Tuesday, January 13, 2009

From Rabbi Barry Gelman- Day One

The JNF National Rabbinic has had a very meaningful start. Most of our group arrived at Ben Gurion airport at around 4PM. By 6PM we were on our way.

We began by sharing our hopes for the mission. One of the Rabbis whose son is serving in the army and is currently in Gaza told us that is son mentioned that he considers it a great privilege to serve in the Israel army. The father responded that if thw son considers serving a privilege then the father considers it a privilege to be his father.

Another rabbi said that he came on the mission because he feels that life cannot go on as usual in a time like this.. He compared our trip Moshe’s admonition of the tribes of Reuven and Gad who wished not to cross the Jordon. Moshe declared that it was not appropriate for the rest of the nation to fight to conquer the land while Reuven and Gad do not participate. Similarly our mission, in a small way, wishes to participate in this war by bringing good will and encouragement.

While we have come to offer encouragement to our brothers and sisters in Israel we are well aware that we will be inspired by the bravery and courage of those we will meet.

Our first stop of the night was a visit the Yeshivat Hesder Neve Dekalim. Students in Yeshivat Hesder Neve Dekalim, like all Hesder Yeshivot combine Torah study with army service. Yteshivat Hesder Neven Dekalim was originally in the city of Neve Dekalim (for 23 years), the largest city in Gush Katif (Gaza) and was part o the disengagement, Yeshivat Hesder Neve Dekalim. It was most well known for he Beit Midrash which was in the shape of a Magen David. Now the Yeshiva is housed in temporary trailers. It was quite sad to compare the current dreary and plain building with the once grand and unique Magen David building.

Upon arrival we visited the site of the relocated Yeshiva. Upon arrival we noticed that the campus was deserted and the study hall was empty. We were told that since there we no bomb shelters there that studying there was not permitted. We also learned that all schools in that area have been closed for weeks as they do not have adequate shelters.

We then walked to a local synagogue that was temporarily housing the Yeshiva in the bomb shelter. The bomb shelter served as study hall, dormitory and dining room. studied in small groups with the students at the yeshiva. We studied a piece written by Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin on the important of Torah study as a protective in time of trouble. It was an appropriate topic as we studied with young men who combine Torah study with army service.

While at the Yeshiva we learned about a young man who after being married for just one day was called upon to lead his unit of paratroopers in Gaza. He was seriously wounded and remains in the hospital with a bad head injury. This is just one example of the many sad stories related to this war. It was pointed out to us that perhaps it is time to expand the definition if Tzadik - righteous, usually reserved only for the most religiously pious, to include those young men and women who put their life on the line for the Jewish people.

After leaving the Yeshiva we drove to the kotel for a late Maariv service and some brief dancing at the kotel plaza. We were joined by Rav Yosef Carmel of Kollel Eretz Chemda, a religious Zionist kollel in Jerusalem and by UOS member Alexander Jefferson. Even thought the kotel was well out of our way we felt it was important to visit Yerushalayim as a way of declaring our devotion to her as the eternal Jewish capital.

It has been an exhilarating afternoon and night. I am left inspired by the students at the Yeshiva and their story of courage and perseverance in difficult times.

Tomorrow we head for Nitzan, Soroka medical center in Be‘er Sheva, Sderot and a visit with IDF soldiers fighting in Gaza. We will be distributing packages of food, clothes toys and other necessities that we purchased with the help of our partner on the mission, Table To Table and Yashar L’Chayal.

It is now 3:20AM and we settled in our hotel in Ashkelon. Time for bed, Shacharit is at 7:00AM

Layla Tov,

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