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Rosh Hashanah over Beirut

In 1972, I was a lone soldier with no family in the country, spending the Jewish New Year patrolling the Lebanese coast
A young Jonathan Davis in 1972.
A young Jonathan Davis in 1972.

The years roll back and it’s September 8th, 1972.

It’s the eve of Rosh Hashanah and I am a lone soldier in Sayeret Tzanchanim (an elite reconnaissance unit of the 35th Paratroopers’ Brigade).

The unit is being released so that we can all spend the New Year off base with family and friends. The atmosphere is light with banter as we all pack up to leave.

At the last moment, a request is made for a few soldiers to remain on base for routine standby. As I have no family in Israel, I volunteer to stay on base.

It’s not a quiet night for us. Some may remember that on Rosh Hashanah 1972, Israel responded to the Munich Massacre by bombing ten PLO bases in Syria and Lebanon.

While Israeli planes bomb Beirut, army helicopters fly up and down the coast in case fighter pilots have ejected and need rescue. Each helicopter includes two soldiers from my unit and another two from the Navy Seals. If a pilot is forced to parachute over water, the Navy Seals take over; if the ejection occurs on land, we go into action.

At some point, we have to return to Ramat David Air Base to refuel. We’re high on adrenaline and anxious to get back up in the air to be of service, and we’ve forgotten about the day – what it is and what it means.

Suddenly, a military chaplain comes running out to the helicopter with a glass of wine, challot, apples and honey and we’re suddenly saying Rosh Hashanah Kiddush while standing by the side of a Sikorsky helicopter waiting to be refueled.

A young Jonathan Davis in 1972.

It’s a long night as our planes continue to pound terrorist targets in Beirut. Finally we are called to land and sent home, in the very early hours of the morning, to spend the rest of the holiday in civilian clothes.

All these years later – 46 to be exact – that moment is perfectly clear in my mind. I was a lone soldier with no family in the country, spending the Jewish New Year serving the Jewish State. That simple Kiddush spoke volumes about the significance of a Jewish army and was one of the most meaningful that I have ever experienced in my life.

May G-d continue to bless the IDF and our soldiers, including lone soldiers, in the sea, on land and in the air.

Shana Tova u’Metuka.

About the Author
Jonathan Davis is head of the Raphael Recanati International School and vice president for External Relations at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, Israel’s first private, not-for-profit university. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism. Mr. Davis also serves as a Lieutenant Colonel (Res) in the IDF Spokesman’s office.
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