sponsoring summer camps, trips, workshops, and gifts for widows and orphans.  Lone Soldiers are helped with FIDF sponsored flights home to visit their family.  IDF soldiers who serve in combat units and demonstrate financial need are offered scholarships for a college education in Israel.  The FIDF is paying for medical training in its IDF Medical School.  Clubs, libraries, gyms, canteens, synagogues, and well-being centers are being built by the FIDF for soldiers to enjoy during their military service.

Our local Philadelphia chapter of the FIDF just elected its first board.  There are many opportunities to be a part of this community.  The FIDF is the perfect organization for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah project.  The Young Leadership Division is appropriate for college graduates.  It is a great place for those who enjoyed the Birthright program, and wish to maintain and strengthen their connection to Israel. During the course of the year the FIDF sponsors opportunities to meet with Israeli soldiers, enjoy IDF musical ensemble performances, gala dinners, and missions to Israel.  You can check their website to see what appeals to you most.  I intend to become very involved in this organization.  I invite you join me.

Israeli Analysts Debunk Azerbaijan Myth

— David Streter

Last week, a noted “anti-Israel warrior” perpetuated a myth regarding Israel’s strategic relationship with Azerbaijan. Over the weekend, Israel’s Ynet reported that the White House flatly denied any role in the story and threatened to prosecute the source:

A top White House official denied Saturday that the US Administration was responsible for leaking information, alleging that Israel has secured access to airfields in Azerbaijan ahead of a possible strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, to the press….

The sources said that the White House had ‘no interest’ in leaks of this kind, adding that the administration would ‘gladly prosecute’ the people behind it — if they knew who they were….

Jerusalem and Washington, he added, are making ‘tremendous efforts’ on Iran and are working more closely than ever.

Israeli military analysts also debunked the substance of the story. According to The Times of Israel:

Israeli military and intelligence analysts on Sunday categorically dismissed the notion that Israel is considering using airbases in Azerbaijan to strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities….

… Israeli analysts lined up Sunday to deride the idea as everything illogical, baseless, and impossible.

‘It doesn’t make any sense,’ said Ephraim Kam, the deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies and a former officer in the research division of the IDF’s Military Intelligence branch. ‘Azerbaijan has no interest in picking a fight with its neighbor Iran,’ he added. ‘It’s a relatively new country and I don’t see how it could possibly be in their interest to grant any assistance to Israel in an attack on Iran.’

Kam added: ‘If the Azeri were really to help Israel carry out attack on Iran, they would pick a huge fight with Iran, and if Iran decided to strike Azerbaijan, nobody would come to their help. In my eyes this scenario seems absolutely impossible.’…

Unfortunately, lamented Ehud Yaari, Channel 2’s chief political analyst and Times of Israel columnist, nobody made the effort to check whether the theories put forward by Perry’s article held water.

‘No one seems to have raised the real questions before rushing to publish or quote the Perry-tale,’ Yaari wrote on Sunday in The Times of Israel. ‘Elementary, Mr. Perry: How would the Israeli Air Force reach those airbases in Azerbaijan? Are the Israelis going to get a permit from Mr. Erdogan to fly over Turkey on their way to hit Iran? Does it make any sense? Or, alternatively, does Perry want us to believe that the Israelis will choose to bypass Turkey on their secret mission via the longer route over Greece and Bulgaria, thus becoming fully exposed to Russian radar in the Black Sea? Take a look at the map, Mr. Perry — there is no other way for the Israelis to get to Azerbaijan!’

Yaari also dismissed the idea that Israeli jets could use Azeri airfields on their way back to Israel after a strike. ‘How can Azerbaijan possibly afford to cooperate in an attack on Iran when it depends on Iran entirely for maintaining control over that significant part of this country, the Nakhichevan region, an exclave and autonomous republic of Azerbaijan that is totally separated from the main Azeri territory by its archenemy, Armenia?’

Shlomo Brom, a former chief of the IDF’s strategic planning division, agrees that the theory put forward by Perry’s article doesn’t seem logical.

‘This is utterly baseless. Azerbaijan is a small country that borders on Iran. It just doesn’t make sense they would help Israel attack them. It would be suicidal,’ Brom told The Times of Israel.

Brom added: ‘It is known that Mark Perry is not a huge fan of Israel. What probably happened is that he took a kernel of truth — that Israel and Azerbaijan have good bilateral cooperation, just like Israel has many other strategic alliances in the world, for example with India — and turned it into something that is it not, which is military cooperation on a strike on Iran.’

