Bringing The Joy Of Purim To The Trenches
By Menachem Ziegelboim

For over twenty years, the residents of Kfar Chabad rejoiced with Israeli soldiers in the Sinai. * Beis Moshiach interviewed three of the people who went to the furthest bases bringing the Purim spirit, and heard about their adventures in the bunkers under fire.

Despite the torrential rains pouring in the center of the country on Purim, the sun shone brightly over the Sinai desert. The sand stretched as far as the eye could see in the utter desolation.

A cloud of dust indicated movement of some sort. It was an army bus rattling along the narrow road. It had been traveling for over eight hours from Kfar Chabad to one of the bases in Sinai. Within were seated about twenty bearded Chassidim dressed in holiday clothing, surrounded by sacks of mishloach manos piled up around their seats.

In another short while their exhaustion from the long trip evaporated as they got off the buses with smiles on their faces, joy in their hearts, a bottle of mashke in one hand and mishloach manos in the other. They came in order to bring the joy of Purim to the soldiers stationed in the vast reaches of the Sinai desert.

This year, hundreds of Tmimim and Anash from all over the country will visit the Israeli soldiers on Purim, bringing them simchas Purim. They will meet them at the bases, distant military positions, hitchhiking, and wherever they may be.

Many of the younger folk, those who grew up over the last twenty years, are unfamiliar with the Eretz Yisroel that included the Sinai desert. Today’s Tmimim don’t know what it means to travel in a rattling truck in the hot sand for nearly ten hours in order to bring the joy of Purim to three soldiers manning a post not far from the edge of the canal. Neither are they familiar with having to get out and push the truck – after it has sunk deeply into the soft desert sand.

We met with three Chassidim who told us about simchas Purim on the banks of the Suez Canal. Rabbi Tzvi Greenwald, Rabbi Shlomo Lifschitz, and Rabbi Avrohom Meizlich are three out of hundreds of Chassidim who did not even see their homes on Purim. They left for the Sinai on Erev Purim, returning the next day at sunset.

"In those years, nobody stayed in Kfar Chabad on Purim," recalls Avrohom Meizlich. "There was no such thing as staying home. Everybody went to army bases in the north and especially in the south in order to bring the soldiers the joy of Purim."

Chabad’s outreach in the Sinai began after the Six-Day War. There was a great spirit of inspiration after the tremendous victory, and that’s when the Rebbe announced Mivtza T’fillin, which conquered the nation, particularly the soldiers. The work was greatly expanded at holiday time, when Chabad went out on Sukkos, Chanuka, Purim, and Lag B’Omer.

"For a few nights before Purim we worked on preparing the mishloach manos at Gittele’s kiosk in the center of the Kfar," says Shlomo Lifschitz nostalgically, "while the official arrangements with the authorities were being taken care of at the offices of Tzach on Rechov Rav Kook in Tel Aviv, directed by Rabbi Yisroel Leibov. Rabbi Nachum Cohen was responsible for organizing this project for Tzach."

Tzvi Greenwald: We’re talking about a project in the Sinai desert, which is three times as big as the whole country. Dozens of bases, military posts, and outposts were scattered throughout Sinai. Sometimes you had to travel hundreds of kilometers until you got to any base, and this necessitated proper planning in advance.

How was the work carried out at that time?

Avrohom Meizlich: As I said, nobody remained in Kfar Chabad. Everybody went to the airport in Lud where an army Hercules plane waited to take us to Sinai. The plane was full of Chassidim, and I remember that Yossel Liberov once read the Megilla on the plane. We had huge sacks full of thousands of mishloach manos with us.

* * *

Shlomo Lifschitz: We once flew on an old Dakota. The Dakota planes didn’t have regular seats. They had wooden benches with seatbelts, since they were generally used by parachutists for missions and exercises.

After the plane stabilized somewhat, Avrohom Lieder got up, said l’chaim, and began dancing. We joined in, and suddenly the door opened and the pilot came out with a concerned look on his face. When he saw us dancing, however, he smiled and relaxed. Apparently the plane wasn’t flying straight, and the pilot thought there might be a problem with the engines. When he saw us dancing he realized there was no problem at all.

We landed in Sharm al Sheik and from there we went to Bir Jafjafa. Another plane went to the airport in Abu Ajilla. It was incredibly well organized. The chaplains waited for us at the airport with military vehicles, and we divided up into groups which went to dozens of bases and military positions throughout Sinai.

Generally, Chabad worked with the military rabbinate. Once when they couldn’t get us the proper permits, we were met by education officers who made sure we got to the canal."

Avrohom Meizlich and Shlomo Lifschitz remember a sudden onslaught, one accompanied by open miracles. "Avrohom, remember that trip to the canal?" When he says, "that trip," they both know what he is referring to.

