The Last Secular Jew in Israel
It’s no secret that a tremendous spiritual revolution is approaching in Israel. Even the secular Jews know it, and that’s why they’re so uptight. In a big way, it’s already happening. Israel is the Torah center of the world. Religious Jews are everywhere. The baal tshuva phenomena is booming. And while secular families in Israel have one, two, maybe three children, the religious start with five and end up with twelve or more. You don’t have to be a genius at statistics to realize that even if the rate of tshuva isn’t accelerated more than it is today, and even if the Lords of Flatbush and Brooklyn Draft Dodgers don’t come on aliyah from New York, even without them, in another decade, the religious will have a majority of seats in the Knesset, and then we’re in for a lot of fun! So, with the hope that the Mashiach arrives before Tisha B’Av, here’s a short story from my book, “Days of Mashiach,” about the glorious day for which we are all anxiously waiting. Happy reading!
The chief of staff, the generals, nuclear physicists, and rabbis stood staring at the panoramic screen in the IDF’s Strategic Military Control Center. The computerized screen spanned a wall in the war room which had been code-named “Magen David” because of its star-shaped design. Up on the screen was a satellite map of the world. Israel was a small red light in the center of the globe, like a heart amidst the organs of the body. Other lights were flickering on the screen from all over the northern hemisphere. New lights flashed on over Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico. Each light marked the launching of a nuclear warhead from an underground silo. Russia had started the massive attack only a minute before with a wave of missiles which were now on their way over Turkey and arcing steadily closer toward Israel. Bombers were streaking toward the Mediterranean. None of the bearded men in the room seemed surprised when the United States joined in the air strike. America’s participation in the UN coalition against the tiny Jewish State had been predicted for weeks, ever since the mass arrests of Jews in America. The Arab oil embargo had crippled world economy and left Americans angry and cold. Until Palestine was freed, the Arabs were refusing to export their oil. On the pretext of safety, American Foreign Service personnel had been evacuated from Israel. Once again, the Jews had been set up for slaughter. On the screen in the war room, lights were flickering now over Pakistan and, France, and Germany.
“It’s seems like every uncircumcised dog with an A-bomb wants to get a crack at us,” Yehuda growled, throwing up his hands in dismay.
For a moment, everyone laughed, even the rabbis. In fact, Yehuda, the world-famous air-force commander was the only non-religious officer in the underground center. The secret bunker had been re-nicknamed “The Covenant Room” because all of the bearded, skull-capped men present believed that this was the place where G-d would reaffirm, before the eyes of the world, the ancient Covenant He had made with Abraham, bequeathing the Land of Israel to the Jews. Yehuda believed it, too, in a deep non-religious way which he couldn’t define nor express. He was a simple man, a soldier’s soldier, born with an ardent love for his land and his people. In war after bloody war, he had risked his life on the battlefield and in the skies. Both Jews and Arabs called him the Lion of Yehuda. Now, once again, he had stayed on to fight, long after many others had left, because he knew, in the way only a military specialist could know, that Israel’s great victories over much vaster forces had been caused by something more than military prowess and weaponry. Yehuda had sensed, almost mystically from his very first battle, the presence of some unseen helping hand.
All of the eyes in the room were watching him now. Lights had flashed on over China and from submarines scattered throughout the seven seas. Yehuda gazed at the tense faces around him. They were all good solid soldiers. Many were graduates of Hesder yeshivot. Others were Russians who had spent years in Siberian jails. Several of the bearded men had been his soldiers before they had become baale tshuva during the Corona epidemic and the great religious revolution in Israel it had inpired. Seemingly overnight, the nation had returned to the Torah. After the last elections, when the majority of the Knesset became religious, most of Yehuda’s contemporaries had fled – the people he had grown up with, the builders of the country, had become a tired and spiritually empty minority – all of the socialists, liberals, democrats, anarchists, university professors, and leftist journalists who had lacked the final faith to continue the struggle against what seemed like insurmountable odds. Young people who refused to be caught up in what was called, the “Third Wave,” the wave of tshuva that had spread like a virus over the Holy Land, as fast as the Coronavirus itself, had abandoned the country with them, the children of the kibbutz generation who had yearned for peace at all costs. When the religious parties took over, the orphans of Rabin Square had fled the country for India and New Zealand, seeking more peaceful pastures than the embattled Land where the young shepherd boy, David, had grazed his sheep.
Yehuda himself had his share of doubts. There had even been moments of fear. Not fear of dying. His battle scars proved that he didn’t fear death. His fears came from not understanding what was happening to his country. His mind couldn’t comprehend the great religious upheaval. He simply couldn’t fathom the fervent practice of a law and tradition he had never bothered to learn.
