by Reb Akiva @ Mystical Paths
Over Passover I met an interesting young man by the name of Chaim. Chaim is a young chassidic man in his early 20’s from a major Jewish and chassidic community in the U.S. His father is a well known rav (rabbi) and community leader.
He arrived in our chassidic synagogue sporting a big untrimmed chassidic style beard, springy payos (sidelocks), and a Tavor assault rifle.
Chaim joined us for the last day of Passover as he’s in Israel having enlisted as a Jewish foreigner into the Israel Defense Forces. And he didn’t just enlist, he demanded a tough combat brigade and is trying out for special forces next month.
Now one might think this young man is just weird, a strange anomaly of the “ultra-orthodox” community. Or he might be a family outcast or one of the “off the derek” (leaving the orthodox path) boys. But a conversation with Chaim quickly disabuses one of these notions.
Chaim prays with the best of them and learns (Torah). He’s become an unofficial religious leader in his unit. He’s also his squad’s best shot.
Chaim is here in Israel in the IDF because, in his words, “There are no opportunities for young men where I come from (a major North American city). I love the Jewish people and I want to do something for them. And we’re now coming under threat from all sides. I’m not a Zionist, I would go to help the Jewish people even if they were in Uganda. In the IDF I can help defend my brothers and sisters and do something worthwhile.”
Chaim says he’s not unusual in his unit. Over 150 of the last draft for his unit was foreigners, young Jews from the U.S., Canada, Australia, etc, who have come to volunteer for the IDF. He said his commanders literally don’t know what to make of these Anglos, young idealistic Jews leaving the “golden” lands of the West for the Promised Land and the Jewish people, that may be making up to 10% of this top IDF combat unit.
Are they all religious like Chaim? He says on Shabbat the base synagogue (capacity 60) is full, plus standing soldiers, plus all the windows are opened and the small building itself is surrounded – maybe 300 men singing together to the Shabbos Queen.
Chaim is NOT in a religious combat unit. The Netzach Yehuda – Nachal Charedi unit is seeing this story in an even greater way. Not only is the unit full, it may be 20% non-Israel Jewish men enlisting. And many of these Anglos are extending their service, signing up for officer training and the like.
It is very possible a new form of Western aliyah has begun. Young idealistic religious Jews are looking at a lack of local opportunities (due to world economic conditions) and turning towards Eretz Yisroel (the Land of Israel). The future of the Jewish people with aliyah from the West may be quietly changing right before our eyes.