Shlomo Lifschitz: We once went to Bir Jafjafa and got to the unit base. They told us we didn’t have permission to go to the front lines. The commander of the southern command at the time was Arik Sharon, and the chief officer of the armored forces in the Sinai was Shlomo Lahat, who later became mayor of Tel Aviv.

When Shlomo Lahat discovered we weren’t allowed to enter he said angrily, "Who said Chabad can’t come in? I give them permission to enter!"

A low-ranking officer said that the order had come from higher up, but Lahat insisted that he would let us in, so we got to the Tempo post, the northernmost post near the canal.

As soon as we entered the military post, heavy shelling began. We went down into the bunker. With every shell that landed, the bunker shook and the sandbags began leaking sand. The soldiers sat there trembling, for these shells were 220 mm. mortars, which only the Soviets had. Then we heard our planes going to the Egyptian border and shelling them. We didn’t know what was going on. They exchanged fire for hours. We found out later that Sharon was the one who gave the order not to allow us to enter, since he knew that Israeli planes were going to shell Egypt and that there’d be an exchange of fire. He was afraid for us.

When the shelling stopped, they sent us a tank and a half-track from headquarters to get us out. We heard them say they were sending a special tank in order to get the Chabadnikim out. We got on the half-track and the tank led the way in order to ensure there was no ambush, because under cover of the shelling, the Egyptians would generally send an ambush of commandos.

As we started traveling, the dust began to rise, which is when the Egyptians realized there was movement in the area and they began shelling us again. We waited about ten minutes and then we noticed that they were shooting because of the rising dust; the bullets consistently fell at a distance of dozens of meters from our vehicle, and we moved on.

We got to Kfar Chabad late at night where Ara’le Friedman was waiting for us. He was the liaison with the Rebbe’s office. As soon as he saw us, he called 770 to announce our arrival. We later learned that the Rebbe had stayed in his room and said that until the last people returned from Sinai he would remain there and not go home. A few minutes after he called and said we had arrived safely, the Rebbe went home.

Avrohom Meizlich: Moshe Edery once went along the canal in an armored vehicle when they began shelling. Before he could get to the bunker a large piece of shrapnel hit his vehicle, but he was miraculously unharmed.

Tzvi Greenwald: Once I was in one of the outposts when they began shelling heavily. There was a chaplain (who today is a rav) who began saying Tehillim in a brokenhearted tone. The commander of the outpost heard him and yelled, "Stop your wailing. You’re breaking the soldiers’ morale!"

Each shelling was extremely dangerous, because in addition to the damage the shelling could do, the Egyptians would send out commandos. While the Israeli soldiers sat in their bunkers waiting for a respite, the Egyptians advanced under cover of fire towards the Israeli positions and caused them grave losses. Therefore, each time the shelling began, Israeli soldiers immediately would man the sniper holes and carefully comb the area to ward off unwanted surprises.

We waited in the bunker. Everything began trembling and the sand began pouring down on the soldiers’ heads. The Egyptians’ aim was improving until the shells fell directly on our position. Then the commanding officer turned to the chaplain and said, "Now you can say Tehillim." The chaplain responded, "A distance of 500 meters was enough for me to say Tehillim."

Shlomo Lifschitz: Yes, we remember those bunkers well. The engineering corps took apart the railroad tracks that led to El Arish, and they put the pieces of track over the bunkers and covered them with sandbags and armor plate. At that time they didn’t have cement bunkers, and each shell shook the entire position.

You came to these places under fire. How can you possibly bring simcha to the soldiers at times like these?

Tzvi Greenwald: When we arrived we began singing "Utzu Eitza V’sufar" despite the shelling. We gave out small cups of mashke and began singing and dancing, and things warmed up.

Shlomo Lifschitz: When we were in the bunker being shelled we were afraid. The soldiers were more afraid than we were. We weren’t fully aware of the situation, but they knew that sometimes bunkers caved in and people died or were injured.

Despite this, our visits brought them great joy and encouragement. I remember that there was once heavy shelling, and the soldiers sat, frozen in silence. Aharon Tenenbaum took out a bottle of mashke and began singing with them. The atmosphere changed immediately and the smiles returned.

Avrohom Meizlich: They were always happy to see us. We once went to one of the bases on Chanuka and the educational officer happily announced on the loudspeaker that Chabad was here in honor of "Chol HaMoed Chanuka..."

Tzvi Greenwald: I never had a trip in which I didn’t meet some students from the vocational school of Kfar Chabad.

