YBA Alumni Profiles: Lt. Matan Horesh, YBA Givat Shmuel

In his first interview since Operation Protective Edge, Lt. Matan Horesh talks about his decision to enter the tunnel to search for Lt. Hadar Goldin, his nagging sense of personal failure, the many months he refused to talk about the operation, and his objections to the Facebook campaign to give him a medal

by Tal Ariel Amir, Ma’ariv Online, July 11, 2015
Lt. Matan Horesh (Photo: Ariel Besor)
Sometimes at night Lt. Matan Horesh returns to that day, “Black Friday,” in the Gaza Strip, when he chased through the tunnel where Hamas terrorists dragged the body of Lt. Hadar Goldin, z”l. He relives the scene again; he feel of the dank concrete walls and the darkness that enveloped him and Lt. Eitan Fund. In his dream they stride forward, shoulder to shoulder, searching in the dark for their kidnapped comrade. Suddenly the terrorists step out before them. Fund and Horesh open fire and manage to kill them, then make their way back, carrying Goldin on their backs wounded, but still alive.

That is the dream that Lt. Horesh, the officer who received a citation for his bravery in battle for what happened that night, prefers to dream. On other nights he wakes up disappointed when the painful reality slaps him in the face. In some dreams, he is walking alone toward the end of the tunnel when he sees the barrel of a gun pointing at him between the eyes, with a terrorist’s finger about to pull the trigger. That's when he wakes up.

Lt. Hadar Goldin, z"l
The battle of Rafah, on Friday, August 1, 2014, is considered one of the most significant battles of Operation Protective Shield. Three fighters from the Givati recon unit, the commander, Major Benaya Sarel, Lt. Hadar Goldin and Staff Sergeant Liel Gidoni, were killed by Hamas an hour after the announcement of a cease-fire. The attempted abduction of Goldin and the heroic effort to rescue him resonated loudly in the media. But while Fund was presented as the hero who found the evidence that led to the pronouncement of Goldin's death, it seemed that Horesh was absent from the headlines. His frustrated friends pressured him to tell about his part in the incident, but the officer preferred to remain silent.

When the IDF’s Citation Commission published its intention to decorate Fund, a friend of the Horesh family decided to open up a Facebook page calling for Lt. Horesh to be awarded the Order of Courage medal. The impact of the campaign on the officer was like an unwanted bear hug. Only later did it become clear that Horesh was on the top of the list of soldiers to receive decorations, along with the other fighters involved in the tunnel episode.

Lt. Matan Horesh (Photo: Ariel Besor)
In his first in-depth interview, Lieutenant Horesh, who will start next week training cadets at the IDF Combat Officer Training Base, discusses his decision to enter the tunnel with Fund, the months of silence about the operation and his reservations about the campaign calling on the IDF to give him a medal: “I knew that the intentions were good, but I really disliked the campaign, because I was afraid people would think I was behind it," he says. 'I don’t have a Facebook account, so at first, I didn’t know what impact it had on the public and the media. But when people began to mention it to me, I immediately forbade my family to be interviewed and asked them to erase the page.”

Were you afraid that the public would doubt your worthiness if you were to receive the Citation for Courage because of the campaign?
"At no stage did I stop to think about if receiving a medal would hurt me or not. It’s just that all the hoopla is not my nature. After the operation, I concentrated on my soldiers and our operational deployments in the field. I just didn’t feel comfortable about the campaign. I don’t care about what people think about me; what is most important to me is that I tried to save Hader.

How did you react when you retreated from the Gaza Strip and left Hadar Goldin behind?
The moment when we left Gaza seemed strange to me. I didn’t feel that we are abandoning Hadar, the battalion did everything to find him at all costs, and the evidence of that is that the family was able to give him a burial. However, I had the feeling of a missed opportunity. In the final analysis, we returned to Israel and he was not with us."

Today, a year after Operation Protective Edge, you think Goldin's rescue operation should have been handled differently?
'I have only myself to criticize. Sometimes I think maybe I should have run faster in the tunnel; or maybe I shouldn’t have gone back to get reinforcements. But now, in hindsight, I see that the possibility of finding Hadar was doomed from the start because of the element of time. It took several minutes before it became clear to us that he was abducted, and until we entered the tunnel. In all likelihood by that time he was already out the other side, in the heart of the Hamas stronghold."

"I acted like a robot"
Horesh started Operation Protective Edge as a young second lieutenant, straight out of Officer Training School and intended for the job of Engineering and Sabotage squad commander, in the Givati Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion. He received his squad just ten days before the ground forces entered the Gaza Strip, and one day before the start of the operation. Initially Horesh’s squad was intended to deal with the evacuation of the wounded, however, just before the zero hour, his orders were changed to provide security back-up for the company commander, Major Eli Gino. The operation was a challenge for the beginner commanding officer. He did not know his squad of fighters, their strengths and weaknesses, and he had no time to run drills alongside them beforehand.

Hamas terror tunnel in Gaza
Saturday, July 19, was set as the day the Givati Reconnaissance Battalion would enter Gaza. The fighters’ objective was to seek out and secure tunnels used by Hamas combatants in the Rafah District. After a day of searching without success, the regiment returned to Israel, and the next night went into the Khirbet Khizeh neighborhood further to the north. “We situated ourselves with the battalion's command post in one of the houses, around which the rest of our units were stationed,” says Horesh. “In the morning one of our units identified three terrorists coming up from the ground, and killed one of them. The our battalion identified two snipers. One of them was killed and the other captured and used as a source of information. Because of him we found a tunnel with a cache of weapons, hidden under the rubble of a house.

When did you see Benaya for the first time?
I didn’t know him personally, but I saw him at every briefing with the battalion commander. I remember he always demanded high-quality performance and was highly motivated. The most memorable thing I remember him saying was when he asked the company commander if he would make it home for his wedding, which was scheduled for two weeks later. It impressed me. Everyone told Benaya that the operation will be behind us by then. I was closer with his communications assistant, Liel Gidoni, who went through boot camp with me. I never saw him when he wasn’t smiling and calm.”

Lt. Matan Horesh (Photo: IDF Sokesperson)
The battalion came and went to and from Khirbet Khizeh, until it was decided to return to the area of Rafah again, a day before the kidnapping. There were rumors of a ceasefire and we wanted to find the tunnel that we couldn’t find on Sunday,” says Horesh. “We congregated at the staging area and then I had a moment of crisis. I was tired and I thought about the squad of soldiers I got. There was no time for a briefing and I didn’t really know the soldiers well. I felt alone. I found a few seconds of silence and opened my cellphone. That was a mistake. WhatsApp was full of messages about Roey Peles, my friend from the officers' course. They all wrote that he was killed, but I didn’t react. I called a friend and heard that I missed the funeral and shiva. I hung up the phone, I sat down on the sand and just cried. That was the first time someone so close to me was killed. After a few minutes I realized that I had to separate my emotions from the fighting, and to work only with my head. From that moment, I turned off my phone and functioned like a robot. I can understand the dilemma and the desire of soldiers to hear what's going on with other forces, but when you need to fight, it hurts motivation and can be depressing.”

Did you have bad feelings about the continuation of fighting?
“Just when I was told we were going into Rafah for the last time, because the next day will be a ceasefire, I thought about Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were captured on the Lebanon border on the last day before a cease fire. I was afraid that the soldiers will be less vigilant, and that could be a weak point. I spoke with them, I told them to be vigilant and said that it’s impossible to know what will happen; that there may be surprises waiting for us, because a soldier could still be killed tomorrow. After that, I took out my tzitzit, which I had left in my pack because of the heat, and I decided I would wear them until the end of the fighting.”

"We were afraid that everything was booby trapped"
On Thursday night, July 31, the regiment returned to northeast Rafah. The field commander of the battalion, including Horesh and his fighters, settled into one of the buildings. Some 400 meters from them, not far from a complex of greenhouses, Sarel’s forces settled in. "In the morning, as I was about to put on tefillin, one of the soldiers came up to me and told me that a man on a motorcycle had just passed by outside,” Horesh recounts that fateful Friday. “It was weird and I asked them to stay alert. I thought that maybe because of the ceasefire, a few civilians might be returning already to inspect the damage to their homes. I bent down to take the tefillin, then heard a volley of gunfire.”