Yehuda glanced down at the one man who remained seated in the war room – the eighty-two year old Chief Rabbi. Neither the Chief of Staff of the army, nor the Minister of Defense would make a decision without his assent. Unlike the uniformed men in the room, the Rabbi wore a long black coat, black hat, and tefillin. An old, fraying Psalm book lay clutched in his hands. He never bothered to look up at the screen. He didn’t have to, he said. Everything had already been written. Yehuda had waged a fierce battle against the Rabbi’s inclusion amongst the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Military decisions and strategy demanded real combat experience, he argued. But the country’s new ruler couldn’t be convinced. “Torah scholars increase peace in the world,” he maintained.
Yehuda aimed the remote control at the large screen. The image changed to the star-war map of nuclear launchers in outer space. A storm of atomic warheads were arcing through the heavens from American and Russian space stations. Yehuda looked down at the white-bearded Rabbi.
“I think it’s about time we did something, sir.”
“Call Jerusalem,” the old Rabbi whispered.
Yehuda glanced at the digital clock on the screen. The countdown clicked down to five minutes and twenty seconds until the first missiles would reach Israel’s borders. With a steady, battle-tried hand, he picked up the red telephone on the table. Even now, after two years, it was difficult for Yehuda to accept that his country had a King.
“Hallel,” was all the quiet voice answered.
All eyes in the war room were focused on Yehuda as he hung up the phone.
“Operation Hallel,” he repeated.
There was a spontaneous cheer in the room, a burst of applause and confident embraces. Amidst all the tumult, the Chief Rabbi continued on with his prayers.
Yehuda shuddered. For the first time in his entire army career, his palms began to moisten. In the past, his brilliant strategies had crippled enemy forces. His pilots had paralyzed Syrian missiles and Russian-built tanks. His special units had executed stunning assassinations in Iran, Tunis, and Iraq. He himself had piloted bombers and rescue missions since the earliest days of the State. He had parachuted behind enemy lines to lead attacks on terrorists bases in missions that were never reported. But Operation Hallel was something much different. Operation Hallel was madness.
“This is national suicide!” he screamed at the Rabbi. “Those aren’t Scud missiles headed our way – they’re nuclear bombs!”
“You have a job to do,” the Rabbi calmly answered.
“Whoever heard of a military plan dependent on prayer?”
Yehuda glanced around in hope of enlisting support. All of the eyes and beards in the room were staring at him. He drew back his shoulders, and once again aimed the remote control at the screen. The scene switched to a view of the Temple Mount. Yehuda paused. Everyone held their breath.
“What are you waiting for?!” somebody yelled.
Suddenly, the paratrooper commander, and onetime kibbutznik who had moved his family to Hebron, jumped Yehuda from behind and grabbed the remote control from his hand.
“If he won’t do it, I will,” he said and pushed on a button.
Up on the screen, a gigantic explosion rocked the ancient Mount. The golden dome of the Moslem shrine was blown to smithereens. Arabs took off in a run. A cloud of gold dust spread over the Kotel.
The war room resounded with cheering. It was the same cry of victory that Yehuda had shouted when the Old City had been captured a generation before. Across the room, Israel’s highest ranking general raised a shofar to his lips and gave a piercing blast. “They’re all madmen,” Yehuda thought. His friends who had abandoned the country had been right after all. The government of Israel had been captured by crazies.
Yehuda grabbed back the remote control from the paratrooper commander. He flicked the screen back to the map of the world. Nuclear missiles and bombers were zeroing in on the tiny Jewish State, yet his colleagues in the war room were clapping their hands. “Switch it back to the Temple Mount!” they demanded.
With the clock counting down to three minutes, Yehuda returned to the scene in Jerusalem. Four separate views of the Temple Mount appeared on the screen. The Moslem shrine had vanished. In its place, the Foundation Stone jutted up from the earth like the peak of a mountain, as indestructible as the Covenant which G-d had sworn to Abraham. Yehuda remembered the Bible story from his school days on the kibbutz. His teacher had called it a fable. His parents maintained that religion was a dinosaur of the past – the opium of the Jews of the ghetto. And that’s what he had passed on to his son, Shimson. Where was the boy now, Yehuda wondered? Hiding with his gentile wife in Mexico City, or rounded up in some detention camp in L.A.? When the boy had fled the country, a piece of Yehuda had died. His other son, his Uri, had been killed in a war. His wife, bless her soul, had dropped dead from heartbreak. The only thing which Yehuda had left was his allegiance to Tzahal and the nation.
His keen pilot’s eyes stayed glued to the screen as Israeli tanks smashed into the Temple Mount courtyard. Another cheer went up as the voice of the tank commander came loud and clear over the radio. “Har HaBayit b’yadanu!” he shouted.
On screen number two, hundreds of yeshiva students were running up to a corner of the Mount. They came in swarms, singing and dancing, as if drunken with fervor. Their words, the words of the Hallel, sounded over the war room’s speakers. “The sea saw and fled… the Jordan turned back… the mountains skipped like rams….”
