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Roadblocks of the Spirit

May 9, 2009 | by Danny Verbov

An Israeli reserve soldier describes his experience guarding a roadblock.

"Full alert! Strong warning on a blue Subaru station wagon, license number 34-675-87, carrying a suicide bomber, tall and thin, wearing a brown coat. Helmets on the heads, guns ready. Full alert!"

This was just one of the many constant warnings transmitted during my recent stint of army reserve duty, manning roadblocks outside Ramallah and Jerusalem. This must be one of the world's most high-risk jobs.

During my never-ending 25 days of duty, near the industrial area of Atarot and the outlying Jerusalem suburb of Givat Ze'ev, there were almost daily shootings. We lost Valery Ahmir, a security guard, and Gadi Rejwan, a 34-year-old husband and father, who had kindly given us some of his company's top class coffee on his way to work two days before he was killed by one of his Arab employees.

Toward the end of my time, a female terrorist blew herself up at the next roadblock to ours, about 10 minutes down the road. And seven young soldiers were brutally murdered at roadblocks similar to ours on the other side of Ramallah.

A mistake or a leniency could mean the difference between life and death.

The work is intense, and we have to be constantly awake and alert. We have to check every single car that passes, Jewish and Arab. We have to approach each suspicious car closely and with caution. We have to examine the IDs carefully; we have to stare shady characters in the eye. At least one of us has to be in continuous eye contact with everything going on. If a car or individual looks particularly suspicious, we take them aside, and perform a more thorough check until we can be almost certain that they can go ahead with their journey. A mistake or a leniency could mean the difference between life and death.

In the shadow of numerous attacks and threats on army roadblocks (amongst other precautions), we were required to wear a heavy bulletproof flak jacket and helmet. On a physical level, it is not easy to stand for 8 hours straight, in rain or in sun, wearing this heavy gear.

I later saw the flak jackets of soldiers murdered at the roadblock near Ofra. Suffice to say, not all the jackets are 100 percent bulletproof.

What is encouraging in these situations is the kindness and appreciation shown by the Israeli drivers who pass us every day, dropping off hot soup, a thermos of tea, fresh falafel. Sadly, it has to be in this situation before we are all so generous to each other, and political and religious feuds are forgotten.


As a religious soldier, I try to look beyond the physical aspects to the spiritual, and I would like to share that perspective.

In these crazy times, the Jewish people must not lose their heads or their hearts. That is symbolized by the protection of the flak jackets and the helmets. We must grab a hold of something solid, something reliable, something true that we can cling to in the sea of lies, distortion and double standards raging in the world.

Don't allow the media to cloud your clarity; don't allow the horrific pictures to dampen your spirit. The Jewish people have a Divine promise that we will outlive all our oppressors. And for the individual to survive, we must clear our heads to gain true understanding, and open our hearts to feel the pain and the grief of every Jew and their families, whether he is Daniel Pearl or Gadi Rejwan.

At the roadblock at 2 a.m., I am reminded that the Guardian of Israel never slumbers nor sleeps.

When I'm standing at the roadblock at 2 a.m. in the dark, exposed to the wind and the rain, with my gun, flak jacket and helmet, alert and scared, I know there is only one thing protecting me. Whatever precautions we take, they never 100 percent guarantee safety. The army is part of our efforts down here; the only real security comes from the Almighty Himself.

Indeed, in our daily prayers we refer to Shomer Yisrael -- the Guardian of Israel. And when I'm trying to protect Israel at 2 a.m., I know He is with me. As it says in Psalms 121: "The Guardian of Israel never slumbers nor sleeps."


My thoughts often drifted toward images of ambushes; drive-by shootings; people blowing themselves up in my face. If I were a terrorist, I would have no problem hitting the particular roadblock I was at. So I had to control myself every shift to drive those thoughts away. These thoughts don't help; they destroy. I tried focusing on the job, thinking positive thoughts and, when eating, saying my blessings with greater concentration. We were making our best effort, so why the unnecessary and hysterical worry?

We're not responsible for the thoughts that enter our mind; we're responsible for what we do with them. If they're destructive, depressing or damaging, shoo them away. Focus on what you can do; focus on doing what's right.

I was on duty with secular soldiers, too. We had deep and lengthy discussions on religion, on politics, on what we were doing there. I questioned when one of them gave the Arab drivers the presents we had received from Jewish drivers for Purim!

Our ability to recognize the intrinsic holiness in every Jew will result in our ultimate victory.

But we were comrades in arms, and I was putting my life at risk for him, just as he was for me. I certainly cannot say I'm any more religious than he is. Just as the bullets and the bombs don't differentiate between religious and secular, between Ashkenazi and Sephardi, between left and right wing, neither should we. It is our ability to recognize the intrinsic holiness in every Jew that will result in our ultimate victory.

Why am I here risking my life?

This is our land, our only land. It is not the fight of a few thousand fanatical Zionists or an army of 19-year-old soldiers. It is the fight that will determine our future; the future of the entire Jewish people, wherever they are currently living.

What prevents us from seeing truth, from thinking straight, from coming to Israel, are only roadblocks of the mind and roadblocks of the heart. We all have the ability to choose what thoughts and actions we let through, and what we keep behind.

The Jewish people know what's right. Every Jew has it deep down inside. In these times of terror and tragedy, our minds and hearts are the safest place to be.


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