On September 6th 1970, TWA flight 741, was hijacked by the PFLP, a Palestinian terrorist organization, to Jordan. Among others, the plane was carrying Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin (and some of his immediate family members). The non-Jewish passengers were freed while the Jewish passengers continued to be held hostage for one week, after which the women and children were released to Cyprus. The remaining forty plus men continued to be held hostage and Rav Hutner was isolated from the rest of the group. The Jewish world held its collective breath until finally, on September 18th, Rav Hutner was reunited with the rest of the group and on September 26th the Rosh Yeshiva was finally released. On September 28th Rav Hutner (and his family) were flown back to New York via Europe. A large crowd gathered to greet the Rosh Yeshiva including the Gadol HaDor, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. A band had been arranged to play as they celebrated Rav Hutner’s return to the shores of America. My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yaakov Bender shlit”a, relates that when Rav Moshe saw the band, though his usual countenance was very sweet, a stern look came upon his face. Rav Moshe made a beeline for the band and instructed that no more music was to be played. Six people from the Syrian community in Brooklyn had dual citizenship and had yet to be released. While Kavod HaTorah dictated that everyone should go out and greet Rav Hutner, Rav Moshe felt that it was insensitive to the families who still had loved ones held in captivity for a band to be playing. While it was appropriate to celebrate Rav Hutner’s return, Nesias Ol, feeling the pain of another, dictated that the celebration be minimized so as to be sensitive to those who were still suffering.
In times of devastation, the single most important lesson we can teach our children is Nesias Ol, to share the burden with those who are suffering. Aside from the support that we provide for those who are struggling ,a sense of belonging is a fundamental part of building self esteem in a child. A child who sees the Jewish Nation rally around each other in trying times understands that they belong to something very special. I have never been more proud to be a part of our nation. This past month has seen a display of Achdus the likes of which I have not seen in my lifetime. From the money and supplies that have been donated, to the extra learning and Tehillim, to the rallies and beyond, we are truly acting as one body with one heart. Our children have seen something extraordinary over the course of the past month. Even as antisemitism continues to rise, our children know that they are part of a beautiful family.
But we must remember that this war is a marathon, not a sprint. It goes without saying that we must continue to lead our lives but we cannot lose focus of what we are going through as a nation. Hostages are still being held. Our soldiers are still fighting. Some have already given their lives to protect Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. Families who lost their loved ones on Simchas Torah are still grieving. It is hard to be emotionally connected to life here in Eretz Yisrael when one is geographically so far away but that’s what we are called upon to do. Distance cannot be a cause for dissonance. Which is why it was so difficult to receive a phone call from a Talmid asking me what I thought about his family planning a lavish vacation for the coming winter break. The Berdichever inside of me wanted to be Melamed Zechus and tell this young man that his family had tremendous Emunah that the war would surely be over by then. On the other hand, this budding Ben Torah had a real question: “Should I tell my parents that I don’t feel comfortable going to Mexico while the war continues to rage in Eretz Yisrael? How could we be planning a vacation at a time like this?” The question speaks to a sensitive soul, one I am proud to have learned from in his time in Yeshiva and continue to learn from today.
It is not my place to tell people what to do. I am well aware of what free advice is worth. And yet, I feel a sense of responsibility to at the very least ask the question and hopefully start the conversation about how we negotiate living our lives and at the same time being Nosei B’ol with our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael. What is the equivalent of not having a band during these times? Does it mean not going on vacation at all? A more toned down vacation? Maybe we should think about it this way: Could you go on a vacation if it was your nephew fighting in Gaza? How would that make your family in Eretz Yisrael feel? Is every single soldier not our blood relative? I imagine that there are some, maybe even many, here in Eretz Yisrael who would say live your life. Soldiers who would say, we are fighting so that you can have your freedom. I can share with you that I had the opportunity to listen to the wife of a soldier who is currently fighting and she was horrified by the thought of those that are living outside of Eretz Yisrael having a regular “Yeshiva week”. In her words, “If I saw my family in America posting pictures of their vacation in Cancun on Facebook it would be so painful for me.” In speaking with a mother who has three children who are serving now she said, “I would have two voices inside of myself. One which would be hurt by the lack of sensitivity and another that would say I hope they are getting the self care they need during these times.”
One can certainly make the very reasonable argument that life must go on. Spending time with our families is mission critical for parents and vacations are a great time for family bonding. Everyone, especially these days, needs a break. If this is going to be a long war then we must somehow live within the dialectical tension of living our lives without losing sight of the fact that our family in Eretz Yisrael is living a very different reality. Rav Moshe did not object to the celebration of Rav Hutner’s return, only to the band. Where do we draw the line? If we have been telling our children that it is their Torah and Tefillah that protect our soldiers, what message are we sending them by taking off of Yeshiva for a week? Maybe this year we should consider a different type of vacation structure; davening and learning in the morning with an abbreviated schedule in the afternoon. A Yarchei Kallah of sorts. Maybe a long weekend would be more appropriate than a full week. Coming to Eretz Yisrael for a week of Chesed would be a very powerful message to send to our children. Or maybe a regular vacation is ok as long as it comes with the message to our children that part of winning this war is living our lives. Thankfully people with shoulders broader than mine will be making these decisions but we must all agree that the burden of the war in Israel is on all of Klal Yisrael’s shoulders. Remaining sensitive to the situation here in Eretz Yisrael must be at the forefront of our minds as we make these decisions. We have a tremendous Chinuch opportunity in front of us. As we consider the months ahead, let us make sure that we are asking ourselves, what message do we want to send to our children this winter break?
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