Heroic, Wounded Israeli Soldiers Honored in New York City
by Phyllis Chesler
This week, The Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side and the Chabad Terror Victims Project are honoring ten of Israel's most heroic—and most severely wounded—warriors. These young soldiers, who fought and were wounded either in Operation Cast Lead or in the Second Lebanon War, are touring New York City, Washington, D.C., Long Island, and Niagara Falls, and will meet with people on June 11th, erev Shabbat, and again on June 12th at Congregation Orach Chaim. Everyone is welcome; the details are below.
"What you are doing means the world to us and gives us the strength to go on," said Roi G. earlier this week at a small press conference in New York City. Roi, a member of Israel's Nachal brigade, was seriously wounded in the Second Lebanon War. To date, he has undergone twenty operations.
Rabbi Michael D. Shmidman, of Orach Chaim, who is currently visiting Israel but who will be back for Shabbat, said: "The Rambam teaches us that one who is prepared to stand to save the life of a fellow Jew is considered Kadosh. Orach Chaim is honored to host these Giborei Yisrael."
Rebbitzen Bat-Sheva ("Shevy") Vigler, who has been instrumental in shaping this trip, told me that "being with these guys gives me the opportunity to be part of something that is so much bigger than anything I've ever been involved in. They never complain. They are such good spirits. One soldier wakes up every morning with excruciating pain in his leg. He takes a pain pill. He is the life of the party. He makes everyone else happy. The airline misplaced another soldier's luggage, it never arrived. He said: 'Look, I have two eyes, two legs, two arms, I can live without luggage.' They are walking on canes, they have mechanical hands, bandaged limbs, and still they have amazing, positive energy. You should see them singing and dancing with the kids."
And thus, these heroes continue to show us what truly matters; they continue to teach us how to respond to danger, suffering, and to profound loss.
According to Chabad Rabbi Uriel Vigler, "The Rebbe once wrote a letter to a wounded Israeli soldier. He said that 'you may have a medal which you'll keep in a box. But your true medal of honor is on your body. It is permanent as is your merit for having saved Am Yisrael."
Rabbi Vigler's idea was to make a "small but memorable contribution to these heroes of Am Yisrael, who have quite literally put their lives on the line in the continued effort of securing Israel." He told me that the soldiers are "so excited, they are loving every minute here and the outpouring of community support, especially given the recent confrontation with Gaza, is amazing."
Vigler observed one the soldiers who had difficulty feeding himself because he had lost a hand—and because his other hand was broken. The rabbi must have looked concerned. The soldier consoled him. "Don't worry, it was worth giving up my hands for Am Yisrael."
According to Vigler, today, one of the soldiers laughed for the first time in two years—so said his companions. He laughed at the wax figures at Madame Tussauds.
Congregation Orach Chaim (OC) will host a dessert reception for the soldiers on Shabbat, June 12th, from 5-7:30pm. President Jamie Lassner of OC told me: "We are very excited to welcome these heroes to Orach Chaim, especially at this most difficult time for our homeland. I am certain that we will all walk away awed by their strength of character and humbled by their courage. I hope that we are all invigorated to l'taken olam, to do something to better the world. We at OC have always been thankful to our US Military and also to the members of the IDF, those currently serving and those who have served in the past, as it is they who have protected us and our peoples' ability to freely worship and serve Hashem."
Some say that Israel's military victories and heroic warriors have faded into history and are no more. I strongly disagree. The kind of courage now required to keep on fighting for Jewish and national survival—knowing that this fight is probably one that your children, grandchildren, maybe even your great-grandchildren will also still be fighting, requires even more courage and determination, not less.
Perhaps it is a bit easier when you believe that the next battle will be the last one, that once you've won enough battles or enough wars the matter will be settled, that you will have earned 50 years of peace and prosperity.
As my Yiddish-speaking mother and grandmother might have said: "A nechtica tuk." (This really can't be translated but let's agree that it means "the chances that this will happen are unlikely at best").
