By Sruli Shochet – Los Angeles
Pittsburgh. Poway. Stones thrown at orthodox Jews. Shouts of “Hitler” and “Kill the Jews”. These headlines have recently been permeating our news feeds on a seemingly daily basis. But what are we really doing as a result of all this? How are we trying to make a difference? Most of us reading the news, will shake our heads in disbelief. Maybe we mutter a few kapitlach tehillim and have a little extra kavanah the next time we say ‘Velamalshinim al tehi sikvah’. In short, we are not doing much.
Rabbi Yossi Eilfort decided that he is going to make a difference. Besides being a full-time assistant Rabbi at a Chabad House, a husband and father, he also volunteers his time doing counseling work for Project Chai, directed by Rabbi Dr. David Fox. In his “spare time” he put together a qualified team of professionals and founded, as well as directs, Magen Am. Magen Am is the only Jewish non-profit organization, licensed in the state of California, to provide armed security personnel. They provide training to their volunteers that far exceeds the required state standards. I am proud to call myself a recruit – someone who is going through the training process on behalf of my shul. It is a rigorous program and I hope I can complete it and graduate.
Like most people, I first heard about Yossi when his “MMA fighting Rabbi” video went viral some five years ago. Having watched the video of the lightweight division fight and seeing the wiry, soft-spoken Yossi being interviewed, my typical Jewish cynical brain thought: “Nu, nu. Good luck with that.”
However, being one month into our six-month Magen Am training course, I feel rather differently. Those of you that know me, know that I am not given to hyperbole. But if, G-d forbid, a skirmish was to occur, I would be offering up two very quick prayers to Hashem. One, that he keeps my loved ones and I safe. Two, that I hope Yossi is somewhere nearby and that he is on my side. Believe me when I tell you: he is the real deal.
When speaking with people, especially frum people, about this, I generally get mixed reactions. Many people default to the aspect that ‘yodayim yedai Esav’ or that ‘guns are for goyim’. How we need to rely on Hashem’s help and strengthen our belief in hasgacha protis. However, upon retrospection into our own Jewish history, one can’t help but realize that nothing could be further from the truth.
There is no doubt that as a nation, our emphasis is on being a people of the book. Hakol kol Yaacov is by far the most important aspect of our lives, both in our interpersonal relationships as well as our spiritual pursuits. But, no one less that Yaacov Avinu himself, prepared for war once he finished his prayers.
Think about one of our greatest role models, King David. We all know the story of how a young David slayed the mighty giant and warrior, Goliath. But take a deeper look at that story. He brought with him his sling-shot (why did he even own a sling-shot?), chose five smooth rocks to use an ammunition (why did he need five, if Hashem can make him kill Goliath with just one – as indeed he did?) before squaring off with Goliath. Do you think that young David never practiced with his sling shot? Did not know how to effectively use it as a weapon? As a shepherd, he needed to protect his flock and I have no doubt he was very well practiced and proficient with his weapon of choice. He did what he had to do, made the vessel for Hashem’s blessing, and then Hashem provided the miraculous victory.
Young David later went on to become Kind David, a mighty king and warrior, with so much blood on his hands that Hashem did not allow him to build the Beis Hamikdash. Do you think he went off to battle having never practiced how to parry, riposte and half-sword? That would be negligent and foolish.
Yet, King David was a tzadik, who also gave us the Book of Psalms, ironically the very prayer book we turn to when things look bleak. Because the two are not mutually exclusive. We prepare ourselves by learning how to deal with a bad situation. We also pray that they never occur and should they, R”L, occur, we pray for a swift and just result. All the while knowing and acknowledging that Hashem controls everything.
Fast forwarding to modern-day history, we find the exact same notion. There is no question in anyone’s mind that Hashem provides miraculous victories to the IDF, especially throughout the myriad of wars they fought. Does anyone truly believe that the soldiers should just sit and learn all day and only if something happens, grab their guns, professing their faith, without a stitch of tactical practice? I believe that would fall under the category of a ‘chossid shoteh’.
This is not about battle cries of “Every Jew a .22” or “Stay alive with a .45” that filled the air in the ‘60s and ‘70s. No doubt, a full program such as Magen Am, is not for everyone. They do extensive training, as well as background checks and full psych evaluations on their recruits. As a licensed and insured company, that will insure their graduates and the institutions they protect, they need to warrant that they are only putting out qualified people. Magen Am is careful who it selects, and attitude is everything. This is not about people looking to be gun-totting cowboys. Our current class of twelve recruits, includes a senior California shliach, a magid shiur of chassidus, as well as a Zal magid shiur and mashpia – many of whom never touched a gun before in their lives.
So, what can you do on a practical level?
First, we need to acknowledge that Chabad, as the world’s largest Jewish organization, statistically means we are the largest Jewish target, Heaven protect us. Every Chabad shul and Chabad House should be recruiting members that are willing and able to go through rigorous training and be prepared to apply said training, should the need occur. Just bringing a weapon to shul, without real knowledge and experience in using said weapon, can often be worse than the alternative. The security guard parked at the front door, who went through minimal training, is not enough. While it can hopefully be effective as a deterrent, we need to be cognizant of the fact that he doesn’t know you or your family and is not personally vested in your safety. It is a job to him like any other.
Second, if you believe that Magen Am is providing a vital service, then please contribute to the cause! Recognize that it is run completely by volunteers. The top-of-the-line equipment is all paid for by the recruits themselves and Rabbi Yossi, to date, has not taken a penny in salary. It relies completely on our donations. As a non-profit, it is tax deductible, and Chabad Rabbonim have said that it is 100% ma’aser worthy.
No amount is too small. Who knows? Maybe your contribution will help train the recruit, who in turn helped save the life of another Jew. It is money well spent.
Most important of all, may we speedily usher in the time when all this will be obsolete. When swords will be beaten into ploughshares, with the coming of Moshiach speedily, Omain!
To contribute to Magen Am, please donate here.