Saturday, March 3, 2007

IDF-No Hechsher

This, as in years passed, my wife and I attended the fund raising dinner for the Friends of the IDF and we are always amazed at the dearth of religious Jews in attendance. Every year I ask my wife the same question: why are there no frum Jews here? Every year I get the same answer: I don’t know. I am tired of asking the question, but I won’t stop.

For those of you who don’t know, the Friends of the IDF is a benign and benevolent organization which has no particular political position nor does it represent a religious position. Its sole purpose is to provide Israeli soldiers rest and recreation facilities somewhat like the USO. A soldier coming from the front lines, whether it be Gaza or the North is in need of a little R&R, a hot shower and cooked meal. There is little money to provide this kind of relief, so this organization raises money, not just for facilities providing swimming pools, workout facilities and a clean bed, but also scholarship money for these young men and women to continue their education when upon discharge.

The Friends of the IDF is a brilliant concept because it isn’t milchig or fleishig and has no taam lifgaam. It is a beautiful program because it doesn’t discriminate between a daati soldier or a chiloni, sex, or for that matter one’s sexual preference. The only thing that matters is that they are chayalim in the service of their country and people. Strangely and oddly enough, so many of our other charities are divided along religious lines. And these charities are not only successful but are able to attract people from varying and different religious persuasions. For example, Chabad does an incredible job raising money from the non charedi, and even non- religious communities. The same goes for Aish Hatorah. So why is it that the Friends of the IDF do not succeed in attracting members of the charedi community? I would even venture to say that there is even covert resistance and resentment toward the entire enterprise on the part of the charedi community.

To be fair, I can rationalize though in a very limited way, reasons why the charedi community doesn’t support the Friends of the IDF. After all, chayalim are Zionists and shmootznickim. Chareidim will do everything in their power to keep their sons and certainly their daughters out of “gius”. But shouldn’t that be the reason for the charedi community to contribute. These chayalim do the dirty work in place of the charedi’s sons and daughters. While these chayalim put their lives on hold and in harms way for three years, charedim are sitting in yeshivas of their choice contemplating marriage and the good life while their daughters are shopping for their trousseau. So why not support them?!! It’s a great deal a win-win or as our sages phrased it “zeh neheneh vzeh lo chaser” and, besides, it’s tax deductible.

How many of us can remember our self image before the six day war? And how many of us can remember our self image after WWII? While I wasn’t alive until after the establishment of the State, I understand the self image of the Jew was “efes” and in need of serious rehabilitation. To be sure, all the mosadot that were established in America and Israel following the establishment of the state contributed dearly to our national rehabilitation and if you will, rebirth. But nothing could parallel the striking victory by Zahal in 1967. Having said that, the charedi community couldn’t accept the unique role of Zahal in the way history was unfolding. Zahal’s stunning victory was a result, they maintained, of all the tefilllos offered up by the pious to the shaarei shamaim coupled with the powerful learning in the yeshivos in Israel and the world over. I think the charedi community has a point but I believe that it is a shared “zechus”-a cooperative effort between their learning and tefillos coupled with brave and skillful chayalim.

I am willing to grant my charedi brothers the benefit of the doubt on this, but they can’t deny that it was the chayalim that laid their lives on the line in the defense of Am Yisrael. So, I am asking them, why can’t you extend that kavod and noticeably participate in a wonderful mitzvah. It is a wonderful mitzvah because this is one organization that seeks to unify rather than polarize. It is an organization that seeks to find the elements that we share rather than stress things we don’t have in common.

Over the years I have unsuccessfully solicited members of the charedi community on behalf of this proud and august organization, and I have never raised a cent. I have raised money among the non-religious community with almost no resistance. Even the left wing faction that would be characterized as Shalom Achshav or B’zelem types, when asked to give, do so with pride. They draw the line between what they consider principled criticism of government policy and the life of a chayal, a Jewish soldier in the service of his people. When I have asked these same charedim why is it that you won’t give to such a valuable asset as our chayalim protecting our people from real harm the response has invariably been the generic answer that they have other priorities which take precedent.

My intention is not to demean the value of this yeshiva or that yeshiva, but to put into perspective the value of this organization. There are hundreds of yeshivot throughout America and Israel. But there is only one zahal. Serving in uniform for three of the most important years of a young adult life is a major sacrifice that most do willingly. They are in need of sustenance beyond what can be provided through standard military issue. That’s where you should come in- and I welcome you as I am sure every chayal would even though you may see him as a shmootznick.