PM, Pres. light Hanukkah candles with Nativ soldiers
PM, Pres. light Hanukkah candles with Nativ soldiers Haim Tzach/GPO

Today, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog participated in the second night of Hannukah candle lighting in Kiryat Moriah in Jerusalem with IDF soldiers in the Nativ conversion program, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and his wife Yael, and Jewish Agency Acting Chairman Yaakov Hagoel. IDF Chief Education Officer Brig. Gen. Ofir Levius and Nativ chairman Prof. Benjamin Ish-Shalom also participated in the event.

At the start, the President met soldiers in the IDF’s Nativ conversion program, who described their personal experiences in the course. Also participating were Cpt. Dr. Lucy Avigail Balagour Greenstein, a doctor who made aliyah from Belarus and converted to Judaism through the Nativ program; Maj. D., a company commander in the Yahalom unit, who converted through Nativ; Sergeant Major M., a soldier in Shayetet 13 who made aliyah from Georgia and is nearing the end of the Nativ program; Cpl. Zelda Perkins, a Magav soldier who made aliyah from the United States and converted through Nativ; Sergeant D., an electronic warfare soldier who made aliyah from Georgia and is currently with the Nativ program; Eden Zemelihin, a teacher who converted through Nativ; and 1st Lt. Shir Bennett, a platoon commander in the Nativ program.

Cpt. Dr. Lucy Avigail Balagour Greenstein, a doctor who converted through Nativ: “I made aliyah from Belarus and reached the Nativ course full of purpose. I think that the most meaningful thing that Nativ gave me and my family is the knowledge that it’s OK to feel whatever you feel, because there’s someone else who is going through the same experiences and difficulties. This feeling lets you undergo a sincere and open process with yourself, dropping your defenses. The powerful process that I underwent led me to choose to get married in Kfar Etzion, where I had my seminars with other Nativ participants. The rabbi who married me was my rabbi on the course, Rabbi Yaron. The conversion process has stayed with me day by day as an IDF officer, and also as a mother, and it has helped me consolidate my identity and my home.”

Eden Zemelihin, a teacher who converted through Nativ said: “As a representative of Nativ, I have gotten to meet the Jewish People on many occasions. I want to summarize by saying that it’s a privilege. A privilege to be in the Jewish world and to be part of this special people. I was given this privilege alongside my journey with Nativ, and today I can say I’ve come full circle as a teacher here in the course in Kiryat Moriah. I now get to meet soldiers and share with them some of my own process and experiences, and most importantly to be part of their process and to take part in the great and amazing thing happening here.”

President Isaac Herzog addressed the soldiers in Nativ and said: “We attach great importance to the dear boys and girls who came to us from all over the world and are confronting very complex questions of identity. Enlisting in the IDF and doing everything to be part of the Jewish People. And when we say part of the Jewish People, I know how difficult this is, because when Ruth the Moabite told her mother-in-law Naomi ‘your people are my people, and your God is my God,’ she too faced these mighty challenges, and these challenges are never-ending. I am referring not just to the extremely difficult halakhic and bureaucratic challenges.”

The President added: “In those ancient times, and in our days—during the holiday that symbolizes more than anything the heroism, Israel’s independence, and the importance of an independent state for the Jewish People, we remember that we must protect at all costs our ability to defend ourselves by ourselves by means of the Israel Defense Forces and our security forces.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said: “Twice we had a sovereign Jewish state in the Land of Israel. The first time, it lasted around 80 years until we failed and split into two kingdoms. The second time, the Hasmonean kingdom was an independent state in the Land of Israel for seventy-five years. Then we lost our sovereignty. This is the third time. We won’t get another chance. This is our state. We shall hold onto it and strengthen it. This state will exist forever. It depends on us, on our internal strength, on our military strength, on our strong economy, creativity, stable democracy, sense of mamlakhtiyut. It depends on our ability not to create schisms at home. This will require an effort, arguing but not hating. There is a good spirit blowing through this land, a spirit of good will, of cooperation, of respect for different opinions. We will not give up.”

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said: “The State of Israel is a miracle but I want to about the wonders, and the IDF is one of them—in the IDF, all are equal, and the IDF gives unlimited opportunities to its people, and you are an example of this. You chose to take your fate in your own hands, to recreate and shape your identities. Through your identity, you are creating meaning for yourselves and serving in the IDF on that basis, out of a deep affinity for your religion and state. It is a journey that is worthy of all praise. This is an opportunity to thank each of you twice, both for going through the conversion process and for your military service. I salute you and embrace you.”

Jewish Agency Executive Acting Chairman Yaakov Hagoel said: “A special thread connects each and every one of us tonight. We are here tonight with young soldiers who fulfilled a millennia-long dream and made aliyah to Israel.”

The IDF’s Nativ conversion track was founded in 2000 with the aim of strengthening soldiers’ Jewish Zionist identity and preparing those interested in conversion to Judaism for the process in the framework of their military service. Since the Nativ program was launched, some 50,000 soldiers have joined, of whom 15,000 converted to Judaism.