Avrohom Meizlich: They gathered around and happily called out, "Hey, ha’moreh, ha’moreh (the teacher, the teacher). Stories came pouring forth. The common denominator of them all was the warm reception the Chassidim got wherever they went. From those on the Right, the Left, religious and not yet observant, those at posts in the north or bases in the south – the Chassidim received smiles from all of the soldiers.

Despite the secrecy and great danger, nobody ever dared tell a Lubavitcher "no." They all knew how important this was for the Israeli soldiers.

Avrohom Meizlich: When my son became bar mitzva, I took him with me to the air force base in Tel Nof. As soon as we got there, he went off on his own. Without realizing it, he went all the way to the main munitions storage at the base, an extremely guarded and secret place. He went two floors down underground and opened the door. The senior officers looked at him in amazement. "Who sent you here?" they asked him in shock. He answered with characteristic t’mimus (innocence), "The Rebbe," and they all burst out laughing.

Shlomo Lifschitz: Yes, we were warmly received everywhere. There were no restrictions for us, and we can safely say that we were allowed to enter everywhere and anywhere, even the most secret bases and the most sensitive areas.

I remember that in Sinai, there were two highly secret intelligence-gathering bases, one in Om Chasiba and the other near El Arish. When we got to the one in El Arish, they didn’t allow us to enter. Suddenly one of the ranking officers came and angrily said, "They won’t be allowed in? Just a week ago you let entertainers in, and you don’t let the Chabadnikim in?" He made sure we got in.

Tzvi Greenwald: "Chabad" – that was the key that opened every door and every gate in the army. There were times we saw people from the Left in shock. There were places we entered that even the most senior officials weren’t allowed to enter.

Shlomo Lifschitz: At the air force bases they allowed us to go right up to the planes, so that even the ground crew would ask us how we got there. We went up to the pilots sitting in the cockpits ready to take off.

I remember how once a Phantom jet landed and we walked up the pilot and the ground crew to give them shalach manos. One of the officers said, "They aren’t Jewish," pointing to some people walking around. They were Americans who supervised the Israeli surveillance and reconnaissance planes to ensure they didn’t shoot pictures outside the prescribed areas. You can well imagine this was top-secret stuff, yet we met up with them, too.

I recall an incredible story of an open miracle. Once, when we were at the Tel Nof base, we went over to a squadron of F15 planes. It was Israel’s newest, most advanced squadron, considered the "holy of holies." At that time, the planes were on full alert 24 hours a day, with the pilots sitting in the cockpits ready for immediate takeoff.

We went over to a pilot and asked him to put on t’fillin, but he refused, saying it went against his conscience. Other attempts at persuasion proved useless, so we left him. A few minutes later he flew off on a mission. Half an hour later, we noticed something was amiss.

Two minutes later the plane landed and the pilot came out, looking pale. It turned out that when he had reached a certain altitude he was hit by lightning, affecting all his instruments. He was terribly frightened and didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t even speak to ground control. After a very long minute, the instruments began working again on their own.

We were listening to the story from a member of the ground crew when the pilot came over, rolled up his sleeve, and said, "I want to put on t’fillin."

Can you tell us other stories about souls awakening?

Tzvi Greenwald: The following story took place on Sukkos when I was in Sinai. I went to one of the air force bases and helped the soldiers with the mitzva of arba minim. I went all over until I finally came to the squadron munitions bunker. After they all finished saying the bracha, I asked where the commanding officer was, and somebody told me that he should be landing any minute, but "it’s a waste of time," he said and then went on to criticize the officer’s attitude towards Judaism.

It was unbelievably hot and the aravos were almost dried out, but I waited. After half an hour, his plane landed and the officer came to the munitions bunker. I went over to him and said, "Chag sameiach! You can say a bracha over the arba minim." He agreed, took the minim and said the bracha. When he finished shaking them, he continued holding the minim. I told him a short dvar Torah about the arba minim, hoping he would give them back to me in the meantime, and then he said resolutely, "I tell you that whoever holds this," and he pointed at the minim, "will hold this," and he tapped the ground with his foot. In other words, whoever holds onto the mitzvos will hold on to the land.

The officer who had spoken so nastily about him earlier was witness to this conversation, and he stood there astounded. Who knows the secret power of the Jewish soul, revealing itself in all its beauty...

* * *

What lay behind this outreach? The dedication and super-rational bittul of the Chassidim to the meshaleiach. They would leave their homes and families for the entire Purim.

Avrohom Meizlich: Sometimes we left at night after hearing the Megilla and eating something, and returned in time for the seuda. We stayed the night on the road. Once we landed at Lud a few minutes before sunset and we rushed to wash to be able to start the seuda, though we continued it after we got home.

Shlomo Lifschitz: I remember how they once brought us a tent and we spent the night on the dunes. Sometimes even that wasn’t possible because we were traveling from base to base through the night. Wherever we went we danced and rejoiced and left mishloach manos for the soldiers to distribute among themselves the next day.

