By Shmuel Katz
Having been involved—on both a professional and a volunteer basis—in the yeshiva system for almost 20 years, I can say that there is nothing quite like the arrival of Elul/September and the beginning of a new school year. It is always exhilarating to see a new crop of students (along with some of the old ones) begin their personal journey into undiscovered experiences.
This is especially true here in Israel, where we see a huge turnover of students from year to year as a matter of course. Even when you count those who come for a second or third year (or more), the vast number of new kids coming to Israel every year makes this a special time. Seeing things through their eyes renews the brilliance of being here in Israel.
Now that I have been the part of founding Migdal HaTorah, I get an even more personal charge with the start of a new year. The yeshiva has grown this year, and more than half of last year’s students have returned for shanah bet—which is a huge vote of approval from our “customers”. So we got to re-welcome the “old” guys while at the same time getting to know a whole crew of “new” guys.
It was a tough summer. The tension and violence basically ran through July and August. Although we were safe and secure through the entire war (or whatever you call it) and enjoyed G‑d’s protection through the IDF and Iron Dome, the situation was still frightening and stressful for everyone. And we lived far away from the actual scary places.
I was chatting with one of our alumni the other day and he asked me for my take on the latest developments. I wasn’t really sure what to answer him. My feelings are quite mixed. There are so many different sides to the problem that it seems there really is no simple, cut-and-dried answer.
I feel that we left something unfinished in the end. I mean, they were still firing rockets to the last minute. And in the last weeks, rockets were basically shot without much response from us. It seemed like we just stopped fighting, and, with the latest truce, the satisfaction of knowing that we achieved victory seems missing.
No, I was not fooled by the Hamas victory parades. All you need to do is take a look at the many “Sixth of October Victory” projects (square, plaza, bridge) in Cairo and you will understand how easy it is to claim that you won when in actuality you got crushed. We won the military confrontation. We bombed them into last century and it will take them time to challenge us.
Unlike our northern neighbors who seem to not want to fight us again, there is no doubt in my mind that Hamas will challenge us. I expect that they will learn from this war and develop new systems to beat our current defenses. Which means that we will have to develop even better defenses. They kept shooting and will keep shooting, because they want us dead.
Yet there has to be a reason that we left Gaza and didn’t go back in when they kept shooting at us. I don’t think it was fear or concern. I think we simply ran out of obvious targets. Or at least obvious targets that weren’t in a hospital or orphanage. We had run out of obvious hard targets and had begun to target specific people instead. And I also think that our success at it is part of what led to the latest truce.
It is quite easy to point fingers and say that people could have and should have done more. It is a lot harder to know what more could have been done. Everyone is a brilliant general from their couch. It must be a lot harder to be brilliant when bullets and rockets are whizzing by.
So I am resigned. When we first moved here, we seemingly underwent disaster after disaster. Along with the wars and violence, we faced housing and medical issues as well as problems with neighbors, jobs, and money. Yet we are still here and thrilled to be so.
And I remember how we felt that each new problem would overwhelm us. But in the end, many of them (although not all) worked out to our benefit, and a lot of our worrying and angst went to waste. And it reaffirmed what I wrote in some of my first articles and have often repeated since.
Nothing is in our hands. We have no clue what is good for us and what is not. We will experience what G‑d wants for us and decides is best for us. For whatever reason, we needed to have this past summer. Maybe it saved lives. Maybe it was a kapparah. I don’t know the answer, and neither do you.
Yet here we are at another beginning, one that we have been given as yet another gift. Our kids are back in school. They are happy and healthy. Our students have come for another year, and we dare to dream of another terrific year for them and the continued fulfillment of all our dreams. v
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a new gap-year yeshiva. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Shmuel Katz