An event commemorating the 35th anniversary of the Ohr Etzion hesder (lit. ‘arrangement’, the program whereby students combine Torah study with IDF service) Yeshiva at Merkaz Shapira took place on Wednesday evening. The Rabbi of Ramat-Gan, Rabbi Ya’acov Ariel, was the keynote speaker who praised the yeshiva for its achievements.
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz arrived to congratulate the thousands of graduates and students of the Ohr Etzion Yeshiva. This was the first visit for the new COS at a hesder yeshiva. He expressed his support of the hesder program, and praised the venerable head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Haim Druckman, who is also head of the Association of Hesder Yeshivas. Rabbi Druckman, an icon of the religious Zionist Torah world and known to all as an intrepid man of integrity, was until recently head of the government's Conversion Authority, where he found himself under much publicized Hareidi-religious fire on rabbinic court and army conversions.
The COS related that in his youth he spent some formative, influential years in yeshiva study. “The strength of Torah values is distinct across the IDF. I find it in the loyalty and determination of many IDF commanders and fighters, among them students of this yeshiva and others, as they serve in various units and in the reserve corps, carrying out their duties with a sense of purpose that is second to none.”
The COS also mentioned a source of contention, the appointment of NItzan Alon, considered by many Judea and Samaria residents to be against them, to the post of commander of the area. “In recent weeks, there have been harsh remarks made towards the commander of the Judea-Samaria division, Brigadier-General Nitzan Alon. He is an officer of great merit who dedicates his life to the security of the citizens of Israel. I am strongly opposed to the accusations made against him. The attempts to denigrate the authority of a top IDF official are unacceptable, and I expect you all to support IDF commanders and condemn such statements and actions.”
Gantz concluded by saying “This evening is a celebration in honor of the yeshiva, but also in honor of a special man, whose name is synonymous with the excellence of the hesder program – Rabbi Haim Druckman.”
He spoke directly to the rabbi, and said, “The story of your life is a fine demonstration of the revival of the Jewish nation in Israel. From your childhood in Poland, to your escape from the Nazis and your immigration before your bar-mitzva, to the creation of this immense life’s work across many decades."
"I take this opportunity to thank you, in the name of the IDF, and in the name of the entire Israeli society.”
The Minister of Science and Technology, Rabbi Professor Daniel Hershkowitz congratulated the yeshiva graduates and said that he salutes Rabbi Druckman’s vast educational enterprise.
The Head of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Haim Druckman, spoke with great emotion, and expressed his hope and faith that the yeshiva graduates will continue to contribute to the reinforcement of the Torah, the Nation and the Land in all walks of life, paraphrasing Rabbi Avraham Kook, the first Ashkenazic Chief rabbi of Israel and forerunner of religious Zionism .
”Reality teaches us the importance of the yeshiva education we receive. The yeshiva is devoted to the land of Israel, but no less to the state of Israel, despite the difficulties.” The rabbi once again quoted Rabbi Kook who said that darkness is driven away by increasing light.
“The Nation of Israel is eternal, the Torah is eternal, and the bond between them is eternal,” stressed Rabbi Druckman.
The event was dedicated to the thousands of yeshiva graduates, that were expected to arrive en masse. A special commemorative CD was produced by the yeshiva, including recordings of memorable moments and songs of the yeshiva band recorded with the participation of Rabbi Druckman.
The yeshiva students reenacted the renowned Ohr Etzion Friday night banquet, led by Rabbi Druckman complete with the singing of the “Shalom Aleichem”(greeting of the angels) prayer, and the “Ribon HaOlamim” (Master of the Worlds) prayer, praising G-d for the gift of the Sabbath.
The Ohr Etzion yeshiva was founded in 1977 by Rabbi Druckman. It belongs to the network of B’nei Akiva yeshivas, that educate tens of thousands of students to the values of Torah and love of the land of Israel and of the state of Israel. The yeshiva houses some 250 students, and provides a home base for the many students serving in the IDF and on the Home Front, as part of the ‘hesder’ framework.