The house where Lt. Hadar Goldin was abducted.
(Photo: IDF Spokesperson)
“I remember that shortly before that, Benaya reported that a sniper was spotted in the building across from his position and asked for someone to pick him off. Just then the battalion commander called for all unit commanders to report in, and only Benaya didn’t respond. Another officer reported that he could see bodies on the ground. They were Benaya and Liel. Not far from them was the body of a
terrorist. The rescue team approached them and noticed traces of blood leading to the adjoining building, which looked like a kind of watchtower. Inside they found the opening to a tunnel. Once it became clear that Hadar was missing, a “Cannibal Alert” [soldier abducted] situation was declared.”

Lt. Eitan Fund (Photo: IDF Spokesperson)
The commander, Major Gino, Horesh and the other soldiers rushed to the area of the shooting and took cover behind the greenhouses. On the radio they heard that Lt. Fund went down into the tunnel to search for Goldin. “Eitan realized it would be difficult for him to move forward with all his battle gear on, so he came back up," Horesh said. “We arrived at the place just as he came out of the tunnel. I saw the tunnel entrance on the left corner of the building with its iron lid ajar. Eitan said he could not see anything in the tunnel, so I told him I would go down with him because I had a flashlight on my rifle. We took off our flak jackets and helmets, and took a walkie-talkie. Eitan took a pistol from someone and we went down the iron ladder. The tunnel was completely dark. The flashlight illuminated just a few meters ahead. The air smelled of dust. Eitan shot into the dark, but suddenly his pistol jammed. We decided to continue anyway, and around every 40 meters I shot into the darkness ahead. My ears were constantly ringing because I had no earplugs."

Did you think about the dangers awaiting you in the tunnel?
“Not at first. My body was full of adrenaline and I was just thinking about Hadar. My rifle safety was off with a live bullet in the chamber the whole time we were down there. I thought that if one of the terrorists succeeded to harm me, at least I’d have one bullet to shoot him with before I die. On the top of the tunnel was a wire and I thought it was a booby-trap. I remember that we walked a few minutes following the trail of blood, then we saw the first item that belonged to Hadar. The walkie-talkie didn’t work deep inside the tunnel, so we returned back to report, and then continued searching. As we progressed, we found more of Hadar’s things and there was no doubt he was seriously injured. At one point we got to a fork in the tunnel, so we returned back for reinforcements, and Lt. Shaked Kedar and Staff Sgt. Mekonen Tz'alatz'ao joined us. They also received medals."

Weren’t you afraid it was an ambush?
"That's why we took reinforcements. Tz'alatz'ao was in charge of communications with the officers outside, and Kedar covered us near the fork with his weapon drawn. Eitan and I continued following the blood stains. I saw the drag marks on the ground and realized that Hadar could not walk by himself. We moved about 600 meters and reached a kind of a room with guns, rocket launchers, RPG’s and vests. We were afraid that everything was booby-trapped, but we continued following the tunnel until we got another fork. I noticed blood marks were gone, and it was odd."

What do you think is the reason?
"I believe that the terrorists reached their back-up force and they evacuated Hadar from that point with motorcycles. At that moment Tz'alatz'ao came running and said the brigade commander ordered us out of the tunnel. I was hoping we were called out because they found Hadar. When I realized they hadn’t found him, I was disappointed. But Reconnaissance didn't give up. Our entire force charged the Hamas stronghold, while under fierce gunfire. Our commanders had intelligence information indicating a mosque as the place where is the tunnel exit was located. Our fighters found the opening, but there was no sign Goldin. They were forced to retreat, and two days later our forces returned to Israel."

The silence of warriors
YBA Givat Shmuel
Matan Horesh was born in Bat Yam, and raised in Holon. He attended the YBA yeshiva high school in Givat Shmuel and he spent two years before recruitment at the Shavei Hevron Hesder Yeshiva. In March 2012 he joined the Tracking, Engineering and Sabotage Company of the Givati Brigade. When he finished his officer training course he was supposed to lead a team that was two months away from the end of their basic training, and then continue commanding them in operational missions. The young officer risked his life for a soldier who he didn’t know. He talks about camaraderie and friendship as the highest values, and doesn’t try to hide the difficult moments he experienced during the operation.

“I'll never forget the way we headed back to Israel,” says Horesh recalling those agonizing hours. “The silence of fighters and commanders was like a deafening scream. I saw them all subdued, and it wasn't easy for me to internalize the fact that we had left behind Hadar; we were not able to rescue him. All the way, I thought about his parents, and I wondered how we, as the IDF, would deal with the incident.”
How did you manage to go on?
“It wasn’t easy. For three months I refused to talk about the operation or what I went through in the tunnel. I was surprised when I read the media accounts about the search for Hadar, because I didn’t feel as if we did anything unusual. I wasn't interested in all the talk about citations, and I felt I was becoming closed and dispassionate after the operation. Like, ‘Someone’s getting married? That’s nice. Someone died? Well, life goes on.’ I started to become agitated only after representatives of the IDF's Missing Persons Unit interviewed me about the kidnapping. I couldn’t stop replaying in my mind all the efforts we made to rescue Hadar. It was mostly a process of self-flagellation. I was constantly thinking about what I did wrong and what I could have done differently."

Have you tried to talk with professionals?
“I joined the group therapy discussions in the battalion and told the group that the melancholia that overcame me was bothering me. As if the human part of me was buried. Eventually, I got to the point where I was able to discuss my personal feelings.”

As he describes the dilemmas that accompanied him after the war, it is hard not to think about the description of his actions that earned Horesh the IDF citation. “He showed initiative in his actions, fortitude of character and a willingness to carry out his mision above and beyond the call of duty, and at great personal risk,” said the IDF report. Talking about the medal is awkward for Horesh and he squirms uneasily in his chair. “I didn’t go into the tunnel to win a medal. I never thought that trying to prevent the abduction of a fellow soldier was such a heroic action. IDF teaches us about the importance of not abandoning soldiers in the field, so that's what I did.”

In January this year the media reported that Fund would probably get the Bravery Medal, which was changed to the Distinguished Service Medal, how did you feel when your name was not mentioned?
"At first it was a bit strange, but I didn't care. Three people were killed in that battle, and one of them I knew personally, so why should I waste time over the question of whether someone mentioned my name or not?”

IDF Citation Ceremony (Photo: IDF Spokesperson)
You weren’t offended?
“Definately not. Eitan received the Distinguished Service Medal, because he initiated the tunnel entrance, and entered first. I do not see any less honor in the citation I received, both of us risked our lives for an important purpose.”

Did the kidnapping changed your military perception?
“One of my goals as an educator of officers now is to emphasize to them the importance of being prepared for any extreme situation. You must not be euphoric going into battle, because the battle will not be waged as you expect. Today I believe that were it not for Operation Protective Edge, I would be a very different commander. There is a difference between talking about the battlefield and being a part of it. This is not just theory, but something I experienced. The decision to reject the position of deputy company commander for now, in order to train another cycle of combat officer cadets, was my own. Future officers are the heart of the IDF and the future generation. They are the ones that will affect the soldiers and pass on what I will teach them.”

Will you tell them about your personal experiences and the search for Goldin in the tunnel?
“I believe that the issue will come up.”

Did Operation Protective Edge have any effect on your desire to remain in the army?
I have signed on for another year, and I am not ruling out the option to stay on even longer. I always knew about the importance of the IDF for our country’s defense, but after Operation Protective Edge, that knowledge has been sharpened even more.

MK Nissan Slomiansky: "We need to highlight that Israel is a Jewish state"


Nissan Slomiansky, the new chairman of the Committee on Constitution, Law and Justice, is against the enactment of Basic Laws and in favor of setting new rules. In a confrontational interview he criticizes the Supreme Court ("Haredim and Arabs feel they are without representation") and promises to see that more and more laws passed by the Knesset will be grounded in Jewish law

By Gideon Alon, ISRAEL TODAY, June 29, 2015 (translation)

MK Nissan Slomiansky
Although only a few weeks have passed since he took office as Chairman of the Knesset Constitution Committee, MK Nissan Slomiansky (Jewish Home) has strong and clear positions on issues of law and justice, and he knows just what he intends to accomplish during his tenure.

