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    When a convert stands
    in the mikvah about to
    immerse, undergo a
    radical transformation,
    and be born anew, the
    Beis Din asks a series of
    questions. One of the
    most poignant is one that long seemed to many
    of us to be an antiquated question: “You know
    that Jews have been subject to persecution,
    antisemitism, and attempted extermination
    throughout the millennia. If you become a
    Jew, you will join this hated, targeted people.
    Are you prepared to share in the destiny of the
    Jewish people both for good and for bad?”
    At every single conversion I have had the
    privilege to be involved with, the candidate
    responded to this hypothetical question in the
    affirmative. Until recently, this question has
    felt like a technicality, something we must
    confirm in theory but would likely never be
    relevant in practice. After all, while joining
    the Jewish people means giving up
    cheeseburgers and bacon and other physical
    pleasures, it wouldn’t likely mean giving up
    one’s life.
    On December 8th, Staff Sgt. Yonatan Chaim
    H”yd, 25, was killed fighting in Gaza. He died
    a Jew, but he wasn’t born that way. Yonatan
    Chaim, originally from Hilton, New York, was
    born Jonathan Dean, Jr. After studying the

    Holocaust in college, he converted to Judaism
    and in 2020 he moved to Israel. His cousin,
    Joelle Marie Muscolino, described him as
    “sweet, amazing, loving, smart, caring,
    talented, passionate, uniquely fabulous.” She
    said that he had “lived in Israel for a bunch of
    years now and had made it his home, a home
    where he was loved and celebrated for
    everything that he was, without judgement, to
    live freely and happily as Yonatan Chaim, just
    as his loving heart, soul, and body so deserved
    to…He felt compelled to protect Israel, the
    land who had given him so much, from the
    brutality of the terrorist, evil, savage attacks
    by Hamas and Islamic Jihadists. He died
    bravely fighting to defend Israel’s Democracy,
    the Jewish People that call her home just like
    he did, and for Judaism around the entire
    When Yonatan Chaim stood before the Beis
    Din to convert and was asked if he understood
    that by becoming a Jew he too would be the
    target of antisemitism, subjected to hate, he
    likely never dreamt how serious and real a
    question that would become, that it would in
    fact become for him a question of life and
    Antisemitism is the world’s oldest hatred. It
    has existed since the inception of our people.
    In different generations it takes different
    forms, today manifesting in both its classic

    forms and in its expression as “anti-Israel”
    sentiment. For 2,000 years our enemies have
    sought our demise, they have systematically
    attempted to exterminate us and, aside from
    rare exceptions, for the most part we were
    passive victims and martyrs to their plots and
    But we are living in a new era, we are living
    with the miraculous modern State of Israel.
    No longer will our people go like sheep to the
    slaughter. No longer are Jews defenseless and
    helpless. Israel has one of the strongest armies
    in the world and like Staff Sgt. Yonatan Chaim,
    the selfless, brave and tenacious soldiers fight
    to defend not only our brothers and sisters in
    Israel, but Jews around the world.
    As Purim approaches, a time ordinarily
    characterized by tremendous joy, happiness,
    and light, many are struggling with how to
    observe it against the backdrop of sadness and
    darkness as one war continues to rage on and
    another one looms. One of the specific
    questions that has arisen concerns dressing up
    as Israeli soldiers for Purim this year. On the
    one hand, what a demonstration of who our
    heroes are, what a way to show whom we
    admire, respect, and want to emulate. On the
    other hand, it might be perceived as insensitive
    that those who put on the uniform as a costume
    wear it for one day and have the luxury to take
    it off, while others must wear it for weeks or
    months on end, fighting in it and risking
    their lives in it on the front lines. It has
    further been suggested that yet another
    consideration for Americans might be the
    impression it could leave on our neighbors if
    we seem to be glorifying or celebrating war
    by “dressing up” in an army uniform.
    Several years ago, in his responsa, She’eilas
    Shlomo (4:87), Rav Shlomo Aviner, Rosh
    Yeshiva of Ateret Cohanim and Rav of the
    community of Beit El, addressed the
    following question: Is it proper to recite the
    beracha of Shehechiyanu on purchasing a
    new gun? Rav Aviner provides a long
    Halachic explanation and defense of why he
    feels a shehechiyanu is warranted while
    conceding the need to own a gun is sad and
    unfortunate. His closing argument touched
    me deeply and I share his words with you:
    The fact that we have guns shouldn’t elicit
    sadness that we still have wars and conflicts.
    Indeed, the opposite is true, it should elicit
    happiness that we have merited to be an am
    chofshi b’artzeinu (free nation in our
    homeland), that we have an established
    Jewish government, we have an army and a
    police force, that we are no longer the
    punching bag of the wicked nations, but
    rather we have the capacity to protect
    ourselves. Would it even occur to you that
    when the War of Independence began and
    we had weapons in our hands to defend
    ourselves after 2,000 years of Jewish blood
    being spilled freely, that one shouldn’t recite
    shehechiyanu with joy and gladness?! That
    joy continues to carry us and protect us from
    then until now. And for that reason, a
    Shehechiyanu should be recited when an

