As the Israeli government contemplated how best to respond to a renewed barrage of Palestinian rocket attacks on its southern towns and population centers, targeted communities throughout the region sought out spiritual methods to augment the military’s guarantee of their safety.

In Ashkelon – a coastal city where two Kassam rockets fired from the Gaza Strip struck Shabbat morning, severely damaging an empty school – Rabbi Moshe Vilenkin, a co-director of the local Chabad-Lubavitch center, related that the night after the latest attack the Chabad House announced a new campaign to write a “protective” Torah scroll as a show of unity amongst the residents of southern Israel.

“We are still at war,” said Vilenkin, the project’s manager, noting that although Israel’s Operation Cast Lead ended more than six weeks ago, communities are still at risk. “We had reminders both yesterday morning and last night” when another rocket struck south of the city.

Schools opened as usual on Sunday, except for the one that was struck. On Monday morning, rumors throughout the city indicated that schools would not open as a way to protest government inaction in protecting educational institutions.

Rabbi Menachem M. Lieberman, director of Chabad of Ashkelon, said that the idea for the Torah scroll is rooted in teachings of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, who emphasized that Jewish unity – specifically as manifested in the collective writing of a Torah – can offer a measure of spiritual protection from harm.

“The Rebbe said many times that our strength lies in our unity,” said Lieberman.

Police in Ashkelon, Israel, confer after investigating a Palestinian rocket attack in January.
Police in Ashkelon, Israel, confer after investigating a Palestinian rocket attack in January.

The campaign grew out of a resolution made by the women of Ashkelon at a convention sponsored by the Chabad House two weeks ago. Local residents said that they were encouraged by the effort.

“I feel it will allow [the residents] a moment to look back and see the numerous miracles that took place during the war,” said John Daly, who saw several rockets land near his Ashkelon apartment building during Israel’s offensive this winter, only to cause minimal damage. “This is a wonderful reminder to all that we have but G‑d to thank for our safety, in the past and in the future.”

Shaul Talker, 25, was one of the first people to buy a letter in the new Torah.

“It is a privilege to participate,” said the reserve military fireman, who was called up for duty during the Israeli offensive. “A Torah is not a small undertaking. It is very important, and I hope that G‑d will respond.”

Vilenkin said that while the Torah scroll will be commissioned by the residents of Ashkelon and the south, others are encouraged to participate in the project.

“The residents will know via a Web site when someone from outside of Israel, or even a whole community, donates to the Torah scroll fund,” he explained. “This is something that will strengthen the residents and let them see that others care about them.”