Slomiansky (69) has served ten years in the Knesset, but not continuously. He previously served for more than 20 years (1998-1977) as mayor of Elkana, where he lives with his family. He was a founder of the Gush Emunim movement, and the secretary general and member of the Yesha Council. In 1997 he became an MK for the first time on the NRP list. He lost his seat in the next elections to the 15th Knesset, but returned to the Knesset in 2003 as part of the National Union and has served two terms. In the elections to the 18th Knesset he won first place in the list of the Jewish Home party, but gave up his place for the benefit of the late journalist Uri Orbach. In the 19th Knesset was appointed to the prestigious post of chairman of the Finance Committee.

MK Slomiansky is a very hardworking MK and a pleasant person all around. He was born in Ramat Gan and studied at the YBA Nechalim yeshiva high school and then at Yeshivat Hesder Kerem b'Yavneh, where he received rabbinical ordination. He also has two Master’s degrees, in Physics from Bar-Ilan University, and in Jewish Law from Tel Aviv University.

The Chairman of the Constitution Committee makes no secret of the criticism he has of the Supreme Court, and in particular the judicial activism of the former Chief Justice Aharon Barak. When I reminded him that eight years have passed since Barak resigned, he replies: "But his spirit still reigns there in the Supreme Court."

"The court is not the legislator"

The platform of the Jewish Home party says that you oppose the excessive and unnecessary intervention of the Supreme Court in legalization. What does that mean?

"During the period of Justice Barack, the Supreme Court became the country's chief legislator. For example when I was a legislator, I passed a law that had a particular purpose with explanations and justifications. But when the law came up for judicial review, Barak said: 'I interpret the law differently than the legislature,’ and from that moment on, his interpretation became the binding interpretation in all circumstances.

"Barak also assumed the authority to overturn laws passed by the legislature, which was never the intended role of the Supreme Court. He was not the legislature. If he thought that a law needed changing, there were ways that he could unofficially direct the attention of the politicians to changing the law. The Knesset is the democratic body elected by the public, and therefore the Court must act in accordance with the laws of the Knesset, and assume the authority to overrule them."

You also claim that the Supreme Court is disconnected and does not reflect the general public. How so?

"I'll give you a few examples. In the Barak era the Court upgraded two laws that the Knesset enacted as ordinary laws into Basic Laws [referring to the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation - GA]. This gave these laws enormous power comparable to a constitution, and then the Court began to compare any new law that the Knesset enacted to these Basic Laws. If Barak’s understanding of the new law passed by the legislature contradicted a Basic Law, he abolished the new legislation. You understand what tremendous authority he assumed for himself? Furthermore, analysis of Supreme Court rulings made by various parties clearly proves that there is still a strong tendency toward the Left on the Court. I aspire that the Supreme Court will be connected to the public, with everyone being represented in some way. Today there are sectors of the general public, including the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs, who do not feel that the court represents them, and that for all intents and purposes, the Court exists in a vacuum; and that's not good. Once wider sectors of the public feel that the Supreme Court represents them, it will give the Court legitimacy. "

"Change the composition of the committee"

How will you handle this situation?

"First of all by expanding the composition of the Judicial Appointments Committee, so that there will be three ministers instead of two and three MKs instead of two, because today there are three judges on committee who typically operate in coordination with two representatives of the Israel Bar Association, thus controlling a majority on the committee. We need to create a situation on the committee where five committee members will not be able to veto judicial appointments."

Why are you against legislation of other Basic Laws to complete a Constitution?

"In principle, we are against Basic Laws and a Constitution, because we believe that Israel already has a constitution and it is the Bible. In one of the meetings of the Knesset Constitution Committee, which was attended by Justice Barak, I argued with him about the importance of the Constitution. I asked him: 'If you have a constitution, who will interpret it?' And he replied, ‘the Supreme Court.’ I told him I thought the constitution should interpreted by a special court established just for constitutional review, or another external entity composed of public figures, to which he replied: ‘If so, then there is no point to a Constitution.’ The meaning of his words is that once the Constitution is ratified with the Supreme Court as its interpreter - then there will be nothing to prevent the Supreme Court becoming the supreme sovereign."

Your party's platform states that "legislation should be avoided that imposes religious or secular standards, and the status of Jewish law should be upgraded in the country.” What does that mean?

"There's no reason for there to be a conflict between the legislation in the Knesset and Jewish law. To date, no legislation passed by the legislature contradicts Jewish law. It is very important that the Jewish state should incorporate as many concepts as possible from traditional Jewish law in our modern legal system, because many of the 3,000 year-old laws have much beauty. I submitted a bill that states that every lacuna in modern legislation should include precedents found in Jewish law. Jewish law will thereby be modernized while at the same time enriching our modern law."

Do you support the proposal to split the roles of the Attorney General into two positions, one Legal Counsel to the government and the other to head the Public Prosecutor’s Office?

"The issue of separation of the functions of the Attorney General and the head of public prosecution is a heavy topic that needs to be changed, but it should be carried out in a serious manner. I intend to hold in-depth hearings on this issue. The current situation is not good, the Attorney General is essentially the landlord for all ".

"Everyone is equal before the law"

How about the phenomenon of corruption in law enforcement, prosecution, police and among lawyers?

"There is no doubt that it is a very difficult situation when the heads of government - including a former president, a former prime minister, a former finance minister and others - are sent to prison or convicted of serious crimes. Nevertheless, we should view in a positive light the fact that the state is waging a campaign against corruption in such cases, and does not flinch from prosecuting even the most senior positions in government. We must invest in denouncing these kinds of phenomena in our educational system, even in early childhood education."

Look do you think will be the highlight of your activity in your current term of office?

"We need to highlight any parliamentary legislation that first of all, Israel is a Jewish state. When Barak was president of the Supreme Court, he turned the tables and explained Jewish state as something amorphous and abstract. Therefore, with any law enacted by the Knesset we must emphasize that we are a Jewish state, and interpret what the Jewish moral tradition is in this area of Statecraft. Take for example the Law of Return. When the state was established the state’s leaders had the wisdom to enact the Law of Return, as well as family law governing marriage and divorce, so that we can live here as a Jewish state. We also will need to make changes in the laws regarding governance and national sovereignty. "

Slomiansky believes he has a chance to promote these changes: "A leader needs to have ambition, a desire to move forward, and to know what he wants to accomplish. It’s a bit difficult with a coalition of 61 Knesset members, but I'm optimistic."

IDF Manpower Chief: "Hesder Yeshiva students bring an added value to the army"

Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolinsky
Major General Hagai Topolinsky, the newly appointed head of IDF Personnel Directorate, recently met with the heads of the Hesder Yeshiva Association at the home of Rabbi Haim Drukman in Merkaz Shapira. General Topolinsky listened to the Roshei Yeshiva describe their educational philosophy in training students to serve in the army while at the same time training to become Torah scholars, the difficulties they face in running their yeshivot and their vision for the future.

In response, Topolinsky said, "Your Hesder Yeshivot are producing high-quality individuals who are role models for the other soldiers of Zionism and Jewish values. This is a bonus for the IDF - an added value - that is unparalleled." He added, "Our major challenge in Israeli society is to bring together and unite the various sectors of our population. You have an important role to play in achieving that goal."

General Topolinsky recalled to the rabbis his personal memories of commanding Hesder soldiers in the army, "The norms of behavior, Jewish values and Zionist idealism that the Hesder yeshiva students bring with them to the army, I tell you, are the envy of the entire community, including secular Israelis. It is a pleasure to serve as their commander, and we very much appreciate them."

Yom Hazikaron begins at sundown tonight

IDF Yom Hazikaron Opening Ceremony at the Kotel
On this day we honor the memory of 483 graduates of th Yeshivot Bnei Akiva educational network in Israel who gave their lives as Kiddush Hashem in the defence of Am Yisrael, Torat Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael.

In the past 67 years since the founding of the State of Israel, 407 YBA Torah Warriors fell in the line of duty in the IDF, and 76 more YBA students and graduates were murdered in terror actions against Israeli civilians.

