Yeshiva University’s Undergraduate Torah Studies (UTS) department recently hosted IDF Col. Golan Vach, along with the United States Chaplain Corps and Rabbi Josh Blass Mashgiach Ruchani of RIETS, for an inspirational and informative Shabbaton. Over the course of the Shabbat which coincided with Parshat Noach, over 100 students had the opportunity to learn about the life-changing impact of careers in public service and humanitarian work.
Col. Golan Vach heads the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) famed National Rescue Unit which has assisted in some of the most difficult disaster rescues and humanitarian aid missions globally. Israel has a long track record of lending its expertise in disaster relief and rescue efforts on the international stage. Col. Vach has been deployed on over 15 rescue missions representing the Israeli government in Brazil, Albania, Haiti, the Philippines, Mexico, and most recently, in Surfside, Florida, when an apartment building collapsed.
Col. Vach led the Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat and shared personal stories of tremendous heroism and compassion at the Friday night tisch. His messages focused on the importance of serving others and being devoted to a higher cause. Rabbi Josh Blass also moderated an interactive Q&A with Col. Vach where students had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of topics including his rescue service, Israel’s role on the international stage, and the impact of humanitarian missions in generating a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name).
Also participating in the weekend activities was the United States Chaplain Corps (USCC), an organization devoted to recruiting and mobilizing chaplains for a wide range of crisis situations. The organization has a diverse staff pool of chaplains which is comprised of leaders from all faiths and traditional backgrounds. The independent group is devoted to deploying chaplaincy to communities and individuals in need as well as providing crisis intervention to areas impacted by disasters.
On Shabbat afternoon, the Director General of the USCC, Rabbi Mendy Coen, Rabbi Shimon Margiliyot of the local Washington Heights Hatzolah, and Col. Vach, spoke about their experiences navigating crisis scenarios, mission-oriented team strategy, and the importance of focusing on the mental health of those impacted by tragedy.
At Seudah Shlishit, Rabbi Blass reiterated the weekend’s theme of serving others through the lens of Noach leaving the ark and planting a vineyard. Rabbi Blass shared “while there was nothing wrong with planting a vineyard, this activity did not rise to the lofty spiritual heights equal to his covenant with God Almighty.” Central to his speech, Rabbi Blass explained the feelings of “self” that Noach had when leaving the ark which motivated his settlement decisions and personal use of the vineyard. Rabbi Blass suggested, in the spirit of the weekend’s mantra of service, we should model our own aspirations, both in the spiritual and physical realm, to higher causes like devoting our time and energies to our communities at large.
Following the conclusion of Shabbat, over 75 people including members of the USCC delegation, undergraduate students, and local community members joined Col. Vach one last time while he played guitar and lead popular melava malka songs.