When Rabbi Moshe Gourarie, co-director of Chabad of Toms River, N.J., with his wife, Chanie, invited community members to a special Shabbat dinner last Friday to hear about his recent trip in Israel, he hadn’t planned on it being more than a briefing.
But one particular anecdote wound up touching the guests significantly.
As Gourarie explained, while on his five-day trip to the Jewish state, he visited the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and happened to meet Chabad emissary Rabbi Yossi Nachshon there. The two men got to talking, and after a while, Nachson invited Gourarie to accompany him to a nearby military base for a ceremony.
The occasion? Ten soldiers from the Israeli Defense Forces who had committed to putting on tefillin daily were about to get their own set of phylacteries. The tefillin were donated through the fundraising efforts of another Chabad emissary, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Zekri, co-director of Beth Loubavitch St-Cloud in France. (Another 10 soldiers near Gaza were also slated to get tefillin as well, but Gourarie did not attend that event.)
“It’s a very special thing,” says Gourarie. “It tells those of us here [outside of Israel] who are not yet putting on tefillin daily that they can at least add another day, or get their own set of tefillin and emulate these brave soldiers.”
It was this story that moved members of the Toms River Jewish community to act.
“People approached me after dinner and said they would like to sponsor a pair of tefillin for soldiers,” says the rabbi, adding that it looks like enough money will be raised to purchase four pairs of high-quality tefillin, which cost several hundred dollars each.
Gourarie with one of the soldiers; when the rabbi returned home and spoke of his experiences, community members jumped at the chance to donate four pairs of tefillin to IDF soldiers.
Visits to Children and Soldiers
During what was his first-ever visit to Israel and traveling solo—his wife and eight children stayed in New Jersey—Gourarie, 35, devoted much of his time in Israel to helping out where he could. Along with Rabbi Yossi Swerdlov of the Chabad Terror Victims Project, he visited a Chabad preschool in the southern town of Sderot, which has been under heavy rocket fire for years now.
“Some 30 children were there, and we gave them each a teddy bear, and sang and danced with them,” the rabbi recalls. “We tried to bring some joy into their little lives.”
He also visited with IDF troops when they initially started amassing on the Gaza border, where they were awaiting their next orders. Gourarie notes that he was a bit hesitant at first so began by telling them, in Hebrew, that he was from New Jersey.
“When I said that, they started cheering,” says Gourarie. “That I was from out of Israel and had come to support them … that was very special to them.”
While in Israel, the rabbi visited troops on the Gaza border, wrapping tefillin with them and offering words of support.
Gourarie knows that his trip made a real impact—maybe not as much on the soldiers, he acknowledges, as on himself.
“The Israeli people are steadfast, as are the soldiers, who at the time were geared to enter Gaza at any time. They didn’t know for sure if they were going, but their eagerness and their mesiras nefesh [self-sacrifice] know no bounds.”
Those wishing to show their solidarity with IDF troops can “Write to an IDF Soldier” and dedicate a mitzvah on their behalf here.
Printouts of letters will be hand-delivered to troops in Israel by staff and volunteers from the Chabad Youth Organization of Israel.