In Israel, just about every household has a member or other loved one serving in the regular or reserve forces during Operation Iron Swords.
While that’s not the case among diaspora Jews, many young adults from northern New Jersey and MetroWest are now on active duty in the Israel Defense Forces — or “Tzahal” as it’s known in Israel.
Four area Jewish high schools alone account for 120 volunteers.
The Frisch School in Paramus counts 51 male and female alumni now serving in the IDF. The oldest is from the class of 1998, and the youngest are from the class of 2022.
Torah Academy of Bergen County has 41 alumni actively serving in the IDF. The Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston has approximately 15, and Golda Och Academy of West Orange has 13.
TABC’s rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Joshua Kahn, said he is “incredibly proud of the more than 40 alumni currently serving in Tzahal.”
This commitment to the state of Israel, he said, “is an outgrowth of the value that our families and TABC place on religious Zionism and the critical role of Israel in our lives. Our students also recognize the esteem in which we hold these remarkable alumni. Our Tzahal wall in our building displays dozens of photos of our graduates who have served. We were also proud to honor them just two years ago at our annual dinner.”
On the advice of Israeli authorities and for the sake of security, we are not identifying either the active-duty soldiers or the parents quoted below.
A reserve soldier from Teaneck, a member of the TABC class of 2016, recently was interviewed by longtime “JM in the AM” radio show host Nachum Segal while he was on a short furlough in Jerusalem.
“How does a regular Jewish boy from Chicago or Teaneck get this desire and then with tremendous enthusiasm serve the Jewish people in this capacity?” Mr. Segal asked.
“I think a lot of it stems from the chinuch” — education — “that I was given both by my parents and by the institutions I went to, RYNJ and TABC,” the local soldier replied. “It’s the ideals they gave me that inspire me and led me to where I am today.”
He said that all the comrades in his unit — who include several other TABC graduates — are like a family. They take care of one another.
“For my parents, it’s hard because we don’t have our phones for 24 hours or 72 hours at a time, but when they know these guys are up there with me, it gives them more comfort that everything’s okay,” the soldier said. “Parents are very much in contact with all of us.”
The soldier expressed his appreciation for the many supportive activities and messages he’s receiving from the Teaneck community, including shipments of food and items of clothing.
The parents of a soldier who graduated from GOA in 2017 agreed to be interviewed for this article.
“Our son decided to make aliyah during his senior year of high school,” his mother said. “During the second semester of senior year, GOA does a three-plus-month trip to Poland and Israel.
“We raised our children to have a love for Jewish people, a love of Torah, and a love for Eretz Israel. It was during the Poland part of the trip, visiting the concentration camps, that he felt a tremendous responsibility to do his part in defending the Jewish people. He felt that if Israel had existed in the 1930s, the Holocaust would not have happened.
“He told us that the best way he could defend the Jewish people, given his abilities, was by serving in the IDF. When he first told us, as a mother, my initial reaction was, ‘I’m sorry, but you can’t do this. It’s too dangerous.’
“But at the same time, we were both overcome with a feeling of tremendous pride over his selfless desire. His rationale for wanting to serve in the IDF was incredibly sound and noble. We felt that we had to accept his courageous and admirable decision, and we support him wholeheartedly.”
Now their son is serving on the front lines with his active-duty unit.
“He has been on missions regularly, so our contact with him is infrequent — he doesn’t have his phone,” his father said. “It has been an emotional roller coaster. We don’t sleep much.”
Their son seems to be in good spirits. “He has tremendous mental and emotional strength, and resilience,” his father said. “He and his team know what needs to be done. They are fiercely determined to protect the Jewish people and our beloved homeland.
“Of course, we are immensely proud of him. Jews in Israel are under attack, and Jews everywhere are frightened, due to an alarming demonstration of antisemitism. For the first time in our lives, we have a sense of what it was to be a Jew in the 1930s.
“‘Never again’ was a theoretical concept until now. Our soldiers are making sure ‘never again’ is a reality,” he said.
“While we are terrified and we don’t sleep, we are immensely proud and grateful to our son for protecting Jewish lives. He, and all our courageous soldiers, who are exhibiting selfless bravery in order to protect the Jewish people, are our heroes and inspiration.”
GOA’s head of school, Rabbi Danny Nevins, said that students from pre-K through 12th grade are imbued with a love of Israel.
“Every morning, our elementary students rise to sing “Hatikvah” and they learn Israeli culture together with their Hebrew and Judaic studies,” he said. “Our older students study the history of Zionism and Israel, and they participate in extensive Israel travel at the start and end of high school.
“We are proud that a number of our graduates go on to make aliyah, and that a significant number are currently serving the IDF in either active duty or the reserves.
“Our students have been sending them messages of encouragement, and we all pray for their safety and success in restoring peace to the land.”