In his full piece picking apart the story, Yaari noted:

The truth is that Perry’s piece did not deserve the attention. The veteran anti-Israel warrior has simply taken advantage of the negligent naivety of Foreign Policy’s editors in order to plant one more of his cloak-and-dagger patchwork stories aimed at undermining the state he intensely detests….

The fact that Azerbaijan maintains close relations with Israel — including big arms and oil deals — does not justify flights of fantasy. Serious debate requires down-to-earth discussion based on facts and then a grain of common sense. The discourse about the way to tackle Iran’s nuclear challenge is far too fateful to allow it to be hijacked by the likes of ‘author and historian’ Mark Perry.

  • Click here to read Yaari’s full piece.
  • Click here to read The Times of Israel’s roundup of experts.

Gen. Dempsey in Israel: “America is Your Partner”

— by David Streeter

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey visited Israel to conduct high level meetings regarding the Iranian threat. The New York Times reported on Dempsey’s trip:

The meetings were closed and their contents were not revealed. But General Dempsey, on his first visit to Israel as military chief, was quoted in brief remarks released by the office of Israel’s defense minister as saying, ‘We have many interests in common in the region in this very dynamic time, and the more we can continue to engage each other, the better off we’ll all be.’…

General Dempsey began his visit here with an intimate dinner on Thursday evening at a restaurant in Jaffa with his counterpart, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel’s military chief of staff. The men were joined by their wives. Early Friday, General Dempsey was greeted at Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv with an honor guard and held meetings with General Gantz and other senior commanders.

The top generals ‘discussed military-to-military relations, the new U.S. defense strategy, budget and economic issues and regional security challenges,’ Col. Dave Lapan, the Special Assistant for Public Affairs in the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement.

Other meetings were held with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Barak and Israel’s president, Shimon Peres. General Dempsey also visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, where he wrote in the visitors’ book, ‘We are committed to ensuring that such a human tragedy never happens again.’ He departed Israel before the onset of the Sabbath at sundown on Friday.

Each of the meetings ‘reinforced the deep and special relationship shared by Israel and the U.S.,’ Colonel Lapan said, and ‘served to advance a common understanding of the regional security environment.’…

Mr. Peres told General Dempsey on Friday that ‘Even today in a very complicated situation we can find a common ground. We have profound trust in your democratic system and your armed forces.’ General Dempsey assured Mr. Peres that ‘America is your partner and we are honored to have you as a partner in that regard.’

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States Military, General Martin E. Dempsey, visited Israel On January 19th — 20th, 2012. This was General’s Dempsey’s first visit to Israel, and he was hosted by the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz.
During his visit, General Dempsey held a private meeting with Lieutenant General Gantz, as well as a briefing with senior commanders of the General Staff, focusing on cooperation between the two militaries, as well as mutual security challenges. During his visit, General Dempsey also met with the Minister of Defense, Mr. Ehud Barak, with the Prime Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, and with the President, Mr. Shimon Peres.

General Dempsey was welcomed to the IDF General Headquarters in Camp Rabin (the Kirya) by an IDF honor guard of soldiers and to the sounds of the national anthems of Israel and the United States of America. General Dempsey also visited the Yad VaShem Holocaust Memorial Museum, where he was very moved by the exhibition.

In brief remarks after the tour, Dempsey noted the significance of the date — 70 years to the day of the infamous Wannsee Conference held in that Berlin suburb on Jan. 20, 1942. It was at that meeting that senior officials of the Nazi regime discussed their “Final solution to the Jewish problem.”

“We are committed to ensuring that such a human tragedy never happens again,” Dempsey wrote in the museum’s visitor’s book.

Friends of the IDF befriends Lone Soldiers

Last week, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces began a new tradition here in Philadelphia with their first annual Gala. Everyone enjoyed the music under the direction of Udi Bar as well as the drinks and fine food.  

However, the real reason everyone came out was to show their support for the soldiers of the IDF.  Their jobs is to look after Israel, and it is the job for the Friends of the IDF to look after them.

Keynote speaker former Governor Ed Rendell explained that he and his brother Robert were not raised in a religious home, but his father told them to remember that they are Jews, to remember how Jews have been treated over the years, and to support Jewish causes like FIDF whenever they could.

Although Rendell has had many titles: Governor of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Mayor of Philadelphia and Philadelphia District Attorney, he said the title of which he is most proud is that of 2nd Lieutenant from his service in the reserve from 1968 to 1974.

