By Shmuel Katz
I cannot speak for all olim, but I know that many of them share a specific sentiment with me. Despite the fact that my boys will serve in the army and my girls have done or will do national service, I feel guilty about the fact that I myself have not done any form of service for the country.
Many of my neighbors and friends have done at least regular tours of reserve duty, and quite a few have done full tours in the military. And I have done nothing. Even though there are very legitimate reasons why I did not serve (I was living in the USA and came here too old and with too many kids for them to want me), I often feel like I am missing something in my pedigree. Especially since I rail on and on about things like “burden sharing” and supporting laws requiring chareidim to do some form of service.
A few years back, one of my friends asked if I would be interested in volunteering to help the local police department. The commitment was a minimum of four hours per month, which I thought was reasonable, so I accepted. I put in an application and waited. . . . And waited. . . . And waited.
Eventually, word got back to me that there was some problem with my application. I wasn’t so emotionally invested in the whole venture, so instead of pursuing it, I left it alone. And there it sat for a couple of years.
About four months ago, I got a phone call from the local precinct. The caller identified herself as the new officer in charge of volunteers, and asked why I had applied to volunteer but had never actually done anything. I explained to her that I was told that my application was rejected, so I never chose to push it further.
She took a minute to check the file, came back to me, and said, “I don’t see any notations in the file. Let’s put the paperwork in again and see what happens.” I agreed.
Sure enough, about a month ago she followed up with another call to tell me that I had been approved and she wanted to start assigning me to shifts. She explained that volunteers do various tasks, including neighborhood foot patrols, traffic duty, crowd control/traffic control for special events, and something that really sounded cool to me: ride-alongs with cops on duty.
She also asked me if I had any interest in getting approved to handle a gun. Did I have any interest? Was she kidding? Of course! I mean, I get to learn how to shoot (at the police training range) and get certified by the police to carry a weapon, if needed. I am very excited about that.
In the meantime, we have been dancing around my schedule for a couple of weeks, trying to get me started. Finally everything came into line and I did my first shift as an auxiliary officer. And here is another cool thing about doing things in Israel: The event they called me in for was . . . a hachnassat sefer Torah. Civic duty with a mitzvah twist!
With little budget for things like uniforms, we are issued a bright yellow vest at the beginning of our shift and have to return it when we leave. However, the vest clearly identifies us as police, and the cops wear the same vest at night, so they are more visible to pedestrians.
As we hung out in the street outside the home of the ba’alei simcha, one of the neighbors came by to invite us in to partake in the party. We all demurred, and she was very upset with us. Five minutes later, she appeared again–this time with a plate full of goodies and a bottle of iced tea. Sephardi hospitality will just not be denied! Only in Israel.
We basically did traffic control for the procession, which went for a couple of miles. My job was to walk a few hundred feet ahead and close off oncoming traffic whenever I came to a side street. I was on duty for a couple of hours and got to join in the celebration a little bit.
Some unique things I saw that day: (1) a bus driver, once I had stopped traffic for the procession, putting his bus in park and “dancing” to the music in his seat as the parade went by; (2) a family of Breslovers (not the chassidim, but the “Na Nach” guys) who noticed us as they drove by, parked their car, and, with three little kids, accompanied the Torah for practically the entire route, despite the fact that they had no personal connection to the ba’alei simcha; (3) the kavod that passersby, especially the Sephardim, even clearly non-religious, give to a sefer Torah; and (4) the fact that the city not only pays for traffic control for every one of these, but also pays for the van that plays the music for the entire procession–it is fee free to the hosts.
I found it especially meaningful that at the end, when they were about to bring the sefer Torah inside, both I and the other volunteer working the event independently worked our way over to kiss the Torah. We did not see each other until we were both at the side of the Torah.
I look forward to doing more work for the police, learning to use a weapon, and continuing to relieve some of the guilt I harbor about not doing my part.
As always, I am a bit disappointed to realize that we are approaching yet another chag without having had a chance to do my part as a kohen, performing duties along with all the other kohanim in a rebuilt Bet HaMikdash. On behalf of Goldie, myself, and the kids, I wish you and your families a terrific yom tov, a chag kasher v’sameach. Assuming that we will merit the Geulah by the time this goes to print, and certainly before yom tov, I look forward to helping you be makriv your Korban Pesach next week. On the remote chance that the Galut continues, L’Shanah Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim HaBenuyah! v
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a new gap-year yeshiva. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.