This is a guest post by DR, the father who shared his son’s experience during the Marmara incident: Exclusive Account of Gaza Flotilla Violence.
A large proportion of commanders in the IDF are religiously observant, and the numbers are growing. Some do three years of army service after a year or more in a yeshiva or mechina combining Jewish studies and army preparation. Others go to a yeshivat hesder, combining study and military service for a total of five years.
The hesder program sends soldiers to combat units, the Intelligence Corps, and auxiliary divisions of the IDF. For the past three years, the Naval Division has joined the project and taken in groups of hesder students on board their patrol ships. Keeping kosher on a small ship with an even smaller kitchen, where most of the soldiers know very little about keeping kosher, is a challenge. However, the Navy was keen to bring in highly-motivated kids. The kitchens were adapted and koshered. With the help of the Zomet Institute, the ship’s controls were adapted for use on Shabbat in “routine” situations. The yeshiva students themselves also had to be prepared to live with the non-observant: “We’re all in the same boat” became more than a cliché.
My son was invited to stay on beyond the minimum term of duty required, and recently completed a course for deputy commanders. As the top student in the course, he had to speak on behalf of the course graduates. He was commended for his speech which included divrei (words of) Torah.
Most of us spend Yom Kippur in an air-conditioned shul, and it’s no problem to fast and to abstain from the 39 forbidden types of work. But we can do this only because many others are guarding our borders, on land, sea and air. For them it’s not much of a Yom Kippur, but how could it be otherwise?
My son spent Yom Kippur on a boat. The ships on patrol in the Gaza area had a very busy time. Despite the difficult conditions, eight of the ten soldiers on board the ship fasted all day – a few because they do so every year, others out of solidarity. The ship’s commander, a reserve officer who has served for many years, was amazed and said he had never seen such a thing (he also fasted) – and all because of the presence of two hesder soldiers on board.
There was no time to daven until the afternoon, but when things quieted down my son got all the crew together and read them the Book of Jonah. Can you imagine a more appropriate setting for this haftara (prophetic reading)? Shortly afterwards the fast ended. They all made havdala (prayer marking the end of the Sabbath/holiday) and ate a hearty and well-deserved meal.
These are our soldiers.
This was a guest post by DR of Jerusalem. May God keep your son and all of our soldiers safe this holiday season and beyond.
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