“When you pass through water, I will be with you; Through streams, They shall not overwhelm you. When you walk through fire, You shall not be scorched; Through flame, It shall not burn you.” Isaiah 43:2 (The Israel Bible™)
When getting ready in the morning, soldiers prepare their gear – combat boots, an army uniform and a gun. But, arguably, just as important as one’s physical outfit is one’s spiritual readiness. In Israel, where more than 40 percent of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) is religious, facilitating the ability for a soldier to fulfill his or her spiritual needs is evermore important.
Supporting Religious Needs
According to Gen. (res.) Yechiel Gozal, CEO of Yahad-United for Israel’s Soldiers, it is as “obvious” that Israeli soldiers serving in the Holy Land should be supported in their religious needs as it is obvious that they need to be supported in their physical needs. “This is one of the missions of Yahad-United for the Israel’s Soldiers,” he told Breaking Israel News.
“Some IDF units do not have a permanent base, especially combat units that are always on the move from north to south, from Judea and Samaria to the Gaza border, from the Negev to the Golan. In these cases, they need a mobile synagogue,” said Gozal, whose organization funds the building of mobile houses of worship for army bases in the field.
According to Gozal, who is secular, the ability for IDF soldiers to pray in the field has real operational consequences. “If you are religious and you cannot pray, your spirit is not in the right place. Yahad is not responsible for the rifle, but we are responsible for everything that’s spiritual, educational and recreational, which is absolutely as important as the rifle. We know for sure that these things support the soldier’s operational capability – there is no doubt about it.”
Additionally, providing for the needs of religious soldiers is about offering equal opportunity, no matter one’s background, maintained Gozal: “It’s important for everyone to have the same opportunities and ability to practice what they believe, including our Druze, Christian and Muslim soldiers – just as Jewish soldiers require kosher kitchens for their dietary needs, if there is a Muslim in a unit, we will help them with what they need in order to celebrate Ramadan. It doesn’t matter if it’s b’ezrat hashem [Hebrew for “with God’s help”] or in’shalla [Arabic for “God willing”] – we want the army to succeed and we don’t argue with faith.”
If Yahad were not there to help IDF soldiers keep their faith, Gozal guesses that many people would not be able to join the army. For the Ultra-Orthodox, for whom the need to maintain their religious desires while serving is often a relevant question, Yahad does what it can to offer these soldiers a proper place to worship that is adapted to their beliefs and regulations.
With Yahad-United for Israel’s Soldiers, being the only Israel based organization permitted by the government to raise funds for IDF soldier welfare and therefore, using 100% of every donation to benefit IDF soldiers, their present campaign is to raise funds not only to provide houses of worship on army bases but also in the field so that IDF combat soldiers have the ability to pray in a proper place while protecting the Holy Land.
Helping Soldiers Keep Faith
“For secular soldiers, it’s important to have a place to relax with television and coffee machines while on base, and for religious soldier, even more important than a club is to have a synagogue,” posed Gozal, who recalled his own army experience as a paratrooper where the synagogue often consisted of a mere tent. “When your synagogue is in a tent and it’s winter, your prayers become very short. If it’s raining or you are in conflict, tents aren’t so safe. Sturdy synagogues, both permanent and mobile help the soldiers to keep their faith.”
Within each mobile house of worship, Yahad provides a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll), air conditioning units, electricity generators, furniture and anything else that is needed for soldiers’ comfort and spiritual connection. The organization has provided hundreds of army bases with synagogues, whether larger permanent buildings or smaller houses of worship on wheels. “In some cases, the military gave us the room and we gave the furniture. In some cases we build the synagogue from scratch, including the building itself,” he said.
Responding to news of a fifth Hezbollah terror tunnel found and destroyed by IDF soldiers this week, Gozal commented, “Our first priority became these kinds of units completing operational missions on the Lebanese border and destroying terror tunnels – we have given them packages, candy and drinks so they know people are thinking of them. Whatever they need, we are with them.”
To donate to Yahad-United for Israel’s soldiers, please click here.
Written in cooperation with Yahad-United for Israel’s Soldiers.