As Israel faces a ratcheting up of pressure in the international arena, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based archive and video production house has released a new DVD called Faithful and Fortified that examines a series of conversations throughout the years between policymakers in Jerusalem and the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.
Although Jewish Educational Media – a Chabad-Lubavitch organization charged with preserving and disseminating audio and video records of the Rebbe’s teachings – has tackled the subject before, devoting two titles, “The Rebbe and the Holy Land” and “Peace Upon the Land,” to the Rebbe’s views on Israel’s security obligations and his care for the country’s citizenry, the new release looks at the topic through the points of view of those on the receiving end of the Rebbe’s guidance.
“We’ve known for the longest time that there were deep connections between the Rebbe and the top echelons of Israel’s leadership,” said JEM’s director, Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin. “We’ve always hoped to go deeper than what was previously known. So when the opportunity arose to interview these individuals, we jumped.”
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Funded by a grant from philanthropist Rabbi Joseph Gutnick of Melbourne, Australia, who merited to convey messages to Israel's leadership on behalf of the Rebbe about the integrity of the Land of Israel, and drawing on recent interviews and archive material, Faithful and Fortified combines the testimony of more than 20 Israeli military and political leaders with footage of the Rebbe’s public statements.
“The Rebbe had a fascinating relationship with Israel’s defense establishment,” stated Yechiel Cagen, who produced the interviews. “There were many layers to that relationship.”
To peel back some of those layers, the staff at JEM pored over thousands of pages of the Rebbe’s correspondence and talks, and viewed hundreds of hours of footage.
In his interview for the project, veteran Israeli diplomat Yehuda Avner – who served as an international representative of and an advisor to Prime Ministers Golda Meir, Yitzchak Rabin, Menachem Begin and Shimon Peres – spoke of a briefing he gave the Rebbe at the behest of Begin in 1978. At the beginning of the prime minister’s negotiations with President Carter, he took a firm stand against giving up territory.
The Rebbe instructed Avner to transmit a message to Begin: “By adopting that posture, you have given strength to the whole Jewish people. Your task is to continue to safeguard the integrity of the land of Israel.”
Brig. Gen. Ran Ronen Pecker, commander of the Tel Nof Airbase near Rehovot and its flight school for Israeli Air Force pilots, told his interviewers of the Rebbe’s strategic knowledge of the battlefield and region.
“I didn’t expect to sit with someone so well-versed in Torah and to talk to him about, ‘Why didn’t Sharon surround Cairo and Damascus?’ or ‘Why didn’t he use the fuel the Egyptians prepared?’ ” said Pecker.
Efraim Halevy, a former director of Israel’s national intelligence agency, makes an appearance on a new DVD soon to be released by Jewish Educational Media.
Security for All
For Shmotkin, a quintessential point that emerges is the Rebbe’s philosophy on matters of defense.
“A country must protect its people,” explained Shmotkin. Just as in matters of health, where questions of treatment should remain in the hands of doctors, “the Rebbe’s view was that policymakers should defer to the defense establishment in matters of security.”
Another touchstone of the Rebbe’s approach, said Shmotkin, was that national decisions should not be based on the desire to impress or curry favor with other countries. On the contrary, Israeli decisions based on the country’s own defense and security needs earn the respect of other nations.
“Our conversation was very, very emotional,” recalled Moshe Levy, a recipient of the Medal of Valor, Israel’s highest military decoration, for actions taken during the Yom Kippur War.
Levy, who had a private audience with the Rebbe after sustaining injuries in the 1973 campaign, said that the Rebbe was adamant that the country not give back land.
“When we were talking about … my battle and all, he [spoke very softly]. He was talking slowly,” said Levy. “But when we talked about giving up the land, he was very strong [and had a] very strong voice. You could see the difference. … He said that we should not bend to any government. … The U.S. will not put pressure on us if we show that we are strong.”
According to Shmotkin, the Rebbe emphasized that Israel’s security interests included the interests of not only its Jewish population, but ultimately those of Arabs in the region, as well.
“In the thousands of interactions I’ve researched, never have I heard the Rebbe say one negative word about the Arabs. He doesn’t focus on Israel’s enemies at all,” said Shmotkin. “Instead, he speaks about the security of all people. He focuses on what Israel must do, what the Israel Defense Force needs to do, the need to protect life, and how Jews everywhere need to relate to the Holy Land. The Israelis he met with really respected that view.”
Among those appearing on Faithful and Fortified are current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; former prime ministers Rabin and Ariel Sharon; General Mordechai Piron, chief rabbi of the IDF; and Efraim Halevy, former director of Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency.
“If you checked the Rebbe’s appointment book, you’d see unlimited meetings with generals and politicians,” said Shlomo Nakdimon, one of Israel’s foremost journalists and political commentators. “It all flowed from the need to defend Israel.”
To order the DVD, click here.