Tuesday morning, in the midst of wartime meetings and urgent phone calls, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Ruchama Davino and Chabad Rabbi Or Ziv to his office, to say thank you in person.

Two weeks earlier, on Israel’s day of remembrance for its fallen soldiers and victims of terror, Netanyahu donned tefillin in his office and prayed. An image snapped of the prime minister of Israel proudly wearing tefillin ricocheted around the world.

“The prime minister needed to give strength to the nation at a difficult time,” says Rabbi Ziv, who co-directs Chabad-Lubavitch of Katamon, in Jerusalem. “Wearing tefillin was the most moving way to do it.”

The tefillin themselves carry quite a story. They once belonged to Ruchama Davino’s son, Moshe, known by one and all as Moshiko, an Israeli soldier killed in Gaza in 2014.

That summer, during “Operation Protective Edge,” Moshiko was one of the first Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers to enter Gaza in a mission to find terror tunnels. He led troops in, clearing the road of mines with his D9 bulldozer. Tragically, a missile hit his cab, and he was killed at the young age of 20. When Rabbi Ziv learned that Ruchama was sitting shiva for her son in Katamon, he went to visit.

From there, a train of mitzvot in memory of Moshiko began.

The photo of Netanyahu donning Moshiko’s tefillin and reciting the ancient words of the Shema prayer soon began circulating around the world. - Credit: Benjamin Netanyahu / Twitter
The photo of Netanyahu donning Moshiko’s tefillin and reciting the ancient words of the Shema prayer soon began circulating around the world.
Credit: Benjamin Netanyahu / Twitter

‘Taking Care of Our Heroes’

“Ruchama wanted to do something good in her son’s memory, and to keep him alive, at her side,” says Rabbi Ziv. “We came up with the idea of the ‘Fun Truck.’”

The Fun Truck is a trailer built in memory of Moshiko, which Rabbi Ziv, Ruchama, and her family drive to distant army bases, bringing barbecues and joy to IDF soldiers. It continues Moshiko’s legacy as a young soldier who was always looking out for others, uplifting, and taking care of them. Since Oct. 7, the truck has been going out every single day, reaching soldiers on lonely outposts all along the Gaza border, and even up north under fire at the Lebanon border.

“It’s very satisfying to be able to give back to our soldiers, and to take care of our heroes,” Ruchama told Chabad.org. “We have so many volunteers and donors joining in. It’s wonderful.”

One day a few weeks after Oct. 7, after Israel had already launched its Iron Swords military response to the Palestinian declaration of war, Rabbi Ziv visited Ruchama and her family in their home. “I noticed that she has a small breakfront with a photo of Moshiko, and a few sentimental items that belonged to him,” he recalls. “Among them was a pair of tefillin.”

Ruchama told the rabbi the story of the tefillin. “All the soldiers knew Moshiko for his tefillin. Before every battle, he encouraged them to put them on as well, and say a prayer. He wanted every soldier in his company to be protected by the tefillin. It was important to him, and an inseparable piece of who he was.”

Moshiko put his tefillin to good use up until his last day. After Moshiko’s vehicle was hit, it caught on fire. The soldiers managed to retrieve Moshiko’s body but nothing else before it was completely engulfed in flames. Everything inside was burned to ashes, except for two items which were left in pristine condition: Moshiko’s tefillin and his Chitas, a compendium containing Chumash, Psalms, and Tanya (the foundational work of Chabad Chassidism), and a prayer book.

Rabbi Ziv was moved by the story. An idea popped into his head. “What do you think about having the Prime Minister don the tefillin?”

Ruchama reacted enthusiastically. She had always wanted to see Moshiko’s tefillin back in use, especially in a way he would have loved. After having the tefillin checked, and a few small repairs done, Ruchama wrote a letter to Netanyahu, and Rabbi Ziv sent it and the tefillin with a friend who had a forthcoming meeting with the prime minister.

Netanyahu had seldom—if ever—been seen publicly wearing tefillin. But soon they received an update: A promise to Ruchama that Netanyahu would don the tefillin, and send them a photo as well.