On screen number three, a team of Levites and Kohanim were erecting an altar which a flatbed truck had driven into the Temple Mount courtyard. A jeep sped onto the scene, towing a trailer behind it. The ramp of the trailer swung open. Precious time was ticking away as a Kohen tugged on a rope and led out the pure red heifer which Technion geneticists had bred.
And now, up on screen four, the King’s limousine sped toward the Western Wall where thousands of people had gathered. In the meantime, Yehuda flashed the screen back to the space map. Startled eyes watched as the rainbow of lights arcing over the earth began to flicker and fade. One by one, they disappeared from the screen. Another wild cheer filled the war room.
“Screen scan!” Yehuda ordered.
“Screen functions normal,” the chief technician answered.
“Computer check!” Yehuda barked.
“All systems normal,” the programmer affirmed.
“There’s got to be some mistake,” Yehuda mumbled as missile after missile vanished in outer space.
“There’s no mistake,” the Chief Rabbi said softly.
One by one, American and Russian space stations exploded.
“We didn’t do that,” Yehuda said.
“Why don’t you get a drink of water, Yehuda,” the old Rabbi said kindly.
“I’m all right, sir,” the lifetime soldier answered.
The clock read one minute and counting. On the world map, the remaining warheads were converging on Israel from all over the globe. On the Temple Mount, the praying was becoming more and more frenzied. Multitudes sang out in unison, “Why should the nations say, Where is their G-d? Our G-d is in heaven. Whatever He desires, He does.” The words of the prayer echoed over the holy city. Masses thronged toward the Kotel. Jews from all over Jerusalem joined together, pressing forward to glimpse the King as he pushed his way to Har HaBayit. “David, King of Israel,” they shouted as he approached. He reached the site of the outer courtyard and gazed up to Heaven. “My vows to the Lord I will fulfill in the presence of all His people,” he sang. “In the courtyards of the House of G-d, in your midst, Jerusalem, Halleluyah!”
The men in the war room were all strapping on their tefillin. An army commander, a Chabadnik, walked over to Yehuda and invited him to don a pair too. The diehard kibbutznik gazed down at the black boxes and shook his head no.
“Are you sure,” the Hasid asked.
“Yes, I’m sure,” Yehuda answered.
“You needn’t feel embarrassed,” the Hasid persisted.
“Leave him alone,” the Chief Rabbi ordered.
The Chabadnik withdrew. Of all the battles which Yehuda had faced, the battle he was fighting right now in his heart was the fiercest. How could he change a whole lifetime of belief? Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t. He was that kind of man. Principles were sacred, whether right or wrong. If he had championed misguided ideals, he would stand up to the punishment. Wasn’t his presence enough for them? He was there, just like the rest of them, standing in the war room beside the Chief Rabbi. He had devoted his life to his people – with all of his heart, with all of his soul, with all of his might. That was the religion he knew. If that wasn’t enough for them, or for G-d, so be it.
“We can still knock out Moscow and Berlin with our A-bombs,” the air-force commander insisted.
“No,” the Rabbi answered.
“We can’t just do nothing,” Yehuda protested.
“Pray with the others,” the soft voice replied.
“I can’t,” Yehuda said.
“Try. Hashem wants to hear. It’s your voice that’s missing.”
Yehuda felt faint. In all of his sixty-five years, he hadn’t prayed once. He didn’t know how. He didn’t know even to whom. Up on the Temple Mount, ashes from the slaughtered red cow were being sprinkled over the crowds of Kohanim. The sight was too much for the man called the Lion. Feeling his legs weaken, he collapsed into the chair beside the Rabbi. The world’s stockpile of nuclear warheads was approaching the borders of Israel, and the leaders of the Jewish nation were sacrificing a cow on the Temple Mount altar! Camera crews rushed in for close-ups. Yehuda felt dizzy. Was the innocent slaughter of animals the enlightenment that the Jewish people were supposed to project to the world?
“Perhaps we should respond more conventionally,” Yehuda suggested.
“No,” came the quiet reply.
“As a back-up.”
The Rabbi didn’t answer.
On the Temple Mount, the smoke of incense rose in a column up to the sky. Before all of this witchcraft began, Yehuda was beginning to believe. He had felt himself wanting to believe. The faith of the men in the room was so powerful, Yehuda had started to feel it too. But sacrificing animals was simply too much. His reasoning mind said no – these maniacs had to be stopped. There was nothing else he could do. He reached into his belt to draw out his gun. He would hold the Chief Rabbi hostage and activate the nuclear devices which the Israelis had secretly built in Moscow and Berlin. But before he could grab the old man, a hand clutched his arm and dragged him into a circle of dancing that had spontaneously began in the war room. The generals, commanders, and army chiefs of staff were all holding hands in a circle and singing: “All the nations surround me. In G-d’s name I cut them down. They surrounded me like bees. They were extinguished like a thorn fire.”
