A Conversation With Sgt. Nesanel Silverman
By Rochelle Maruch Miller
Nesanel Silverman, an amiable and articulate 24-year-old who embodies the essence of a true ben Torah, has been serving with distinction as a member of the Nahal Haredi Battalion as a sniper and machine gunner for the past three-and-a-half years. Raised in a home permeated by Torah values, Nesanel attended one of our community’s excellent yeshivas. Upon graduating, he continued learning while pursuing a pre-med program at Brooklyn College. He took time off to travel to Israel, devoting much of his time to studying at Aish HaTorah. While there, Nesanel made the life-altering decision to enlist in the IDF–a choice that forever changed his life. Inspired by his brother, Uri, who had served in the IDF, as well as by the intrepid soldiers he saw every day, he notes, “I felt that I could do it and that I had to do it!” Although it’s not so common for two brothers to enlist, his parents proudly supported his decision to protect the people and land of Eretz Yisrael.
Initially, Nesanel enlisted for the 14-month period that is required for recruits from abroad, joining the prestigious Nahal Haredi Battalion. Acclimating to his role as a Lone Soldier, with his family living abroad, was fraught with challenges. Though his knowledge of Hebrew was virtually non-existent, he rose to every challenge with competence and wit. “During basic training, I couldn’t understand what I was being told to do, but I knew I had to do it,” he told this writer. “I’d look to the guy to my right and the guy to my left, and just follow their lead. I’d also ‘leech on’ to any first-generation Israelis who came from English-speaking homes. I learned that you can overcome anything and that no challenge, however great it may seem, is insurmountable. Although I was unable to speak or understand Hebrew at the beginning, at the time of the Tag Ceremony, I won the Commander’s Tag and I also won the beret. Baruch Hashem, I was able to overcome the challenge of not knowing the language.”
Being a Lone Soldier, with his family abroad, unable to converse with his comrades, Nesanel relates, “There were times in the beginning when it was difficult for me, and just as difficult for the guys. We had to get used to each other. I soon learned that Israelis feel you are their family. If they speak or act frankly, it’s as if they are talking to their brother.”
Nahal Haredi adds the spiritual dimensions to military service for religious soldiers within a framework that is strictly observant. Entrance into the Nahal Haredi Battalion is contingent upon Shabbos observance, wearing a kippah, and a refined manner of speech.
“Every soldier in Nahal Haredi comes from a chareidi home,” Nesanel told this writer.
The daily training includes time for tefillah and shiurim that emphasize the importance of defending the people and land of Israel. Nahal’s rabbinic staff create a thriving Torah atmosphere that inspires the soldiers and charges them with the goal to be “the contemporary warriors of Dovid Hamelech.”
“The rabbis provide caring, personal guidance for each soldier and are always available for spiritual and emotional guidance and support. They play a critical role and help with many issues. The guys know that if they have any problem or are dealing with any kind of issue, they can speak to any one of the rabbis with confidence and they will help them.”
“The rabbis are wonderful. They come down and take care of everything, making sure that everything is within the parameters of halachah. There are no kashrus problems and no women in the Nahal Haredi unit. Even the instructors and drivers are all men,” Nesanel explained.
When parents of the soldiers visit the training base and see for themselves the kosher environment, they are visibly moved. Almost all of the parents have lauded Nahal Haredi as being “an acceptable environment for the growth and development of (their) sons.”
Nahal Haredi works hand-in-hand with both the Israeli Defense Forces and the Ministry of Defense, defining the unit’s religion-related regulations and unique needs. “What differentiates this battalion is the fact that the rabbinic and lay leaders are actively involved in providing for every soldier’s spiritual and physical and emotional welfare from the day he dons his uniform to the day he leaves the IDF and begins his new life in the real world.”
Nesanel described at length the close rapport that exists between the rabbis and the soldiers. “They are so crucial to our unit that we stop training when they arrive. There are rabbis who come in on a daily basis to schmooze. They play an integral role in our battalion. They inspire the guys and are always available to discuss and help them with any issues that may arise. The rabbis, all of whom are chareidi, are exemplary role models who teach by example.
At the heart of every Nahal Haredi base is the beit knesset, where the mind and soul are charged for the coming day. It is to the credit of the Nahal Haredi soldiers that even at the end of a long and challenging day, their every free moment is devoted to Torah study and davening. Tefillah is not merely an option but rather an integral part of the soldiers’ day. “The schedule revolves around three daily minyanim.”
Within the limitations of a fighting battalion, the aura and kedushah of Shabbos and yomim tovim is deeply felt among the soldiers. Rabbis and yeshiva students are frequent guests to help contribute to the inspiring and spiritual ambiance.
“In the last year we had 1,000 missions. On the average, we don’t do raids on Friday night, Motzaei Shabbat, and Yomim Tovim,” says Nesanel. Nahal Haredi is fulfilling its mission to be a “Machaneh Kadosh”–a unit whose guiding principle is halachic observance without compromise on military effectiveness. A panel of rabbis in connection with the halachic authorities in the army is constantly developing halachic guidelines. The unit is comprised exclusively of men, including the instructors and drivers; there are no women or girls present at any time. Kashrus is strictly adhered to and a spirit of sanctity permeates the battalion on Shabbos and yomim tovim.
“The Nahal Haredi unit is considered to be one of the best units,” Nesanel told this writer. “It has been in Jenin and in Tulkarm since 2008. The army just doesn’t want to move it because of the great work it is doing and wants to keep it there.”
“The army is willing to give us anything we need,” says Nesanel. Recognizing the difficulties of being a Lone Soldier–a Chayal Boded–living abroad or separated from family, the army provides room and board and pays a higher stipend to him than to a regular soldier to enable him to better cope with his financial circumstances.
Sgt. Nesanel Silverman is truly a source of nachat to his parents, to his family, and to all of Klal Yisrael. He learns with a bren and is a gifted young man who has put his professional plans on hold for the greater good–to defend the people and land of Israel with Torah spirit and strength. May Hashem keep him, the Nahal Hareidi Battalion, and all the brave soldiers of IDF safe and healthy.
Please show your support for Nahal Haredi by attending a parlor meeting this Motzaei Shabbat, May 10 at 9:45, graciously hosted by Anne and Shelly Golombeck at their home, 6 Washington Avenue in South Lawrence. The program will feature Rabbi Tzvi Klebanow, CEO Friends of Nahal Haredi, and Sgt. Nesanel Silverman. A most enjoyable and enlightening evening is planned. v