Written by Zalman Nelson
When they’re not monitoring Hebron’s network of anti-terrorist security cameras and gathering intelligence, female soldiers of the (IDF) stationed here love to hang out with Batsheva Cohen. The dynamic Chabad representative bakes challah with the soldiers, explores questions of Jewish identity, and infuses their tour of duty here with a joyfully Jewish experience.
“We have an unusual relationship with the local soldiers because we live so close to the base. In most areas the settlement is in one place and the base elsewhere,” Cohen told Lubavitch.com.
The Friday challah baking sessions started after the IDF women were transferred to another Hebron base too far to walk on Shabbat to participate in meals. Cohen arranged with the base commander to pick up the women twice monthly for Jewish programming. Their time together includes challah baking, explanations of Jewish laws unique to women, and upcoming holidays.
“We baked customary key-shaped challah bread for the first Shabbat after Passover which I later delivered to them along with wine,” said Cohen. “They all thanked me with their backs turned because they’re not allowed to take their eyes of the monitor screens while on duty.”
Cohen, whose home becomes a magnet for tens of soldiers every Friday night, hosted 40 IDF women on Shavuot, who helped her prepare a full dairy meal. During the meal, they played a holiday trivia contest to learn more about Shavuot.
“We’re always looking for opportunities to engage with the local soldiers, to reach out to them,” said Cohen who hosted the entire battalion, commander included, of the base closest to the center, on a recent Shabbat. “They army is always looking for ways to save money. I told the commander, why not send the cook home for Shabbat and come to us.”
That Shabbat, 68 soldiers joined 20 other visitors to Hebron around the table at the Chabad center. Batsheva’s husband, Danny, leads the Shabbat dinner with lively conversation, a much needed inspiration for the soldiers.
Hebron is the largest city in the West Bank with 100,000 Palestinians and over 800 Israelis. Home to the famous Cave of the Patriarchs, it is regarded as one of Israel’s Four Holy Cities and lies 20 miles south of Jerusalem.