Editor's Notes: Unbearable loss, indomitable spirit

In the Bnei David military yeshiva academy memorial room, 3 new photos have been added since last summer.

david horovitz 224.88 (photo credit: )
david horovitz 224.88
(photo credit: )
In the memorial room of the Bnei David military yeshiva academy at the settlement of Eli, three new photographs have been added since last summer's Second Lebanon War. There is Ro'i Klein, the 31-year-old father of two, a major in the Golani Brigade whose extraordinary heroism in jumping on a grenade to save his soldiers during the fighting in Bint Jbail on July 26 constitutes one of the most staggering acts of selfless courage in this or any other battle. Less well known is the story, told by the academy's founder Rabbi Eli Sadan, of further lives saved by Klein during that bitter conflict. Happening to notice a computer in one of the houses where the fighting was raging, Klein pulled out a screwdriver and extracted the hard drive, slipping it in his backpack. Recovered after his death, it turned out to contain maps showing where Hizbullah had booby-trapped the area for Israeli tanks, says Sadan. Immediately made available to the IDF, this information proved invaluable in the subsequent battling. There is Benji Hillman, the 26-year-old son of English immigrants, a platoon commander in the elite Egoz unit who, though newly married, insisted on returning to his unit to lead his men, and also lost his life at Bint Jbail - barely three weeks after his wedding. And there is Emanuel Moreno, 35, whose name appears on a picture frame that contains no photograph. Moreno, Sadan explains, was a member of the Sayeret Matkal elite commando unit who carried out numerous missions under cover. So sensitive was some of that work that the IDF won't allow his picture to be displayed even here, at the academy from which he graduated, for fear that some chance visitor may see it and recognize his features, and that "doors that he had opened would be closed," as Sadan succinctly puts it. Recently the rabbi attended a ceremony at the Sayeret Matkal base at which a new Torah Scroll was being dedicated, in honor of fallen comrades Yoni Netanyahu, who died at Entebbe in 1976, and Moreno, who died in the fighting in Baalbek toward the end of the Second Lebanon War 30 years later. "A modern Yoni - that was the stature of Emanuel," says Sadan softly. The academy here was established 19 years ago, its initial aim to help Orthodox soldiers maintain their faith in what was then a more overwhelmingly secular military environment. Rabbis were starting to tell students not to serve, says Sadan, but the academy's pioneers sought instead to bolster religious Zionist soldiers' spirit, commitment and motivation to protect Israel. A hundred years ago, when pre-state Israel could have done with their input, Orthodox yeshiva students didn't leave their studies, says Sadan; he was determined to ensure no reversion to that norm. It has certainly worked. Bnei David has 1,800 graduates, 85 percent of whom have served in combat units, and 60% of whom became officers or volunteered for additional service. Moreover, its lead was followed by 20 similar academies nationwide, helping to create the astonishing statistics that now show 40% of IDF officers' course graduates are religious Zionist, along with 45% of the latest intake into the paratroops' course. If anything, says Sadan, with some of the disarming directness that must make him an admirable teacher, "we have succeeded too well." The IDF, he elaborates, needs to be an army of all of the people. He should know: Born the day before Israel was, he fought for 35 years - from the Suez Canal in 1967, he says, to Tulkarm during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. So 10 years ago, he helped initiate the establishment of a first secular military academy, which was also initially based here, to counter the drop-out rate among secular Israelis and bolster their motivation - an initiative that, too, has now spawned about a dozen similar institutions. The Bnei David academy wasn't intended to be a "settler" academy, the rabbi stresses. Nineteen years ago, indeed, they held an official inauguration ceremony in Beit Shemesh, where they had been promised facilities, five weeks before the scheduled start of the first courses. The promises, however, proved entirely empty and, casting around desperately for a last-minute alternative, they alighted on the then small settlement of Eli, whose residents were just moving from temporary to permanent housing and thus had plenty of prefabs to spare. Now, though, Sadan stresses, he believes their location was "no coincidence… because all of our history is in these hills." The Greater Israel ideology is central, but so too is Sadan's awareness that senseless internal hatreds destroyed our previous efforts at Jewish sovereignty. And so, two years ago, when the government ordered the disengagement from Gaza, Sadan told his students not to abandon their units, "even though I was sure it was madness to leave" Gush Katif. "We stick together through thick and thin," he says he told them. He also went to see chief of General Staff Dan Halutz, to lobby him, successfully, not to deploy Orthodox soldiers to evacuate "their brothers. You wouldn't ask Beduin soldiers to raze Beduin homes," he argued. Sadan is a gentle, almost hesitant speaker, but an effective one - conveying a deeply reassuring confidence and calm. You can well imagine how powerfully he might influence young minds, and imagine the love of Israel, and the indomitable desire to protect it, that he instills in his students. And a year after the war, in that simple room, with its wood-framed photographs of the fallen graduates - smiling, confident and now fallen - you can only mourn for the umpteenth time the terrible costs of our battles for survival, and pray that wisdom and courage will spare Israel further such unbearable loss. Hamas the humane You couldn't make up some of the noxious garbage Hamas has been spouting since it sprang the BBC's Alan Johnston from the hands of a rival/allied terror gang. My favorite was the Hamas spokesman in Gaza telling a BBC World Service radio interviewer on Wednesday evening that no one should have been surprised at its success in securing Johnston's release. After all, he declared without so much as a wobble at the absurdity of his contention (it was radio, so I couldn't see if his nose was growing), Hamas never stands silent when violence is being perpetrated "against the Jewish, the Christians…" The interviewer (it was radio, so I couldn't see if he was nodding) chose not to contest this despicable claim - neither to point out that the Hamas charter features the quoted invocation to kill Jews, nor to confront the saintly Hamas interviewee over his gang's ruthless murders of its own Palestinian brethren during the recent Gaza takeover. Neither, needless to say, did he venture to highlight that Hamas, by its own admission, is itself holding a hostage, our own Gilad Schalit, snatched from inside Israel's sovereign borders, whose time in captivity long exceeds the 114-day misery to which Johnston was subjected. Straight after the Hamas man's unchallenged humanitarian broadcast, a British Labor member of the European parliament came on the air to advocate a cautious reassessment of contacts with Hamas, which had now proven its capacity to act responsibly. Who, after listening to the previous interview, could beg to differ?