NEWS-IDF TDSA

Capt. Yaakov speaks at Torah Day School of Atlanta on April 29.

By Michael Jacobs | mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

An Israel Defense Forces captain found reinforcement from thousands of miles away for a recent mission to America that culminated in appearances at three Jewish schools in the Atlanta area.

April’s limited barrage of rockets from Gaza into Israel and the earthquake in Nepal provided vivid illustrations of how the IDF responds to military and humanitarian emergencies and thus helped accomplish the two public relations goals of Captain Yaakov’s two-week visit to the United States:

  • To provide Israel’s supporters with ammunition to answer the country’s critics.
  • To humanize the Israeli military for people whose only knowledge of Israel comes from the usually one-sided reports in the media.
NEWS-IDF Yaacov

Capt. Yaakov poses next to his eighth-grade class photo at Torah Day School of Atlanta.

“I don’t stay in the army because I love war and death; I hate it,” said Yaakov, whose last name couldn’t be used in print because of IDF policy. “I stay in the army because I know what the army does.”

He was in Connecticut with six other officers representing the IDF Spokesperson’s Office when the rocket attacks occurred. One of the other six was a woman from the Home Front Command who was responsible for the civil defense preparations for all of the people in the Negev; she became quite busy.

That crisis ended largely because Hamas, half a year after the pounding of Operation Protective Edge, was not prepared for another fight. After the rockets were fired, Hamas called Egypt to deny any role and claimed to arrest the culprits.

The magnitude-7.8 earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25 is a humanitarian disaster that is lasting much longer than the flare-up with Gaza, but the IDF was just as quick to respond. Yaakov said he got word from fellow soldiers within two hours of the quake that the IDF was preparing to send two planes — C-130Js built by Lockheed Martin in Marietta — packed with people and equipment to help Nepal.

“We’re very good at rescuing” after decades of wars and terrorism, Yaakov said. “If we can help others, great.”

It was terrorism that brought Yaakov to Atlanta for his first extended stay.

The breakout of the second intifada in 2000, combined with his own rough stretch, led his parents to send him to his Atlanta grandparents, Ben and Jacquie Hirsch, for eighth grade, which he spent at Torah Day School of Atlanta. He graduated with the Class of 2002.

The move didn’t turn out to be quite the intended escape from terrorism — Yaakov arrived at the end of August 2001, two weeks before 9/11 — but he said it was a special year for him. “I came to school every day with a smile on my face” and was on time every day but one, he said. “In 12 years of school, that’s the only year that happened.”

He said the community loved and welcomed him, so it was natural that he was more excited and more nervous than usual when he spoke at Torah Day School on April 29. At the end, his grandmother told him he was glowing.

Yaakov also spoke at Atlanta Jewish Academy and Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael before flying home to his wife in the Golan Heights. Like his year in America 13 years ago, this two-week trip, which included appearances before Jewish and secular crowds in New York and Connecticut, could prove life-changing.

Since joining the army in 2007, Yaakov has served in the armored corps. He commanded a tank in Gaza before Operation Cast Lead when he was 19. He was a battalion operations officer, working inside and outside Gaza, during last year’s Protective Edge.

By enabling him to work closely with fellow Orthodox Jews as well as the full range of Israeli society, military service has strengthened his understanding and appreciation of both Israel and his religion, Yaakov said. But with the possibility of children in his future and the pleasure of his public relations tour in mind, he’s thinking about leaving the front lines and applying for a transfer to the IDF Spokesperson’s Office.

“I think PR’s really important, and I don’t want to do it for a company,” Yaakov said. “I want to do it for my country.”