Generally, the visitors who grace the Shabbat table of Rabbi Yehoshua and Zlata Chincholker tend to be college students at Indiana University Bloomington, where the couple directs the campus Chabad House-Jewish Student Center. Last Shabbat, however, the Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries welcomed a different group of students–Israelis in town for disaster training.
Four members of Israel’s Home Front Command National Rescue Unit enjoyed home-cooked meals, sang traditional Shabbat songs, and spent a few hours learning with the rabbi and talking with the whole family.
The group was part of a larger delegation of around 50 Israelis who came to Indiana to participate in “United Front” exercises 2015—an international search-and-rescue training program—alongside some 250 members of the Indiana National Guard, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marine Corps Chemical Biological Incident Response Force and other local agencies. Members from ZAKA Rescue and Recovery, an Israeli agency that helps during disasters and terror attacks, also participated in the training, which simulated a massive earthquake hitting Indiana.
On Shabbat afternoon last week, Chincholker reported that “we went over the weekly Torah portion and some of the Sichos [collected talks] of the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. We learned together, and they asked some very good questions.
“They really enjoyed it, as well as the wonderful lunch my daughters [DevoraLeah and Sheina Bracha] prepared,” he went on to say. “They were really thankful for our hosting them.”
The Chincholkers, including son Yosef Yitzchak, had met the four Israelis and the rest of their delegation from the Home Front Command a few days earlier when, at the behest of the Indiana National Guard, the Chabad emissaries came to greet the Israeli military members and bring them some kosher food. Kosher meals for the rest of the soldiers’ stay were arranged beforehand.
The United Front exercises began several years ago between Israel and Indiana, and rotate between training in Israel and the United States. The idea behind the exercise is to learn different search-and-rescue techniques from each of the others’ armed forces.
The Chincholker family arrived at the training camp with dessert items, which they offered to the visitors and to the American soldiers. “We gave them homemade cookies and cakes because it’s hard get fresh kosher ones here,” says the rabbi.
Some of the Israelis put on tefillin while the Chincholkers were there. Others chatted with them during a bit of down time. “We didn’t engage them in long talks, but we welcomed them to Indiana, and spoke with them about mitzvot,acts of goodness and the Rebbe,” says the rabbi.
The Israeli soldiers were also presented with a little gift—a copy of Tefilat Haderech, the “Wayfarer’s Prayer,” with a photo of the Rebbe on the cover.
“There was one soldier, when I went to give him the Tefilat Haderech, he said, ‘Wait a moment.’ He pulled out a photo from his wallet, and it was picture of the Rebbe. It was a little bit old, so I said, ‘Switch with me. I’ll take the old one, and you’ll get a new one.”
That moment, recalls Rabbi Chincholker, “made me feel great.”
Overall, he says, “I think it’s important that they know Chabad is available throughout the world … and that they got to see firsthand that even in the middle of the country, we make sure to visit them, invite them for Shabbat and have a good time with them.”