Monday, November 3, 2014

Rabbi Stewart Weiss on YBA Yeshivat Hesder Hakotel in the Jerusalem Post



Jerusalem Post, Friday, October 31, 2014
IN PLAIN LANGUAGE - RABBI STEWART WEISS
Heroes and villains 

LONE SOLDIERS who study at Yeshivat Hakotel
take a break from training at their base. (Courtesy)
Whenever I start to get depressed or disenchanted by the state of Jewish affairs, I throw some cold water on my face and look in the direction of some of the amazing people within our Jewish community. People who are devoted to decency, humanity, the Jewish state and the Jewish way of life. And that revitalizes me and brings back hope.

I recently attended a Succot dinner at Yeshivat Hakotel, honoring the more than 120 lone soldiers from around the world who have chosen to study at Hakotel and volunteer in the IDF. These enthusiastic participants in the Mahal program leave their family, their friends and their “normal” routine to come to Israel and put their lives on the line for the state. Almost all of them end up becoming citizens, marrying here and staying in Israel, and many of them “drag” their families after them.

I asked one of the boys, Barak Klammer from Woodmere, how his parents felt about him serving in a combat unit in the Givati Brigade. “A little nervous,” he said, “but a lot proud.”

Nati Wind of Teaneck told me: “All the questions Americans ask – ‘Why are you here? Are you scared? Are you coming back?’ – don’t even register with me. This is where I belong.”

Another young man, Ami Younger from Montreal, was one of 100 Hakotel students who fought in the recent Gaza war and is now married and studying economics at Bar-Ilan University. “I was raised in Canada,” he said with a smile, “but I grew up in Israel.”

Friday night Yeshivat Hakotel Kabbalat Shabbat services at the Western Wall Plaza.  (Courtesy)
Hakotel is a fascinating institution. In the days following the Six Day War, the government was determined to establish a firm Jewish presence in the Old City. The Jordanians, during their 19-year occupation of Jerusalem, had demolished the synagogues and desecrated the Western Wall, dumping garbage and grazing their animals there. An institution needed to be built that would restore and reflect the spiritual intensity of the Holy City, and fill its ancient streets with the sound of Torah study. Yeshivat Hakotel was born, and has become famous for the hundreds of boys who march down to the Kotel each Friday night, leading the entire plaza in song and dance.

Rav Chaim Yeshayahu Hadari, one of the original founders of Hakotel and still a teacher there, recounts how archeologists discovered a large mound of ashes beneath a home (known today as “the Burnt House”) in the Old City, ashes dating from the destruction of the Temple. “When a Jewish boy marries,” says the rabbi, “there is a custom to place ashes on his forehead in memory of the Temple. I take some of these same ashes and place it on our students, not just to remember the tragedy, but to also celebrate the triumph of the Jewish people, who have returned forever to Jerusalem.”


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