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Spiritual defense — ‘Partners in Protection’

Elad ben Batya, a soldier in the Israeli Army, probably doesn’t know that two members of the Jewish community in the US whom he has never met are dedicating their Torah study session once a week in his honor.

Elad ben Batya is the Hebrew name of the soldier, likely serving in Gaza during the last few months, in whose merit Terri Moore, a third-generation Jewish resident of Denver, and her study partner in New Jersey, have reviewed the Torah portion of the week every Wednesday night since November.

Moore, a 54-year-old artist, says that while she grew up with a minimal Jewish educational background — she would go with her parents to High Holiday services each year, “but I didn’t pay attention” to the rabbis’ sermons — her partner, who takes the lead in their study sessions, is “very religious.”

At the end of each weekly session, they pray that G-d return Elad ben Batya and all the Israeli soldiers serving in Gaza “to their family and to their people.”

The pair do their Torah study each week under the aegis of the four-month-old Partners in Protection initiative.

Partners in Protection (PiP) is a project of the Partners in Torah (partnersintorah.org) educational “community,” a nationwide pioneer in adult Jewish education.

Partners in Torah arranges one-on-one Torah study sessions on Judaism-related subjects, usually on the phone or on Zoom. Typically, one of the partners has a limited Jewish educational background and the other partner is more familiar with Jewish texts and Jewish tradition.

Partners in Torah began in 1993 under the auspices of the Torah Umesorah national association of Hebrew day schools, and has operated independently since 2017. It has grown from six participants in a synagogue basement in Passaic, NJ, to nearly 100,000 participants in 93 countries.

Rabbi Eli Gewirtz, Partners in Torah founder, came up with the idea of dedicating Torah study sessions in the name of an active duty Israeli soldier, or of an army reserve member called up during the war against Hamas in Gaza (a “Match with a Hostage” option is now also available), within a week after the terrorist organization’s bloody attack on Oct. 7, 2023.

He was inspired, he says, by the post-Oct. 7 sense of unity in disparate parts of the Jewish community, and many people’s desire to do “something meaningful, something tangible, to help Israel,” in a Jewish way. 

He decided to expand the outreach of Partners in Torah.

While the organization had developed a similar innovative learning opportunity during the Covid quarantine a few years ago, Partners in Protection is its first program offered during a period of Israeli warfare.

A variety of Jewish organizations have begun reciting prayers for the Israeli Army, or for a limited number of soldiers. Rabbi Gewirtz calls Partners in Protection (PiP) the first ongoing learning program conducted for thousands of soldiers.

Other activities conducted on behalf of Israeli soldiers in a Jewish context since the latest war in Gaza began have included reciting prayers and Psalms, attending mass rallies, donating tefilin, participating in challah-baking sessions, taking on Shabbat practices, attaching tzitzit tassles to four-cornered garments that soldiers will wear in battle, sending them letters and items like snacks, carrying pizza pies to their bases and contributing to such organizations as Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces, the Association for Israel’s Soldiers, Hatzalah and local Israel emergency funds.

Torah study provides a unique merit, Rabbi Gewirtz says.

“We believe that the Torah protects.” Ten minutes of weekly Torah study is “doable,” even for people with very busy schedules. He says many people, like Terri Moore, had not beforehand not taken part in organized Torah study.

PiP pleases Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora who are avid supporters of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and consider the country’s soldiers the frontline protection against Israel’s enemies, and also aligns with those who consider Torah study a primary spiritual weapon that protects the Jewish people.

Partners in Torah recruits participants — students and mentors — to its new project mostly via social media, says Tehilla Friedland, the organization’s COO.

“Protect Dudu” or “Protect Noam” states two of the project’s advertisements, which feature photographs of an Israeli soldier in uniform and words that encourage participants to “learn in the merit of a front line soldier.”

“Study Torah with a fellow Jew for just 10 minutes a week can unleash profound spiritual protective power,” the advertisement states. “Protect your soldier.”

“Together we can fight this battle.” Use of a soldier’s Hebrew name “makes it more personal.”

The number of study partners in this initiative has grown to more than 5,100 men and women in 56 countries, Friedland says.

Rabbi Gewirtz calls enthusiasm for the project “a testament to the capacity for achdus (unity) in the Jewish community to come together in the face of the war in Israel and growing worldwide anti-Semitism.

“The commitment of individuals to dedicate a small portion of their time each week to the spiritual well-being of IDF soldiers adds a profound layer to the narrative surrounding the current conflict.”

With no connections in Denver’s Jewish community, Moore says that the idea of spiritually helping a specific soldier interested her. She reached out to Partners in Torah, and the match with the woman in New Jersey was made — within a month they began studying together, 30 minutes each time.

“I love it. It makes me feel very much connected” to the Jewish community, Moore says. “It makes me feel closer to
G-d.”

Like her and her partner, many of the learning pairs focus on the weekly Torah portion.

Other topics include specific mitzvot and emunah (faith).

In addition to her regular Torah study, Moore says she has begun reciting the Sh’ma each night in the merit of one of the Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

Like the other PiP participants, Moore does not know any details about her soldier. Learning partners receive only the soldiers’ Hebrew names that are used when a misheberach blessing is recited on the person’s behalf (So-and-so, son of, or daughter of, So-and-so).

The soldiers’ names are classified to outsiders.

“We do not make our list of soldiers available to the public due to the sensitivities surrounding the information shared,” according to the Partners in Torah website.

“The soldiers in our database are provided by numerous individuals, and we don’t have direct communication with every soldier listed.

“Not all lists have been disclosed publicly, out of respect for the family members, friends and others who have submitted names.”

How long does Moore plan to continue her Torah study dedicated to an Israeli soldier?

Until his fate — a safe one, G-d-willing — becomes known and “the war is over,” she says.

But her study sessions won’t end then, she says. “I plan to continue with this.”

For information about Partners in Protection: sharejustonething.com or partnersinprotection.org



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IJN Contributing Writer


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