Loren Mishali’s story is both disturbing and frightening. It is disturbing because it is the story of a religious girl who is undergoing terrible pressure to go against the guidance of da’as Torah—and who is suffering because she has refused to bow to that pressure. Loren’s story is frightening because stories like hers could become increasingly common among a broader population of religious girls in Eretz Yisrael.
Loren is 21 years old, and lives in Ma’aleh Adumim. She is shomeres Shabbos, she davens daily, she observes the laws of tznius, and she is part of a Midrashah (a Torah study program for women) where she regularly attends Torah classes and events. But Loren was not always religious. She is a ba’alas teshuvah from a non-religious home, and she was therefore the target of IDF scrutiny when she submitted her affidavit declaring that she is religious, and requesting an exemption from the draft. The army subjected her to a ra’ayon dat, a “religion interview.” The officer at the interview asked her why she did not want to enlist.
Not long before, Loren learned the Torah’s definition of true freedom—“ein lecha ben chorin ella mi she’oseik baTorah”—freedom means completely submitting oneself to the Torah. She was taught the ideals of emunas chachamim, and da’as Torah. A Jew commits himself to the Torah by following the directives and guidance of those who are great in Torah.
Loren took these lessons very much to heart. She began to seek guidance from rabbanim in all areas of her life. When she asked rabbanim what she should do about the draft, she was told that it was forbidden for a girl to serve in the army.
Loren answered the army officer with conviction. “I do not want to enlist because it is forbidden for a girl to serve in the army.”
“But you attended a secular school!” rejoined the interviewer. “Is that not also forbidden?”
“I attended that school because of my parents. That is where they sent me, so that is where I went. But I am religious now.”
Indeed, most of Loren’s schooling took place when she was not yet religious; Loren was chozeres beteshuvah at age 18. Loren’s parents are divorced, and she lives with her mother whom Loren described thus: “My mother does not believe in Hakadosh Baruch Hu. She was born to a chareidi family, and attended a chareidi school, but she was ‘chozeret beshe’eilah’ [she went from a religious lifestyle to a secular one].” Mrs. Mishali is anti-religious, and was always firmly opposed to Loren’s interest in Yiddishkeit. Given Loren’s weak background, her strong commitment to the Torah’s expectations is impressive and inspiring.
Loren has been keeping Shabbos for over two years, and has been continuously studying Torah and increasing her knowledge of Yiddishkeit. Currently, she is part of Midreshet Me’or Olam in Yerushalayim, run by Rabanit Vered Kugman, where she attends classes and participates in the Midrashah’s events.
But the army interviewers were unimpressed with her current accomplishments, and began to test her knowledge of the Jewish religion. Although she proved herself well-versed in this area, it is only natural that she would be “caught” with a question that she could not answer. Loren was asked when Tzom Gedalya falls out on the calendar, and she could not answer correctly. (Most young women brought up in religious homes would be able to answer this question. Thus, not knowing this point of information is perhaps an indication of one’s religious background. But it certainly cannot be used as an indication of someone’s current religious commitment.) Loren’s affidavit was not accepted, and she was not granted an exemption.
This occurred four months before Loren’s enlistment date. Loren’s mother was out of the country at the time, and Loren took the opportunity to apply for the exemption. When Mrs. Mishali found out what happened her response was terribly negative. A full blown battle between mother and daughter ensued. Mrs. Mishali demanded that Loren enlist and serve in the army, but Loren stayed true to her beliefs and commitments.
“The entire period of time after my mother found out about my hatzharah (affidavit) she never stopped crying, she couldn’t sleep at night, she needed sleeping pills…[But] da’as Torah instructed me to go ahead with my affidavit submission, and to fight [opposition], and that’s what I did.
“My brother told me that I should find out about the army’s programs for religious girls, and that the army would help me with anything [I need] with regard to religion while in the army. Then he asked me if I am willing to die [to refrain from enlisting]. I told him that I was.”
Loren and her mother went down to the lishkas hagiyus to find out about the army’s religious program, but they were unhelpful. Loren was told that she could withdraw her affidavit, or leave it, but they are not providing her with information. Loren did not withdraw the affidavit.
After that meeting Mrs. Mishali began to exert terrible pressure on her to enlist.
“[After the visit to the lishkas hagiyus] I went to my grandmother’s house, and my mother came in soon after crying hysterically…she lost her mind…she threw herself on the floor, began to beat at herself, and started to tear ‘kria’ on her blouse (as a show of sitting shiva for me). My mother threw me out of my house…for a week I was not at home.”
While Loren was not home, Mrs. Mishali managed to access Loren’s Facebook account. This account was created when Loren was a secular Israeli teenage girl. After becoming religious Loren had taken much of her Facebook page offline, or deleted it. Mrs. Mishali restored the pages, and added some pictures of Loren in her secular days. Mrs. Mishali wanted “proof” that her daughter was really secular; unfortunately, this was brought to bear against Loren at a later date. Loren goes on:
“After a week I returned home, but we did not speak…My family arranged that we should [take a small vacation together] at a hotel in order to calm the situation. We went to the hotel in order to release the tension, but it did not help. My mother maintained her position about my not enlisting, and she continued to repeat the sentence, ‘You will lose your family if you do not enlist.’”