Netanyahu embraces Rabbi Ziv in a heartfelt moment. - Credit: Chabad of Katamon & Gonen
Netanyahu embraces Rabbi Ziv in a heartfelt moment.
Credit: Chabad of Katamon & Gonen

‘The Name of the Lord Upon You’

Months passed, and they heard nothing. It was understandable—the prime minister was busy with one crisis after the other. Soon things got really tense. Washington, D.C., was threatening a halt to vital weapons shipments and important military advancements were being delayed.

Finally, on the morning of Israel’s most painful memorial day in recent memory, Netanyahu donned Moshiko’s tefillin and recited the ancient words of the Shema prayer, “Hear, O Israel: G‑d is our L‑rd, G‑d is one.” A photo of the moment was snapped and soon began spreading in Israel, and then around the world.

“His senior aides who were with him at the time tell me it was extremely emotional,” says Rabbi Ziv. “Some were moved to tears. The prime minister was visibly shaken. It was not an ordinary moment, not something they’d seen before.”

When Netanyahu himself publicly shared the photo, he did so accompanied by a verse from the book of Devarim: “Then all the peoples of the earth will see that the name of the Lord is called upon you, and they will fear you.”

It’s the same verse which the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—quoted in the runup to the 1967 Six-Day War, adding the Talmud’s explanation that this verse is a reference to tefillin. Every effort should be made, the Rebbe declared at the time, to assist Jewish soldiers protecting their brethren in the Holy Land in putting on tefillin, which would instill fear in the hearts of their enemies, and bring about certain victory.

Israel is a nation like no other, the Rebbe explained, “a people that will dwell alone” whose fate and ultimate victory lies in G‑d’s hands. With their decisions impacting the lives of millions of Jews, this was something Israel’s political and military leaders needed to understand and appreciate even more than anyone else.

The Rebbe was thus particularly happy when, in the immediate aftermath of becoming an Israeli hero in 1967, then-Gen. Ariel Sharon proudly donned tefillin at the Western Wall. The photo of the event likewise made waves in Israel, being published in every major newspaper. In a letter to Sharon, the Rebbe noted “the tremendous inspiration that you aroused in the hearts of many of our Jewish brethren when you put on tefillin at the Western Wall, an act which merited great publicity and echoed powerfully and positively into the various strata of our nation ... ”

Netanyahu promised Ruchama that he will wear Moshiko’s tefillin on every Remembrance Day. - Credit: Chabad of Katamon & Gonen
Netanyahu promised Ruchama that he will wear Moshiko’s tefillin on every Remembrance Day.
Credit: Chabad of Katamon & Gonen

A Mother’s Consolation

Netanyahu was moved by the tefillin, and the fact that they were Moshiko’s. He wrote about thinking about Moshiko and the scent of the flames still lingering on the tefillin covers. He added, “I promised Ruchama that I would dedicate the tefillin for the elevation of Moshiko’s soul and for the elevation of all our fallen. That’s what I do today with holy reverence. May the memory of our fallen be blessed and kept in our hearts forever.”

“That our Prime Minister was wearing tefillin and holding a prayer book was very moving,” says Ruchama. “It was a message to the world: we have Hakadosh Baruch Hu, G‑d, with us. The tefillin are our connection with Him, and because of Him, we will win.”

When the Prime Minister welcomed Ruchama Davino and Rabbi Ziv to his office this past Tuesday, it was to give a personal thank you to the mother who gave him strength and helped him inspire so many—with reactions far beyond what he had expected.

“In here,” he told Ruchama, pointing to Moshiko’s tefillin, “is a special power of our people.”

Netanyahu promised Ruchama that he will wear Moshiko’s tefillin on every Remembrance Day. Ruchama says she is filled with emotion, and more than anything, feels that her son is standing with her, bringing his light into the world. “It was his tefillin, again doing what he always did, up until his last day—connecting our nation to G‑d Above, giving strength. I know he is filled with joy.”