Victims of Fallen IDF
YBA Institution Terror Soldiers Total
YBA Kfar Haroeh 6 82 88
YBA Yavneh, Haifa 1 43 44
YBA Or Etzion, Merkaz Shapira 8 35 43
YBA Netiv Meir, Jerusalem 2 39 41
YBA Nachal Yitzchak, Nechalim 8 26 34

YBA Givat Shmuel - 23 23
YBA Yad Avraham, Netanya 3 17 20
YBA Pirchei Aharon, Kiryat Shmuel 1 18 19
YBA Raanana 16 16
Yeshivat Hesder Hagolan, Hispin 7 9 16
YBA Beit Shmuel, Hadera 2 13 15
Yeshivat Hesder Or Etzion, Kiryat Shmuel 7 8 15
YBA Hadarom, Rehovot
YBA Neve Herzog, Nir Galim
YBA Hashomron, Karnei Shomron 8 4 12
YBA Ohel Shlomo, Beer Sheva 10 10
YBA Beit Yehuda, Kfar Maimon 2 7 9
Yeshivat Hesder Hakotel, Jerusalem 9 9
YBA Mateh Binyamin, Beit El 6 6
YBA Bar Yochai, Meron 2 3 5
UBA Tzfira, Tzafaria 5 5
Yeshivat Hesder Maale Yitzchak, Maalot 2 3 5
YBA TO"M, Herev Le'et 4 4
YBA Kiryat Herzog, Bnei Brak 1 3 4
Orot Israel College of Education 3 3
Yeshivat Hesder Neve Dekalim, Ashdod 2 1 3
UBA Neot Avraham, Arad 2 2
YBA Tikvat Yaakov, Sde Yaakov 1 1
YBA Aderet, Bat Yam 1 1
YBA Ner Tamid, Hashmonaim 1 1
YBA Beit Shean 1 1
YBA Sussya 1 1
UBA Amana, Kfar Saba 1 1
UBA Even Shmuel
Yeshivat Hesder Akko
Total 76 407 483

In Israel’s army, more officers now religious. What that means.

The percentage of officer cadets who are religious has grown 10-fold since the early 1990s. Among secular Israelis, that’s being met with a mix of respect, and concern.

By Christa Case Bryant, The Christian Science Monitor, April 17, 2015

In the early 1990s, ... Orthodox men accounted for 2.5 percent of graduates of infantry officer training courses; since then, it’s grown to more than 25 percent... In some combat units, they make up as much as 50 percent of new officers – roughly quadruple their share of Israel’s population. The upward trend, coupled with a parallel decline in the number of combat soldiers and officers coming from secular families, is dramatically changing the face of the IDF. Read entire article

Passover Interview with Rabbi Drukman - Part 3 of 3: Influencing Public Values

"Do everything you can to ensure the future of the people and the country."

Rabbi Haim Drukman established a generation and paved the way for the religious Zionist movement in many areas. Apart from the love of Torah and love of Israel, he has a great message here for today's youth

By Ariel Horowitz – Arutz Sheva, Small World Magazine, 12 Nissan 5775, 01/04/15 (Translation)

Influencing the values the public

YBA Chairman, Rabbi Haim Drukman
 In the rabbi’s study in Merkaz Shapira, tables and benches are arranged in orderly rows. It is a small sanctuary in the eyes of the few students who have been coming to study with Rabbi Drukman for many years at the house; to be taught Torat Eretz Yisrael by their teacher, the positive attitude to the State and the words of Rabbi Kook. 

It seems that in recent years the religious Zionist youth have strayed a little away from these things. The emphasis has shifted to the individual, the personal. Hasidism is gaining wide acceptance, and the path of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook is less dominant. "I agree that there is more of a trend toward the individual today, the personal, and therefore youth are searching for these aspects," says Rabbi Drukman, adjusting his glasses on his face, "[But] one should see himself as part of society – this is the truth, and the need to educate to what is true. We shouldn’t under-estimate the value of the individual, but we have to see the individual as part of the whole. The correct way is for each individual to figure out how he can best help to benefit the whole of society and build on that. It is like the relationship between the hand and the body: Isn’t it unthinkable that the hand should speak for itself, as separate from the body? A body without a hand is crippled, but the hand without the body is worthless. When a person considers only himself, it may easier, more pleasant, but the truth is that he is part of the society. The individual does not become lost as part of the society: the individual takes on its real value as part of the society."

Is it still possible to educate towards these values?

"I think so. I try to learn from my mentor, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, who reiterated dozens of times the main principles that were important to him, and little by little they sunk in. He did it on purpose. He understood that values have to sink in, to penetrate all the armor that person has. The values have remained the same values, and we still need to educate toward them, but we need to change the means of doing so because we cannot ignore the place that Individualism is gaining. An educator needs to talk to the place where his students are at. If he ignores this rule, his words will not be heard. It can be compared to an adult and a baby who both want to drink. You give a glass or an open bottle to the adult, but for a baby you make a small hole in the bottle for him to suck on, otherwise he might choke. The same holds true with students. We cannot speak in a language that would not be listened to; you have to figure out a way to present these values to the audience in front of you."

Once a week, Rabbi Drukman devotes an entire evening to the questions of first year students at his yeshiva, Yeshivat Hesder Or Etzion. For years he was the senior rabbi at the Association of Hesder Yeshivot. But despite the fact that new Hesder Yeshivot have opened everywhere, many teens today are preferring to enroll in pre-IDF Mechina (preparatory) programs. "The Hesder Yeshiva [track] is by far the best path," said Rabbi Drukman, "but I supported the establishment of the pre-IDF Mechina academies because not every youth is inclined to attend a Hesder Yeshiva, and a year of Mechina before being drafted will strengthen him very much. There were those who thought that the Mechina programs would hurt the Hesder Yeshivot, because they might attract some boys who are on the border and could also be appropriate for yeshiva. But I do not think this is the right attitude. We have to worry about all of them."

But a high school senior can say to himself: I will go to a Mechina, learn for a year, or a year and a half, get stronger and then serve for a full three-years in the army, like everyone else. What need is there for Hesder Yeshivot?

"The purpose of Hesder Yeshivot is not to strengthen the guys so that they can succeed in keeping their religious identity in the army. This is a very important goal, but it is the goal of the Mechina programs. The Mechina programs do not pretend to give rise to scholars. The role of the yeshiva is to train scholars. Those who go to the Hesder Yeshivot contribute to the security of the whole of Israel, its physical security and its spiritual security. Our mission is to grow scholars who also serve in the army. Can we accept a situation in which Torah sages will grow only from those who do not go to the army?"

But most Hesder Yeshiva graduates do not continue into the rabbinate.

"Our sages long ago taught us ‘A thousand students make one teacher.' In order to produce one exceptional scholar, we need to have a thousand students studying the Torah. Moreover, even those not involved in the rabbinate, but instead chose to go into other areas, still should be Torah scholars. Is there not a qualitative difference between those who learn Torah for one year and those who study diligently for a few years? I very much appreciate the Mechina academies and think they are doing a great thing, but you can’t come out a scholar after just one year in a preparatory program. There is a great need for Mechina programs, but there is an even greater need for more Torah scholars, and its the yeshiva's role to cultivate them. "

Turn away from evil, do good

It is doubtful that Rabbi Drukman imagined that his nomination as Israel Prize laureate would bring back an old and painful affair: the sexual harassment charges against the YBA Netiv Meir Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Zev Kopolovitz. A few days after his nomination, there were calls for the Minister of Education to revoke the award decision. A group of YBA Netiv Meir graduates sent a letter to the Minister of Education, which claimed that Rabbi Drukman knew of the criminal deeds of Kopolovitz - for which was sent to prison - but did not contact the police, allowed him to continue teaching in the institution and tried to cover up the story. "That's a false and fabricated story," thunders Rabbi Drukman, while sailing in his memory back to those days. "At the beginning of the affair I was told that he was retiring as head of the yeshiva because of health problems, and I regretted it. After a while he returned to his post, and I understood that his health condition had improved. Four years later, after I had become Chairman of Yeshivot Bnei Akiva, I heard rumors about what he had done, and on the same day I suspended him from his position. Truthfully, I did not know that I had to report it to the police. In those days, 12 years ago, these things were not as salient as they are today. It's not true that I knew and covered it up; that's a complete lie. I knew nothing. And when I learned of the rumors, I suspended him from his position immediately. Indeed, it was wrong that I didn’t report it to the police, and I regret that. "

How do you think the religious community should treat sexual harassment in the community? What about solutions such as the Takana Forum?

"Our public should treat sexual harassment like any other public: through the police. We must not, God forbid, ignore any such phenomenon or the need to deal with. I do not think that the religious community is any different from the general public in any way." 