The situation was touch and go between mother and daughter. At some point, they had the following conversation:
“I asked [my mother] if she would really cut off contact with me if I did not enlist. She answered me that I did not understand her meaning. She explained: ‘Loren, when I said that you will lose me I did not mean that I would break contact with you…I will commit suicide…I will no longer have what to live for…I am not going to watch you destroy yourself while I sit here and do nothing…I am not willing to stay alive to see that…’ I said, ‘What does this mean?! What will you do?!’ She answered. ‘Loren, I do not want to discuss this, but it is something that I have thought about at length.’ After twenty minutes of my pressuring her to tell me [what she meant] she said, ‘I do not like pain. Don’t worry—I won’t throw myself off of the roof, or hang myself. I know what I’ll do.’”
Loren was panic-stricken. She asked her rabanit what was she to do? She wanted to avoid enlisting, but her mother was threatening her with suicide! Her rabanit sent her to speak to a local rav, but the rav said that he could not take responsibility for such a weighty question. The rav referred her to the Chief Rabbi of Ma’aleh Adumim, who in turn, referred her to Rav Amar, Former Sefardic Chief Rabbi of Israel. She explained her entire predicament to the rav’s secretary, but was informed that the rav was very busy, and was travelling abroad soon, and it would take some time until she would be able to speak to him. The secretary referred Loren to another distinguished rav, who went so far as to call and speak with Mrs. Mishali. After talking to Loren’s mother, this rav answered that he as well could not decide upon the issue. Loren writes:
“I did not know what to do anymore…I had turned to many rabanim but nobody could tell me what to do…to enlist or not to enlist?…I was at the verge of giving up, but then I decided ‘I want to fight for Hashem and for the holy Torah!…If it is Hashem’s will that I not enlist I will fight for Him!’ (This was two or three weeks after the conversation with my mother.) I called my mother and told her that I am not enlisting and that this [decision] is final.”
That night, Loren went to her midrashah for an evening program. Towards the end of the evening she got a call:
“My brother called me and told me that he knew that something was wrong, and it is all my fault…he told me that mother is in the hospital…he would not tell me why, but blamed me that this was because of me, that I am self-centered and do not care about those around me, and that I knew that this was not good for her… “
Loren rushed to the hospital. Mrs. Mishali had suffered a nervous breakdown. Loren’s own sense of guilt was exacerbated by her brother’s sharp accusations.
Loren’s rabanit explained to her that understanding what the Torah demands from us is sometimes complex, and that when local rabanim cannot provide an answer one must seek the advice of a gadol. Loren wrote a letter to Maran Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, explaining the entire situation. After a few days, Rav Chaim’s daughter called Loren.
“The rav’s answer is that you should not enlist. And you should also not worry—everything will turn out for the good.”
On the day of her draft appearance Loren came to the lishkas hagiyus. She refused to enlist, stating that she was a religious girl. She now had to stand before a Va’adat Dat, a committee to establish her status as religious or non-religious. Loren describes the meeting:
“From the beginning [the officer’s] approach was that I was lying, and he only wanted to play on my emotions in a most degrading fashion. He showed me my Facebook page and asked if it was mine. I explained to him that my mother broke into my Facebook account and posted it. He laughed and said, ‘Wow—that is the most imaginative story I have ever heard here!’ He then asked for documentation that I learn in a midrashah, which I produced, but he was dismissive of [my letter of proof], and suspicious…”
The committee wanted to have Mrs. Mishali join the conversation via telephone, but Loren would not agree before consulting her rav. Twice, in fact, Loren had left the room to call her rav for guidance. After excusing herself the second time, when she returned to the meeting, she was told that the committee could not wait for her and had abruptly adjourned.
Several weeks later, Loren received a letter from the IDF stating that the committee’s ruling was negative—and that she was to report back to the lishkas hagiyus to begin her enlistment process. Loren reported back, but restated her refusal to enlist based on the fact that she was religious.
Loren was sentenced to 20 days in prison, and was taken to jail. She was released after 18 days and was told by the askanim and the lawyer to stay away from the lishkas hagiyus at all costs. Shortly thereafter she received a frightening letter from the army demanding her reappearance. In her vulnerable state she could not refuse the summons. But in a tremendous show of strength and spirit, Loren reiterated her refusal to put on the army uniform that was handed to her. Loren was sentenced to another 20 days in jail.
In the above article, we have been quoting from an open letter—a plea for help—that Loren sent to the askanim, and to the general public, in Eretz Yisrael.
Loren ends her letter thus:
I will do what the Rav [Kanievsky] told me and I will fight in order not to enlist for this is the will of Hashem. I believe be’emunah she’leimah, with full faith, that Hashem does not want me to enlist. And so it will be.
I very much hope that you will understand my situation and will help me with a willing heart.
Loren—Loren bas Rachel Silvia—is currently in jail serving her third sentence for draft evasion. Her plea speaks to us as well. How long will we stand by and watch innocent bnos yisrael suffering so?
Letters of chizuk & support to be forwarded to Loren can be faxed to: (077) 540-1570 (from USA: 011-972-77-540-1570).
Update:Loren has had a hearing this Thursday before a “Vaadat Dat”, the committee for ascertaining religiosity. They ruled that she isn’t ’religious enough’, and must enlist immediately. With incredible mesirus nefesh she defiantly returned to her jail cell.
Friday she was released but is likely to be rearrested at any moment as she has not yet received her religious exemption. Please continue to daven for Loren bas Rochel Silvia.
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