July 12, 2024
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Sgt. Benjamin Anthony Spends Shabbat at Etz Chaim of Livingston

We as Jews are all gravely concerned about what is happening in Israel daily. We are also deeply concerned about local and global anti-Semitism. This is especially pressing on our college campuses.

Once in awhile we have the opportunity to hear from someone who not only informs us of what we need to know, but also inspires us to take constructive action.

As part of our continuing Outstanding Speakers Program, Congregation Etz Chaim of Livingston was privileged to hear from Sgt. Benjamin Anthony this past Shabbat. Sgt. Anthony joined Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter and Ambassador Danny Ayalon, who have been guest lecturers at the shul this year.

On Friday night, Sgt. Anthony spoke to an intimate crowd in a private home about his experiences in the IDF, both in combat and after active duty. He described how he came to create his organization called “Our Soldiers Speak.” This is the only organization of its kind. It works with Tzahal to bring uniformed Israeli generals and officers abroad to address various bodies about the moral work of the IDF. Sgt. Anthony has also, through his organization, reached more than 370 college campuses worldwide to speak to audiences of all types (not just friendly ones) about Israel and the IDF.

On Shabbat morning, Sgt. Anthony spoke to a capacity crowd in shul after davening. He held the crowd in the palm of his hand for 45 minutes (which seemed like 10), speaking passionately and unapologetically about his work and what we as Diaspora Jews need to know and do. His British accent coupled with his vast experience and knowledge was most captivating.

One of the great takeaways from the talk was the need for Jews in America to share a common narrative about the State of Israel. He poignantly stated that if you were to visit Students for Justice for Palestine groups on ANY campus in this country, you would receive the same statement about what it is they are fighting for. We do not have any such common narrative. The organization is currently working on crafting exactly this type of common theme for us to learn and share.

We were charged to act to ensure that our schools include the history of Israel as part of their core curriculum so our students can be informed and engaged. This should be a subject no less important than math or science. Our Soldiers Speak has such a curriculum now being used in several yeshivos. They have taught over three thousand students thus far. It was a matter of local pride for our community to hear that the first school to incorporate this study was our very own Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, under the leadership of Rabbi Eliezer Rubin.

Sgt. Anthony concluded his remarks by driving home a simple, yet most important message. The reason why we should support the State of Israel is because it is the homeland of our people. Period. We do not strongly support the State just because it is the lone democracy in the area or because of our persecution from the Holocaust. While those are not unimportant factors, the one true factor is that Israel is our homeland. It always has been and it always will be.

Needless to say, the crowd was left unbelievably inspired. Some went as far as to say that this was the best speaker they have ever heard.

Sgt. Anthony spent quite a bit of time during Kiddush to thoughtfully answer each and every person who approached him with questions or comments.

If you have the opportunity to host Sgt. Anthony at your shul, school or college, Etz Chaim of Livingston highly recommends it.

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