The Friends of the IDF supports Israeli soldiers in many ways:

  • The IMPACT! program grants full scholarships to soldiers who come from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background and seek a higher education. Each scholarship recipient is required to complete 130 hours of community service annually. IMPACT! Student Maru Gete, an Ethiopian Jewish immigrant, came to tell us how the FIDF allowed him to realize his dream of going to medical school.
  • The Legacy Program supports thousands of widows, orphans and other family members who have suffered the devastating loss of a loved-one fallen during military service. Galit Cochva was on hand to speak courageous of her husband Ron who  died when his helicopter crashed in Lebanon.
  • The Lone Soldier Program supports the 2,800 determined young men and women from all over the world who choose to leave the comfort of their homes and families to travel to Israel, become proud IDF soldiers and make Israel their home. Friends of the IDF is a family to Lone Soldiers who have no family of their own in Israel.

Wynnewood native Shoval Dorani returned to Philadlephia to tell us about her life as a lone soldier and the support she received from the Friends of the IDF.

Here is what she had to say:

Good evening. My name is Shoval Dorani and for the past year I have been serving as a proud lone soldier in Oketz, the independent canine special forces unit of the Israel defense force.

I was born in North Miami Beach, Florida and raised in beautiful Wynnewood, Pennsylvania along with my brother Omri and my sister Liat. I had the privilege of receiving a Jewish Day School education and was raised in a home where the state of Israel was constantly in our hearts and in our minds. My father was born in Israel and my mother has always considered Israel her second home, so we traveled to Israel often. Each time I stepped onto Israel soil, I felt a sense of belonging. I was home.

The remainder of Shoval’s remarks follow the jump.

The summer of 2006, the summer that Gilad Shalit was taken into captivity became a critical turning point in my life. I was a 14 year old attending an all girls summer camp when the Israel Lebanon war broke out. It was that moment that the course of my life would change forever. As the girls were playing in tennis tournaments or having fun on the soccer field, all I could think about was the war and how I wished to be alongside those brave soldiers of the IDF. It was then that I realized upon high school graduation, that I would enlist in the Israel defense forces. My friends could not understand my passion, but it was my dream, one that turned into a reality.

In the summer of 2010, my journey began, one that continues to challenge me both physically and mentally in ways I never thought possible. And while my friends were leaving for college full of dreams and excitement, I chose to leave my family and the comforts of home to travel to Israel and enlist in the Israeli army.

I am currently serving as a lochemet (combat soldier) in the Oketz unit which specializes in training dogs for military purposes. These dogs are highly trained to attack, sniff out hidden explosives or different chemicals as well as being used in search and rescue efforts resulting from earthquakes or other disasters.

I have a beautiful Belgian shepherd named Gula. She is highly trained to sniff out suspicious cars, objects and buildings for weapons and chemicals in order to prevent terrorism from entering the state of Israel.

It was two weeks after my enlistment into Karakal, a combat unit where men and women serve together to protect the southern border of Israel, that we had our gibush. Before joining the army, I knew that my dream was to be a soldier in Oketz. The only way for girls to join Oketz was to pass a ‘gibush,’ a physical and mental test lasting two days. It all began with a hapkatza, the sudden wake up call in the middle of the night. The next eight hours was the physical part of the gibush, where every run, crawl, and jump would determine the next three years of my army service. I gave it my all. During that gibush, I remember asking myself how I was able to continue, but I never gave up, determined to overcome this difficult challenge.

Two long days passed after the Oketz gibush, with every girl as anxious and nervous as I was to hear which girls had made it into this elite unit. After eating our breakfast of white bread, whole avocados, half a banana, and white cheese, all without plates or utensils, we were  told that the girls who did the gibush should stand in a “chet to hear who made it. Some girls began shaking and crying from nerves. As 100 girls stood  silently, one of the commanders stood in the middle of the chet. “I will read the list of 16 girls who made it into Oketz, I do not want to hear any reactions. Stay quiet.” As the names were called, my heart was pounding. I felt a bead of sweat on my forehead, although my entire body was numb from the winter air of the desert. Names were being called, mine not among them, when suddenly, “Dorani, Shoval.” Tears instantly ran down my cheeks. I could not believe what I had heard. MY name!? I made it?! Never before had I felt so accomplished and proud. My dream came true right then and there. My journey as an IDF soldier had just begun.

