The legacy of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs is alive and well

A first Shabbat in the army brings on new meanings.

(photo credit: REUTERS)
The entire book of Genesis is full of stories regarding our Patriarchs and Matriarchs; the impact they had on the people around them and the spiritual influence they achieved during the course of their productive and challenging lives. Yet as beautiful and inspiring as these stories are they are nonetheless stories of the past and it is difficult to imagine people around us who may fulfill similar callings.
Three weeks ago our daughter Nechama was drafted into the IDF.
Nechama is an observant young lady and she knew she was going to be in a unit together with 25 non-observant young women.
While she was eager to join her unit she was a bit anxious regarding how things would pan out for her, being the only religiously observant person on her base.
The first week after she was drafted was Sukkot and the soldiers were allowed home for the holiday, but were told that the first Shabbat after the holiday would be on base and so they were instructed to prepare accordingly as they would not be going home for two weeks. As such the soldiers began to compare notes on their WhatsApp group, texting one another about what they should bring with them to base so that they could all make things a little more enjoyable for their Shabbat together. A number of girls suggested they bring a “boom box” so they could play music, dance and make some noise. Immediately this suggestion was nixed as a number of soldiers reminded the group that Nechama was observant and it would be unfair that she could not participate and disrespectful of her way of keeping Shabbat, and so it was agreed that everyone would bring board games so that Nechama could partake.
When Nechama told us of this exchange I told her (tongue in cheek) that she had not even spent that much time with the other soldiers and she already was having a positive influence on her surroundings.
The week passed and on Friday Nechama called us from her base, in an emotional state. She said that she was nervous spending Shabbat on base as the only observant soldier, and explained that her secular officer sat the soldiers in a circle the day before and asked them what Shabbat meant to each of them. Some said that Shabbat was about going to the movies, some said going out to eat and some just welcomed the chance to sleep.
Nechama responded that Shabbat for her was her mother’s challa and chicken soup, and with that she was brought to tears and left the room.
A few of her comrades came over to her, they told her that they understood that she was the only religious girl on the base and reassured her that they would be going to the synagogue with her on Shabbat.
When I heard this, I reminded Nechama again of the impact she was having considering the short time she had been in the army, and told her that if she was lonely or sad over Shabbat she should remind herself of the Kiddush Hashem, or sanctification of God’s Name, she was fulfilling through her service.
Saturday night Nechama called and told us the following story.
Shabbat morning she went to the synagogue and by the time she came back for the Shabbat meal, all of the other soldiers were already in the middle of eating. Nechama found some grape juice and approached the table to make Kiddush (the benediction on wine recited on Shabbat) so she could join her fellow soldiers. One of the girls motioned to her to sit down and join them, to which she explained that her father makes Kiddush while standing and so she too would stand for Kiddush. Suddenly, all 25 soldiers stood up and respectfully remained standing in anticipation of Nechama’s Kiddush.
Nechama was overwhelmed with emotion and she had to excuse herself.
The non-observant officer approached her and told her, “Nechama, there are 25 soldiers inside who never heard Kiddush in their lives. They are now waiting for you to make Kiddush for Shabbat. Please take this opportunity and recite the Kiddush for our dining room.” And so she did.
Yes, my friends, the stories of our forefathers and their lives may have happened long ago, but their memories and the lessons they leave us continue to resonate within us, presenting us with opportunities to fulfill Kiddush Hashem to this very day.
The author serves as a lecturer for the IDF. He started an initiative offering lectures throughout the country on Judaism to secular kibbutzim – He is a lecturer for communities throughout the Diaspora.