The trips were exhausting. Tzvi Greenwald remembers the long roads, the hundreds of kilometers and the rattling vehicles. "Sometimes they had to pour salt on the tires in order for the cars to stay on top of the soft sand."

Avrohom Meizlich: The scenery was monotonous and the driver had to be careful to drive only on the road, which was covered with sand. Sometimes it was hard to see the road, and that was dangerous because alongside the road there could be water – with sand floating on top of it – and you couldn’t tell it was water. We would see cars and even tanks that had veered off the road and had sunk.

Tzvi Greenwald: It wasn’t easy, to say the least. Sometimes we traveled four, six, or eight hours with old rattling army buses together with the terrible desert heat. I remember how in the early years I would get dizzy and experience headaches. It wasn’t only me, but all of us. Only after a few visits did we learn that we had to drink a tremendous amount, because the desert heat is so severe it dries you out quickly. You don’t even realize you’re dehydrated. The rule was that even on Yom Kippur the soldiers had to drink. And we were schlepping sacks of mishloach manos from Kfar Chabad...

Tzvi Greenwald: R’ Mendel Futerfas would join us. When he arrived at a base it was really special. I remember how once he carried the sack of mishloach manos, and when we wanted to take it from him he refused and said, "It’s the Rebbe’s..."

This kind of work almost doesn’t exist anymore. It didn’t stop completely, but it’s greatly diminished. The special atmosphere, the spirit of the work of the Chassidim in Sinai is hard to find, although the thousands of Tmimim and Anash who go out to the bases on Chanuka and Purim are to be commended.

Why did it stop?

Shlomo Lifschitz: It stopped for a number of reasons. The first is that after Sinai was given away, there was no place to go anymore. Hundreds of military bases and military posts in the desert were dismantled and the forces greatly diminished.

Another reason is that over the years, Chabad expanded and the work has been divided. People from Tzfat go to the bases in the north, those in Nachalat Har Chabad go to the bases in the south, people in Yerushalayim go to the bases on the Jordan border, etc. The military vehicles go directly to the local branches of Chabad instead of to Kfar Chabad. So the tumult we had at the Kfar is gone. The other Chabad centers keep in touch all year round.

Tzvi Greenwald: Political reasons began to crop up. People on the Left thought that Chabad had too much power and they began complaining that Chabad is political. As proof, they pointed at the Rebbe’s talks about Who is a Jew and not returning land, although the Rebbe had begun talking about it a few years earlier. In the beginning of the ‘80’s, orders came from the top not to let Chabad into the bases.

Avrohom Meizlich: I remember an interesting incident in connection with this. Every Friday we would go to the Bahad 12 base. It was a base of female soldiers. They would come out on parade and we would address them about the importance of lighting Shabbos candles and then we would distribute candles. Berel Karasik started this. He would go to the base with his old rickety Vespa, and then Abba Levin and I continued with it.

One time they didn’t let me in. Apparently they had been given orders not to let us in. That week we went to the Knesset to meet with the assistant Minister of Defense, Motke Tzippori, and we told him what had happened. He got upset and said, "They don’t let? I’ll take care of that," and that very day he got our permit back.

* * *

What is the reason behind all the amazing success the Chassidim had back then? They all agreed that it’s the Rebbe’s ko’ach.

Avrohom Meizlich: It’s because of the Rebbe’s encouragement.

Shlomo Lifschitz: There’s no question that this was all with the ko’ach of the Rebbe, who invested tremendous kochos in it. We saw this in the way we were received. I remember how when we went on Chanuka with Chanuka gelt from the Rebbe, a ten-agora coin, the soldiers would literally grab them out of our hands.

Avrohom Meizlich: Sometimes I would see soldiers making a hole in the coin and wearing it for a segula.

I remember how towards the end of Chanuka, the Rebbe suddenly spoke about going out to the army bases, and said that whoever went out on mivtzaim on the remaining nights, the seventh and eighth night, would get a dollar.

All my students, the students of twelfth grade, went out. Some went to the Golan Heights and most of the class and I went to Sinai, where we dispersed in little groups to all the military positions, going from base to base and position to position.

The Rebbe’s connection and involvement with this project was out of the ordinary, and that was the secret to success.


When we arrived we began singing "Utzu Eitza V’sufar" despite the shelling. We gave out small cups of mashke and began singing and dancing, and things warmed up.





Suddenly the door opened and the pilot came out with a concerned look on his face. When he saw us dancing, however, he smiled and relaxed...





The Egyptians’ aim was improving until the shells fell directly on our position. Then the commanding officer turned to the chaplain and said, "Now you can say Tehillim." … 


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