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Trial in Heaven’s Court

Aharon Granevich-Granot

The Israeli tanks were trapped and one took a direct hit, bursting into flames. Only Shimon Benzion survived, his flaming body pulled back to life by his army buddy Shalom Rappaport. Years later, would Shimon be able to save him?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Shalom Rappaport, a senior administrator at the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, never dreamed that he would have anything to do with the religious world, but a snatched visit in the World to Come, in a trial in which he figured as the defendant, ended up with the granting of a reprieve. It was a second chance to descend to the World Below, an opportunity to continue living in order to mend his ways. And his chief defender was a soldier whose life he had saved in the Lebanon War twenty-eight years before.

This amazing saga begins on Motzaei Shavuos twenty-eight years ago. Rabbi Shimon Benzion, then a young bochur studying in Yeshivas Nir in Kiryat Arba, was called up for reserve duty together with his buddies in their combat artillery unit. “We were serving in Division 572, which consisted of three companies. Ours, Company Chet, was composed half of hesder yeshivah students and half of regular soldiers,” Shalom remembers. “I wasn’t religious at all, but we all got along fine together, respected one another and felt a kinship in arms. The secular soldiers would even join the minyan of datiyim and honored the Shabbat. In short, the bond was firm and fast.”

Reb Shimon takes over. “A week later, on June 6, 1982, Israel was engaged in Operation Peace for Galilee, the First Lebanon War — ignited when the Israeli ambassador to England was shot in the head. The goal was to push the PLO and the Syrian army out of southern Lebanon and secure the northern border. We had just completed practice maneuvers in the Tzeilim army training camp, and were then sent into battle: four bochurim — myself, Tzvi Gelbert, Avi Greenwald, and Yossi Damati. Uri Ofir was also in our tank, may Hashem avenge all their deaths. They never returned from that battle.”

They arrived at the emergency storerooms and were briefed on strategy. Division commander Giora Lev, who was later to become mayor of Petach Tikva, told his soldiers, “ If every one of you resolves to destroy two Syrian tanks, we’ll have won the war.”

“As our tank drove north toward the front lines, children stood at each junction, throwing candies at us and shouting cries of encouragement. Residents of the Galil, having been bombarded with Katyusha rockets, knew that the future depended on the outcome of this war and were praying intensely together with us for victory. We encamped in Kfar Yuval, ready for battle,” says Reb Shimon.

 

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