Like any one of you reading this column, I’ve been busy since October 7. Every Jew has been drafted as a soldier of the Jewish people. I know few Jewish men and women — from Israel, where we were when the war started, to Italy, where we met with the Vatican to try and garner greater support for Israel, to the United Kingdom, where I traveled for two Piers Morgan debates on Israel, to here in the United States — who are not, to paraphrase Churchill, fighting on Facebook, fighting on Instagram, fighting on campuses, fighting on street corners.
No, we will never surrender.
But amid the Jewish community’s voluntary enlistment of millions of Jews the world over to push against the greatest tsunami of antisemitism, and actual murder of Jews, since the Holocaust, there are, of course, the actual, real soldiers who are keeping our people alive: The brave soldiers of the IDF.
Now here is something that I never thought I’d be doing since the horrors of October 7, namely, running around, like countless other parents of lone soldiers in Israel’s army, raising money for essential equipment of our children’s and other military units.
We have three children who have served as lone soldiers in the IDF. But having two sons at war is a new thing entirely. Going into Shabbat is always the hardest, because although often we do not hear from our sons for days on end as they carry out their responsibilities, knowing that we can’t speak on Shabbos and even just see that second check mark on their WhatsApp — that the message has at least been delivered — is very hard. As I said to Debbie, “We’re going to have to acclimate to the idea of having children at war. It’s a new mindset that we have to embrace, the same one that Israeli parents have done for some 80 years.” We can’t sit and worry.
But that doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility of doing whatever we can — as civilians — to keep our children safe.
I was shocked when I first heard that Israel’s soldiers were desperately seeking bulletproof vests. Are you kidding me? They cost about $300. Israel can’t afford that for its soldiers? And ballistically tested Kevlar helmets? Was Israel really giving Vietnam-era helmets to its soldiers? Yes, I know that Iron Dome and David’s Sling cost a fortune. But none of that is any excuse not to outfit soldiers with the most basic equipment.
So here I was, on the phone, like countless other parents, “Can we buy a drone for the unit? Night-vision goggles? Bulletproof vests? Helmets? Even decent sleeping bags for the bitterly cold nights?”
If you’re the American parent of a soldier now serving in the IDF, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And all of this donating and fund-raising — at least for me — was going on at the same time that our organization was raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for full-page New York Times ads — we’ve done three over the last weeks — and national social media campaigns on Israel’s behalf.
And here I want to be fair to the IDF. It’s understandable that when Israel, virtually overnight, calls up some 400,000 soldiers after the worst terror attack in its history, it’s going to struggle to outfit them all with the necessary equipment.
But still, come on! Everyone knows that it’s the quartermasters who win the war. Whichever army is better provisioned usually tastes victory. Just ask Hitler about Stalingrad (his priority was using the trains to take Jews to Auschwitz rather than blankets to his troops). Or, in a less well-known example, ask Robert E. Lee about the real reason for the Confederacy’s defeat to the North, which was outstandingly provisioned. Or, for that matter, ask George Washington why he almost lost the Revolutionary War. Was it cowardice on the part of his troops, or the fact that they were barefoot in the snows of Valley Forge?
Israel is not a poor country, and there is zero excuse for any of its combat fighters not to have, at the very least, bulletproof vests, tactical Kevlar helmets, and for those who do night missions, night-vision goggles.
That American parents are running around trying to outfit armies across the world would be comical if it were not so embarrassingly absurd.
Now that our children are at war, I’ve wondered many times if enlisting was the right thing for them to do. I’m scared for them, and I’m worried. And I’m constantly praying for them.
But that is all drowned out in a sea of pride that three of my children are soldiers in the first Jewish army in 2,000 years and that even if, God forbid, Hamas massacres innocent babies, as it did on October 7, no longer is Jewish blood worthless because it will be avenged.
Still, why should our sons not have the best equipment that a modern army and a well-to-do-community can afford? The fact that they don’t is scandalous. Until the IDF reorders some of its priorities, those who wish to contribute to our ongoing efforts to defend Israel in media and outfit Israeli army units can donate at www.thisworld.us/donate.
Like any Jew who loves and reveres Israel, I was raised on the myth of IDF invincibility. Though I was born just a few months before the Jewish state’s greatest military triumph in the Six Day War, Israel as a military superpower was part of our Jewish pride. Yes, the myth was punctured — terribly — in the first days of the Yom Kippur War. I was only 6 years old at the time, but I still remember my father’s face turning white as we walked to shul in Los Angeles and heard the news that Israel had been overrun.
