“This is a war, not an operation,” Rambam Mesivta’s principal, Rabbi Yotav Eliach, told The Jewish Star.
The Lawrence school has long had boots on the ground in Israel and it is embedded in the current conflict.
Rabbi Eliach, who said that the school’s connections to Tzahal (IDF) are long-term and constant, will lead a tour of the Holy Land starting on Sunday. (For information email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Recent Rambam graduates are serving in the Israeli army, one on the northern front near Lebanon, and two — Yonaton Wadler from Lawrence and Yedidya Levy from West Hempstead — in the Golani Brigade in Gaza. Another alumnus, Rabbi Yehoshua Koenig, married and a father, who previously served in the IDF, is back in Israel serving in the reserves in anti-terror operations in Judea.
Rambam has raised $3,000 from staff, family and friends to pay for shlookers, camelback backpack-type water canteens to be donated to Golani. Now, they are raising about $1,000 for boots for another squad.
Rabbi Eliach is currently organizing a two-pronged tour to Israel, between July 27 and Aug. 1, to showcase to Israelis “a cross section of American Jewry coming to Israel to show solidarity — kulanu am echad, we are all one nation.”
Rabbi Eliach will lead a group of “not so frum” Zionist Five Towners to “visit communities under rocket fire, visit soldiers in hospitals and bereaved families,” while two other rabbis accompany frum religious leaders.
The other rabbis on this mission are Eliezer Shenvald and Yedidya Atlas. Rabbi Shenvald is Rosh Yeshivat Hesder in Modiinand Ofakim; Rabbi Atlas is a Lt. Colonel in the IDF reserves, IDF Central Command reserves, and head of special projects for the IDF Chief Rabbinate.
For 12 years, student volunteers spent winter vacations working on Sarel bases, and over the last decade, about 30 Rambam graduates have served in the IDF, he said, pointing out that with only about 40 students in each grade, “proportionally with a school of our size, that’s pretty remarkable.”
Rambam is involved in these projects, “because we are a religious Zionist institution and they are fighting for us, for our land,” explained Eliach. “It’s the first time in 2,000 years that we have the ability to respond to anti-Semitism, not just be the brunt of it.”
He quoted Rabbi Yehuda Halevi in Hebrew, “I am in the West but my heart is in the East.”
“It’s what we believe,” he said. “Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh (all of Israel is responsible one for the other) — it’s not just a bumper sticker, it’s true. Achaynu kol bait Yisrael (all Israel are brothers, the prayer found after the Torah reading on Mondays and Thursdays), is not just a slogan, it’s true.”
Rabbi Eliach pointed out that those serving in the army have had to be in the service for at least 18 months to go into combat. He said that Hamas is a “formidable terrorist army who can probably defeat many European armies” and that the tunnels they’ve dug throughout Gaza crossing Israel’s border and Egypt’s border, run two to three miles long, six feet high and four feet wide.
He said they put “hundreds of millions of dollars into this and not into schools, homes, hospitals and roads. … The leaders are hiding, the people are on the roofs. Had they spent this money on infrastructure, Gaza could be Singapore, Gaza would be a pleasant place to live.”