As Chairman of the Friends of the IDF’s Rabbinic Cabinet, I was privileged today with the extraordinary opportunity to visit with combat soldiers and commanders of various IDF units at several locations in the south of the country, as they awaited their go-ahead to invade Gaza to put a complete and final stop the Hamas missiles and bombs raining down on Israeli civilians (and upon them!). As always, each young man of the IDF had a unique and compelling personal story, from the boy born and raised in Manhattan Beach, CA to the young African American man born and raised in Chicago, IL (yes, he and his family converted to Judaism when he was a young boy, he moved to Israel as a young adult, and he married an Israeli woman – and they have a beautiful 2-year-old boy!). Each story was one of a Jewish journey and a personal sense of purpose. Some of these boys reside in Israel’s northern region; they identify personally with the civilians enduring Hamas’ bombings and missile attacks, for they and their families were the targets of Hezbollah’s onslaught two summers ago. Others live in the southern region themselves, and they shared that they are fighting for their own homes and their own communities. The majority live in the country’s center and they are under no illusion that their own homes won’t be targeted as soon as Hamas can reach them with new and more sophisticated weapons supplied by Iran. They are each and all drafted, 18-21 year old boys who would rather be studying and enjoying life like our own children. However, Hamas has left them with no choice but to fight for their homes and protect their families. The look in their eyes was as determined as one could ever imagine. They are one of the finest trained and most highly motivated fighting forces in the world, simply because they cannot be otherwise; the first war that Israel loses is the last one it will ever fight. Their greatest fear is that this war will end without their opportunity to ensure the decisive victory that would enable each of them and their families to live safely and quietly as anyone is entitled to do so. Over the years, I have visited more IDF bases than I can count, spending time with a far greater number of soldiers, however, I have never done so as they prepared for imminent battle. These boys were inspiring beyond belief; never have I felt as proud of our boys of the IDF or as hopeful for the Jewish future as I was when I saw and spoke with these extraordinary young men. I remain so.
Rabbi Isaac Jeret
Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay