Hasidic Jews, in Flowing Beards and Black Hats, Bring Religion to Golan Trenches

EL QUNEITRA, Israeli Occupied Syria, Dec. 5 - Hasidic Jews; bringing Hanukkah cheer to frontline Israeli troops this week made a bizarre picture as they sang and danced in bunkers and gun positions involved in recent fighting with a the Syrian Army.

The visitors in flowing beards and black broad-brimmed hats came to the Golan heights armed with traditional Hanukah jelly doughnuts, brandy, cakes, candy, warmth and good humor all which helped them a achieve their objective of getting the soldiers to perform Jewish religious duties.

They described themselves to a reporter as soldiers of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of Brooklyn, spiritual leader of the worldwide Lubavitcher movement. He had enjoined them, they said, to get soldiers to pray in tefilin, the head and arm phylacteries that Jewish men are required to wear for their weekday morning devotions.

Hershel Hecht, a slight red bearded man formerly from the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, appeared particularly agile as he slipped the phylacteries onto the soldiers' responsive arms and heads and explained that the rabbi "says tefilin gives strength to soldiers and provides them with spiritual protection."

On 2 Other Fronts

Similar missions were carried out yesterday on the Egyptian and Jordanian fronts, the army leadership obviously considered the Hanukkah operation good for morale, for they provided two planes to fly 55 hassidim with their supplies to the Suez Canal, as well as all the necessary vehicles. The Hasidim faced a handicap, for religious soldiers had already put on the phylacteries in the morning, and others are skeptics, many of whom consider the Hasidim killjoys who stone motorists on the Sabbath and otherwise try to coerce people into religious observance. So the visitors used subtle tactics. Ammunition carriers blaring Hasidic songs through amplifiers rolled up to the, soldiers' positions and the Hasidim emerged. Those with the phylacteries remained discreetly in the background singing traditional melodies while others with brandy and cake went forward.

A Hasid poured brandy for a soldier, but before the man could raise, the glass to his lips he found a yarmuike, or skullcap, on his head and the visitor asked him to recite the prescribed benediction for brandy.

The soldier compiled, registering mitzvah, or good dead, No. 1. Then the soldier was given cake and recited another benediction - another mitzvah.

The soldiers, clearly enjoying the curious interruption of their usual boredom, happily joined in the Hasidic songs and dances. When the atmosphere was sufficiently warm, the phylacteries were produced.
Few Soldiers Resisted

Some soldiers smiled sheepishly and did as they were asked. Others seemed deeply moved by the experience, closing their eyes in devout concentration. Few resisted. At some stations, soldiers lined up for the rite without any coaxing; elsewhere, especially at a -military-police headquarters, there was some arm-twisting.

Every soldier in sight, in one - case, a non-Jew, was approached. Outside the office of the military governor, a soldier ran eagerly toward the Hasidim shouting "L'chaim, L'chaim" - a traditional Jewish toast "to life." The Hasid filled a glass, covered the soldier's head and told him to say the benediction. "I'm a Druze," the soldier said. "Does it make a difference?"

(Source: By Moshe Brilliant, special to New York Times, Sunday, December 10, 1972)



The Soldiers stand in line to don Tefillin
Tefillin on the front lines  
A chassidic dance with the soldiers