On Monday, the second night of Chanukah, 15 Chabad-Lubavitch yeshivah students from Safed, Israel, headed 45 minutes north to visit Israeli troops based in the Lebanon-border town of Metulla. The visit had been pre-arranged weeks earlier, but when they got there they found only a handful of soldiers milling about.
“They’re all in a briefing,” one soldier told Levi Deren, a 20-year-old yeshivah student from Greenwich, Conn., who led the group. “They’ll be out in a few minutes.”
Not a moment went by before a few dozen IDF soldiers spilled out into the common area. That’s when the singing and dancing began, olive green and black and white in whirling embrace. As has become custom on Israeli military bases from the North to the Negev, the Chabad yeshivah students were there to share the joy of the holiday. They distributed sufganyot, or jelly donuts, to each and every soldier, gifted them with tin menorahs and arranged a large menorah lighting for the group.
“We saw clearly there was something going on,” says Deren. “When I spoke I pointed out that on Chanukah we say ‘Bayamim Hahem, b’zman hazeh,’ [In those days at this time.] We will see the same miracles that we saw during the time of Chanukah in our days. The Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory] taught that we need to bring the light of the menorah to even the darkest places, even if it is a few feet away from an enemy who wishes to destroy us.”
The next morning, Tuesday, the IDF announced that overnight they had destroyed a 40-meter long tunnel built by the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah that started in the Lebanese town of Kfarkela and snaked into Metulla, an Israeli town of 1,000 surrounded on three sides by Lebanon. The six foot by six-foot tunnel was bored through solid rock and reached 130 feet into Israeli territory. It was the first to be destroyed in the newly-launched Operation Northern Shield.
“The US strongly supports Israel’s efforts to defend its sovereignty, and we call on Hezbollah to stop its tunneling into Israel … ” National Security Advisor John Bolton tweeted in a statement. “More broadly, we call on Iran and all of its agents to stop their regional aggression and provocation, which pose an unacceptable threat to Israeli and regional security.”
The Metulla visit was not the yeshivah students’ only venture to the northern border this Chanukah. Over the first three nights of the eight-day holiday, the 50 students of Yeshivat Tzeirei Hashluchim in Safed have visited 30 bases along the Lebanese border and the Golan Heights. According to Sruli Brook, 20, of Brooklyn, the students have distributed thus far more than 2,000 donuts and kindled hundreds of menorahs.
“We also simply wanted to thank the soldiers for everything they are doing for us, and for the entire Jewish people,” Brook says. “They put their lives on the line for all of us each day, and they deserve our thanks and gratitude.”
Deren and his group spent the first night of Chanukah visiting bases near Rosh Hanikrah, where they similarly danced and sang with soldiers. As the night got late they walked through the barracks giving out donuts and lighting menorah with soldiers who were preparing to tuck in for the night. As the yeshivah students prepared to leave, one soldier pointed to a lookout.
A few of us climbed up to this lookout and it’s like literally 30 feet away from Lebanon,” says Deren. “The guys up there were so happy to see us. We set up a menorah in the dark, they made the blessings and lit it. It was beautiful.”
Meanwhile, not too far away, a group of the students were on their way back to Safed after a long evening. They had managed to visit a few bases, but due to a miscommunication had been denied access to the last one, leaving them in low spirits. As they drove down the long, dark highway, their driver noticed a lonely jeep with a few soldiers sitting on the side of the road.
“We figured we could stop and at least give these few guys a good time,” says that group’s leader, Mendel Banon, of Montreal. “We got out and they told us ‘Our friends are just down the road, please come with us.’”
The students were led straight to a group of 60 young new conscripts, 18-year-old rookies just starting their training. They were in a field, in the dark, in the cold, in the middle of a 36-hour hike. What could be better than a providential midnight meeting with dancing yeshivah students bearing donuts, snacks and candles?
Hike or no hike, field or no field, the group lit menorah, singing the blessings and the songs in one group, together. The intrusion was not only allowed by the commander, but encouraged.
The next morning a yeshivah student, Saadia Liberow, texted pictures of the midnight encounter to one of the soldiers with whom he had exchanged numbers.
“Thank you for making our night,” the soldier wrote back. “And thank you to the Rebbe who is always thinking of us.”