I grew up in a Chassidic home in the Har-Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem.
I studied in the Talmud Torah of the Ger Chassidim, moved on to a Yeshiva Ketana (high school where no secular studies are taught) and then Yeshiva Gedolah (post high school) not affiliated with any particular Chassidic branch.
I decided to enlist in the army after my wedding. I had met a Chassidic young married man who worked in the field of air conditioning. He learned his profession during his service in the Navy. After seeing his professional work and the quality of religious/Chassidic observance, I decided to follow my childhood dream and enlist in the IDF, a dream I never thought I would fulfill. Ultimately, with the encouragement of my family and mentors, I fulfilled the dream and enlisted in the Navy, a decision that I am very pleased with. I still serve many days in reserve duty, as a ‘supervising technician’ of systems on ships and other vessels in the Israeli Navy. In my civilian life, I am self-employed as a certified electrician and air-conditioner installer.
There are many reasons; most notable is the knowledge that you are part of a huge and important “project” that really needs you. I’ll share with you a situation that exemplifies the idea that “if you are not there, nobody will be there”.
One year, on the eve of Memorial Day almost everyone left the base early. I was delayed working on a ship that needed some more work done before it could sail.
When I was done, I see the last of my colleagues in their “dress uniform” (“Madei Alef” in Hebrew), getting ready to leave base. Intending to join them I take my “dress uniform” off the hanger, when the “chief” (lingo for captain) of one of the ships approaches with some part of a critical system that needed repair.
A little embarrassed, he says, “I can’t sail if this part isn’t fixed.”
It was very obvious that he knew that this was the last thing any of us wanted to do right now.
In the meantime, I see all my colleagues putting on their dress shoes and leaving the base.
I take the part from the hands of the “chief,” and after a quick glance, I realize that this is not a 5 minute job … and then I get a feeling that will recur many times during my service. “If I, the newbie, don’t get this ship seaworthy, no one else will do it either and the ship will remain docked here unable to carry out its mission.”
After a few hours of work, I changed into my “dress uniform.” I went home and the ship went out to the sea. Once more, I had that special feeling that I was contributing to this large and important outfit. And of course, the tremendous Kiddush Hashem, where the Captain sees the entire department dispersing and one lone ultra-Orthodox soldier stays behind. [To be honest, if he is eating the rhetoric fed by the media, “which loves us so much” I wonder what he thought of me up until this event …]
From a religious perspective there are amazing moments that I will never forget. For example, once after an exhausting week at sea, our ship is sailing somewhere in an ocean that I can only describe as “the middle of nowhere.” We are totally drained, and then the Shabbat arrives. Now secular and religious soldiers are singing Lecha Dodi. We make Kiddush to the light of the moon, on the ship’s bridge, and sing Zemirot Shabbat together. That feeling is amazingly uplifting!
These are moments that most people won’t ever experience. These are great uplifting encounters, moments of great exhilaration.
I enlisted at a sensitive time just before the big demonstrations against the plans to coerce recruitment of yeshiva students, so when you ask what the responses were from the inside, I’ll begin with the most “within,” that can be – “within me.” I personally felt very bad about the talk of forcing Yeshiva students to enlist. By the way, I was not forced to enlist at all, my legal status was in order and the law did not require me to be drafted. Nevertheless, I felt very bad about the public face of the Haredim, the derogatory names they used about us. I also was very uncomfortable about the “great love” and “the sincere concern” of Mr. Lapid and his colleagues in the sympathetic media. Even though I was already in the middle of the recruitment process, I fully participated in that demonstration. It bothered me that they were willing to tarnish an entire beautiful community, that I am part of, for their political gains. That really bothered me.
The reactions of the family and friends were warm and encouraging.
I live in Haifa; it’s not so rare to see a soldier with a beard and payot, so there was no problem within the community. After basic training I was warmly welcomed by the commanders and the younger recruits of the Haifa naval base.
Kudos to my wife who remains at home with our 6 year old daughter and 2 year old son when I go to reserve duty and has to manage on her own. We never know in advance when I will be called to reserve duty and for how long it will be. I also can’t tell her any details about my trips because they are highly-classified.
I would like to especially commend my commander, Roni. He is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. To summarize his credo, “one hand washes the other.”
It does not matters where you come from or what demographic you are part of. The attitude toward you is the result of your actions.
When you think about it, it’s amazing how true it is in all areas of life.
In time, I advanced and became a team leader; I felt great respect for me and I had tremendous satisfaction
Before the High Holidays, I was asked to speak to the sailors about the nature and meaning of the upcoming days (Most of the people at the base were sure at first that I was the chaplain and Kashrut supervisor.)
I always make sure not to speak too long and burden the members of the unit.
Unlike a typical “derasha” (sermon) given to civilians, in the army you have to pay attention – and that’s an order. In my attempt to make the talks more accessible, I built on our mutual experiences as sailors. For example: On the eve of Rosh Hashanah I explained to them that just like the dirtiest and most unpleasant room on a ship is the machine room. Noisy and filthy from the engines’ rumblings and soot … but it is precisely this room that makes a raft into a ship. It is the “brains” of the ship. So too, Rosh Hashanah. For many praying and making requests of G-d doesn’t come naturally, but it is our “Rosh” our “engine room” with all the dirt and soot and without it, life won’t work properly.
On Israel Independence Day of 2016, I was awarded two commendations for outstanding service, from the Commander of the Navy, Major General Ram Rotberg, and from the Commander of the Haifa Base Brig. Gen. David S. Salameh, which attested to the fact that I am recognized and appreciated.
A beautiful moment that could sum up the question of how I was received inside and outside the community.
The Brit ceremony of my son Ruvy which took place in the Shtibel (Chassidic synagogue) where I usually pray. In the crowd were Chassidic yeshiva men wearing long coats and black hats, standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder, with the soldiers and officers, improvised white kipot on their head, all the while showing respect to each other.
We all sat at the Seudat Mitzvah and sang Hineyi Matov U’mana’im Shevet Achim Gam Yachad.