Placing themselves in a potential war zone, the participants of Operation Torah Shield displayed a remarkable amount of courage and commitment to Israel. By deciding to travel to Israel in such a precarious time, they placed themselves in danger, worrying both parents and friends.
Many Yeshiva students did not go to Israel, staying within the “safe” confines of America. This poses a difficult question, Should their action, or lack thereof, be interpreted as an expression of a lesser attachment to Israel?
Many students who.remained in America during winter break grappled with the issue of whether or not to go to Israel. Their parents were also less than thrilled to send their children into a potential war zone. Was the potential risk of life and resulting parental concern worth making the statement that Jews in America stand by Israel in all crises?
Daniel Schwartz, a YC Senior, originally, signed up to go. “I wanted to go due to my emotional ties to Israel, and to share the responsibility of being a Jew.” However, Schwartz also felt that a lot more was needed to be considered when making his decision. “I realized that my family would not have found it easy to deal with my being there should something happen. When the bombing started, the first thing my mother said was ‘Thank God you’re not there.’”
Ephraim Kutner felt the same way. “I was going to go, but honoring my parents took priority. When I saw how concerned my parents were, I realized that I could not have gone.”
Benjamin Waltuch felt the message conveyed by Operation Torah Shield was very important: However, he saw a possible disadvantage to his potential trip to Israel. “My presence in Israel would have been more of a liability than an asset to Israel. I couldn't fight for them, and Israel didn’t need another visitor to worry about.”
As it turned out, “comfortable America” was not much of a quiet spot for those who did not go. Countless hours were spent watching CNN and other news programs to hear of new bombings in Israel. Every time the phone rang, nervous parents held their breath; might the call be from their children in Israel?
Anxious Americans set up phone networks with Israel, unsuccessfully attempting to assuage their fears concerning friends and family in Israel.
Jews in America also felt a new sense of unity. David Wiesner, who returned to America from Yeshivat HaKotel, commented how “everyone seemed to bond whenever we watched the news or said Tehillim.” In a similar vein, Wiesner wished he was there for the missile attacks. “I would have really experienced being part of Klal Yisrael firsthand,” he remarked.
Similar feelings gripped Benjamin Waltuch when Israel was first attacked. “The thought that Tel Aviv was in trouble gave me a feeling of helplessness. I felt like I had let Israel down by not being there.” In fact, most of the students interviewed really wished they could have been in Israel despite the obvious danger.
But things were not so clear cut. Like many others, David Maslansky was caught in a deep emotional struggle in response to the attacks. On the one hand, he felt that “you can’t just go to Israel when times are better. It’s always Israel.” At the same time, however, he admitted that “it was difficult to say that I wanted to be there once the bombing actually started.”
Yeshiva students, whether they went or not, experienced feelings of conflict never felt before this past winter break. They gained a heightened sense of religious idealism and commitment to Israel during this difficult time in Jewish history. Nonetheless, they were forced to assess their idealism in light of considerations of personal safety.
The resolution to the conflict seems evident. Many who stayed in America will always admire those who overcame their internal and external obstacles and flew to Israel. Ephraim Kutner spoke on behalf of many interviewed when he said that the mission “was a great Kiddush Hashem. Mission accomplished.”