By Toby Klein Greenwald
In 2010, I wrote a column for the Five Towns Jewish Times called “A Day of Covenants,” about an Israeli Independence Day that included, among other things, the b’rit milah of a cousin’s son, the chanukat bayit of a new home of a nephew, and a hachnasat sefer Torah for a sefer dedicated by friends in memory of their parents.
I was reminded of that day on Rosh Chodesh Nissan (April 1) this year, when we had three deeply meaningful events, on one day, that will live in our family’s collective memory for a long time.
Receiving a chumash in the city of our forefathers. It began in the late morning, when my husband and I drove to Hebron to pick up our six-year-old grandson, Yehuda. His class had received their first Chumashim Bereshith from Rav Hananel Etrog of Yeshivat Shavei Hebron. How special—to receive a chumash in the city where Avraham first bought a portion in Eretz Yisrael.
Since the class would have arrived home in Shomria (in the northeast Negev) too late for Yehuda to join his family, who were driving to Tel-Aviv for another special ceremony, my husband and I had the joy of picking him up in Hebron and taking him to Me’arat Hamachpela (Cave of the Patriarchs), where he had his uphsherin only three years ago (though we couldn’t take him in, as he’s a kohen), and from there back to Efrat. Yehuda’s family—our daughter and son-in-law and their children—were resettled in Shomria after being expelled from their home in Atzmona, Gush Katif.
While my husband went to teach, I treated Yehuda at the famous Efrat Pizzeria, the first one ever opened in Gush Etzion, 26 years ago, by Mordechai Goodman, originally from Texas.
The three of us then drove through the beautiful hills of the Valley of Elah—the “back road” from Gush Etzion, as we call it—to Bet Shemesh, where we caught a train to Tel-Aviv. It was Yehuda’s first time on a train. We sat in the first car, and I cajoled a guard into letting him peek into the booth where the conductor sits—how exciting!
We arrived at our destination and made our way to a military base.
A promotion—for Jewish identity. The special occasion, in one of the large meetings rooms at the base, was the promotion of our son-in-law, Avner Cohen, to s’gan aluf (lieutenant colonel). But as exciting as the promotion in rank was his promotion to new director of the unit of which he has been second-in-command for the last seven years. It is called “Toda’a Yehudit,” “Jewish Identity.” It operates under the Chief Rabbi of the IDF, Rav Rafi Peretz, whose previous position was director of the pre-army yeshiva mechina in Atzmona (where our son Matanya studied—such a small country). Rav Peretz said that new chareidi conscripts would also be included in programs of the Jewish Identity unit.
The goal of the unit is to strengthen the combat spirit and the motivation to serve, and to enhance leadership qualities, in the case of officers, by making them familiar with concepts in classical Jewish sources. There appears to be a real desire among Israeli soldiers to acquire this knowledge, as it is written, “Behold, the days are coming, says the L‑rd our G‑d, and I sent a hunger into the land, not a hunger for bread and not thirst for water, but to hear the words of G‑d” (Amos 8:11).
Among the guests were also Avner’s parents and his two living grandparents. His grandfather Zvi, since he was attending a military ceremony, wore his own army insignias, from the War of Independence, the Sinai Campaign, the Six Day War, the War of Attrition, and the Yom Kippur War.
In his acceptance speech of the new rank and role, Avner said, “Our goal is unity among our people.”
A city by the sea. How does one end such a lovely day? It was our wedding anniversary, so my husband and I bade the family farewell. They drove home to Shomria, and we took a walk along the Tel-Aviv seashore. We began at the exquisitely renovated “Old Train Station,” passing the Etzel House, a museum near the sea that commemorates the role the Etzel played in the battle for the State of Israel, and continued along the boardwalk to Jaffa. One doesn’t need candlelight and wine when one has the music of the rushing waves under the stars in Eretz Yisrael.
A chumash in the city of Avraham; a visit to an army base to witness an IDF promotion to a role that will inspire Judaism in soldiers; a walk along the seashore honoring the fact that, after 38 years, we are still together and enjoying some of the fruits of our labor—baruch Hashem! v