In an inconspicuous school hall in the heart of Jerusalem, dozens of people from all walks of life sit together at long tables preparing tzitzit — knotted fringes worn by religious Jews — to be sent out to IDF soldiers on the front lines of war.
In the two weeks since October 7, when 2,500 Hamas terrorists crossed into Israel killing 1,400 — mostly civilians — on a murderous rampage and taking hostage 200-250 more, the IDF has called up 360,000 reservists, an unprecedented number not seen since the Yom Kippur War in 1973. As a result of the mass mobilization, many reservists found themselves without the necessary equipment — both tactical and spiritual.
One item in particular has been in high demand, with religious and secular Jews alike putting in requests for it: tzitzit.
Faced with a request for 60,000 of the four-cornered fringed garments, the Military Rabbinate turned to Yeshivat Eretz Hemdah, which in turn mobilized its community to come together and prepare the tzitzit.
Walking into the hall, it would be easy to feel overwhelmed by the crowd of people surrounded by piles of olive green vests and knotted strings. But nobody is left in the dark for long, as a team of dedicated volunteers works to seat newcomers, pairs them with someone who can teach them the correct method to knot the strings, and regularly checks in with them for updates on their progress.
Erica Merritt has been volunteering for the operation since it began last week and has seen hundreds of people come through the doors, some of them more than once.
“People are really excited,” she tells The Times of Israel. “We have elderly people, people before they turn bar or bat mitzvah who come to learn, hundreds and hundreds of people are learning the mitzvah of tying tzitzit who’ve never done it before.”
“We’ve had a lot of repeat customers,” she estimates when asked how many people have been involved in the project. “But we’ve probably had around 2,000 people.”
This number, however, doesn’t take into account those who have been participating in the project from elsewhere.
“People are coming from seminaries, from yeshivas, saying they want to prepare 1,000 [pairs of tzitzit], and that they’ll bring them back in a few days,” says Merritt. “They come in to pick them up, and then bring them back fully made.”
Across the room from Merritt sits Eli, a member of the Eretz Hemdah community who took a week off from work in order to fully dedicate his time to overseeing the project.
Setting aside the completed string of carefully tied knots that he had been working on, Eli (who declined to give his last name) tells The Times of Israel about the way in which his community has come together, preparing not just the tzitzit but donating food packages, prayer books and any other religious items that soldiers on the front lines might need. And, in addition to the religious items, a second warehouse is being operated by the community, in which volunteers are packing boxes full of equipment, ranging from thermal vests and flashlights to sunscreen and duct tape.
For Eli, there is something remarkable about the large number of people who’ve been requesting tzitzit from the Military Rabbinate.
“I’m not the sort of person who’s going to go and say that you have to wear tzitzit, but it’s the fact that people are waking up to the idea that there is actually something in it,” he says. “There is something to it on a religious level, there’s something to it on a spiritual level. As a religious person, I think it’s phenomenal.
“I’m happy to see that people have gotten over the idea that ‘Oh, you’re religious therefore you’re over there and I’m over here,’ and so there is some kind of unity that’s being built even on that level, without pressure, and I think that’s phenomenal.”
Asked what will happen once the 60,000 pairs of tzitzit are completed, Eli says that the project will continue, redirecting its efforts to wherever it’s needed.
“We’re going to keep going as long as the war is going,” he says simply. “We’re not stopping, as long as there are soldiers on call, we’ll be doing our thing. Whatever their requests are, we’re happy to do them.”
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