What does an IDF chaplain do?

What does an IDF chaplain do?

The story of a Chabad rabbi in Israel starts in Morristown

Rabbi Major Eliezer Morganstern — Major Ezzy — recently davvens on base.
Rabbi Major Eliezer Morganstern — Major Ezzy — recently davvens on base.

“Be careful what your child picks as a Purim costume!” Sarah Morgenstern jokes as she shows a photo of her son Ezzy as a little boy in Morristown, dressed in an IDF uniform.

That little boy — Eliezer Morgenstern —is 41 years old now, and over the years thousands of soldiers in the IDF have known him as Major Ezzy.

Sarah and Moshe Morgenstern met through friends in Morristown when her husband was a student at the Rabbinical College of America there. Neither grew up observant, but they both now are Chabad Lubavitch. They have five children, and they still live in Morristown. “Ezzy is right in the middle, and he is the proverbial middle child,” Ms. Morgenstern said. “He says he always knew he would go to Israel and join the army, but I must’ve blocked that part out. I marched against the Vietnam War. I never imagined I would have a son enlist in the army.”

In 2002, when he was 19, Ezzy went to Israel to continue his yeshiva studies and fell in love with the country. He enlisted in the army before he became a citizen, and “he speaks Hebrew like a native,” his mother said.

Ezzy was inspired by stories his father told about volunteering during the Yom Kippur War. Moshe Morgenstern was a student in Morristown when the war broke out and he immediately volunteered to go work on a kibbutz, taking over for the men who had been called up to fight.

But Moshe Morgenstern came back to the United States; Ezzy Morgenstern made Israel his home.

Ezzy and his older brother Simcha are dressed for a long-ago Purim.

In 2006, Ezzy met Michal Landau on the army base; they were both in an officer training program. Michal, who comes from San Diego, was surprised to see an Orthodox soldier. But the Lebanon War broke out and Ezzy went off to combat for 40 days. Soon after he returned, he and Michal were engaged; they married in March 2007.

“He was in an engineering unit, and their job was to bring medical supplies into the battlefield and bring out wounded soldiers,” Sarah Morgenstern said. “A lot of things he tells me after the fact because I would’ve freaked out.”

But Ms. Morgenstern wants to focus on the positive, especially now. “There is an incredible, unprecedented amount of unity right now among Jews,” she said. “All the different types of Jews, different levels of observance, different politics — it’s all been put aside. The Israelis are really embracing the Orthodox, and the Orthodox are really connecting with the soldiers. There are a lot of Orthodox people going out to the units and supporting them emotionally and bringing food. They’re putting on tefillin and praying with them.”

In 2008, Ezzy began studying civil engineering at the Technion in Haifa; his studies were interrupted by IDF service, but he graduated in 2014. A father of four by this time, he began working as a construction engineer, building luxury high-rise apartments. In 2017, he received smicha — his rabbinical ordination — from Chabad Lubavitch in Israel, and in 2018 he spent four months on a base training to become an army chaplain. He’s now the father of eight and a major in the reserves. Although he’s a chaplain, because of his engineering background he’s often asked to work on technical projects.

“He’s a very unusual and extraordinary guy,” his mother said. “Ezzy isn’t a stereotypical engineer, relating more easily to things than people. He is a people person. And he’s quite a natural leader as well. People in his unit have always looked to him for guidance and inspiration. That’s just who he is. So, I wasn’t surprised when he got his smicha (rabbinical ordination) and became a chaplain.”

Since October 7, Ezzy has been on active duty, caring for the spiritual needs of close to 500 soldiers in his battalion. He has told his family that although the situation is difficult, morale is high. He also has told his family what supplies his soldiers need, and Michal created a fundraising page to gather some of them.

Ezzy is home for a brief visit with his family.

His sister Adele Beiny has a popular Instagram account called @lifeslookingood; she has begun to post her brother’s wish list, which includes funds for bulletproof helmets, camelbacks — backpacks you can drink from easily to stay hydrated in the desert — and metal cages for the top of tanks to deflect rockets. “The enemy has newer and better equipment with every year we didn’t get rid of them,” Ms. Morgenstern said.

“We’ve been raising money for bulletproof helmets, and Ezzy declared that he wouldn’t wear one until everybody in his unit had one. So we were working hard to make sure everybody had a helmet. Now a lot of people in Israel and in the Orthodox world know about him because of these fundraising efforts.”

Major Ezzy’s unit also received a different kind of gift. “A rabbi in Russia began writing a sefer Torah October 7, and it was just finished last week,” Ms. Morgenstern said. “Many chaplains wanted it, but Ezzy’s unit was chosen to receive it.”

As a chaplain and experienced soldier, Ezzy knows the importance of both keeping spiritual morale high and providing some more earthly comforts.

“There are people that go around in Israel and they do barbecues on the bases,” Ms. Morgenstern said. “They bring the barbecue and the meat and make a big meal for them. Or they send food to the bases because they really aren’t eating very well.”

“So we raise money for a barbecue or for a mobile laundry truck to come. A big flatbed truck with washing machines. They hook it up at the base so the soldiers can wash their clothes. You know, they go weeks and weeks without a change of clothes. They sleep in their uniforms, underwear, everything, every night. They don’t change into pajamas.

“Ezzy very often doesn’t get a bed. He’s very happy if he gets a foam pad on the floor. People have no idea what goes on during a war.”

Ezzy Morgenstern’s fundraiser is at www.jgive.com/new/en/usd/donation-targets/110165.

read more: