Friday, July 8, 2011

The Rabbi and the Paratroopers: Everybody Into the Pool !

During the second Lebanon war in 2006, the father of an Israeli paratrooper went to visit him at an army base in Petach Tikva. He found that his son was one of 700 Israeli paratroopers who expected to be there for one or two days to prepare for entry into the conflict in Lebanon. 

The one or two days became ten days, and, packed into a tank hangar, they were unable to take a shower, to sleep, or to change clothes.

So he contacted Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Grossman, the founder of Migdal Ohr, and asked him what can be done .

"What can be done?", asked the rabbi. "Let them all come to Migdal Ohr."  

Migdal Ohr (Hebrew for "Tower of Light") was established in 1972 for the express purpose of providing education and social guidance to the children from underprivileged and troubled homes ifrom across Israel. Overcrowded apartments, one-parent families, homes with drug problems, impoverished, crime-ridden families--these are the target populations from which Migdal Ohr draws its over 6,000 pupils at all levels of the educational spectrum. Its goal - to transform these students into proud and productive citizens of Israel. 

When they arrived at Migdal Ohr, the soldiers expected the black-clothed, black-hatted rabbi with a long white beard to invite them to daven Mincha, the afternoon service.  Rabbi Grossman surprised them by saying "Guys, everyone into the pool!'.

To say that the paratroopers were surprised would be an understatement. Coming from secular backgrounds on kibbutzim and moshavim, wearing ponytails and non-religious garb, they had never seen a rabbi like this. He motivated them with a barbecue and dancing and wished them success and health by attending to their needs, and getting them to participate in writing the last few words in the completion of  a new Torah scroll.

The video below documents the rest of the moving story -- the rabbi visiting the troops in Lebanon, his blessings for their safe return, and his warm welcome for them when they did return home.

This is a very different story about the interaction between religious and secular in Israel -- one that deserves to be retold.  Enjoy!

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