    Israeli soldier puts on his or her IDF uniform
    for the first time.
    Rav Aviner ends his responsa by quoting his
    Rebbe, Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook zt”l who
    wrote: “Fighting to protect our homeland is a
    mitzvah, the mitzvah of all Klal Yisroel.
    Therefore, everything connected with it, every
    gun and every weapon that is our response to
    our enemies, everything associated with
    establishing and protecting malchus Yisroel,
    Jewish sovereignty, it is all kodesh.”
    Similarly, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein related
    that once when he returned to America and
    was visiting with his father-in-law, Rav
    Soloveitchik, he posed a series of questions
    from students who were serving in the IDF.
    One student worked in the tanks division and
    his job was cleaning out and maintaining the
    tanks. Often his uniform got covered in oil and
    grime and he wanted to know if he needed to
    change before davening Mincha, something
    that would be terribly inconvenient and
    difficult. The Rav looked at Rav Lichtenstein
    and wondered out loud, “Why would he need
    to change when he is wearing bigdei Kodesh
    (holy clothing)?”
    I have heard from some in Israel who believe
    Americans should abstain from wearing an
    IDF uniform this Purim and I have spoken to
    others who think nothing would show more
    love, identification, and support. Each person
    and each community will decide for
    themselves but one thing should be clear: The
    IDF uniform is not simply a costume, and it
    should never be confused with a symbol of
    warmongering. It is the holy garb of a holy
    nation charged with a holy mission. It is worn
    by the defenders of a people that pray for
    peace more than any, by those who value and
    celebrate life more than any, who fight with a
    moral clarity and go to extreme measures to
    protect innocent lives, more than any other
    army or people.
    We daven for the fulfillment of the words of
    ְו ְִכְִּתּ֨תּ֨ו ַחְַרְבֹוָ֜ת�֜ם ְלְִאִִּ֗ת�֗ים- :Yeshaya prophet our
    ַוֲַחֲִנִיֽתֹֽוֵתֵיֶהֶ֙ם֙ ְלְַמְַזְֵמֵ֔רֹ֔ות ֹלֹא-־ִיִָּׂ֨ש�֨א ֤גֹ֤וי ֶאֶל-־ּגֹו֙י֙ ֶ֔חֶ֔רֶב
    beat shall they And “ְ,ו ְ ֹֽֽלא-־ִיְִלְְמ֥דּ֥ו ֖עֹ֖וד ִמְִלְָחָָֽמ�ֽה׃
    their swords into plowshares and their spears
    into pruning hooks: Nation shall not take up
    sword against nation; They shall never again
    know war.”
    But until then, Shehechiyanu v’kiymanu that
    we merit to live in a time that with the help and
    protection of Hashem, just like the Jews we
    will read about this week, we can fight for and
    protect ourselves.