The Joy Of Purim To The Trenches
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
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."
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.
was the work carried out at that time?
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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!"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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."
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.
came to these places under fire. How can you possibly bring simcha to the
soldiers at times like these?
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
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.
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.
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
Greenwald: I never had a trip in which
I didn’t meet some students from the vocational school of Kfar Chabad.
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.
the secrecy and great danger, nobody ever dared tell a Lubavitcher
"no." They all knew how important this was for the Israeli soldiers.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
you tell us other stories about souls awakening?
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
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
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..."
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.
did it stop?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
is the reason behind all the amazing success the Chassidim had back then? They
all agreed that it’s the Rebbe’s ko’ach.
Meizlich: It’s because of the Rebbe’s
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.
Meizlich: Sometimes I would see
soldiers making a hole in the coin and wearing it for a segula.
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.
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
Rebbe’s connection and involvement with this project was out of the ordinary,
and that was the secret to success.