In the early 1980s, I was working for the Agudah in Manhattan when I attended a meeting in which we heard from Meir Hertz, an Israeli American askan (activist) in Lakewood. Reb Meir had just returned from Israel and related an amazing story.
During those years, there was a lot of tension between Lebanon and Israel (for a change). The Lebanese acquired a battery of “SAM 6” [SA-6] anti-aircraft missiles from the Soviet Union. These missiles were known to be lethal, with deadly accuracy against any incoming Israeli Air Force jet. It made engaging the Lebanese from the air almost impossible. The Israelis needed to figure out a way to take them out, an almost impossible challenge.
At that time, the famed Rabbi Dovid Grossman shlita walked into his beis midrash in Migdal HaEmek and discovered three young non-religious Israeli men he had never seen before. Naturally, he asked where they were from and why they were there. They told him their story.
Ariel Sharon (in his good days) was the commander of the platoon where they were in the North. He told them that he needed three men to volunteer to somehow fly their jets into the SAM 6 missile site and destroy them. There was only one problem. It would likely be a suicide mission, as the odds of any of them surviving were slim. Three unmarried men volunteered for the job and were given clearance once they received permission from their family, which they tearfully did.
The day before the mission, one of the volunteers approached General Sharon and said he would go under one condition. Sharon was quite annoyed, since the agreement had already been made, but he listened to the man’s request. He said he heard of a great tzadik in Bnei Brak named Rav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, the Steipler Gaon (1899-1985), and wished to receive a brachah from the tzadik before going on the mission. He insisted on taking the other volunteers with him, as well, to receive a brachah.
Sharon said he didn’t know much about the Steipler but agreed to let them go. “Perhaps the rabbi will give me a brachah, too!” he said.
The next day, the three volunteers were able to meet Rav Kanievsky. The Steipler listened to the details of their mission and asked what time it was to take place. They told him it would be 1:00 p.m. the next day. They left with a heartfelt brachah from the Steipler for success in their mission.
Flyers were immediately posted all over Bnei Brak that stated as follows: “Eis tzarah hi l’Yaakov, u’mimenah yivashei’a” – It is a very threatening time for Jacob, but Jacob will be delivered from that threat (Yirmiyahu 30:7). Tomorrow from 12:00 noon until 2:00 p.m. everyone is to stop what he is doing, whether in yeshivah or in a business, to recite T’hilim.” Since this was a top-secret mission, no facts were given to explain the sudden need to say T’hilim.
The mission took place the next day as scheduled, with all three pilots succeeding in destroying the SA-6 missiles and miraculously returning safely to base. Hence, they felt they must somehow thank Hashem, which brought them to Rabbi Grossman’s beis midrash.
This was the attitude of one of the all-time g’dolei Yisrael of our era. Members of the Israel Defense Forces need a brachah, and it is offered with no questions asked. The understanding that the IDF is defending all of Israel was never a question.
The other day, I saw a video of Rav Asher Weiss wondering aloud why it is even a question that we must give all the Israeli soldiers encouragement and thanks. On the other hand, just arising from the rocks down under was someone who heads some kind of yeshivah in Yerushalayim who said something so grotesque about Israeli soldiers that it is nonprintable. It is not to be believed. Personally, I feel that any bachur who chooses to study in that yeshivah should be off the shadchan list.
[Postscript: A wonderful 56-minute response to that statement and attitude was given by HaRav Eliyahu Diskind, noted talmid chacham of the chareidi world in Yerushalayim. (The talk is available on KolHaLashon.) Rav Diskind spoke of the need to learn Torah during wartime, yet being even more grateful to Israeli soldiers who risk their lives on a daily basis. Subsequently, the above-referenced anti-IDF speaker took out an ad in the Yated saying that he was “taken out of context.” A complete lie. (But at least he was made to feel bad.)
A close cousin of mine told me that he believes that much of the insanity that has permeated the entire world on the left and right, including in parts of the Torah world, is all part of the curse of 10/7. There is no other explanation.
In a recorded talk delivered by Rosh HaYeshiva HaRav Akiva Grunblatt shlita, of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, he explains why his Yeshiva actively participated in the Washington rally, to their eternal credit, while some leaders were against it. He started by saying that this was the approach of the sainted Rosh HaYeshiva Rav Henoch Leibowitz zt”l, to always work within the tzibur. But he went on to explain that there is a marked difference between the Agudah leaders of 1967 and 2023. In 1967, during the Six-Day War, all the leading g’dolim, including Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Ruderman, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, and Rav Hutner zichronam livrachah, encouraged everyone to participate in the pro-Israel rallies. Many within today’s leadership, however, are disciples of a much more hardened yeshivah system, than, say, Slabodka or the Mir. Interesting point. The greatness of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim, I must say, is that it has kept its rudder on a straight course, despite the turbulent waters surrounding it.
On another note, the awful protest by students in Hillcrest High School in Queens against a teacher who went to a pro-Israel rally brings home an important point. To attribute today’s young generation’s support of the Palestinians to leftist brainwashing in the universities is only partially true. That high school kids exhibit the same attitude puts on full display that this has very little to do with higher education. It is raw anti-Semitism, which has spilled into the open. This is racism in its purest form, practiced by a minority that claims to be the biggest victims of racism. Sorry, but Jewish Lives Matter, too. Get that, Rory? Liberals: Please rid yourself of the notion that helping everyone else will bring peace among men. It won’t. Ask Ariel Sharon about Gush Katif.
Kol ha’kavod to the UJA for reacting with a rally and getting prominent political and educational leaders to step in.
Perhaps someone can ask the office of AOC why she has not decried the horrendous separation of families by Hamas as she did when she accused Trump of doing so with illegal immigrants. Has the Pope said anything about Israeli hostages without drawing a moral equivalency? Just asking. But we’re all asking too many questions with almost no answers.
There was a world before 9/11 and after 9/11. There was a world before 10/7 and now a world after 10/7. We await the World of Mashiach.
Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld is the Rabbi Emeritus of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, President of the Coalition for Jewish Values, former President of the Vaad Harabonim of Queens, and the Rabbinic Consultant for the Queens Jewish Link.