Rabbi Drukman in his study
The conversation with Rabbi Drukman goes on and on. It is interrupted by phone calls from people wanting to wish the rabbi well for the holiday;  his loyal assistant brings the rabbi documents to sign, including updates on what's happening in the rabbi’s many areas of responsibility. Rabbi Drukman expertly juggles all these tasks; recalling a quote from an old book, and knows exactly where to quickly find the quote among the thousands of books that line the walls of the room.

You cannot ignore one of the largest endeavors of Rabbi Drukman, one in which he has been involved since ancient times: the Bnei Akiva youth movement. He was a member, and a leader in his youth. The movement has undergone major changes over the years - some would call them "extreme." Drukman has called them "positive strengthening". The rabbi is happy to address the subject and sets his eyes on the changes brought about by the Bnei Akiva movement in Israel: "Of course there is tremendous progress in Bnei Akiva compared to what it used to be. Naturally, since the Yeshivot Bnei Akiva educational network was founded, which built high schools and encouraged youth to study Torah, religious practice has been strengthening.

We always knew in the Bnei Akiva youth movement that we are part of the people of Israel. We understood that one cannot say 'I saved my soul,' but rather we should take care of all the people. We understood that our job is to educate, and the matter is progressing on an upward spiral. We understand the need for patience and forbearance, even today. You can’t be anxious. We have to understand that if you want to educate the people of Israel, it is necessary to be patient, and we must not think that everything happens quickly. So it is with education. Do not give up; believe in the big ideal and say, God willing, we come to it."

Towards the end, as if not enough words had already been spoken, I ask him what message he would like to deliver to today’s religious Zionist youth. Rabbi Drukman pauses a moment, thinking. "You must know that you are the future of Israel and the State of Israel," he says, "It is very important that you do everything you can to ensure the future of the people and the country. You should be filled with values and identify more and more with who you are, be role models in every way and try to ‘Love for the Sake of Heaven.' God asks us to love simple things: learning Torah, good behavior and speaking graciously to others. These constitute Love for the Sake of Heaven. You must always think about how you can bring heavenly love to people. Just as we see great progress in our people, we see also a thirst for True Judaism. You can help promote this process: the process of returning the nation to its natural roots. This our mission today.”

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Yeshivat Hesder Hagolan launches Capital Campaign for campus expansion

Yeshivat Hagolan was founded in 1972 as the fourth Hesder yeshiva during the War of Attrition on the Golan Heights. The yeshiva was evacuated from its temporary quarters at Moshav Ramat Magshimim on the first day of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Today the yeshiva’s library houses a memorial to the yeshiva’s 13 students who have fallen in the line of duty, including three of the original students who were murdered in a terror attack on the yeshiva in 1975.

Yeshivat Hagolan has played a vital part in increasing the population of the Golan Heights. Over 300 graduates have made their homes in the region upon completion of their studies. 70% of the rabbis and educators in the Golan Heights are Yeshivat Hagolan graduates and many others have assumed leading roles in the region as businessmen, directors, and farmers.

Golan Schwartz, Yeshivat Hagolan's new Director of Development was recently in New York, Columbus and Chicago to meet with YBA supporters. He explained the school's need for a capital campaign: "The yeshiva has outgrown its original Beit Midrash and student residence buildings built over 30 years ago. We plan to construct a new modern Beit Midrash building at the entrance of the campus, and to reallocate the present structure as a multipurpose facility use for our community outreach projects." 

Over 1,200 graduates of Yeshivat Hagolan serve in positions of leadership in every field of endeavor throughout the country. The yeshiva has produced many Torah scholars who have gone on to serve as rabbis and educators in communities in Israel and the entire world.

Planned new Beit Midrash building at Yeshivat Hesder Hagolan

Training Israel's Future: How to Save a Life

Purim is usually associated with levity, silly costumes and partying. But for the girls at UBA Chen Bamidbar in Beer Sheva, the holiday this year was an opportunity to demonstrate their LEADERSHIP and SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY, to raise over 40,000 shekels ($10,000) for 11-year old Ayala Shapira, a young victim of terror.

Terror Victim Ayala Shapira
Ayala was severely burned when a molotov cocktail (fire bomb) struck the car she was riding in with her father on December 25, 2014. Doctors succeeded in saving her life, but she is still facing many more months of rehabilitation and painful skin graft operations.

"About 3,000 people came out for the Purim carnival our students planned to benefit Ayala," said Rosh Ulpana, Rabbi Yoni Samuel. "It shows that people are thirsting for opportunities to do Chesed!" The ulpana campus was converted into a festive marketplace for the carnival, with local merchants and pizza parlors donating their wares, which added greatly to the event's profits. 

UBA Chen Bamidbar was founded in 1999 and serves about 550 girls in grades 7-12. While over half the school's students come from low income families and receive tuition reductions accordingly, over 80% complete full matriculation each year, paving the way to higher education and a better future.

Read more about Ayala Shapira
Top left: Netanya mayor, Miriam Fireberg with YBA Yad Avraham boys;
Bottom: Emily Schwartzman

In a similar story, the students of YBA Yad Avraham in Netanya last month succeeded in raising over 20,000 shekels ($5,000) in one night on behalf of Emily Schwartzman, a three and a half year old girl living in the city who is in need of a life-saving medical procedure in the US. 

In this instance, the students made an appeal for contributions over the PA system at the Netanya Stadium during a soccer match between Maccabi Netanya and Beitar Jerusalem, then spread out in the stands to “pass the hat” among the fans to donate their pocket change. Netanya Mayor Miriam Fireberg congratulated the boys for their initiative after the game.

YBA Yad Avraham was founded in 1960 and serves about 500 boys in grades 7-12. Over 88% complete full matriculation each year, and 100% serve in IDF combat units. Many of the school's alumni are leaders in their fields, including:
  • Prof. Yitzchak Kraus, President of Herzog College of Education
  • Rabbi Baruch Weider, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivat Hesder Hakotel
  • Rabbi Yossi Stern, Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivat Hesder Akko
  • Elad Tshuva, Deputy Chairman of Delek Group
  • Yisrael Fried, CEO, Galei Zahal Radio
  • Yair Orbach, Stand-up Comedian
YBA Yad Avraham campus in Netanya
YBA: Training Israel's Future.

YBA Hashomron ranked No. 1 in Land of Israel Studies

YBA Hashomron campus in Karnei Shomron
YBA Hashomron in Karnei Shomron was awarded the Ministry of Education's 2015 Zeevi Prize for Excellence in Land of Israel Studies. The award is named for Rehavam Zeevi, a former general in the IDF, MK and Minister, and an avid enthusiast of Land of Israel studies. Zeevi was assassinated in 2001 by terrorists in Jerusalem.

Prof. Simcha Goldin, whose son, Lt. Hadar Goldin, fell in battle during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, delivered the keynote address at the ceremony that took placed at the Land of Israel Museum in Tel Aviv.

YBA Hashomron was founded over 30 years ago and now serves over 500 boys in grades 7 through 12 from Karnei Shomron and the other settlements in the area. The school has both residential and non-residential tracks, with the residential track utilizing the extra hours in the evening to put a greater emphasis on Talmud study. The school is very popular because of its warm and family-like atmosphere, and because of the many study options it offers its students. 84% of the graduates on average earn full matriculation certificates, and 90% enroll in Hesder Yeshivot or Mechina Programs before enlisting in the IDF.

Rabbi Haim Drukman honored by Bar Ilan University

From left: Prof. Shmuel Vargon, Rabbi Haim Drukman
and Rabbi Noam Perl (photo: Yoni Hamenachem)
Rabbi Haim Drukman, Chairman of the YBA Educational Network in Israel and Rosh Yeshiva of the YBA Or Etzion Hesder Yeshiva was one of five distinguished Israelis to be awarded the Brookdale Prize for Exceptional Contribution to Israeli Society by Bar Ilan University. He was awarded the prize “for his many years of activity for the advancement of Torah education, and for his multi-faceted contributions to Israeli Society.” 

Rabbi Drukman is an Israel Prize Laureate (2012) for Lifetime Achievement. He is one of the most senior and well-respected leaders of the religious Zionist population in Israel. He founded and still heads a number of important institutions, including YBA Or Etzion yeshiva high school, Or Etzion IDF military cadet high school, Or Etzion Hesder Yeshiva, Mechinat Or MeOfir for Ethiopian Olim, AMI Conversion Institute, and Mechina of the Northern Negev. In addition, as the former head of the Prime Minister's Office Conversion Authority, he has personally signed off on over 50,000 conversions in Israel, and as chairman of the YBA Educational Network in Israel, he is the spiritual leader of our 24,000 students. 

