Yaakov Selavan

Ben & Jerry’s on Tisha B’av?! Lessons from the 2014 Gaza War

He was a tank commander in Gaza in the summer of 2014 when he saw what Jewish unity looks like
IDF soldiers hold Garnier care packages.  (StandWithUs)
IDF soldiers hold Garnier care packages. (StandWithUs)

Almost every Jew, regardless of background, can recite the reason for the destruction of the Second Temple and the loss of our independence in 70 C.E: Our Sages taught that the Holy Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred (Talmud, Yoma 9b).

Four years ago I landed in Poland as part of an IDF delegation. In our first day, visiting the Warsaw Ghetto, I was shocked to learn that alongside the famous story of resistance by Mordechai Anilevich and his comrades in the Jewish Combat Organization (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, or ZOB), there was another group fighting the Germans. Since this group, the Jewish Military Union (Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy, or ZWW), was right-wing, while the ZOB leaned left, they would not collaborate. The Nazis, you understand, are liquidating the Ghetto, and two groups of the same nation, with common survival interests, refuse to work together due to different political views.

This leads me to my personal experiences three summers ago as a combat officer in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.

In my job as Battalion Operations Officer I split my time between a tank fighting inside Gaza and the headquarters on the border. This allowed me to experience the battle and its challenges inside as well as to get a broader view of events.

During those days when we awaited the order to enter and destroy the terror tunnels, we began getting a trickle of love, which turned into a flood. Thousands of packages were reaching us every day; hundreds of visitors were treating the troops – ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva students were coming to take our names for prayers, as they cancelled their summer break to give us what they called a ‘spiritual Iron Dome’; left-wing Israelis fed and equipped us with anything we were missing, and this phenomenon goes on and on, and I haven’t even mentioned Chabad…

These mountains of love became too much physically at some point. We needed to call the Military Police to close our zone, because soldiers coming out of battle to repair their tanks, forgot their mission and began hopping among the citizens who came to treat them.

One day, my wife called and told me she was coming to stay with her brother on a Kibbutz near the border. She asked what I needed in case we managed to meet up. I explained to her that I could feed and indulge her with anything she could possibly imagine. “Still, I am coming with friends who want to treat you and your soldiers – think of something!” After some deep thought, I realized I didn’t have a nail clipper, and perfunctorily requested one.

From the next day on, tens of thousands of nail clippers were being sent to IDF soldiers. Via social media, the word spread that our dear soldiers were short of nail clippers…

A week later, between our ground missions inside Gaza, a guy came over with a car full of boxers and T-shirts. As the soldiers greeted him cheerfully, one of the girls grunted: “The IDF includes women! I’ve been out in the field for weeks, and all I get is men’s underwear.”

For the next few days, surprised macho-combat soldiers were dumbstruck each time they opened a package and found bras, tampons, and female underwear…

While this was happening at the border, the atmosphere of unity and love was spreading throughout Israel and the Jewish world. I recall reporting to my soldiers that within less than a week, twice, tens of thousands of Israelis came to funerals held for lone soldiers who fell in battle whom they had never met. Until today the scenes of the funeral for Sgt. Sean Carmeli from Texas bring tears to my eyes. I call it our “victory picture” from the operation.

To conclude, in the two biggest tragedies our nation went through in the past 2,000 years, the destruction of the Second Temple and the Holocaust, we were divided and separated into sectors, and even in crisis we refused to unite.

In 2014, we were one. We shook off the dust of thousands of years, and could look beyond the facades of politics and sectors. We suddenly saw the beauty in each other, we suddenly understood: we are a family, no matter how different we are. So, now that I can say in the time of crisis, when our enemies remind us we are one, we have learned to love and unite.

Another election campaign, and several harsh disagreements over the Western Wall later, I am afraid we are beginning to forget. This article is a reminder of the sweetness of unity. And the biggest question I had when I left the battlefields of Gaza was – how can we copy-paste this unity? How can we stay united; how do we find Jewish values we share though we may have different views and ways of life. How do we maintain the incredible feeling that every person on the street is my brother and sister?

My question is what can we do now, and not in the next crisis. Can we be united at normal times, in the daily routine? Can we come together around common values we truly share, even if they lie very deep inside? Can we respect and treat each other as brothers even if we are not under attack?

They say history repeats itself, they say armies prepare for the last war. Let’s change history, and let’s take the positive from the last war, and implant it in our present and our future.

And about me ice cream headline: We were at war, we weren’t planning on fasting. The morning before Tisha B’av a truck full of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was sent to us by a South African community. After finishing my fourth box, just an hour before the fast, we got a message that there was a ceasefire, and it was final. As we were not going into battle, the battalion chaplain declared that we would fast. It was the sweetest yet toughest fast ever. As good as it is, ice cream is not the ideal preparation for a fast!

In the rebuilding of Jerusalem we shall be comforted.

Captain (Res.) Yaakov Selavan recently discharged after serving nearly a decade as an Armored Corps Combat Commander. He founded Slingshot Israel, which aims to educate and inspire by offering a unique insider’s look into the IDF. A Golan resident and an IDF Tactical Command College alumnus, Selavan is an experienced lecturer in Israel and abroad, and an official IDF motivational speaker for soldiers and draftees.

About the Author
Major (Res.) Yaakov Selavan is a strategic affairs expert and IDF motivational speaker for soldiers and draftees. He is a social activist invloved in several NGOs. A Golan resident and an IDF Tactical Command College alumnus, Major (Res.) Selavan is a popular speaker in Israel and abroad and a leading Golan international spokesperson. Through Slingshot Israel, he draws upon military experiences to instill values and encourage social action.
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