Torah scroll (illustrative)
Torah scroll (illustrative) Flash 90

"Dedication, faith and love – that's how the Land of Israel is built." It sounds like a cliché, but with Rabbi Shlomo Raanan, this is not only his motto, it is just his way of life. Consider tomorrow's Torah dedication ceremony, for instance, in a town down near Gaza that does not yet even have a synagogue.

Rabbi Raanan – founder and director of the Ayelet HaShachar outreach organization – had been asked by a man in the small secular Gaza-belt townlet of Yevul if he could obtain a Torah scroll for them. 

"Thankfully, I was able to obtain a Torah Scroll for Yevul," Rabbi Raanan said, "and then, on my way back north, I stopped in at the nearby town of Sde Avraham, looking for a place to pray the Mincha service." He asked a passerby where the local synagogue was – and was disappointed to hear that there was none. But when the man saw Rabbi Raanan's face fall, he said, "Don't worry, I'm on the committee newly-appointed to look into getting ourselves a synagogue."

Rabbi Raanan has great experience in precisely this area, for Ayelet HaShachar has built dozens of synagogues in secular towns all over Israel. He immediately took up the gauntlet, and two days later he met with the only three people in Sde Avraham whose dream it was to have a synagogue in town. A decision had already been made in principle to build one, they said, but a few "small" question marks still remained: where exactly, at what cost, and when it would be ready…

Rabbi Raanan said, "Let's start with a weekly, makeshift Sabbath prayer service for the meanwhile, and this will make it easier for donors to give money for a synagogue, and for local authorities to approve."

Finding a Site

The townspeople agreed, but, they said, "We’ve already thought long and hard, and we don't know of any place to hold the temporary services." Rabbi Raanan said, "I know, I've heard that many times before – and in the end, a place is always found!" So they thought some more, and finally someone said, "How about the old building where we used to have the local town offices?" No objection was found, and the town board promptly convened and voted to approve it – but with one caveat: "We can't give even one agorah towards this worthy goal, because the money is already earmarked for the permanent building."

Rabbi Raanan told his new friends on the three-man committee, "That's OK. I'll raise the money for it." They looked at him with disbelief. He explained, "All you have to do is promise me that the building we revamp will be used only for prayers, until the new synagogue is ready."

As he said: "Dedication, faith, joy – that's how you build the Land of Israel."

Copters in the Air

Over the past two weeks, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, the old structure has undergone a total facelift, and the new temporary synagogue of Sde Avraham is now ready. "I visited each day to follow the progress," Rabbi Raanan said, "and one time I heard people talking about how during the famous battle at the end of the recent Operation Protective Edge war in Gaza, IDF helicopters hovered directly overhead and shot off barrage after barrage of firepower against terrorist targets in the Gaza city of Rafiah."

It turned out that the battle in question was the Friday morning sneak attack by Hamas after a ceasefire had already gone into effect. Two IDF soldiers were killed at the outset, and Sgt. Hadar Goldin fell moments later – and his body was dragged off by the Hamas terrorists into a tunnel leading into Gaza. Only two days later was it determined with finality that he had been killed.

In Their Memory

"If this was the site from where cover fire was directed during that battle," Rabbi Raanan said, "let's dedicate this new synagogue in the memory of the three soldiers killed then!" Again a vote was taken, and again it was affirmative.

Rabbi Raanan didn't stop there: "The Treisman family in Ramat Beit Shemesh has made it their generous custom to donate Torah scrolls all over Israel," he said, "and when I spoke to them about Sde Avraham, they agreed to contribute one to the new synagogue."

Little Daniel, Too

But that's still not all. For it turns out that living in Sde Avraham are the grandparents of 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman – who was killed by a rocket fired by Hamas from within or near a UNRWA school in Gaza towards the end of the war. When the grandfather heard of the Torah scroll ceremony to be held tomorrow, he said, "That's precisely the day we will be visiting our little grandson's gravesite – and I request that the writing of the last letters in the Torah scroll take place in my home, and then the procession to the synagogue can leave from my house!"

And thus, the bereaved grandfather changed his mind and became one of the strong supporters of a new synagogue in Sde Avraham.

Rabbi Raanan then thought, "Let's memorialize little Daniel in the synagogue as well. We'll put a plaque above the main chandelier above the Torah reading platform."

Why on the chandelier?

"It just seems right to remember in this manner a little boy who gave so much light."

Apparently, it takes one to know one.