After six grueling and challenging months of basic training, my beloved Oketz team and I would end our service in Karakal, and begin a new adventure in Oketz. This had been our dream for the past six months, and it was finally here. Getting ready for the ‘masa aliya,’ was an entirely new feeling for us. We had many masaot before, but this masa would bring us to Oketz, our final destination. Our excitement was unavoidable. With all of our equipment on our backs, our weapons tight around our bodies, and our faces fully covered in paint, we were more than ready to begin this journey of 15 kilometers.

Basic training was full of many challenging masaot. One of them in order to receive my tag, another for a diskit cover, a pin for my coomta, and a case for my machsanit. All of these masaot were meaningful and extremely important to me, however the masa aliya to yechidat oketz meant more to me than anything. With much rabak, we all took our places in two lines. Our commander took the lead and we followed.

During the masa, sweating and sleep deprived, I along with the others were determined to succeed. This was my family now and when one was down, we all lent a hand. We had begun this journey together…we would end this journey together.

One cold night during basic training in Karakal, the hour had finally come where we could shower, speak on the phone, and go to sleep in our tents. I quickly ran to organize my things for the shower when I saw a package waiting for me on my bed. My first reaction was that it was probably a mistake and meant for one of the girls in my tent. As one of only two lone soldiers in my unit, it was sometimes difficult to see the Israeli girls getting packages almost every day. They received anything from food, clothes, bedding, and shampoo from their families and friends living in Israel. I was happy to see that the package read my name and inside I found winter socks, a hat, long underwear, a long sleeved shirt, pajama shorts, and a neck warmer. The package included an envelope full of letters from people from all over the world thanking me for leaving my life and my family and friends behind to serve as a lone soldier in the IDF. There was a letter from a woman that especially touched me.

Dear Shoval,

How are you? We hope that you’re not having too hard a time of it. After all, what would we do without you? Because of you, and only you, we are able to live and sleep in peace.

Our dear soldier, please take care of yourself so you can soon be home to your eema and abba. You are our strength. We are proud of you, look up to you, love you.

So take care of yourself and enjoy this package!

With love,

Nancy from Washington, D.C

No words could ever have been more beautiful, more important. I was not alone.

I want to thank each and every one of you in this room for coming tonight in support of the Friends of the Israel Defense Force. You have provided soldiers like me with certain comforts we would not otherwise be receiving. Packages, trips to water parks, and flights to travel and reunite with our families, are just to name a few. My journey has not been an easy one and there have been times of sadness and lonliness, but I made a decision to become a member of the IDF, a decision I will continue to love and be proud of.

Thank you.

When The Choice is Life

— by Ilan Chaim

There is no dilemma in freeing one captive at the possible future cost of endangering the lives of others, even by exchanging his freedom for the freedom of convicted murderers.

The moral imperative to choose life deals with fact, not supposition. We are commanded to save a life, not to worry about the possible consequences that releasing a number of murderers may or may not have on other lives.

We are called upon to deal with certainty: that Gilad Shalit lives and his life in continued captivity is in danger.

More after the jump.
Some people oppose the exchange by arguing that the price is too high. Some cite rabbinical disputes over redeeming prisoners for too high a price, as if there is any relevancy to such a medieval calculus. Such reasoning is a world away from how a sovereign Jewish state must defend itself and the soldiers who risk their lives to protect it.

These moral bookkeepers calculate that, in previous such exchanges, a certain percentage of terrorists were recidivists who murdered Jews again. While this is true, it ignores the fact that we live with the reality of terrorism all the time, independent of possible prisoner exchanges.

A grim example of this truth is the fact that the Fogel family was recently massacred by freshmen terrorists, not recycled monsters who had been traded for Jewish prisoners-or as in one abominable previous case, their corpses.

There is a gruesome corollary to this perversion of the traditional Jewish calculus-that saving a life is like saving a world-one that would reduce the value of a human life to something measurable on a profit and loss balance sheet. This new math states that one actual life cannot be worth many potential lives.

A most frightening expression of this sinisterly emerging new value is a rumor relayed to me by my son, now in his third year of compulsory service in the IDF. He told me there is an “understanding”-not yet an official protocol-that if soldiers in combat cannot prevent a comrade from being taken prisoner, they should shoot him in the head. Better a dead hero than a live bargaining chip.

This hideous rumor is but a reflection of the morality of those who would devalue human life by assigning greater value to a potential, unknown, future danger to the lives of many over the clear and present danger to the life of one.

There are others-some of the bereaved who lost loved ones to the actions of some of the very terrorists who are about to be exchanged-who oppose the exchange not on the grounds of future possible danger, but because in their anguished eyes the terrorists have not been punished enough. They have not done their time.