But two weeks later, Israel’s military muscle had turned the tide. A new hero, Ariel Sharon, had crossed the Suez Canal and encircled Egypt’s Third Army. Only Henry Kissinger could save them, which unfortunately he did. Sharon was revered in our home and when, in 1991, I hosted Ariel Sharon, as Israel’s minister of housing, at Oxford, my father flew in from Los Angeles to greet his hero.
In Oxford I also hosted Isser Harel, the legendary founder of the Mossad. He was the man who personally traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to oversee Adolph Eichman’s capture. I thought it would be a small event. Harel was elderly and no one had actually heard of him. But the very words “Founder of the Mossad” brought some 1,000 students — including many Israel-haters — to lay eyes on the mythical founder of the world’s most revered Intelligence agency, even as he turned out to be a 5 foot 3 inch octogenarian with enormous ears.
I would go on to become quite close with Harel and visit him in his home in Israel, where it became clear that the Mossad reflected its creator — brilliant, clandestine, magical, and unassuming.
But, oh, what a difference to wo months makes. The myth of the IDF’s superiority was dealt a shattering blow on the 7th of October, not only because of its seeming lack of readiness, but more importantly, the fact that it took some six or seven hours for the army to show in force and rescue the south from total annihilation. As for the Mossad, Israel’s vaunted military intelligence agency, it seemed to be clueless as how some 3,000 savage and bloodthirsty thugs were able to cross into Israel and burn families alive, rape women, including their dead bodies, butcher babies, and film it all for bragging rights. As my former student president at Oxford, Ambassador Ron Dermer — now Israel’s minister of strategic affairs and a member of the five-person war cabinet — best put it, Hamas are “Nazis with Go-Pros.”
How did a group of thuggish monsters best the greatest man-to-man fighting force on earth?
But just as in the Yom Kippur War, the IDF has more than redeemed itself in a brilliantly executed invasion of Gaza, splitting the territory into two, where it has encircled Hamas, exposed its use of hospitals as terror headquarters, destroyed its tunnels, killed its fighters, and kept its own casualty rates to a minimum, even as we mourn the loss of every soldier. And the pressure that the IDF has so brilliantly put on Hamas is what has led directly to the release of the hostages, even as we still wait and pray for them all to be released.
But there are two things, personal to me, that will never come back, no matter how well Israel fights this way, hopefully until Hamas’s total and irrevocable destruction.
The first is that one of the IDF’s most senior officers, a full colonel and legendary commander, who was a close friend of our family, fell on October 7. He was one of the finest, humblest, most capable men I ever met and the father of a large family. I cannot independently confirm this, but it is said he died because, as he ran into battle against the terrorists, he did not have a bulletproof vest.
The second is the image of Shani Louk, the beautiful Israeli-German woman whose naked body was paraded around Gaza City with five men’s legs on top of her, abusing her body and screaming “Allahu Akbar.” No doubt, in the minds of these sickos, God is made great through the desecration of a naked 22-year-old.
I interviewed Shani’s parents, Ricarda and Nissim, who were originally told that she had survived and was in a hospital, only to discover later that she had been beheaded. They sat shiva with no body. I asked them if I could add their daughter’s name to a Torah I was dedicating to my mother, who passed away in February. “The only way to address this act of desecration is with an act of consecration,” I said. “We must dedicate a Torah to Shani.” Her parents immediately agreed, and my children told me that it’s the greatest honor for my mother, who was devoted to Israel in body and soul. The Torah’s consecration is scheduled for Carnegie Hall, God willing, on January 28.
But amid this act of holiness, I fully confess, that in our Instagram Live video, when Ricarda Louk revealed to the public for the very first time — and our conversation was immediately picked up by the New York Post, which reported it — that the IDF had killed two of those monsters who abused her naked body, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction. Yes, the Torah says, “When your enemy falls, do not rejoice.” And I was not celebrating.
Rather, I knew, that after 2,000 years of Jewish women being raped, exploited, beaten, and murdered, those who attempt to do so in this generation will be hunted down by a Jewish army and sent to hell to roast till the end of time.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach of Englewood is the author of “The Israel Warrior” and “Kosher Hate: Fighting Bigotry and Antisemitism.” If you wish to help equip Israeli army soldiers, go to www.thisworld.us/donate.