Olah since 2006
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks astutely stated, “The world we build tomorrow is born in the prayers we say today” (From Optimism to Hope, p.74).
Prayer itself is an essential part of the Jewish faith. One prays three times a day according to the ancient Jewish tradition. Prayers are a means for a Jewish individual to sanctify time, and dedicate a specified time towards the blessings of today, tomorrow, and beyond.
A group of women in the United States began a project called “Chayal of the Day”. Essentially it started by a young parent, Faygie Siillman, and her sister Sara Leba Tropper, in Queens, NY who had Israeli family reporting from the “frontlines” daily after October 7th to a family chat group.
Both sisters found themselves talking to Ahuva Davis, a cousin located in Yishuv Neriah (a small Yishuv in Judea and Samaria). She began writing daily updates after October 7th to help her American family members understand what was going on in Israeli communities that have the majority of wives dealing with soldiers who were called to report for Reserve duty on or after October 7th. The family at home was sent these daily updates and began to connect to the Israeli family members more actively.
On the WhatsApp group, the family would receive a soldier to focus on each day. The extended family would then receive the name of the soldier, and pray for them. The immediate family would share the name on a family chat. Sometimes pictures of the soldier would be sent, as well.
Mrs. Sillman states that her family created a “wall” in their home, and a tefillah time for Tehilim to be said for a particular chayal each day. She and her sister began placing the chayalim on their phones in a screenshot to continue praying for the Chayal of the Day whenever they had a free moment. The children in her family became very fond of the daily tradition of having a set time to pray for the soldiers. This sparked the idea that Mrs. Siillman and Mrs. Tropper decided to take it to a greater scale.
Mrs. Sillman states that her brother-in-law then got permission to bring the pictures to school. He is a Rabbi at Yeshiva Tiferes Yisrael, in Brooklyn. He would share the pictures and have his students pray for the soldiers in class.
One time, a picture of the class praying was sent to the family chat in Israel. According to Mrs Stillman, “The feedback from the pictures that came back was so powerful. We realized that the connection and the feeling to give people to show that we are praying for their family members is very moving”. Mrs. Stillman then explains that they began to create a wall of photos at home to have a picture of the chayal they were praying for.
At times, Mrs. Sillman would take photos of her own family praying for the “Chayal of the Day” to their personal chat. She would also upload a still-shot of the soldier to her personal cellphone screensaver for the day, so she would be able to remember the soldier in her daily personal prayers. Her friends and family began to do the same.
Mrs. Sillman and her family would send feedback to the families in Neriah about the prayers. Pictures of families and school children praying were inspiring to the soldiers back home. The feedback was tremendous.
Soldiers who were in contact with the people praying for them would also send personal feedback messages. One soldier got married while serving in the army after October 7th. The families received pictures of his wedding and were very moved and inspired by the event.
Mrs. Sillman and her sister, Mrs. Tropper, began an initiative to bring the “Chayal for a Day” program to schools after having a conversation with her own son’s principal. Rabbi Don Pecht of Yeshiva Tiferes Moshe in Queens, New York says he was “immediately interested, and asked how to bring it to his school daily.”
Rabbi Pecht notes that after October 7th, the school was reeling with a lot of questions about how to help the children in their school (for children of kindergarten to 7th grade) understand the gravity of the War of Swords in Israel. Many conversations were held with staff members and then with the students to understand the current events. The school was concerned about how to get children to understand the situation in Israel.
Rabbi Pecht heard of the “Chayal of the Day” tefillah program and thought this would be a unique way to introduce the children to a different soldier each day. Most of the soldiers were originally from a small Modern Orthodox Yishuv in the Yehuda and Shomron area. [sic: At present soldiers are now from communities throughout the country of Israel]. Many of the soldiers were also Yeshiva students, and the students at Yeshivas Tiferes Moshe were curious about soldiers who had gone from their own learning at Yeshivot Hesder, or Yeshivot Gevahot, or from teaching in Yeshivot to go help fight on the frontlines.
At the Yeshivas Tiferes Moshe school, the students have daily morning prayers. At the end of the prayers, the students are given a name of a soldier, a picture, and a short biography of the “Chayal of the Day”.
Rabbi Pecht says that the fact that the boys see an actual name, and a face attached to that name, it affects their tefillot in a very different manner. “You can hear it in the boys’ tefillos. The students feel a connection to the soldiers’ story. It has elevated their connection in a very positive way”.
Essentially, the program encourages a school to have tefillot dedicated to one chayal each day. Prayers are said in the traditional manner of a Hebrew name that is used when praying for one who is in need or is sick. That is, the Hebrew name of the soldier, and the mother’s Hebrew name. No last names are used. Due to some soldiers’ army positions, the utmost care is taken to keep sensitive information private and discreet. The soldier’s family also sends a picture of the soldier for the school children to see and connect with that particular soldier while praying for the wellbeing of that particular soldier.
Mrs. Sillman started calling other schools in the New York neighborhoods. “Almost every school I called was interested. They immediately asked, “When can we start?” Some schools started the program the day after we signed them up to the program.