This second attitude, while understandable, is even more lacking in moral justification than opposition on the grounds of hypothetical danger. For those who would keep Shalit in a Gaza dungeon just so their own tormentors would remain in Israeli prisons are ultimately seeking to do so out of vengeance. Will ensuring that a given terrorist murderer continues to serve 15 consecutive life sentences bring any Jew back to life?

Trading murderers for Gilad Shalit will save one Jew’s life. That is a fact we can all live with.

The writer is a former chief copy editor of The Jerusalem Post.

First Ever Bnai Menashe Officer in IDF Makes History

Second Lieutenant Shalem Gin: “I hope more officers from the community will follow”

— Jake Sharfman

History was made yesterday when Shalem Gin became the first IDF officer from the Bnei Menashe community, who are descended from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Gin received the rank of Second Lieutenant in front of friends and family at a ceremony held at the Bahad 1 military base in the Negev.

More after the jump.

Gin, 20, was born in Mizoram, a state in northeastern India. He and his family made Aliyah to Israel in 1995. Gin joined the IDF in 2009 and enlisted in the Combat Engineering Corps, where he finished near the top of his class in his commanders course.

After completing the course with honors, Gin was then sent to officer training, which he officially completed yesterday. He will now return to his unit as a platoon commander.

“This is a dream come true. It brings great joy and pride to me and my family,” Gin said. “As the first Bnei Menashe officer in the IDF, I hope that more from the community will follow.”

“Shalem is a very talented young man with extraordinary ambition,” said Michael Freund, Founder and Chairman of Shavei Israel, the organization responsible for the Aliyah of the Bnei Menashe. “When I met Shalem a few years ago, he told me that even as a child in India he always dreamt of becoming an Israeli combat soldier. Nonetheless, I’m sure that Shalem himself did not imagine that he would become the first Bnei Menashe officer in the IDF, but today he has achieved that goal and we are all very proud of him.”

“Shalem Gin made history today,” Freund added, “He is a pioneer in his community who has paved the way for others to follow in his footsteps.”

Freund also called on the Israeli government to allow the remaining 7,232 Bnei Menashe in India to make Aliyah as soon as possible. “Shalem Gin’s success story underlines the contribution that the Bnei Menashe wish to make to the State of Israel. It is time to bring about an end to the community’s waiting, and to enable them to come home to Israel as soon as possible,” he said.

About the Bnei Menashe (Hebrew for “sons of Manasseh”): They claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago, and they currently live in India’s northeastern border states of Manipur and Mizoram. Throughout their exile, the Bnei Menashe nonetheless continued to practice Judaism just as their ancestors did, including observing the Sabbath, keeping kosher, celebrating the festivals and following the laws of family purity. And they continued to nourish the dream of one day returning to the land of their ancestors, the Land of Israel. In recent years, Shavei Israel has brought some 1,700 Bnei Menashe back home to Zion. Another 7,232 still remain in India, waiting for the day when they too will be able to return to Israel and the Jewish people.

About Shavei Israel: a non-profit organization founded by Michael Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States, with the aim of reaching out to descendants of Jews around the world and strengthening their connection with the Jewish people and the State of Israel. The organization is currently active in nine countries and provides assistance to a variety of different communities such as the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnei Anousim in Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China, the “Hidden Jews” of Poland from the Holocaust era and others. For more information visit: www.shavei.org.

Photos courtesy of Micahl Fattal.

WSJ: US, Israel Build Military Cooperation

This weekend the Wall Street Journal reported that under President Barack Obama’s leadership military cooperation with Israel has increased. The article said, “U.S. military aid to Israel has increased markedly this year. Top-ranking U.S. and Israeli soldiers have shuttled between Tel Aviv and Washington with unusual frequency in recent months. A series of joint military exercises in Israel has included a record number of American troops.”

According to the article, “This month, about 200 U.S. Marines joined a battalion of Israeli soldiers for an all-night march through the Negev desert, the culmination of three weeks of joint drills. As dawn approached, they crept up on a mock village, an Israeli military-built recreation of a typical Palestinian hamlet, used for combat training.”

The piece also noted, “The exercise was the biggest U.S.-Israeli joint infantry exercise ever, according to officials. By comparison, at the same exercise last year, there were only around 20 U.S. Marines involved. In the fall, there will be an even bigger joint infantry exercise involving tanks and armored vehicles, officials said.”

You can read the full article here.

This development is part of a larger trend of closer and closer military cooperation between the United States and Israel under President Obama’s leadership.