The Teaneck community has witnessed a significant number of post-high school young men and women enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces after their gap year in Israel. In 2005, Jonny Ben David, a congregant of Bnai Yeshurun and proud parent of a lone soldier, spearheaded a special Shabbat among the local shuls in support of one or several of the many programs supporting the valiant soldiers of the IDF. Originally referred to as the “IDF Shabbat,” the tribute consisted of a festive Shabbat kiddush at each shul to which members contributed funds and then distributed to the designated organizations.
In 2012 the yearly event was renamed “The Ilan Tokayer Shabbat Chayal,” dedicated to the memory of Teaneck resident Ilan Tokayer, z”l, who was taken suddenly from his loved ones in 2011 while studying enology, the science of winemaking, at the University of California, Davis. Reva Tokayer, husband Aaron and Ilan’s three siblings felt that renaming the annual event, which was scheduled for a Shabbat coinciding with the period around Yom HaZikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, and not long after Ilan’s yahrzeit on the 28th of Adar, would be a meaningful tribute to their son and brother who had proudly served in the IDF.
Ilan Tokayer grew up in Teaneck, where he attended Torah Academy of Bergen County, after which he joined a Hesder Unit in the IDF through Yeshivat Birkat Moshe. He served as a lone soldier in the Lavi Division. After returning to Yeshiva University and completing his bachelor’s degree, he returned to Israel and then traveled to New Zealand to pursue his interest in winemaking. He returned to the U.S. to attend UC Davis and study the biochemistry of winemaking, which he hoped to pursue as a career in Israel. Having attended Camp Moshava as a camper and then a counselor, and serving in leadership positions in Bnei Akiva New York, Ilan was inspired and determined to make aliyah.
In the words of his mother, Reva: “The greatest nechama to a parent is for others to remember their child, what they stood for and hoped to accomplish. Ilan’s passion for Israel was matched by his service to the community. He was always opening our home to visitors and bringing people together. Marking his passing with a community event in support of the IDF is a perfect tribute to his memory.”
On the Shabbat of April 17, Parshat Tazria-Metzora, four Teaneck shuls will be marking Shabbat Chayal: Congregation Beth Aaron, Congregation Rinat Yisrael, The Jewish Center of Teaneck and Congregation Shaare Tefillah. As the restrictions on gatherings due to COVID are still in effect, tributes will take a different form this year with each shul marking the occasion in their own way and with their own options for programming. Each shul will be highlighting Israel and the IDF in various ways including through films, speakers and virtual presentations between April 10 and April 18.
The shuls will be presenting “Mekonen: The Journey of an African Jew,” an inspiring film about a young Ethiopian Jew, his personal journey exploring his roots, and his rise in the ranks of the IDF. A thought-provoking Zoom presentation will be given by Professor Mordechai Kedar, scholar of Arabic culture and lecturer at Bar Ilan University, in which he will address political and military challenges facing Israel and how the IDF is working to protect its citizens.
Additionally, an exciting virtual tour will be led by Shuli Mishkin, noted Israeli historical tour guide, through the sites of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. Check each shul’s website or the links at the end of the article for specific times and details of programming.
A number of young men from Bergen County have been a part of and benefited greatly from the Lev LaChayal program, a division of Yeshivat Lev Hatorah in Ramat Beit Shemesh. This Hesder program, headed by Rav Dudi Winkler and Rabbi Benjy Kwalwasser, provides a supportive yeshiva environment to young men from chutz la’aretz who wish to join the IDF. In this pre-army program, the young men are provided with high-level Torah study combined with physical training, an advanced Hebrew Ulpan, and guidance in navigating the Israeli military system from enlistment to discharge. Housing near the yeshiva and Shabbat/Yom Tov meals are provided, often through home hospitality by local families.
This year, Lev LaChayal needed to provide the lone soldiers with a shul/beit midrash of their own because of COVID restrictions that prevented the chayalim from joining the students at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah. Beth Aaron family CB and Jeff Neugroschl’s son Alex completed his Lone Soldier service in the IDF this year. “We had almost grown accustomed to the many services provided by Lev LaChayal to the chayalim,” Jeff said. “The shuttling to and from the bus station, Shabbat meals, fully stocked kitchens in their apartments, base visits, personal guidance and more. But putting up a whole new structure just before the Yomim Noraim so that the chayalim could have a safe and comfortable place to daven, eat and interact with rabbeim was beyond what we could have reasonably expected during a pandemic. We are very indebted to Lev LaChayal for all that they did for our son.”
Nechama and Steven Pudell, parents of two veteran lone soldiers who were assisted by Rav Winkler even though their sons were not enrolled in the Lev LaChayal program, are very grateful for the personal guidance and care given to their sons as they went through the drafting process. The Pudells have been involved in the Shabbat Chayal Program at Beth Aaron for several years and are delighted that the funds this year will be partially directed to the purchase of an Aron Kodesh and Parochet for the new shul for the chayalim.
Nechama Pudell said: “Rav Dudi is like a proud father to his lone soldiers. He doesn’t only guide them as they enter the IDF, but accompanies them to draft day, attends each milestone ceremony and cares for them both physically and psychologically throughout their service. He is even in touch with their commanders if need be.”
Yoni Lieber from Rinat expressed his thoughts about Lev LaChayal. “The participants in our hashkama minyan know that my children have in the past, and are currently participating in this special program. When the gabbai recites the Misheberach for the chayalim, you can hear a pin drop. Knowing that our sons are being cared for by the Lev LaChayal Program allows us to feel that the tefilot being recited on behalf of the chayalim are being answered each week.”
This March saw the largest number of Lev LaChayal soldiers drafting at one time: 20, which brings the total number of soldiers currently enrolled in their Hesder program to 42. If travel from Israel is permitted, Rav Dudi will be spending Shabbat Chayal in Teaneck, where he will address the community. Details will be made available closer to the Shabbat.
The second designated organization this year is “Special in Uniform,” a unique program of the IDF initiated by the Jewish National Fund that integrates young people with autism and other disabilities into the IDF—and in turn into Israeli society. These individuals are selected for IDF jobs that are tailored to meet their specific skill set. “Special in Uniform” helps these individuals fulfill their dreams of serving their country proudly in the IDF along with their siblings and friends.
Mordy Ungar, co-chair of the Beth Aaron Shabbat Chayal Committee, first learned of “Special in Uniform” during JNF’s annual Teaneck dinner several years ago. “Having been impressed with their focus on the unique talents of each individual participant to help find a position within the IDF that is a perfect fit for their skills, I’m very excited that the organization was selected as a beneficiary this year. Their attention to the ability, and not the disability, and the encouragement of independence and integration into society is something we can all be proud of.”
If you wish to donate to these IDF-related organizations or join in the programs being planned for Shabbat Chayal, visit the following websites:
Congregation Beth Aaron:
Congregation Rinat Yisrael:
The Jewish Center of Teaneck:
Congregation Shaare Tefillah:
To learn more about the organizations visit www.LevLachayal.org and
By Pearl Markovitz