Shielding Israel Through Operation Torah Shield

Israel is facing her darkest hour in the last fifty years. But she is not facing it alone. Organizations and individuals who care about the Jewish state and the only democracy in the Middle East are rising up to help its people in this dire time of need. At the forefront is the Israel Heritage Foundation (IHF).

Rabbi David Katz, Executive Director of IHF, has just returned from his second mission to Israel in the past month. This time he joined Operation Torah Shield on a mission, cosponsored by IHF, that brought together close to 40 students from Yeshiva University and Stern College. The students travelled to Israel with the goal of helping their Jewish brothers and sisters cope with the aftermath of the most devastating catastrophes to have struck the Jewish people since the Holocaust.

The trip, which was largely funded by Christine Heathman, founder and CEO of GlyMed Plus, and hotelier Suresh Chawla, fittingly took place during the week of Thanksgiving. The dual sentiments of giving and gratitude that permeated the entire journey were appropriate reminders of that holiday’s intent.

Rabbi Katz and the students who participated in the trip were motivated by the desire to show solidarity with the people of Israel who are struggling physically and emotionally during this time of war. The shockwaves of the October 7th massacre have not subsided, and ongoing efforts to bring back hostages have brought the entire nation together.

The untold hardships of war against enemies sworn to Israel’s destruction plays out against a backdrop of difficulties that everyday citizens face while trying to live everyday lives. Any help that these Israelis receive in their war-torn country go a long way in alleviating physical, emotional and financial challenges.

Rabbi Katz focused on these challenges in an interview with Arutz Sheva about the trip. “The attack by Hamas had a lot of ramifications. It stopped people from coming. There’s no tourism in Israel, and tourism brings money. People who come to Israel now not only strengthen soldiers and private individuals and families, but they help out Israel financially.”

It was this in mind that Rabbi Katz decided on Operation Torah Shield. “I spoke with a woman who said she has 170 lemon trees in her backyard and was looking for people to help her pick the lemons. So, I came up with a mission of students who wanted to come and help. I have no words to adequately express what these boys and girls did. The farmers and everyone they helped were so grateful.”

To this end, the group of volunteers visited struggling farmers whose farmhands have been called up to fight the war against Hamas. The volunteers lent helping hands to meet the demands of the farmers’ crops. At one farm, they harvested five hours’ worth of eggplants in just a single hour. At another farm they worked alongside other volunteers picking and packing cabbage, harvesting over 8000 cabbages in under two hours.

The group visited wounded soldiers from the IDF in hospitals to lift their spirits and helped to prepare food items for IDF soldiers at the front. Many displaced Israeli citizens, who were forced to flee for safety from their homes in both the southern and northern borders, struggle to feed their families. The students worked in food pantries to help prepare and distribute food items to these families. In addition, they also visited the border town of Sderot. The only residents left there were those who were financially or physically unable to relocate, and the students bought provisions in the local grocery story for the Sderot Community Center.

For Rabbi, Katz, a trip to Hebron on Thanksgiving Day was “the highlight of the trip”. At this specific time when people give thanks for what they have, Rabbi Katz wanted to offer up gratitude for IDF soldiers in Israel fighting at the front lines. “I wanted to make a Thanksgiving meal in Israel for the soldiers. I reached out to my non-Jewish friends who jumped at the opportunity to support this cause. Many non-Jews identify with and feel the pain that people in Israel are going through.”

With the help of Yishai Fleisher, Director and International and Government Affairs for the Jewish Community of Hebron, IHF brought the volunteer students to celebrate Thanksgiving with soldiers from an army base in Hebron. Fleisher arranged for a lavish meal for the soldiers, and the students helped to prepare a BBQ Thanksgiving feast, filled with smoked chicken, turkey hot dogs, cranberry sauce, and various other dishes.

These soldiers generally do not get enough to eat. They subsist on tuna, corn and halva, food items that don’t need to be refrigerated. They were overwhelmed with the kindness that IHF displayed and were full of appreciation and thankfulness. For Rabbi Katz and the students, it was a Thanksgiving they will never forget.

Rabbi Katz and the participants of Operation Torah Shield were overwhelmed themselves with the strength they drew from their mission. They were inspired by the resilience of the Israeli people and fulfilled by the gratitude that their Jewish brethren in Israel felt. “Everyone should come to Israel and help out now.” Rabbi Katz said. “Soldiers need help, families need help, and everyone needs financial help. We all have to help. The Messiah can only come when we do kindness to others, and coming to Israel now is a true kindness and a true act of charity. People are in dire need. Let’s come and help to bring the Messiah.”