The award was presented by Prof. Shmuel Vargon, of the Zalman Shamir Bible Dept. of BIU, and Rabbi Noam Perl, the Secretary General of the Bnei Akiva Worldwide Youth Movement, Rabbi Perl was Rabbi Drukman's student at YBA Or Etzion, and went on to found and head the YBA Sussya Yeshiva High School for Environmental Studies.

29% of Operation Protective Edge medal winners were religious Zionist soldiers

IDF Medal of Honor Award Ceremony (photo: inn.co.il)
When the IDF Spokesman's Office released the names of the 24 combat soldiers who earned the IDF Chief of Staff Medal of Honor for acts of bravery under fire during Operation Protective Edge, one statistic stood out: seven of the 24 (a disproportional 29.2%) were graduates of religious Zionist educational institutions, including one student and three graduates of Hesder Yeshivot.

This is yet another testimonial to the revolution of leadership in Israeli society that the Yeshivot Bnei Akiva Educational Network has led over the past 75 years, Training Israel's Future

Cpl. Yehuda Wishlitski being congratulated by
IDF Chief of Staff  (photo: walla.co.il)

At YBA, we like to think of our graduates as Torah Warriors™; on the front lines for Israel’s survival, and in the forefront of Jewish Education.

Eitan Ozery, the Director General of the Hesder Yeshiva Association in Israel, expressed it best when he said, "Hesder Yeshivot educate toward the Jewish value of 'mesirut nefesh' (self-sacrifice) in the face of battle. The Beit Midrash (study hall) is their source of fortitude; and their strength of character stems from the Torah."

The seven religious Zionist medal winners are:

  • Cpl. Yehuda Wishlitski, a student at Yeshivat Hesder Beit Shean
  • Staff Sgt. Erez Halfon, a graduate of Yeshivat Hesder Beit El
  • Sgt. Matanya Maguri, a graduate of Yeshivat Hesder Yaffo
  • Lt. Elishama Jacobs, a graduate of Yeshivat Hesder Alon Moreh
  • Sgt. Yuval Heyman, from Efrat, whose family received the medal posthumously
  • Lt. Eitan Feund, from Jerusalem, who risked his life charging into a tunnel to retrieve the body of his fallen fellow officer, Lt. Hadar Goldin
  • Sgt. Roni Jackson, a religous female soldier from Kochav Hashachar, who spotted a band of terrorists emerging from a tunnel near Kibbutz Sufa and directed cannon fire to the site, thus saving many lives.

The New Israeli Army, by Aron White

Religious Zionist IDF soldiers
In a book released last year, Amos Harel, the army commentator for Haaretz and the author of a number of books on the Israeli military, describes how the Israeli army is changing.  One of the main changes that Harel documents is the army’s increased religiosity, both in terms of its soldiers and its leadership. This drastic change impacts three major issues in Israeli society – the place of the national religious community in Israeli politics, the Haredi draft and the relationship between religious and secular.
The religious shift of the army
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of religious soldiers in the army, particularly in combat units and leadership positions.1 In the infantry division in the year 1990, 2.5% of commanders were graduates of religious high schools. By 2000, this figure had jumped to 15%. By 2007, the number had reached 31.4%. Within the infantry division, the Golani and Givati brigades have even higher percentages that are religious. In 2010, two thirds of the commanders in Givati were religious. The Brigadier General of the entire Givati brigade, Ofer Vinter, is himself also religious. One piece of anecdotal evidence: The author of the study quoted in Harel’s book served in the Shaldag unit in the mid 80s, when the unit had two religious soldiers, both of whom “removed their Kippa” by the time they left the army. When he returned to the unit 18 years later, 40% of the junior commanders and 30% of the senior commanders were religious. A friend of mine in Golani said that if someone were to never have seen Israel, and were to walk into his army base, he would believe that at least half the country is observant. The army is now full of religious soldiers and commanders.
This change can be explained by looking at the internal organisation of the National Religious (Dati Le’umi) community. The National Religious community places a strong emphasis on the land of Israel and the Jewish people, and thus army service is a highly esteemed value. This value was converted into its current position in the army due to a watershed development in 1988. Until 25 years ago, there were two paths National Religious teenagers would take in army service. Yeshivot Hesder (such as Kerem B’Yavneh and Yeshivat Har Etzion) provide a program whereby students would learn Torah for 3 and a half years, and serve in the army for a year and a half. Yeshivot Gevohot (such as Merkaz Harav) provide a framework where one could learn for 5 or more years before serving in the army, often for half a year or so. Students in the Hesder or Yeshiva Gavoha programs usually served in religious-only units, and most importantly, usually serve less than a full three years. In 1988, a new framework, that of the Mechinot, was established. The Mechinot provide a year of religious study for students, who then go on to serve full three years in the army, usually in the same units as everyone else. This framework has significant societal implications – these soldiers from religious communities, educated in an environment that puts great emphasis on army service, now serve for three years, and thus are able to take more senior positions in the army than previously possible. Additionally, these soldiers, who have spent a year preparing emotionally, spiritually and physically for the army are far more prepared and motivated than their peers who are arriving straight from high school – 80% of Mechina students go to combat units, almost double the national average. With the large number of highly motivated religious soldiers serving for three years, the change in leadership of the Israeli army was almost inevitable.
The place of the National Religious in Israeli Politics
The first implication of this shift is the way the National Religious community is perceived in Israeli society. It is common to characterise the pre-State years of Israel and its first three decades as the era of the secular, Kibbutz, socialist vision of Israel. In the early years of the State, continuing through the 80s and 90s, there was a tendency to say that secular socialists built the country. This was the state built by the “Tel Aviv” consensus, while Sephardim and religious minorities had not “earned their stripes” and were residents of a home built by someone else. The Israeli identity was formed by the Ashkenazi secular consensus, and other groups were peripheral to this group.
This culture has gradually broken down in a number of ways. First, of course, was the shock of the 1977 election victory of the right wing traditionalist Menachem Begin. Parts of “Tel Aviv” became embarrassed by the country and institutions they had once been proud of building, as peace with the Palestinians continued to remain elusive. And minorities–Sephardi, religious, and then Russian–began to demand their place in the development of the State.
The National Religious are now a major, if not the primary, demographic force in the Israeli army. 36% of soldiers from Gush Dan serve in combat units as opposed to the 62% of soldiers from Yehuda and Shomron, and 54% from Jerusalem (both National Religious strongholds). Efrat is the city in Israel with the highest percentage of its soldiers in leadership positions – fully 22% of its soldiers achieve Ketzuna (middle level leadership). This has created a growing sense that the National Religious also built this country, and thus a growing confidence in the political sphere. Israel will be a state that was built by Tel Aviv, but is currently being developed by Gush Etzion as well. This development has significant implications for Israeli identity and politics.
The Haredi Draft
The religious nature of the army also affects the Haredi draft. It has become orthodoxy in the Haredi community that the army is a great threat to the religiosity of soldiers, and many outside the Haredi camp begrudgingly agreed that the army was inhospitable to a religious person. Indeed, much of what the Haredim say about the army and the statistics quoted were quite accurate – but for the 80s and 90s.
The recent major shift renders untrue the view of the army as an anti-religious hotbed. The legendary encounter between the Yeshiva student and the anti-religious commander is quickly disappearing. As mentioned above, in some brigades two-thirds of the commanders are religious. (This is combined naturally with the existence of many religious-only units, but that has existed for decades.)
Beyond the issue of the commander, the growth of religious personnel also gives the army bases a more religious feel.2 During the operation in Gaza in 2009, the army newspaper BaMachane reported that soldiers from the Givati unit in the army queued up to receive a personal blessing from the unit’s rabbi, who was holding a Sefer Torah, before entering combat. The central defence building in Tel Aviv, and the General’s headquarters have a sign at the entrance explaining how to avoid activating the electronic sensor that will open the door on Shabbat. On the training base for the Nachal, outside the bathroom, the wall which once contained a list of the types of weapons held by the Syrian army has been replaced by an “Asher Yatzar” card. At an army conference a few years ago, a senior commander caused surprise by talking about the soldiers who are fighting “to protect the holy land of Gaza.” When the largely secular crowd responded angrily to this overt show of religiosity, he was supported by another senior commander. Both commanders in question are themselves not religious.
There are unquestionably issues that still arise, halachic dilemmas that crop up. Certain units may still have individual commanders who are not sensitive to the needs of the religious. But the idea that the army, as a general rule, is anti-religious is simply no longer true. The Haredi discourse must change to match this new situation, and we do not need to accept the claims (which were a little ridiculous to begin with) that service in the army threatens the perpetuation of Orthodox Judaism. As always, there are tracks in the army where one can serve entirely with religious soldiers. The recent development is that the commanders of those units are predominantly not only sensitive to the needs of the religious, but religious themselves. The army has become, and is continually becoming more, conducive to service for the Haredi community. The Haredi community will find it more difficult to excuse itself from service based on last generation’s reasons.
The relationship between religious and secular
The tide has now turned and whereas previously the religious were worried about the army being too secular, the secular are now worried about the army being too religious. There have been instances were army events are perceived as being too religious. This summer, many were surprised when the brigadier general of Givati rallied his troops with the cry of “Shema Yisrael.” In his writing for Haaretz over the years, Harel documented how the Army Rabbinate, under Chief Rabbi Rontzki, was very active in trying to bring secular soldiers closer to religion.3 The important issue of how religious soldiers relate to their non religious comrades, and increasingly, juniors, requires clarification.
But there is one concern that looms larger than these more localized issues. There has always been a fear in the army of religious soldiers because religion provides them with another source of authority– to whom would they listen in a clash between their religion and an army command? The major flash point for this was the removal of settlements in Gaza in 2005. Would rabbis tell their students to refuse orders to remove residents from Gaza? Would they listen? In 2005 there was a huge discussion about this, but in the end, there were relatively few refusals to serve, mainly at junior levels of the army. Many soldiers also came to individual agreements with their commanders, thus averting head-on clashes.
But the fear has not gone away, and the implication of this issue for the two-state solution could be far greater. In the event of a two-state solution, would the religious soldiers take part in a mass removal of settlements in the West Bank – removing hundreds of thousands of people from land, such as Shechem, Kever Rachel, Chevron and Shilo, that is so central to religious people, ? Is it even possible that the army could one day have so many religious soldiers and commanders that the viability of any such operation depends on the participation of the religious soldiers? If it were known that all the religious soldiers and commanders will not participate in such an operation, could the army reach a certain point when a two state solution could actually not viably be pulled off? This situation seems very unlikely – there were numerous Rabbis who called on their students not to refuse orders in 2005, and if there was a threat to the political viability of the country, many more would likely make similar calls. However, the balance between listening to religious teachers and army hierarchy is a crucial tension that must be worked out within the National Religious community.
With its new found hegemony in the army, the National Religious community has many complex issues to discuss. Its relation to the secular majority, both in day-to-day routine as well as in larger political decisions, must be re-analysed and discussed.
The Israeli army is different than it once was ,and the religious are now a significant feature of its makeup. Managed properly, this situation can allow for a more even spread of political power, a window to finally solve the issue of the Haredi draft, and a chance to create a less suspicious relationship between the religious and secular. There is a lot to discuss.

