| His nickname is Itchy, which some
people may guess he received after leaving home in Cleveland, Ohio to join the
Israel Defense Forces, and perhaps because of a proverbial 'itchy trigger
finger' many people think all soldiers have, but it has actually been Ya'akov's
nickname all his life, and his IDF service exemplifies the professionalism he
and his fellow soldiers exhibit.
What makes Itchy
different from most other Israeli soldiers is that while most orthodox Jews who
join the IDF come from a strongly Zionistic family, Itchy's family wears black
hats, thus not the typical family whose kids people expect to join the IDF. "I
wanted to do it since I was a kid" he said. "The opportunity struck at a
certain time so I grabbed it. I was learning in the yeshiva in Waterbury,
Connecticut when my brother in law mentioned an IDF religious unit to me. I
decided I was old enough to do it and I was ready to join. I did not give it
much thought. I made the decision to join and that was it."
Itchy joined Nachal Chareidie - a religious
battalion. "This is the unit I wanted to be in because it's an uncompromising
religious unit. I had the chance to grow and practice religion too." Just
because they take extra time to Daven and study the Talmud does not make them a
lesser unit in the eyes of other soldiers. In fact, it's the opposite. "We
regularly compete against non-religious units and we come out on top. There are
no girls in the unit and the unit is highly praised by generals. People come to
me on the streets and see my insignia, and say Kol-Hakavod. One of the best
parts of out unit is that Rabbis are there all the time to answer Halachic
questions and soldier's wives can visit the base. They (the IDF) understand the
needs of the religious soldiers."
While the unit is
primarily comprised of Israeli-born soldiers, people come from all over the
world, including the US, France, Australia and South America to join the
brigade. "I spoke basic Hebrew when I came, and my Hebrew got better in the
Army. At first I walked around the streets in a uniform with a gun, but I
couldn't even give people directions. There were challenges every day because I
was an American. Learning the language was the hardest part, but I picked it up
after a few weeks. This was my first time in Israel, but I fit in perfectly
after a while."
Studying long hours in Yeshivot all
his life, being strong willed and decisive has paid off. After just nine months
in the army, Itchy is a squad leader, in charge of his unit when no officers
are around, and will soon be going to the IDF's officer training school.
"Army life is not all fun and games. Training is
rough and you really have to want to be there" he said. "It is a matter of
will. Sometimes the scrawniest kids make it and the toughest guys don't. You
have to want to be there."
"One day I was on a jeep
patrol, checking things out, and we decided to stop to pick up lunch at one of
the check points where our unit was set up. There were about 30 Palestinian
cars in line at the check point when we left to go back to our base for a shift
change. Suddenly, over the radio we heard there was a terrorist attack at the
checkpoint we just left. After 5 minutes, the commander announced on the radio
that the incident was cleared." As it turned out, an officer at the check point
noticed a Palestinian man wearing a big coat on a hot day and a larger than
usual stomach. The man looked "overall suspicious", Itchy explained.
The officer on-scene screamed "stop!" to the man in
the suspicious jacket. Upon hearing this, all the soldiers went into heightened
alert. The Palestinian tried to explain the wire hanging out from his shirt was
from a TV remote control, which only made the Israeli soldiers more suspicious,
to say the least. A command was given. The IDF soldiers pointed their guns at
the suspicious Palestinian man. The officer said "if you move one inch, we will
blast you down." The man was ordered to back up away from the check point and
away from everyone. From a safe distance, he was ordered to remove his coat,
which revealed a fully loaded suicide bomb vest. He was then ordered to strip
down to his underwear, just in case there was a second bomb. The would-be
suicide bomber was taken into custody and everyone was safe.
Itchy had been at the checkpoint just moments before,
where IDF soldiers check cars and ID's with the utmost respect for
Palestinians, even when they know any one of them may be wearing a suicide
belt. "We treat everyone like humans. We don't touch anything in cars. We show
respect. They move things if we want to see things we are not allowed to touch
them or their cars. We stand behind them as they move things for us. If we
suspect something is wrong, we check with metal detectors, and if something is
wrong, we go up the command chain for permission to search further. We ask for
everything and only touch something if something is very not right." The
procedures they follow obviously work well.
soldiers saved countless lives by preventing a suicide bomber from striking his
target somewhere in central Israel, but they did not celebrate as most people
would have expected. "We were not scared and we acted better than people expect
because we have good training and good officers in control. There were no high
5's. We did not win a football game. We did our job and we are ready to do it
again. There was no party and that's the way it should be."
Somewhere in Israel, families are continuing to have
birthday parties thanks to the bravery of soldiers like Itchy and his battalion
who catch would-be terrorists. The soldiers on the front lines in the war on
terror in Israel, Iraq, the US and everywhere else in the world all deserve our
respect and appreciation. The next time you see a soldier, take a moment to
look that brave man or woman in the eye and simply say 'thank you' because that
soldier, unbeknownst to you, may have already saved your life.
Note: You can fund projects to benefit Israeli soldiers via
Friends of the IDF (http://www.fidf.org), and you can help Itchy's unit
specifically by sending a check to:
Friends of the IDF
Experts - Eric Chaimovic
23600 Mercantile Rd. Suite G
In the memo line, write "Attn: Gedud 97"
Fred Taub is a boycott consultant and the
President of Boycott Watch which
monitors and reports about consumer boycotts, and
Divestment Watch which exposed the
illegal nature of the divest-from-Israel campaign as well as why divestment is
bad for the US and is anti-peace.