After all, Israel is located in the Middle East, where fighting is a permanent way of life. Family against family, clan against clan, tribe against tribe—and then there are the religious wars, both within Islam and Islam's war against infidels; the war between Arab nationalism and Islamism; and the war now being waged by extra-state terrorist actors. I am talking about the war being fought by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabab, Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, etc. against the Jews, against Israelis, against Americans--against the entire civilized world.
What does a nice Jewish boy or girl have to do to survive in such a neighborhood?
They have to fight—and fight well. And Israelis are doing so. They are "managing the matzav (the troubles, the situation), as well as—better than can be expected—given the diabolical constraints the Israeli Army is forced to endure by a world that does not want Israel to defend itself and which condemns the Israeli Army for doing so, and for defending itself in ethical ways. Today's IDF is up against many more enemies than the founding generations once were.
This is not Ben Gurion's or Moshe Dayan's kind of war.
This time, Israel is not just up against five Arab armies. This time, Israel is up against 56 Muslim states, the Palestinian terrorists, the United Nations, state-funded and shadow-funded terrorist groups, the world's professoriate and the world's media. This time, Israel is condemned even when it sacrifices its own young warriors in order to avoid enemy casualties—death-cult enemies who position themselves among their own civilians for a propaganda if not a military victory. This is precisely what happened in Jenin in 2002. And I wrote about it in the Jewish Press and in my book The New Anti-Semitism. I wrote:
"The Israeli (mainly reserve) army is exceptionally principled, sensitive, haunted by any accidental civilian deaths, grief-stricken by the deaths of their own comrades. Unlike the Palestinians or al Qaeda, the IDF does not glorify death, and mourns each life lost in necessary battle. This must be said -- not once, but over and over again to counter the monstrous propaganda against Israel….(In 2002) Israeli soldiers went in on foot to Jenin, not only to prevent Palestinian civilian casualties but because world opinion would not allow Israel to defend itself properly. The relentless sacrifice exacted by the world meant that 24 young Israeli soldiers had to (needlessly) die in the siege of Jenin. The Israelis went from booby-trapped house to booby-trapped house and were easy prey for snipers, rockets, grenades, etc. For its efforts, Israel was falsely accused of committing a massacre there.As we now know, the Israelis did not perpetrate a massacre in Jenin.
On the contrary. Israeli soldiers not only gave out food and water, they gave up their own rations to civilians. They stocked up on candy for children and diapers for infants. Israeli soldiers did not confiscate or destroy civilian property. In fact, they slept on floors so as not to soil beds. Israeli soldiers systematically rolled up oriental carpets to shield them from their muddy military boots. They even left notes apologizing for any damage and thanking the absentee home-owners for their 'hospitality.' Sleepless, embattled, freezing, the Israelis refused to "borrow" blankets or coffee. Only one caffeine-starved soldier did so and his commanding officer wrestled with the question of whether or not to punish him."
Recently, we have just learned of the ferocious and well-funded barbarism that Israeli soldiers met onboard the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara. Nevertheless, they escaped without any loss of life. Our visiting heroes are cut from this same morally and militarily mighty cloth.
These ten soldiers served in the Golani, Givati, Nachal, and Tzanchanim Brigades. All have been involved in extensive and painful surgical and rehabilitation programs. Their heroism—and the heroic persistence of their physicians--is a credit to our people and to the state of Israel. You may read their stories online here.
The soldiers are touring New York City and Washington, D.C., where they will have a VIP tour of the White House and be officially welcomed at the Israeli Embassy. They will also have boat rides, a beach barbecue in the Hamptons, and a visit to Niagara Falls. This coming Shabbat, June 11-12, Chabad is offering a "Shabbaton of Thanks" for them on the Upper East Side in order to give their American Jewish supporters a chance to meet them in person. (Details below).
This coming Shabbat, June 12th, from 5-7:30pm, Rabbis Michael Shmidman and Haskel Lookstein will be joining Rabbis Ben Zion Krasnianski and Uriel Vigler at Congregation Orach Chaim (1459 Lexington Avenue between East 94th and 95th Streets) to welcome our precious heroes, the guardians of our future.
All are invited. Please come to stand with them, with us, and with all Israel.
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