This past Yom Kippur Israeli security forces averted a major disaster when they uncovered a fully prepared explosive belt in the heart of Tel Aviv at the last moment.
The drama worthy of a Hollywood thriller began about a week before the planned attack, when security forces, presumably acting on intelligence information, rounded up 40 Hamas operatives in the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp. Among those captured were a suicide bomber, his recruiter, and the driver who was to smuggle him into Tel Aviv.
While their capture was a set back for those behind the operation, they still had plenty of time to recruit another bomber and driver. They had already succeeded in smuggling an explosive belt in three separate parts into Tel Aviv and in assembling it there. Not until early Friday morning, less than 24 hours prior to the onset of Yom Kippur, did security forces capture Nihad Sahkirat, the planner of the operation, in a refugee camp in Nablus.
The details of Shakirat’s interrogation are not fully known, but we can be confident it was not a pleasant one from his point of view, as the security forces confronted the classic “ticking bomb” situation. For once common sense prevailed, and the Israeli Supreme Court did not intervene to protect the “rights” of Shakirat.
In the course of his questioning, Shakirat revealed the name and address of a Palestinian accomplice who illegally rents an apartment in South Tel Aviv. Not until leil Yom Kippur, did police arrest the accomplice in Nablus, and he revealed the hiding place of the explosive belt. At 4:30 a.m., just hours before worshippers would have been crowding into Tel Aviv shuls, police raided the apartment and found the explosive belt, along with a number of Palestinians living there illegally.
The narrowly averted tragedy serves to remind us of how many of our fellow Jews give up their Shabbosos and Yamim Tovm so that we can daven in peace and security. Somewhere deep in the back of our minds we may all know this, but we tend not to think about it too much.
Indeed we are too often wary of expressing the proper hakoras hatov to the defense forces. I have had many discussions with highly intelligent friends who when discussing whether or not they receive a fair share of their taxpayer’s dollar from the Israeli government completely ignore the defense budget – as if defense were something only relevant to the rest of the population.
Perhaps we imagine that all those who perform guard duty or are engaged in active operations on Shabbos or Yom Tov are non-religious. As a pure factual matter, that is far from the case. And even if it were, it would not lessen our obligations of hakoras hatov one iota. (Nor does the fact that the secular population does not acknowledge the role of Torah learning in protecting all of us justify any diminution in the obligation on our part to show the proper hakaros hatov..)
Western governments may suspend hostilities against Moslems in Ramadan as a sign of respect for Islam. But as the Yom Kippur War and the Seder Night bombing in Netanya make clear, we can expect no such reciprocity from our Arab enemies. Indeed they delight in showing their contempt for our holiest days. The narrowly averted suicide bombing in a Tel Aviv shul on Yom Kippur just reinforces this point, and reminds us of all those who must sacrifice so that we can daven with kavannah on Shabbos and Yom Tov, without worrying about terrorists invading our shuls.
ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES were not the only ones to give up a something of their Yom Kippur for the sake of their fellow Jews. Ayalet HaShachar, a kiruv organization that places couples on secular kibbutzim and smaller communities, arranged 25 minyanim this past Rosh Hashanah and 11 on Yom Kippur in places where there had never before been minyamim on these holy days. That is in addition to the minyanim in the 50 or so communities in which the organization has already placed couples.
In each location, that meant bringing in at least a minyan of yeshiva bochurim and in many cases entire families to make sure there would always be a proper minyan during the davening. In short, hundreds of frum Jews gave up their Yamim Noraim in their familiar settings to try to bring a taste of these days to their fellow Jews.
In a similar fashion, Tzohar, a group of young national religious rabbis, has been leading Yamim Noraim minyamin in community centers around the country in recent years.
Most of us rely on being together with hundreds of like-minded Jews and joining in the familiar niggunim to intensify our yearnings for teshuva during the Yamim Noraim. For that reason, hundreds of avreichim return to their former yeshivos – Mirrer, Chevron, Ponevezh – to share in the same atmosphere of spiritual arousal that they remember from their days as bochurim.
Those who spent their Yamim Noraim in unfamiliar settings, among those with little or no knowledge of the day, willingly sacrificed their own spiritual aliyah for their fellow Jews. And like the sacrifices of the soldiers who prevented a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur, theirs were rewarded. (Not that I wish to equate different forms of sacrifice or belabor the comparison.)
Rabbi Shlomo Ra’anan, director of Ayelet HaShachar spent Yom Kippur at Kibbutz Geva. One kibbutz member asked him whether he could hear the bones of the founders of kibbutz turning in their graves over the advent of Yom Kippur davening on the kibbutz.
Two hundred men and women attended Kol Nidre and Neilah , and 30 men in their kibbutz shorts spent the entire day in tefillah. Many men and women fasted for the first time. At least one woman commented towards the end of the fast that she barely felt it. And a pledge was made that there will be a Beit Knesset on the kibbutz in time for Yom Kippur next year.
A letter from a member of Kibbut Geva to Ayelet HaShachar pretty much says it all: “Thanks and blessing to all of you . . . for having created for us a ‘Mikdash Me’at’ in the midst of our everyday lives and secular existence, and for having made it possible for us to touch the holiness, the elevation of this unique day – Yom HaKippurim. The emotions during the prayers broke down all the barriers, and enabled us to touch every link in the common chain of our shared tradition, reaching back to the roots of our common existence . . . . I believe that the prayers opened many hearts to love of their fellow man . . . . Looking forward to seeing you next year, b’ezras Hashem, on the same day in the same place.
This article appeared in Mishpacha on October 17.