  1. All statistics, unless otherwise mentioned, come from Harel’s book. 
  2. These anecdotes are from Harel’s book. 

Yeshivat Hesder Hakotel overseas students volunteer for Bnei Akiva in Israel

Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Baruch Weider ( center, bottom row), with the Yeshivat Hakotel Shabbat Irgun shlichim

Yona Budo
on Yeshivat Hakotel roof
Each year a group of Hesder students from Yeshivat Hakotel in Jerusalem’s Old City leaves the yeshiva's Beit Midrash for a long weekend to volunteer as counselors for the Bnei Akiva Youth Movement’s annual Shabbat Irgun. This year, the 30 Israeli students were joined by 15 American students from the yeshiva’s Overseas Students Program, for a uniquely memorable experience interacting with Israeli youngsters. 

The group decided to dedicate themselves to the challenge in order to pay honor to the memory of Staff Sgt. Evyatar Turgeman, an Israeli Hesder student at Yeshivat Hakotel who was killed in action during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge. Turgeman was an avid Bnei Akiva member and leader of the youth movement in his home town of Beit Shean, where he graduated from YBA Beit Shean.

Staff Sgt. Evyatar Turgeman, z"l
Veteran immigrant from the US, Yona Budo, had this to say about his friend and former chevruta (study partner) at Hakotel: "Evyatar was serious about everything he did. Already in our first year at Hakotel he knew what he expected from himself. He was straight as an arrow and very serious about learning Torah; something you don't see in many 18-year-old boys. We want to expose the Bnei Akiva kids to this weekend to the traits that Evatar personified - genuine integrity, and a clear conviction to holiness and serving Hashem."

Rabbi Stewart Weiss on YBA Yeshivat Hesder Hakotel in the Jerusalem Post

Jerusalem Post, Friday, October 31, 2014
Heroes and villains 

LONE SOLDIERS who study at Yeshivat Hakotel
take a break from training at their base. (Courtesy)
Whenever I start to get depressed or disenchanted by the state of Jewish affairs, I throw some cold water on my face and look in the direction of some of the amazing people within our Jewish community. People who are devoted to decency, humanity, the Jewish state and the Jewish way of life. And that revitalizes me and brings back hope.

I recently attended a Succot dinner at Yeshivat Hakotel, honoring the more than 120 lone soldiers from around the world who have chosen to study at Hakotel and volunteer in the IDF. These enthusiastic participants in the Mahal program leave their family, their friends and their “normal” routine to come to Israel and put their lives on the line for the state. Almost all of them end up becoming citizens, marrying here and staying in Israel, and many of them “drag” their families after them.

I asked one of the boys, Barak Klammer from Woodmere, how his parents felt about him serving in a combat unit in the Givati Brigade. “A little nervous,” he said, “but a lot proud.”

Nati Wind of Teaneck told me: “All the questions Americans ask – ‘Why are you here? Are you scared? Are you coming back?’ – don’t even register with me. This is where I belong.”

Another young man, Ami Younger from Montreal, was one of 100 Hakotel students who fought in the recent Gaza war and is now married and studying economics at Bar-Ilan University. “I was raised in Canada,” he said with a smile, “but I grew up in Israel.”

Friday night Yeshivat Hakotel Kabbalat Shabbat services at the Western Wall Plaza.  (Courtesy)
Hakotel is a fascinating institution. In the days following the Six Day War, the government was determined to establish a firm Jewish presence in the Old City. The Jordanians, during their 19-year occupation of Jerusalem, had demolished the synagogues and desecrated the Western Wall, dumping garbage and grazing their animals there. An institution needed to be built that would restore and reflect the spiritual intensity of the Holy City, and fill its ancient streets with the sound of Torah study. Yeshivat Hakotel was born, and has become famous for the hundreds of boys who march down to the Kotel each Friday night, leading the entire plaza in song and dance.

Rav Chaim Yeshayahu Hadari, one of the original founders of Hakotel and still a teacher there, recounts how archeologists discovered a large mound of ashes beneath a home (known today as “the Burnt House”) in the Old City, ashes dating from the destruction of the Temple. “When a Jewish boy marries,” says the rabbi, “there is a custom to place ashes on his forehead in memory of the Temple. I take some of these same ashes and place it on our students, not just to remember the tragedy, but to also celebrate the triumph of the Jewish people, who have returned forever to Jerusalem.”

Yeshivat Hakotel honors its overseas program IDF soldiers and Chairman Kurt Rothschild

The first Tribute Dinner in the 47 year history of Yeshiva Hakotel took place during Chol Hamoed Sukkot, in a specially built Sukkah on the roof of the yeshiva, with a view of the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.

As the first event leading up to the yeshiva's 50th anniversary in 2017, Yeshivat Hakotel honored the 120 students from its Overseas Program who volunteered to enlist in the IDF through its Machal program over the past 11 years. Eighty of these young men have already made Aliyah.  

