Mayanot Institute students tie tzitzit for IDF soldiers, finding personal fulfillment in the process
By: Faygie Levy Holt
As Jewish men across Israel answered the call to serve in the Israel Defense Forces in the wake of the terror attacks on Oct. 7, they also sought ways to protect themselves spiritually.
For a growing number of soldiers, that meant donning tzitzit, a shirt with fringes made of eight strings that hang down on four sides of the garment. However, as the fringes, which are tied in a specific fashion, are hand-knotted, tzitzit cannot be mass produced.
Additionally, for military usage, there are specific fabric requirements that must be met to ensure uniformity and the safety of the soldiers.
To help ease the need, students at Chabad-Lubavitch’s Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, took time away from their educational programs to help tie tzitzit for IDF soldiers.
“Worldwide there has been an overwhelming feeling of ‘What can I do to help make a difference?’” said Rabbi Shlomo Gestetner, dean of Mayanot. “The students wanted to help support our soldiers on an emotional, physical and spiritual level. Tzitzit, the Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory,] taught us, on top of being an important mitzvah, also provide real time physical protection for the wearer.”
The students also attached personal notes of support and encouragement for the soldiers.
According to Rabbi Shneor Broh, director of Mayanot’s post-high school program, some of the students were “a little nervous” at first because they had never tied tzitzit before. But after a tying-tzitzit workshop, the students got to work.
“The students stayed up late into the night hand-tying the tzitzit, which were then whisked away to army bases the next morning,” he said. “Seeing pictures of soldiers putting on those same tzitzit that they had just tied was both gratifying and extremely humbling. They felt very privileged to be able to do their part in helping those on the frontlines.”
Initially, the students made tzitzit out of dri-fit material for combat soldiers to wear while in battle. They eventually went on to make tzitzit out of blue fabric, as is required for soldiers serving in the Israeli air force.
Though the students may have started out by wanting to do something to help the soldiers, as they worked “they really understood the intricacies and importance of the process,” said Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov, the school’s executive director.
“Many of our students come from secular Jewish backgrounds, and might have themselves been unfamiliar with the importance of wearing tzitzit,,” he explained. “They came to help fortify, and they came out fortified themselves.”
The March for Israel Rally
Throughout the March for Israel rally in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14, countless Jewish men among the 290,000 participants took the opportunity to put on tefillin. For some, it was the first time they had ever done the mitzvah. For others, it was the first time they had done so in many, many years. For Ilia Chikaidze of Kfar Saba, Israel, it was also an unexpected opportunity to recite Kaddish for the first time for his father, who had passed away in Israel just a few days earlier.
A native of Israel who was still in a state of shock and mourning not just from his father’s passing, but from having lost several close friends in the terror attacks on Oct. 7, Chikaidze went to the rally with a group of friends because he felt it was important to show his support for his family and friends back home. “I’m trying to do what I can from here,” he told Chabad.org. “That’s our duty, to let people know what really happened, to have everyone know the truth.”
As he and his friends made their way across the National Mall, they were approached by Rabbi Moshe Pinson—a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.—who asked the men if they wanted to put on tefillin. Pinson had been helping attendees do so throughout the day.
While one of his friends quickly said yes to the rabbi, Chikaidze declined. But at the urging of his friends, the young Israeli decided to do so.
Just as he was about to wrap tefillin, one of his friends turned to Pinson and said that Chikaidze’s father, who had been ill for some time, had just passed away.
The rabbi turned to the young man and said, “I’m going to get together a minyan so you can say Kaddish, and we can all be menachem avel,” doing the mitzvah of comforting the mourner.
With a small group of people gathered around him—and now wearing tefillin and a kippah—Chikaidze began to weep while reciting the words of Kaddish.
“He was shaking like a leaf,” said Pinson.
“Everybody was crying. It was very emotional,” said the rabbi. “This was a very special moment for everyone who was helping a Jew say Kaddish for his father.”