With the recitation of the “Tefillah L’shlom Chayalei Eretz Yisrael” that formalizes our constant prayers for the young men and women of the IDF who protect our brethren in Israel daily, every Shabbat in our area is a Shabbat Chayal. However, in a move to formalize our tributes in the form of financially supporting an organization that enhances the service of our chayalim, Shabbat Chayal was designated several years ago as a special Shabbat of tribute to IDF soldiers. Planned around the anniversaries of Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, the Shabbat is dedicated to the memory of Ilan Tokayer, z”l, a Teaneck resident who proudly served in the IDF after which he tragically succumbed to an illness while in his 20s.
This year, Shabbat Chayal has been scheduled for May 11 by Congregations Beth Aaron and Shaare Tefilla. Both shuls will host kiddushim in honor of Shabbat Chayal, and all contributions will be designated to Lev LaChayal. Rabbi Dudi Winkler, program director of Lev LaChayal, will be speaking at the two shuls, sharing the work of his organization and its goals going forward. Rabbi Winkler will address Congregation Shaare Tefilla after davening and before the kiddush, and Congregation Beth Aaron one hour before Mincha.
Lev LaChayal was selected as the featured organization for this year’s Shabbat Chayal, as from its founding in 2014 it has served 60 young men including 10 from our local communities who opted to join the IDF from their gap-year programs. These young men include Alex Neugroschl, David Fertig and Nafi Lieber from Teaneck; Shai Guttfreund and Ezra Postelnek from Bergenfield; Moshe Ackerman from Clifton; Jonathan Silber from Edison; Eitan Hornstein from Highland Park; Pinchas Grad from Livingston; and Nadav Adler from West Orange.
The brainchild of Rav Dudi Winkler and Rav Noam White, both teaching rabbis at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in the Ramat Shilo area of Beit Shemesh, Lev LaChayal is a program within Lev HaTorah that serves the spiritual and physical needs of those young men from the US, Canada, England, South Africa and Australia who wish to serve in the IDF. Lev HaTorah, which in 2018 was accorded the designation of a hesder yeshiva by the Igud Yeshivot Hesder, took note that since its founding in 2001, 76 of its students took the bold step of enlisting in the IDF. Their decision was not simple as they had to fend for themselves in navigating the complicated, bureaucratic process of enlisting in the IDF as a lone soldier.
In 2014, Rabbis Winkler and White realized that the growing population of lone soldiers in Israel from throughout the world had a real need for assistance in their courageous decision to enlist. They proceeded to establish a dormitory directly across from Lev Hatorah that would become the home for these young men during their pre-army period as well as during their actual service. This physical home is overseen by a young couple who tend to all of their daily needs such as providing a fully stocked refrigerator, laundry services, and Shabbat and Yom Tov meals, both in-house or through local hospitality. During their army service they are even provided transportation to and from their specific bus and train stations as they travel to and from their bases. Rav Winkler advocates for the young men all along in their issues with documentation and requirements, and serves as a liaison to their parents.
Of utmost importance is that during their pre-army period, which is often bewildering and overwhelming, Lev LaChayal provides the young men with spiritual and emotional support.
The pre-army program offers the young men high-level Torah study combined with IDF-designed physical training, advanced Hebrew Ulpan, which is crucial to IDF acceptance, and extensive touring throughout the country. Personal guidance is offered to each student, concentrating on his particular needs. Rav White prepares the future soldiers with essential classes in army ethics and morality, the spoils of war, kidnapping and common dilemmas they may be confronted with during their service.
David Fertig of Teaneck noted, “Lev LaChayal gave and continues giving me everything I need to be successful in the IDF. I learned what to expect and gained the confidence and mental fortitude to serve in the best way that I can. Without LLC, I would be just another lone soldier. Instead, I am motivated and prepared and ready to take on whatever is required of me.”
The Pudells of Teaneck, parents of two lone soldiers, past and present, are indebted to Rav Dudi Winkler for his special care of their sons. “Our son Naftali wanted to join the IDF with his Yeshivat Shaalvim friends and serve in a hesder unit. When he encountered some difficulties along the way in the drafting process, Rav Dudi guided him, made calls to the Ministry of Defense and hesder offices on his behalf, and helped him draft successfully into the religious unit of the paratroopers. Rav Dudi is in constant contact with Naftali’s commanding officer to make sure he is doing well.”
The parents of Alex Neugroschl, Jeff and C.B. Neugroschl, concurred. “Lev LaChayal specializes in working with the unique circumstances facing U.S. students wishing to join the IDF in a hesder environment. They provided Alex and us with critical guidance and advice throughout the enrollment process and continue to provide support, both physically and emotionally, now that he has enlisted.”
By Pearl Markovitz