Yeshivat Hakotel not only has the most IDF soldiers from all the various yeshiva overseas students programs in Israel; it has more than all the other yeshivot combined! (See video)

Yeshivat Hakotel also honored the Chairman of its Board of Directors,  Mr. Kurt Rothschild, who made Aliyah with his wife Edith two years ago. Mr. Rothschild has been involved in the yeshiva since its inception in December 1967, and along with the Wohl family from London, was the person most responsible for the building of the yeshiva's permanent campus, which it occupies today.
After the welcome by alumnus Yisrael Dov Meyer, Divrei Torah were given by Rosh Hayeshiva Harav Baruch Wieder and founding Rosh Yeshiva Harav Chaim Yeshayahu Hadary. The honored guest speaker was the Minister of Defense, Moshe "Bogie" Yaalon

The over 220 people in the Sukkah, which included soldiers, Israeli and overseas alumni, parents and friends, were also treated to listening to the beautiful voice of the Chief IDF Cantor, Shai Avramson.

YBA Lapid Torat Nachum to host community-wide Tikun Leil Hoshana Rabba in Modiin

YBA Lapid Torat Nachum invited the entire population of Modiin to join them on Tuesday night, October 14, for a traditional all-night Torah learning marathon (Tikun) celebrating Hoshana Rabba - the last day of Sukkot before Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah.

The yeshiva lined up an allstar cast of Torah scholars to lecture during the all-night event, including (in order of appearance):

  • Rabbi Beni Nachtailer, Director General of the YBA Educational Network in Israel
  • Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan
  • MK Tzippy Hotovely, Deputy Minister of Transportation
  • Rabbi David Stav, Chief Rabbi of Shoham
  • Rabbi Shmuel Rosenblum, Rosh Yeshiva of YBA Lapid Torat Nachum, Modiin
  • MK Rabbi Shay Peron, Minister of Education
  • Rabbi David Lau, Chief Rabbi of Israel
  • Rabbi Haim Drukman, Chairman of the YBA Educational Network in Israel
  • Rabbi Yaakov Meidan, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Hesder Har Etzion
  • Rabbi Dani Singles, Rosh Yeshiva of YBA Yeshivat Hesder Netzeret Elite
  • Mrs. Rachel Fraenkel
  • Rabbi Haim Baruch, Rosh Mechinat Atzmona
  • Rabbi Aryeh Handler, Rosh Yeshivat Hesder Ramla
  • Rabbi Elisha Vishlitski
  • Rabbi Yaakov Chikotai, Chief Rabbi of Modiin-Maccabim-Reut
  • Rabbi Eliyahu Alharir, Chief Rabbi of Modiin-Maccabim-Reut
  • Rabbi Asher Corsia, Rosh Ulpanat Bnei Akiva Oror Modiin

YBA welcomes Rabbi Yona Goodman as its new Director of Education

Rabbi Yona Goodman was born in the United States and made Aliyah as a teenager. Until his appointment as the YBA Director of Education he served as the Director of the "Institute for Contemporary Faith Education" at the YBA-affiliated Orot College of education in Elkana.

Goodman studied in the YBA-affiliated Yeshivat Hagolan, in the Golan Heights and served in the Israeli army as a tank commander. He is a former director general of the national Bnei Akiva youth movement in Israel. 
In the last 15 years he has taught at the Orot College of Education: Tanach, Jewish education, and Informal Jewish education. Rabbi Goodman gives courses for the Israeli board of education to high school principals, high school supervisors and others about ways to enhance Jewish values in the lives of our children. 

In the last decade he has participated in many different national committees that checked or developed programs or policies in the Israeli school system. Among them: a committee that restructured the teacher training programs for religious teachers, a committee that wrote a four year plan for teaching Jewish philosophy (Machshevet Yisrael), a committee that checked the unique needs of education for girls, and a committee that proposed a broad program to make Jewish education more relevant to Israeli youth. He is a senior staff member in Mahut, which is a national center that specializes in helping schools or communities immediately after terror attacks. 

Goodman has a Masters degree in Jewish education and is now writing his doctorate dissertation at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He specializes in guiding teachers and parents whose teenage children have begun to deviate from the Jewish way of life. Goodman has initiated and participated in developing various national and regional programs for such youth. For the last eight years, he has broadcast a five-minute weekly spot on the subject of education on Israeli National Radio. 

In the last year he has also been broadcasting a weekly short video on Jewish parenting on Arutz Meir internet TV. He is a member of the board of directors of the international movement of Religious Zionist Kollels (Torah MiTzion).

In the last 15 years he has spoken at conferences for Jewish school directors and teachers in the United States, Canada, South Africa, England, Russia, Sweden, Holland, Norway and Israel. 

Alumni Profile: Rabbi Haim Sabato, Novelist, Rosh Yeshiva

Rabbi Haim Sabato was born to a family of Aleppan descent in Cairo. In the 1950s, his family immigrated to Israel and lived in a transit camp in Kiryat Yovel, Jerusalem

He is a graduate of YBA Netiv Meir in Bayit Vegan and the Hesder  program at Yeshivat Hakotel, in Jerusalem's Old City, which combines yeshiva study with military service. His experiences during the Yom Kippur War, at the age of 21, led him to write Adjusting Sights

After the war, Sabato spent the next ew years at Yeshivat Mercaz Harav, the spiritual home of religious Zionism. After receiving rabbinical ordination, Sabato co-founded the yeshiva in Ma'aleh Adumim in 1977.

Sabato's lyrical writing, with sentences studded with phrases drawn from and referring to passages in the Bible and Talmud has won him comparison to a Nobel Prize Laureate S.I. Agnon.

Sabato was awarded the Sapir Prize for Literature in its inaugural year, as well as the Yitzhak Sadeh Prize, for his second work, Teum Kavanot (Adjusting Sights in the English translation), a moving account of the experiences of a soldier in the Yom Kippur War. The book has also been made into a film.

His third publication, KeAfapey Shachar (published in English as Dawning of the Day: A Jerusalem Tale), tells the story of Ezra Siman Tov, a religious Jerusalemite coming to terms with a changing world.
Sabato's latest work, Bo'ee HaRuach (published in English as From the Four Winds), describes his experiences as an "oleh chadash" (a new immigrant) in the Israeli "ma'abarot" - transit camps - of the 1950s.
[Based on Wikipedia]

Yeshivat Hakotel to honor overseas students in the IDF

On Sunday, October 12, 2014, the first day of Chol Hamoed Sukkot, Yeshivat Hesder Hakotel, in Jerusalem's Old City, will hold a tribute dinner honoring long-time board member and supporter, Mr. Kurt Rothschild, and his wife, who recently made aliyah from Toronto, Ontario.

The yeshiva will also use the occasion to honor the many graduates from their Overseas Students Program, who stayed in Israel to voluntarily enlist in the IDF.

Yeshivat Hakotel Overseas Students Program
graduates in the IDF
Pictured at left (from L to R) are: Zach Cohn from Chicago, Alex Katz and Gavi Nelson from New York, and Mordi Grunseid.

The four Overseas Program graduates enlisted together into the IDF Artillery Corps in March 2014, and are pictured here at their training course graduation ceremony (tekes kumta)  held at the Artillery Corps Memorial in Zichron Yaakov.

The dinner will be held at 17:30 on the roof of Yeshivat Hakotel (covert: $75 p/p). For more information and reservations, contact Don Kates, 052-830-8293, don@hakotel.org.il.

IDF Chaplains convene at Yeshivat Hesder Shadmot Neria

Chief IDF Chaplain, Rabbi Rafi Peretz

A meeting was held last week of all chaplains serving in the IDF Central Command at the YBA-affiliated Yeshivat Hesder Shadmot Neria, at Moshav Shadmot Mechola in the Jordan Valley, to discuss the lessons learned from their experiences during Operation Protective Edge this summer.

In one of the joint sessions with students of the yeshiva who participated in the fighting in Gaza, the student-soldiers raised a number of concrete suggestions on how to improve the relationships between combat soldiers and IDF Chaplains during time of war.

Chief IDF Chaplain, Rabbi Rafi Peretz, a graduate of YBA Netiv Meir in Jerusalem, gave a Torah lecture to the yeshiva students, and used the opportunity to stress the immense power and fortitude of the Jewish nation, from the beginning of history until our generation. The strength and fortitude demonstrated by our soldiers and citizens under fire during Operation Protective Edge was yet another testimony to the heritage of strength that our people have always drawn from the Torah and our traditions.