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On the

Donning Tefillen on the frontline with IDF soldiers

Two Chabadniks on the Suez - 1972

By Berel Jacobs

Standing beside the road, awaiting the buses, our thoughts concentrated on the long, rough journey ahead and we were permeated with a glowing inner enthusiasm and anticipation, the harmony of the material and spiritual seemed idyllic.

Our destination: Sinai and the Suez Canal. Our purpose: to bring the holiday spirit to the soldiers in the bunkers, on the front. Our motto: “and you shall spread forth" — the motto of Chabad. We were Chassidim, two bus loads full, messengers of the Rebbe, on a divine mission of great importance. The occasion was Chanukah.

Before this state of sublime complacency could wane, the buses arrived and the first leg of our trip began.

The swaying, wild, salt-water palm trees and the placid blue Mediterranean told us we were in the oasis of El Ansh, the one-time capital city of Sinai. The untiring clock told us—time for the morning prayers. Slowly the buses ascended the steep hill to the army fort, and there we prayed, using the opportunity to help all the soldiers in and around the base to don Tefillin.

Then, the sand. Miles and miles of sand. Overbearing mountains of sand, gentle valleys of sand, soft white sand, hard brown sand, hot sand. Above our heads, the hazy blue-white sky, with its merciless, blazing sun eternally baking the sand below. Under our wheels, the black ribbon road lazily winding its determined way across the burning desert sand.

Marching triumphantly from bondage to glorious Exodus, our forefathers had trekked these ancient sands. The magnificent dunes standing watchfully through the ages were majestic monuments to the generation of the wilderness, who never entered the Promised Land. On this path Abraham and Sarah walked, always spreading the Name of the One G-d. Now we are treading in their footsteps, molded in the sands of time! At every outpost, every remote army desert station, we stop and two of us alight to fulfill our mission of “you shall spread forth."

Sinai Central Command! The middle of nowhere. Beyond this point, no photographs, no civilians, frequent stops, frequent check points, and two busloads of Chabadniks setting Sinai ablaze in our path.

Then, suddenly, like a weird anti-climax to a tension-filled day, we reached that precariously narrow, serenely aloof body of water, which had once bound east to west, but today serves to sever them asunder. We had reached our destination; now we must fulfill the great expectations.

Any unfamiliar face is a welcome sight to the sand blown eyes of the brave fighting men in the vast wilds of Sinai. Add a scraggly youthful beard, a broad friendly smile and a pair of Tefillin, and the warm SHALOMS tell you that you are at home with your long lost brothers.

Some light talk...a pat on the back...Tefillin...a fervent prayer...more serious discussion...invitation to supper and then...

Dusk is relatively short; ever so gently the mystifying desert night stealthily tiptoes in, stealing the last rays of sunlight, leaving just a nostalgic wisp of violet and pink in the distant western sky.

In the clear, cool, moist atmosphere of dim twilight we, the last two on the bus, climbed, gingerly hopping over stinging barbed wire and gaping trenches, evading poised machine guns and well-oiled artillery, until the top of the fortifications was beneath us.

From this vantage point, we could review the entire outpost: intricate bunkers, powerful weapons and sentry posts. Then, turning quietly around, we looked across the slim, hypnotic Canal.

Our attention was immediately drawn to the enormous, makeshift Menorah erected on this high mound. With ingenuity, resourcefulness and practicality the soldiers had fashioned each cup from an empty artillery shell. Filling it half way with earth and using wads of cloth for wicks, they had saturated the entire mass with oil.

The proximity of the Egyptians and their ubiquitous guns, if not terrifying, had engendered a feeling of electric tension.... No time for contemplation, light the Menorah.

Dauntlessly and defiantly, a handful of courageous young men stood, staunch and proud, in the sights of Arab snipers—hundreds of miles from home—on the banks of the Suez Canal, and joyously kindled the Chanukah lights, proclaiming the eternal spirit of the Jewish nation to a turmoil-filled world.

As the dancing, golden flames soared higher and brighter —a jubilant song of inherent hope and belief spontaneously burst forth from the firm hearts and souls of these determined defenders of Jewish land and life—as it had, once before, in the days of Judah the Macabbee.

In that instant, with that act, we were exalted and purified, transcending time and space into a higher spiritual sphere; a true awakening of repentance gripping the essence of each soul. Dumb with awe, we remained standing as if transfixed, only our eyes following the rising flames, strangely reflected in the eerie waters below, our lips still humming softly, breaking the haunting stillness. A long time elapsed before we returned to the bunkers. This was the Miracle of Chanukah—and the glow of those lights will illuminate the pathways of our hearts forever!

A handful of soldiers and two Chabadniks.


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