Couple studies in Israel to please God, aid morale WAR IN THE GULF


January 24, 1991|By Diane Winston

While many wartime volunteers seek a piece of the action, Leah and Jonathan Jacobson -- who spent this week in Israel -- preferred studying classic debates between Jewish scholars.

"We wanted to show God we were there," said Mr. Jacobson, 22, who works in a Baltimore law office. "We hoped the merit of our studying would help things go well for Israel."

The Jacobsons joined a mission on Jan. 14 which sent 400 Yeshiva University students to Israel. The recently wed couple, alumni of the New York City school, signed up, too, eager to be part of "Operation Torah Shield," a demonstration of support funded by an anonymous donor.

Orthodox Jews, like many of those who attend Yeshiva University, believe they are glorifying God when they study biblical and Jewish texts. After arriving in Israel, the American students dispersed to yeshivot, institutions of higher Jewish learning, where they hoped their presence would both please God and build morale.

Jonathan and Leah Jacobson picked a school in Jerusalem where both men and women could study. The classes were segregated by gender, but the housing accommodated married couples.

Not that the Jacobsons enjoyed quiet evenings at home.

"We put on our gas masks six times while we were here," Mr. Jacobson said yesterday by telephone before boarding an airplane for the United States. "The first time was 2 a.m. Friday morning.

"My wife woke me up and in the distance we heard the sirens. It was probably the scariest moment in my life. . . . We just ran to the sealed-off room with our gas masks."

Gas masks were an ever-present fact of life. The Americans' arrival, which had been ballyhooed in the Israeli press, was heralded by dancers and camera crews. But as soon as the students checked into a hotel, they were handed their gas masks.

Life in wartime Israel had other hallmarks. One room in the school was sealed in case of gas or chemical attack. Streets were deserted.

And then there were the sirens.

"No one expected it to get as bad as it did," Mr. Jacobson said. "There were so many sirens. It got to the point where we had only one or two minutes to get to the special room.

"Everyone would be exhausted by the long nights -- either waiting for the sirens to go off or seeking shelter when you did hear them."

The Jacobsons did go prepared. They took baking soda -- which Mrs. Jacobson had heard fought chemical irritation -- and flashlights, batteries and a radio.

Fortunately, none of their nightmares came true. Both husband and wife said they were glad they took a week to show solidarity with Israelis.

"It was eye-opening and unnerving," said Mrs. Jacobson, 24. "And it's something we can be proud of for a very long time."

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