Once, in his youth, Yehuda had danced like this. On the kibbutz, around an Israeli-night campfire, with his strong, robust comrades, he had sung songs of Zion. Their youthful faith had seemed invincible too, like the faith of the men in the war room. Now, as he danced in a circle, clutching hands imbued with belief, a transfusion of faith charged through him, cleansing him of his doubts. Before the dancers had completed their first circle, Yehuda was singing along with them. “I shall not die, for I shall live and relate the deeds of the Lord. G-d has chastised me, but unto death, He has not handed me.” The words of their song formed on his lips as if he had been chanting it in synagogue for years. A great elation washed over him. “Open for me the gates of righteousness. I will enter them,” he sang. “I will give thanks unto G-d.”
Everyone sang and stared up at the screen. As the first wave of bombers reached the shores of Tel Aviv, a wall of rain clouds appeared in the sky. Jerusalem vanished in an impenetrable fog. In the lead French bomber, the dials on the instrument panel were spinning wildly in circles. The mysterious fog darkened the cockpit. An unworldly thunder shook the plane like a toy. The terrified pilot tried to swing the giant bomber around, but the steering was jammed. Screams of Russian and German pilots crackled over the speakers in the star-shaped war room. The clock clicked down to zero. The dancing ended. Eyes stared up at the map. When the lights on the screen overshot Israel and continued on toward Cairo, Damascus, and Amman, pandemonium broke out in the war room.
Yehuda picked up the bearded man next to him and gave him a kiss. Radio communiques bursted over the control center’s receivers. A dispatch from the Golan Heights reported that a storm of hailstones bigger than basketballs had paralyzed Syria’s tank force. Tidal waves had overturned enemy battleships and submarines like toys. An earthquake registering 9.2 on the Richter Scale had devastated Jordan, and twenty divisions of the royal army had plummeted into the earth.
“I can’t believe it,” Yehuda said, but his own eyes were seeing that the words of the Hallel were true….
“This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us exult and rejoice in Him.”
Within minutes, the cities of Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, and Tehran disappeared from the map. Half the country of Libya fell into the sea. Amidst the celebration in the war room, only the Chief Rabbi noticed that something was wrong. Somehow, a slower, out-of-date bomber from Poland had kept straight on target. It appeared over Mevasseret Zion and roared noisily toward Mount Moriah. All eyes turned toward Yehuda.
“How’d it get through?” someone yelled.
“Bring it down!” another demanded.
“It’s too late,” Yehuda answered.
The throng at the Temple Mount gazed up into the Jerusalem sky and watched two small dots grow bigger. They stood there, unwilling to believe, until, seemingly all at once, they realized what the falling dots were. “Bombs!” someone shouted. People scattered in every direction. In the war room, even the face of the Chief Rabbi was pale. Yehuda looked around the room for someone to do something, to say something, to pray something, to sing. But nobody moved, nobody spoke, as if something had gone terribly wrong.
“Do something, G-d,” Yehuda prayed for the first time in his life.
The first bomb landed by the Kotel with an earth-shaking THUD. The impact caused a deep crater, but the explosion never came. The other bomb landed with a THUNK a short distance away. The stones in the Western Wall trembled. For an eternal moment, everyone waited without taking a breath – the thousands clinging to the ground at the Kotel; the men in the war room; the millions of viewers on TV. Only the King remained erect at the Wall.
“They’re not going to blow up!” Yehuda exclained.
It was almost as if the people at the Kotel could hear him. Everyone stood on their feet and raised their hands to the sky. Their cheer resounded all over the world. Crowds rushed forward to peer down the craters at the bombs which didn’t go off. The Chief Rabbi collapsed, exhausted in his chair, not sure himself if this last miracle was the Finger of G-d, or plain Polish ineptitude.
“The bombs have mysteriously failed to explode,” an American TV reporter explained to his satellite viewers. “A freak technical failure has saved the city of Jerusalem today. Unusual weather conditions, thick fog, and a chance summer hailstorm, have paralyzed the world’s nuclear arsenal and spared the indestructible Jewish nation.”
“The hell with unusual weather conditions,” Yehuda exclaimed.
On the screen in the war room, the CNN reporter continued his eyewitness coverage. “Scientists from the Cape Kennedy Research Center in Florida are saying that planetary disturbances which transpired over two billion light years ago are the cause of the startling events,” he explained.
“Shtuyot!” Yehuda said loudly. “That’s utter nonsense. G-d did it all. G-d saved us. It was Him, plain as day!”
Yehuda turned to the Chief Rabbi. “Can’t they see it?” he asked.
A kind, wise smile spread over the Rabbi’s face. “It’s hard enough for our own people to see it,” he answered. “What do you expect from the goyim?”