August 7, 2006
Rabbi Ariel Goren, 30, who was called for reserve duty more than two weeks ago along with the rest of his Israel Defense Forces artillery unit, is no ordinary soldier.

Goren is currently deployed in the northern Israel city of Kiryat Shemona from which his unit is pounding Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon. As a military chaplain, his responsibility is not so much the ammunition and tanks, but the emotional and spiritual needs of the soldiers maneuvering and firing them.

Reached briefly on his mobile phone last week during a short lull in combat, Goren – the director of the Chabad House serving the Rishon Letzion neighborhoods of Naot Eshelim and Kiryat Chatanei Prass Nobel – spoke of living with the constant threat of Hezbollah Katyusha missile attacks, but also of a moral certitude and spiritual confidence displayed by Israeli fighters all along the front lines.

"I don’t feel in mortal danger here, but it isn’t a very pleasant experience to have a Katyusha rocket fall right next to you."

“Sometimes we shell them, and sometimes we get shelled as well,” Goren said dryly, with the rhythmic percussion of artillery fire in the background. “I don’t feel in mortal danger here, but it isn’t a very pleasant experience to have a Katyusha rocket fall right next to you.”

Turning to his mission, Goren said his duties as a rabbi to gunners and tank drivers are not all that different from those as a community rabbi, although the front is more than 105 kilometers and a world away from Rishon Letzion. Just as back at home, he must be available to support his new community of soldiers and answer whatever questions they might have.

Obviously, though, “the physical conditions are much harder.” The unit, for instance, is positioned so that those answering Hezbollah’s lobbies of rockets with Israeli mortar can see the Katyushas terrorizing the populace of Kiryat Shemona.

“That gives us motivation to continue fighting this war,” he stated.

Artillery Shells and Siddurim

Rabbi Goren in a much needed moment in the sweltering heat
Rabbi Goren in a much needed moment in the sweltering heat

Of the soldiers’ religious needs, Goren said that they’ve gotten by with a makeshift outdoor synagogue .

“I arranged for a supply of prayer books,” he related. “And since there was no synagogue on base I improvised one. I marked off some space with ropes and declared it our synagogue.”

The rabbi noted that every Jew feels the need to connect with his G‑d, pointing to the many secular soldiers who join in prayers “during these hard times of war” as proof of that fact. Still, not every soldier has the skills to follow the service.

“Some of them ask for my help in finding the right place in their prayer book,” he said.

And for those who may be on duty for 24 hours or more without a break, Goren brings the outpost “synagogue” to them, so to speak, visiting the soldiers at their posts and giving them books of Psalms and copies of tefilat haderech, a prayer designed to keep travelers from harm.

"Seeing these soldiers pray together truly warms my heart"

“Seeing these soldiers pray together truly warms my heart,” said Goren. “As a Chabad-Lubavitch representative it has always been my way to address every Jew with the same love and respect, and embrace every one of them regardless of his belief.

“This war brings people closer together,” he continued. “They become more open and receptive. When I bid them to join me in a prayer or put on tefillin, I am rarely refused.”