The chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces urged local students to come to Israel and be part of the nation, even if just for a visit.
“Each Jew, all over the world, is a soldier,” Brigadier General Rabbi Rafi Peretz told students at the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy and Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School on Nov. 14.
A former helicopter pilot who headed Etzem, a preparatory program for aspiring soldiers, Peretz was named to his current post in 2010. In Israel, he is viewed as a moderating force between the military’s secular and religious factions.
Peretz, speaking partly in Hebrew and partly in slightly broken English, reflected on how his religious worldview has influenced him in his role as chief rabbi of Israel’s military.
“We are not afraid. We are not afraid of anyone but God,” he said. “The center of the Jewish world is Torah and it gives us strength.”
Peretz added: “We are strong not because of money or tanks, though the weapons we have are very good ones. We are strong because of our spirit — a spirit of belonging to tzedaka and justice and laws.”
Peretz said the Jewish right to the Land of Israel is found in Torah, and he quoted from Lech L’cha, a section from Genesis read in synagogues earlier this month.
“God told Abraham to leave everything and ‘go,’” said Peretz. “What for? To start a new nation. The Israeli nation. We must understand it — we belong to that pasuk.
“Maybe there is anti-Semitism all over the world,” he told the students. “Thank God we have our own place.”
Peretz said Israel faces threats not just from weapons, but from images. The late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, he said, knew that a photograph of an Israeli soldier killing a Palestinian boy would show the world that Israelis are not “shomrim derech hashem tzedaka,” guardians of the path of righteousness.
Similarly, he said, passengers aboard a Turkish ship bound for Gaza in 2010 were itching for the confrontation in which nine passengers died in a clash with Israeli commandos.
“Those terrorists wanted one shot of soldiers coming on deck and making one mistake,” he said. He viewed the reaction to the incident as part of a background of rising anti-Semitism that he said is particularly virulent in Europe.
Frada Stone, a social worker at the school, joined the students for the talk. “I was intrigued to be addressed by someone of such stature,” she said.