Mrs. Sillman states that “Blind calling people is not my personality, but I feel like it is so important. I feel that God gave us hazlacha. So many schools have joined already!” And, it appears that many other schools are in the pipeline.
Some schools became involved through random “word of mouth” after a Girls’ summer camp reunion. The campers were talking about the new project their school had implemented and got other campers interested. They went home and asked their schools to get involved. Then, new schools signed up for the “Chayal of the Day” tefillah program in various communities throughout the USA, and is now expanding worldwide.
There are schools currently in New York, Florida, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, Zurich, Switzerland, and Mexico City, Mexico. All of these schools are involved in the simple act of prayer.
Mrs. Sillman also has extended family in Israel. So, she added a distant cousin to the prayer list. When his mother saw the pictures of the prayers, and got the messages, she said “How beautiful is this, that even the religious communities in the U.S.A. have not forgotten our soldiers! Eiza Am Maleh Chesed Yesh Lanu [sic. How great a Nation we have that is full of Human Kindness]”.
Another local New York Day School, Shulamith Long Island, is also involved in the program. One parent of a student at the Shulamith school, Lisa Abittan, commented “As Jews living in the diaspora, we needed to implement a program in our elementary school that would remind our students of the daily sacrifices that Israeli soldiers are making”.
Ms. Abittan continues “Our kids haven’t experienced war, and the majority do not have family members who enlist or are drafted into an army. This program drives home the fact that the soldiers whose welfare they are praying for are real people that they can identify with….They are praying for the welfare of Yehoshua, a father of four who runs marathons, or Moshe the vegetarian from Jerusalem.” Essentially the students are appreciating the human aspect of the war and are then understanding the personal dedication and courage each soldier has while being an active duty soldier.
A young 10-year-old student, Shayna Goldberg, is an active student who joins the Chayal of the Day tefillot program at Shulamith, Long Island. Miss Goldberg mentions that she likes “when they post pictures of the chayalim and I can see what they look like and who their family is because then I see that he’s just like one of us. I think the chayalim are so brave and I want to do what I can to help.”
Students like Shayna are doing their small part of a major mosaic project of tefillot throughout the world that is keeping the morale and the spirit of the troops positive. Several students have also sent letters to the chayalim that they pray for. These letters are sent to the families, who then read the letters to the soldiers.
The Chayal of the Day program is currently seeking more schools to become involved in this worldwide project. The impact of the program has been tremendous for both boy’s and girl’s schools.
When asked what the next step of the program is, Mrs. Siillman states that she thinks “that even after the war, we need to continue this connection that we have created. It is so powerful. We are connecting Jews that would have never previously met each other.” The plan is to continue the school camaraderie and connections through prayer.
Prayer is a very powerful tool in Jewish thought and tradition. We often unify in song and in daily prayers. Prayer binds us to our essential thoughts, our faith, and our ideals.
It is incredible that from a small family chat group, a means to involve thousands of people in prayer for IDF soldiers has been created that is giving the soldiers confidence and strength each day.
If you are interested in having your local Day School or High School participate in this project, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
א שִׁ֗יר לַֽמַּ֫עֲל֥וֹת
אֶשָּׂ֣א עֵ֭ינַי אֶל־הֶֽהָרִ֑ים מֵ֝אַ֗יִן יָבֹ֥א עֶזְרִֽי׃
ב עֶ֭זְרִי מֵעִ֣ם יְהוָ֑ה עֹ֝שֵׂ֗ה שָׁמַ֥יִם וָאָֽרֶץ׃
ג אַל־יִתֵּ֣ן לַמּ֣וֹט רַגְלֶ֑ךָ אַל־יָ֝נ֗וּם שֹֽׁמְרֶֽךָ׃
ד הִנֵּ֣ה לֹֽא־יָ֭נוּם וְלֹ֣א יִישָׁ֑ן שׁ֝וֹמֵ֗ר יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
ה יְהוָ֥ה שֹֽׁמְרֶ֑ךָ יְהוָ֥ה צִ֝לְּךָ֗ עַל־יַ֥ד יְמִינֶֽךָ׃
ו יוֹמָ֗ם הַשֶּׁ֥מֶשׁ לֹֽא־יַכֶּ֗כָּה וְיָרֵ֥חַ בַּלָּֽיְלָה׃
ז יְֽהוָ֗ה יִשְׁמָרְךָ֥ מִכָּל־רָ֑ע יִ֝שְׁמֹ֗ר אֶת־נַפְשֶֽׁךָ׃
ח יְֽהוָ֗ה יִשְׁמָר־צֵֽאתְךָ֥ וּבוֹאֶ֑ךָ מֵֽ֝עַתָּ֗ה וְעַד־עוֹלָֽם׃
A song for asents. I shall raise my eyes to the mountains. From where will my help come?
My help is from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.
He will not allow hyour foot to falter; Your Gurardian will not slumber,
Behold the Guardian of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep,
The Lord is your Guardian: the Lord is your shadow, by your right hand.
By day, the sun will not smite you, nor will the moon at night.
The Lord will guard you from all evil: He will guard your soul.
The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in from now until eternity.