A delegation from the Jewish community of Lyon, France, visited several Israeli Defense Force bases to hand out pairs of tefillin to soldiers serving on the front lines. The goodwill mission earlier this month brought the total number of tefillin distributed by community members through their local Chabad House to 120 over the past three years.

According to Rabbi Shmuel Gurewitz, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Lyon, Jewish residents of the southeastern French city have a special affinity for Israeli soldiers. They took it upon themselves to provide the holy objects – each pair costs hundreds of dollars – to any soldier that "commits to lay tefillin every day," he said.

All told, the last trip saw 30 pairs given to military personnel stationed throughout the country, although the bulk were given to soldiers in holy city of Hebron, a jurisdiction surrounded by Arab neighborhoods that sees some 1,000 troops rotate through outposts every six months. Another delegation from Lyon is planning to come to Israeli in a few months.

"This initiative is amazing," stated Rabbi Danny Cohen, co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Hebron. "These people are doing something that's very meaningful."

Among the bases visited was a secret installation in the center of the country that had never before hosted a tefillin distribution ceremony. Junior officer Menachem Freedman arranged the event after finding out that a fellow soldier who had immigrated from Russia 10 years ago had never owned a pair.

Wanting to help his comrade out, Freedman went to Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yosef Nachshon, program director at Chabad-Lubavitch of Hebron, who told him of the French group's imminent arrival to Israel. Nachshon told the officer that if he could find four more recipients, the Lyon delegation would come personally to the base.

"At that moment," said Freedman, "I didn't have any other soldiers. But I agreed anyway."

A search over the next couple of days turned up one more soldier, and Freedman volunteered the base's synagogue as a tefillin recipient, because its supply was old and it disrepair. An hour before the ceremony was to begin on the synagogue's front lawn, a friend of Freedman's said that his brother in the army needed a pair after his had been stolen.

Still one short of the needed five recipients, Freedman was at the base's kiosk picking up refreshments for the ceremony when he struck up a conversation with the kitchen director.

"I put on tefillin for one year until I was 14," the solider said, "and then somehow, my tefillin were lost. I've decided to start putting them on again."

At the ceremony, the Russian-native who started it all read a letter thanking the donors for the tefillin.

"I hope that your donation will bring me closer to my Judaism, because I did not have the opportunity when I was a child," he said. "Now, I will have a reason to make time for the higher power who guards us from above."

Freedman said that after the ceremony, he found out about many more soldiers from Russia who had never before donned the ritual items. He wants to organize more distributions in the future.

Said Nachshon of the ceremony: "It was very emotional."