Secular soldiers praise 'disco rabbi'

All 600 members of 8th Paratrooper Battalion hosted at yeshiva made it through war unscathed.

October 5, 2006 21:54
2 minute read.
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Sometimes good things come from bad. This summer's war, with a boost from Rabbi Yitzhak Grossman of Migdal Ha'emek, helped bring some secular and ortohdox Israelis together. Last Thursday, a Torah scroll was dedicated in honor of the 8th Paratrooper Battalion at Grossman's Migdal Ohr Yeshiva. The unit's 600 soldiers, most of them secular, had stayed in the yeshiva's dormitories before leaving to fight in Lebanon in July and made it their home base during the three subsequent weeks when they went in and out of the battle zone. Grossman, an Israel Prize laureate often referred to as the "disco rabbi" for his work reaching out to youths at clubs, blessed each fighter when they first set out, praying for their safe return. All 600 came back unharmed. "It was one of those things bordering on the miraculous," said Rabbi Ari Kahn, executive vice president of Migdal Ohr, in a telephone interview this week. Many of the paratroopers returned to Migdal Ha'emek for the Torah scroll dedication. They brought their families and everyone danced, the men and women each on their separate sides, bridging the gaps between secular and religious Jews, Kahn said. Alain Green, a French Jew who commissioned the Torah scroll last summer, flew in for the ceremony. He said he would have donated 10 more Torahs if it would have meant that all the soldiers who served in the war would have avoided injury. Grossman opened the dormitories to the soldiers after 12 Artillery Corps reservists were killed by a single Katyusha rocket while waiting at the unit's staging point at the Kfar Giladi cemetery on August 6. The dormitories were deemed not safe enough for children during the war, but were suitable for the soldiers. Grossman saw to the soldiers' needs, providing necessities like food and clothing and making sure recreational facilities like the swimming pool were at their disposal. He also helped the unit acquire additional equipment such as knee pads. "It was amazing," said Sharon Ohana, a member of the paratrooper unit. "He said, 'Anything you need, just tell us.'" Green had already decided to donate a Torah scroll. After hearing what Grossman was doing for the soldiers, Green decided to dedicate the Torah, then being written, to the paratroopers. Each one had a letter toward the end of the scroll written in his honor. The scroll will now be used regularly at Migdal Ohr. Ohana spoke about staying on the campus. "That was also amazing. We're not used to [religious life] normally," he said in a phone interview. Although the yeshiva students were not there, the staff were, and the soldiers were invited to join them for prayers and in laying tefillin (phylacteries) if they wished. "You feel something inside you and it makes you feel different about their [the religious] world," said Ohana. He said he and his comrades felt at home at Migdal Ohr and stressed that no one pressured them to participate in religious activities. "To meet those people, for me and for other soldiers, was something very special and new since we don't live that kind of life," Ohana said. "That anyone in Israel would do that, say 'come into my place and do what with it what you want...,' personally, I will never forget it."

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