The Book and the Sword
A visit with OTS’ Hadas soldiers serving in top-secret Intelligence roles provides a VIP group from the USA with a glimpse into the challenges and the rewards of being a religious IDF soldier
“Serving in the Intelligence Corps is like having a backstage pass to the inner workings of the world” said IDF officer M.
Her friend, officer H, agreed: “Waking up in the morning with the knowledge that you are doing something so crucial that really affects other people’s lives is an unmatched and incredible feeling.”
M and H – whose real names are forbidden from being revealed by Intelligence Corps protocol for classified positions – are two of five soldiers from Midreshet Lindenbaum‘s Claudia Cohen Torah/Army School (Hadas Program) who took time from their rigorous schedule to meet with a VIP group of 35 OTS supporters at their Glilot base in central Israel.
“Our visit to Glilot was designed to provide some of our closest friends with a glimpse into the work of one of the IDF’s most secretive and elite units,” said OTS President and Rosh HaYeshiva Rabbi Kenneth Brander. “We wanted to give them an opportunity to meet some of our incredible women soldiers, to hear firsthand about some of the challenges they face, and to witness the tremendous impact they are effecting on Israel through their roles in the military, as well as through personal example,” he said.
The Most Meaningful Shabbat
In a short panel discussion, the soldiers described the intrinsic difficulties of being religious in the military: “I remember when I had to keep my WhatsApp open during Shabbat because I was on call for a situation that was critical to Israel’s survival,” recounted B. “That was a very hard thing to do.”
Another soldier recounted a Shabbat a few months prior when she was so busy with crucial tasks that for the first time since arriving on base, she was unable to go to shul for Kabbalat Shabbat, light the Shabbat candles or join in Shabbat dinner. “When I finally got off, it was 3 AM,” she related, “and I decided that in spite of everything I would go to shul and daven Kabbalat Shabbat. Looking back, that Kabbalat Shabbat was the most meaningful one I’ve ever experienced,” she shared.
Rabbi Brander smiled and responded, “The Jewish people have been waiting 2000 years to experience Shabbat in this way.”
Shattering Stereotypes and Building Bridges
The soldiers credited their Midreshet Lindenbaum teachers for preparing them spiritually for the challenges and tasks they now face, as well as for the ongoing support their teachers continue to provide as they navigate the ongoing religious obstacles military life can present.
However, they noted that the challenges of religious life on base can often turn into bridge-building opportunities.
“Because I’m one of the only religious soldiers, my secular peers ask me questions about religion all the time,” revealed A, who often turns to her teachers or researches her friends’ questions during her off-duty visits to the Midreshet Lindenbaum beit midrash. “My presence on base is a great opportunity to shatter stereotypes and promote unity.”
After the panel, participants queried the soldiers about their service and their lives. To the question “Who is your spiritual role model?,” Officer G responded without hesitation: “Rav [Abraham Isaac] Kook, because his firm, unwavering commitment to Judaism was complemented by his belief that each and every Jew is holy, regardless of their belief, affiliation or level of observance.
“When you live and work day in and day out with other Jews whose dedication to Israel is paramount, you understand Rav Kook’s words even more clearly,” she said. “We’re all here to build a stronger, safer and more cohesive country.”
Later, the group was guided through the base’s Intelligence Heritage Center by retired officer Nina, who had served in the Research Unit of the Intelligence Corps and later worked in the Mossad. After learning how members of different Intelligence units, Mossad, Police, and other army units work together to fight terror and keep Israel safe, the group arrived at the base’s memorial site to honor the 750 IDF soldiers who died in service – as well as the countless others whose names cannot be recorded for security reasons, even after their death.
The tour ended at the small sanctuary featuring an aron kodesh which houses two Torah scrolls: one smuggled out of Damascus, and another from Auschwitz.
“Two hours just wasn’t enough,” summarized one of the day’s participants. “The opportunity to interact with the Hadas soldiers was excellent; we were extremely impressed by them and truly appreciated the opportunity. Their descriptions of life as a religious soldier and their sincerity were particularly effective.”