From grappling with Talmud in Chicago to fighting terrorists

Eliyahu took months to decide to volunteer for IDF but he decided to make aliya, reenlist quickly.

nahal haredi 298.88 (photo credit: Nahal Haredi)
nahal haredi 298.88
(photo credit: Nahal Haredi)
Eliyahu Joselit never thought he'd be where he is today, especially considering his background: a haredi Jew from the west side of Chicago, where he attended Hebrew day schools and yeshivas and spent most of his time grappling with a daily page of Talmud. He has come a long way, and today serves as a squad commander in an elite IDF unit under the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, also known as the Nahal Haredi. Joselit served for more than two years with the battalion as an overseas volunteer in the IDF until he was told by the Interior Ministry that he could not stay in the military on a tourist visa. While it took him four months of deliberations to decide to volunteer in the IDF, he recalled Monday that his decision to make aliya and reenlist in the military was made in five minutes. With less than a year left to his mandatory three years of service, Joselit plans to remain in the army, take the officer's course and start a long-term military career. Joselit's story is just one of dozens at the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, where soldiers from a variety of backgrounds come together for one purpose - to serve in the IDF in a haredi environment. The purpose of the battalion is to allow haredi men to serve in the IDF in extreme-halachic surroundings. Established seven years ago as a single company, Nahal Haredi has come a long way from the days when it fought for its survival against haredi rabbis who called for its dismantlement. Today it is a battalion under the Kfir Brigade and based out of Tirzah in the Jordan Valley. Under the command of Lt.-Col. Itzik Gai, the battalion consists of three companies in addition to Joselit's elite squad. Despite their haredi appearance - the soldiers wear big black kippot and long tzitzit - the battalion has had some major operation successes in recent years, including several thwarted suicide bombings. Deployed throughout the Jordan Valley, Gai and his men prevent terror infiltrations into Israel and conduct arrest raids in Nablus-area villages. Gai, 33, took over the battalion in August just after the Lebanon war and already speaks of his long-term goal - to turn the battalion into a three-battalion brigade. "It is possible," Gai said. "Seven years ago, no one would have believed that Netzah Yehuda would be more than just a company - and look at us today." Gai points to Joselit as an example of the battalion's success. A haredi American who left behind his family and friends, Joselit exemplifies the fusion of a haredi lifestyle and a challenging and adventurous military service. What had made him decide to make aliya and serve in the IDF was a visit to Mount Herzl toward the middle of his volunteer military service. "I stood there looking at the tombstones and saw that the soldiers buried there were 18 or 19 years old," he recalled Monday. "I thought of my friends back in the US who were either working or in college, and I decided that here in Israel I was fulfilling a bigger purpose - serving and defending my country." •